[b-greek] RE: Ego Hn?

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Fri Aug 17 2001 - 05:42:20 EDT

> Hello all B-Greekers, Matthew R. Miller here:
> I understand, after looking at some examples, that the phrase "egw eimi"
> is often used in the NT to simply mean something like, "I am he," "I am
> the one," It is I," or "Hey! It's me!" My question is this: if a koine
> speaker wanted to say "It was I," essentially the same phrase in the
> imperfect or in the aorist states, how would he have said it? Is there any
> NT example of this, or any example at all in the literature? Again, I am
> asking grammatically, not theologically. Thanks! Matthew R. Miller

He would probably have said "EGW HMHN".

The imperfect tense corresponding to "I was" occurs with the emphatic EGW in
"I was imprisoning those who believed in you"

"I was praying in Joppa"

These forms are structurally middle forms rather than active. In many
languages, including English, the verb for "to be" is irregular and may not
exist in all theoretically possible forms.

In NT Greek, this verb occurs as far as I know only in three tenses:
Present, imperfect and future. This means that when another verb might have
been in the aorist, this verb is in the imperfect, where another verb might
have been in the perfect, I assume this verb will be in the present.

The endings of the verb are also confusing. In the imperfect, the middle
endings and active endings seem to fluctuate with no apparent difference in
meaning. For instance, the active imperfect 1. ps. plur. form is HMEN but
the middle imperfect form is HMEQA. Both occur in the NT as in Gal 4:3 (It
may be that the middle forms are used more in periphrastic constructions
with a participle, but it does not seem to be a consistent rule.)
The active imperfect 1. ps. sing. form HN does not appear in NT Greek (as
Carl has pointed out) but the middle imperfect form HMHN is quite common.
Maybe the middle forms are in the process of supplanting the active forms at
the time of NT Greek?

The verse in question is

From a purely linguistic point of view I would understand this as a present
tense taking the place of a perfect. The imperfect would not have been
appropriate, because it is used either as a background description or with a
past-and-not-present tense notion. The perfect notion of being in the past
and also being in the present seems to require a present tense form of EIMI,
because the perfect does not exist.

If this is correct, the translation might be something like: "I was there
already before Abraham came into being" or "I have been around since before
Abraham" or "Before Abraham came into being, I was already existing".

I am aware that this verse is often translated into ungrammatical English,
but I am not convinced that the Greek text is ungrammatical. I am willing to
be corrected, though, by grammatical and linguistic reasoning.

Iver Larsen

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