John 8:58

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Scott Lawson
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Scott Lawson »

Stephen I’m going to press you a bit for some responses to my earlier observations and questions in this discussion.

1.) Would you comment on my observation that the infinitive gets its relative time from the main verb (controlling verb)?

2.) Would the inceptive Aktionsart of an aorist form of ειμι have conveyed the idea of a change of state? There is no aorist or perfect in the verb paradigm and that is evidently why γινομαι takes up the slack for a change of state sense the stative ειμι verb.

3.) The use of the imperfect ημην could also imply a change of state. That is there was a time when Jesus didn’t exist. Right? And if not why not?
And in support of this let me point to my previous comments to Eeli about this:

Eeli it was recognized that it was bad form to use a past tense when referring to the Eternal or to the gods.

See BDAG under the entry ειμι:

1….Of Christ πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι, ἐγὼ εἰμί before Abraham was born, I am 8:58 (on the pres. εἰμί cp. Parmenides 8, 5: of the Eternal we cannot say ἦν οὐδ̓ ἔσται, only ἔστιν; Ammonius Hermiae [Comm. in Aristotl. IV 5 ed. ABusse 1897] 6 p. 172: in Timaeus we read that we must not say of the gods τὸ ἦν η τὸ ἔσται μεταβολῆς τινος ὄντα σημαντικά, μόνον δὲ τὸ ἔστι=‘was’ or ‘will be’, suggesting change, but only ‘is’; Ps 89:2; DBall, ‘I Am’ in John’s Gospel [JSNT Suppl. 124] ’96).—

BDAG draws a theological implication from the caveat that Jesus is the Eternal due to the use of ειμι at J8:58 which I don’t believe is necessary. But my point is that the use of the imperfect ημην signaled a change of state.

4.) You wondered why at Jer 1:5 an imperfect wasn’t used. In the first line the present tense form ἐπίσταμαί (a stative verb) is used. My hypothesis is that when no perfect is available for a stative verb then the present tense form is used. That the perfect ἡγίακά is used in the next line seems to show that the perfect is preferred for PPAs. What do you think about my hypothesis?

Πρὸ τοῦ με πλάσαι σε ἐν κοιλίᾳ ἐπίσταμαί σε καὶ πρὸ τοῦ σε ἐξελθεῖν ἐκ μήτρας ἡγίακά σε, προφήτην εἰς ἔθνη τέθεικά σε.
(Jeremiah 1:5 LXX1)

5.) If the infinitive gets its relative time from the main verb (which I posit is ειμι at J8:58) then not only is πριν contextually indicating a past time in relation to ειμι but it is picking up on the past tense use of ειμι. What do you say?

6.) You view εγω ειμι at J8:58 as expressing identity which you expect in response to the question of Jesus’ religious enemies. But the contextually more immediate question is about Jesus’ age. Why wouldn’t this be the question Jesus was responding to?

7.) If identity was what Jesus was expressing with εγω ειμι then do you view it as an absolute?

8.) Would you translate J8:58 into English please so that I can put your grammatical points together so as to better understand them?
Scott Lawson
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Jonathan Robie »

Scott Lawson wrote: August 1st, 2021, 8:02 pm Daniel can you do a search for επιστηκα on Accordance? And perhaps Jonathan Robie can do one on Perseus. I can’t seem to figure out how…maybe it’s because I use my iPhone exclusively.
I have been doing my searches on the Lowfat treebanks for the Greek New Testament, not Perseus. I don't know a way to do a syntactic search on Perseus, but it may well exist. If it does exist .. it might not be a regular form, I don't know what to search on to prove it does not.

This page on Kata Biblon shows the forms that are attested in the GNT and LXX:

https://lexicon.katabiblon.com/index.ph ... E%B1%CE%B9

No perfect form on that page.

I can't find pages that show a perfect form for ἐπίσταμαι. Or an aorist form, if we are going to attach significance to the lack of a form, we should explain all the missing forms for a given verb. This list of core verbs shows the perfect as a form that is missing.
Screen Shot 2021-08-02 at 12.58.38.png
Screen Shot 2021-08-02 at 12.58.38.png (147.95 KiB) Viewed 224 times
There is no perfect form on Wiktionary for this verb, either:

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E1%BC%9 ... E%B1%CE%B9
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Scott Lawson
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Scott Lawson »

Thank you so very much for the searches! And you’ve given my some new tools that I was unaware of! Thanks!

Stephen I need to add another question which actually gets to the heart of my original post.

If we were to read εγω ειμι as having an unexpressed predicate, perhaps Christ or God, then what would the main verb be for the infinitive of the subordination clause? Can ειμι serve double duty as a linking verb expressing identity as well as the controlling verb for the infinitive? This seems extremely unlikely.
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Scott Lawson »

Daniel! Thank you too for doing the searches!
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Jonathan Robie »

Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 1:14 pm If we were to read εγω ειμι as having an unexpressed predicate, perhaps Christ or God, then what would the main verb be for the infinitive of the subordination clause? Can ειμι serve double duty as a linking verb expressing identity as well as the controlling verb for the infinitive? This seems extremely unlikely.
Why would that be unlikely?

