Re: Heb 7:20

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Mar 11 2000 - 10:54:32 EST

At 8:25 PM -0500 3/10/00, Dmitriy Reznik wrote:
>Dear friends,
>I have a question about Heb 7:20:
>I wonder which translation of Greek GINOMAI better conveys the meaning of
>Greek perfect tense:
>For those priests were made without an oath (AV)
>for they indeed have been made priests without an oath (ASV)
>Do I understand correctly that the first option describes those who
>became priests at certain time in the past, and the second option
>describes those who have been priests during the whole history BEFORE
>coming of the Messiah? So which one is better?

I don't think there is any intended difference of meaning between those two
versions, and since verse 21 has ellipsis of the verb, we have to
understand GEGONWS ESTIN of Christ; I do think, however, that hIEREIS here
must be understood as a predicate noun with hOI MEN as subject: "For those
were made priests without taking an oath."

This particular usage of GINOMAI is equivalent to Latin FIO, FIERI, FACTUS
SUM, and I can't help thinking that the writer has written GEGONOTES EISIN
as an equivalent of FACTI SUNT.

The question you actually raised concerns the force of the Greek
(periphrastic) perfect tense here. When GEGONOTES EISIN is translated "were
made" as in AV, it appears that the AV translator didn't see any real
difference between GEGONOTES EISIN and EGENONTO--i.e., aorist and perfect
indicative tenses mean the same thing. My own as yet unproved suspicion is
that by and large Koine writers (this is much too great an
overgeneralization, of course, which is why I call it no more than a
"suspicion") didn't use the perfect (apart from verbs like OIDA, hESTHKA
and compounds) ordinarily to express perfective past action but used the
aorist instead (e.g. EIDON, "I have seen") but that they used the perfect
tense morphology when they wanted to emphasize the stative notion. IF (and
I can only guess) this is true in the case of GEGONOTES EISIN, then the
emphasis rests upon GEGONOTES CWRIS hORKWMOSIAS: "Their getting to be
priests did not involve the swearing of an oath." That is the emphasis lies
upon the HOW of their becoming priests as in the case of Christ is lies on
the altogether different HOW of his becoming a priest.

It may well be, however, that all this is hair-splitting for very little
gain in understanding the nuance of difference that it makes.


Carl W. Conrad Department of Classics/Washington University One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018 Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 WWW:

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