RE: John 1.5 - try again

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Thu Jan 13 2000 - 13:21:33 EST

<x-flowed>Pete Phillips wrote:
>Thanks for all the discussion but I didn't actually ask for
>your favourite translations or reminders of what BAGD, LSJ,
>ASV, RSV and all the others say. What I specifically
>requested was an insight into the aspectual side of things
>as there seem to be people in this list who know what
>they're talking about vis-a-vis aspect while the rest of us
>walk around looking glazed. So once again:
>What is the aspectual significance of the aorist of
>KATELABEN in John 1.5 in association with the present of
>FAINEI and followed by a simple aorist in EGENETO in verse


Let me suggest that the aspectual nuances chosen by John are simply the
natural choices for these verbs given their individual lexis.

FAINEI is an unbounded activity (in its lexical form, no beginning, no end
necessarily in view) and thus the present is quite natural and doesn't
disturb the lexis. The question as to whether we should further nuance as
gnomic/generic: "the light shines"; or as progressive: "is
shining/continues to shine" then depends on other factors in the context;
eg., is the light referring to Jesus, his disciples (both probably
progressive), the "light" from creation (as Rom 1:20; probably generic),
etc. As Fanning has pointed out (and my reading confirms this to me), when
Greek wishes to make a Present Tense linear and progressive, it usually
uses extra words, like adverbs or prepositional phrases to make that clear.

KATELABEN is a punctual, ie., a simple act with no prefacing or suffixing
actions inherent in the verb's action itself (possibly a climax, ie., a
simple act with a prefacing action), if understood as "to grasp, seize",
but a climax, if you understand it as "to understand, comprehend". In
either case the aorist is once again appropriate, since it tends to focus
the reader's attention on the "simple act" part of the action. This
doesn't mean however that it only occurred once (as some who take this as a
reference to the crucifixion), rather in this case I'd take it as a
(negative) repetition, ie., the attempt has been made repeatedly (but
unsuccessfully, viz., the light continues to shine); cf., QERAPEUW, a
punctual, in Mark 3:10, which has the benefit of POLLOUS to establish its
Aktionsart. So again, it depends on what you think he's referring to that
will finally determine what aspect-->Aktionsart you finally decide upon,
since there are very few other clues in the sentence.

EGENETO is a climax (process leading to a conclusion) and by putting it in
the aorist John is stressing the simple ending act in past time, which is
why many translations use "appeared" or "came" in John 1:6 (NASB, NIV; the
imperfect would stress the process part, ie., "A man was
becoming/appearing/arriving..."). Another possibility is what the NRSV and
NKJV do and simply understand EGENETO as the past time form for EIMI
appropriate to the "impersonal" situation, ie., "There was a man..."; but
HN is used that way elsewhere. Personally, because of the following "sent
by God", I'm more inclined to think that "appeared/came" is more
appropriate here, which also seems more consistent with the portrayal of
the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry in the synoptics.


Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-251-6478 E-Mail:

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