Here are some examples where (1) εἰμί is used without an explicit predicate, and (2) εἰμί is the main verb for γίνομαι as an aorist infinitive.

Matt.24.6 δεῖ γὰρ γενέσθαι, ἀλλ’ οὔπω ἐστὶν τὸ τέλος.
John.8.58 εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί.
John.13.19 ἀπ’ ἄρτι λέγω ὑμῖν πρὸ τοῦ γενέσθαι, ἵνα πιστεύητε ὅταν γένηται ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι.
2John.1.12 Πολλὰ ἔχων ὑμῖν γράφειν οὐκ ἐβουλήθην διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανος, ἀλλὰ ἐλπίζω γενέσθαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ στόμα πρὸς στόμα λαλῆσαι, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ἡμῶν πεπληρωμένη ᾖ.
Rev.1.19 γράψον οὖν ἃ εἶδες καὶ ἃ εἰσὶν καὶ ἃ μέλλει γενέσθαι μετὰ ταῦτα.

How do you read these?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/
Scott Lawson
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Scott Lawson »

Jonathan None of the examples have a controlling verb that is a linking verb with an unexpressed predicate and at the same time acting as the main verb for the infinitive. But I’ve marked out the controlling verbs for the infinitives anyway with two asterisks. One on each side of the verb. I’ve also put the main verb and the infinitive below each sentence.

I’ve also excluded J8:58 since that’s the verse under consideration.

Here are some examples where (1) εἰμί is used without an explicit predicate, and (2) εἰμί is the main verb for γίνομαι as an aorist infinitive.

Matt.24.6 *δεῖ* γὰρ γενέσθαι, ἀλλ’ οὔπω ἐστὶν τὸ τέλος.

δεῖ γενέσθαι

John.13.19 ἀπ’ ἄρτι λέγω ὑμῖν πρὸ τοῦ γενέσθαι, ἵνα *πιστεύητε* ὅταν γένηται ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι.

πιστεύητε γένηται

2John.1.12 Πολλὰ ἔχων ὑμῖν γράφειν οὐκ ἐβουλήθην διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανος, ἀλλὰ *ἐλπίζω* γενέσθαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ στόμα πρὸς στόμα λαλῆσαι, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ἡμῶν πεπληρωμένη ᾖ.

ἐλπίζω γενέσθαι


Rev.1.19 γράψον οὖν ἃ εἶδες καὶ ἃ εἰσὶν καὶ ἃ μέλλει γενέσθαι μετὰ ταῦτα.

εἶδες, εἰσὶν, μέλλει γενέσθαι
Scott Lawson
Stephen Carlson
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Stephen Carlson »

Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm Stephen I’m going to press you a bit for some responses to my earlier observations and questions in this discussion.

1.) Would you comment on my observation that the infinitive gets its relative time from the main verb (controlling verb)?
Infinitives don't really have time. But they have aspect. This infinitive is referring to the complete event of Abraham coming to be. Our encyclopedic knowledge locates that time in the past.
Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm2.) Would the inceptive Aktionsart of an aorist form of ειμι have conveyed the idea of a change of state? There is no aorist or perfect in the verb paradigm and that is evidently why γινομαι takes up the slack for a change of state sense the stative ειμι verb.
Well, there is no aorist of εἰμί. Under the right contextual circumstances (namely a topic time too small to hold the entire event) an aorist can have an ingressive reading. (I reserve the term "inceptive" or a particular interpretation of an imperfect that can be glossed with "begin to.") I suppose that if John 8:58 read ἐγεννήθη it would claim that the speaker came to be before Abraham did.
Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm3.) The use of the imperfect ημην could also imply a change of state. That is there was a time when Jesus didn’t exist. Right? And if not why not?
And in support of this let me point to my previous comments to Eeli about this:

Eeli it was recognized that it was bad form to use a past tense when referring to the Eternal or to the gods.

See BDAG under the entry ειμι:

1….Of Christ πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι, ἐγὼ εἰμί before Abraham was born, I am 8:58 (on the pres. εἰμί cp. Parmenides 8, 5: of the Eternal we cannot say ἦν οὐδ̓ ἔσται, only ἔστιν; Ammonius Hermiae [Comm. in Aristotl. IV 5 ed. ABusse 1897] 6 p. 172: in Timaeus we read that we must not say of the gods τὸ ἦν η τὸ ἔσται μεταβολῆς τινος ὄντα σημαντικά, μόνον δὲ τὸ ἔστι=‘was’ or ‘will be’, suggesting change, but only ‘is’; Ps 89:2; DBall, ‘I Am’ in John’s Gospel [JSNT Suppl. 124] ’96).—

BDAG draws a theological implication from the caveat that Jesus is the Eternal due to the use of ειμι at J8:58 which I don’t believe is necessary. But my point is that the use of the imperfect ημην signaled a change of state.
Imperfects don't normally signal a change of state. They really don't say anything at all about whether the state holds at the speaker's time. Rather, they assert that the state holds over some reference time that is located in the past. There are also irrealis readings that are not relevant here.

