Re: John 1.5 - try again

From: Joe A. Friberg (
Date: Mon Jan 17 2000 - 03:30:30 EST


Last week I was ready to despair of coming to a definitive answer as to
whether the pres. FAINEI was gnomic or progressive, but your coments on it
caused me to keep thinking. Not that the end result is definitive, but I
would like to try out a few more ideas for comment:

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dale M. Wheeler" <>
Sent: Thursday, January 13, 2000 12:21 PM

> 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),
> Greek wishes to make a Present Tense linear and progressive, it usually
> uses extra words, like adverbs or prepositional phrases to make that

I first want to address the difference (in English) between the generic 'the
light shines' and the progressive 'the light is shining'; this issue is
relevant since these categories are grammaticalized in English but only
projected onto Greek.

The English simple present is usually non-time specific: for events it
refers to are general propositions true either for all time or
frequently/habitually: 'she plays the violin well'. The simple present can
also be used in present-tense narration for non-continuative events: 'and he
hits the ball...'.

The progressive present relates an event in process which may be a current
frequent/habitual action 'he is living in...' or an immediately current
continuative action 'the balloon is rising'. The progressive does carry its
own present-time reference, showing a contemporaneous relationship between
the time of the event and the time of the speaker. It may be used in
present-tense Narrative or in Expository contexts.

Taking 1.1-5 as non-narrative, the alternative English translations of TO
FWS FAINEI signify the following:
- 'the light shines': generic truth for all times, or frequent/habitual
- 'the light is shining': current frequentive/habitual or current
Absent any adverbial clue that the shining is of the frequent/habitual
(but not continuative) nature, then the alternative translations present
either a gnomic proposition true for all times, or a present-tense
continuative action. Equivalently, these two alternatives are between
timelessness and particular present relevance.

This long preamble has been in order to set up the following question for
projecting these alternatives back onto the Greek present in this context:
Is this verse intended to have special present-tense relevance to John's
audience, or merely be a statement of a timeless, universal condition?

You have mentioned the absence of any adverbial markers and the specific
referrent identified with the light as relevant factors weighing in on this
decision. I am considering whether the conjuction of the pres. with the
neg.+ao. may provide additional, even determinative influence in this

I have approach this question by asking what the most apropriate Gk
construction would have been for each of the following categories, with my
suggestions of the Gk given:

Gnomic statement that the the light shines, and the darkness does not
apprehend: pres./neg.+pres.

Continuative historic focus, with emphasis on the incapability of the dark:

Continuative historic focus, with simple statement of the lack of success by
the dark: impf./neg.+impf.

Historic Narrative presentation: ao./neg.+ao.

Continuative present focus, with emphasis on the incapability of the dark:

Well, I'm still thinking on this point, and am interested in what other POVs
might be. There may also be other relevant combinations to consider (pf.
for past action with present relevance...).

Perhaps I just want to see this sentence as having special emphasis on the
present tense/relevance for the reader. But the contrast of the the
neg.+ao. with the pres. seems to provide this emphasis when I read it: there
is an indiation of (a) past failed attempt(s) indicative of perennial, and
current, inability on the part of the darkness. By ruling out the past
attempts, there seems to be an emphasis on the present resultant state.

Enough said for now, at least or perhaps esp. on my part! Working through
this has been useful for me; I hope it has not been without utility to some
others as well!

God Bless!
Joe A. Friberg

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