The references cited by BDAG look promising to follow up.
Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm4.) You wondered why at Jer 1:5 an imperfect wasn’t used. In the first line the present tense form ἐπίσταμαί (a stative verb) is used. My hypothesis is that when no perfect is available for a stative verb then the present tense form is used. That the perfect ἡγίακά is used in the next line seems to show that the perfect is preferred for PPAs. What do you think about my hypothesis?

Πρὸ τοῦ με πλάσαι σε ἐν κοιλίᾳ ἐπίσταμαί σε καὶ πρὸ τοῦ σε ἐξελθεῖν ἐκ μήτρας ἡγίακά σε, προφήτην εἰς ἔθνη τέθεικά σε.
(Jeremiah 1:5 LXX1)
I don't think your hypothesis really works for Greek. It appears to be confounded by English tense intuitions, where a perfect progressive or a perfect with a stative verb in English can be used for a past action or state that continues until the present (which assumes that the reference time is properly set up to include the speaker's present, for example, with the word "since."). But English is rather unusual in using a perfect for this; most languages use a present. The problem with πρίν and πρὸ τοῦ is that they do not set up a proper reference time interval for a PPA.
Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm5.) If the infinitive gets its relative time from the main verb (which I posit is ειμι at J8:58) then not only is πριν contextually indicating a past time in relation to ειμι but it is picking up on the past tense use of ειμι. What do you say?
No, πρίν is indicating a time before the complete event of Abraham's coming to be. We only know that it is in the past from encyclopedic knowledge of Abraham. The tense of εἰμί is playing no role in this.
Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm6.) You view εγω ειμι at J8:58 as expressing identity which you expect in response to the question of Jesus’ religious enemies. But the contextually more immediate question is about Jesus’ age. Why wouldn’t this be the question Jesus was responding to?
Jesus is in a battle of wits with his opponents, where at stake are the relative honor and shame of the participants. It is not uncommon for the argument in such agonistic displays of social status to be indirect. This why Jesus often does not (directly) answer the question put to him by his opponents.
Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm7.) If identity was what Jesus was expressing with εγω ειμι then do you view it as an absolute?
I don't understand this question.
Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm8.) Would you translate J8:58 into English please so that I can put your grammatical points together so as to better understand them?
I don't have a problem with the standard translations. My "grammatical" point is that that the clash in reference times is not to be resolved grammatically, because the grammar doesn't license a particular way to resolve the clash. The participants have to bring in world/encyclopedic knowledge to do so.
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen »

Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm And in support of this let me point to my previous comments to Eeli about this:

Eeli it was recognized that it was bad form to use a past tense when referring to the Eternal or to the gods.

See BDAG under the entry ειμι:

1….Of Christ πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι, ἐγὼ εἰμί before Abraham was born, I am 8:58 (on the pres. εἰμί cp. Parmenides 8, 5: of the Eternal we cannot say ἦν οὐδ̓ ἔσται, only ἔστιν; Ammonius Hermiae [Comm. in Aristotl. IV 5 ed. ABusse 1897] 6 p. 172: in Timaeus we read that we must not say of the gods τὸ ἦν η τὸ ἔσται μεταβολῆς τινος ὄντα σημαντικά, μόνον δὲ τὸ ἔστι=‘was’ or ‘will be’, suggesting change, but only ‘is’; Ps 89:2; DBall, ‘I Am’ in John’s Gospel [JSNT Suppl. 124] ’96).—

BDAG draws a theological implication from the caveat that Jesus is the Eternal due to the use of ειμι at J8:58 which I don’t believe is necessary. But my point is that the use of the imperfect ημην signaled a change of state.
I'm not sure what the point of your point really is - is it grammatical, so that we have to understand the normal usage of Koine imperfect through what those authors say? Or do you mean that this case is special because our passage is talking about god?

In any case BDAG doesn't support your conclusion.

We don't really know how the writers of the BDAG understood this and why they included these references.

We don't really know if the speakers and hearers of the NT were aware of such texts or opinions. It's one thing to give parallels or possible allusions, another thing to prove they are real parallels or allusions (cf. "parallelomania").

Those ancient authors don't even try to give us any descriptive grammar about everyday Greek. They give their view on proper mode of philosophical discourse when talking about god. What they say can't be taken as their stance of grammar or semantics of the imperfect tense. And they probably weren't grammarians. We must not define the imperfect through what they say.

We don't know if they really wanted anyone to follow their "advice" or if it's just some kind of a rhetorical ideal.

If they really meant it literally, we don't know if they ever followed their own "advice". When people start reflecting their own language they see things there which aren't true for everyday speech. When they continue their normal communication they immediately forget what they said about language and start using normal natural grammar and semantics. This can be seen when people of today fall into a linguistic fallacy trap, for example etymological fallacy. They say there's some special meaning in details if they for example want to remove some word from public conversation, but otherwise they happily use words without thinking about their etymology.

And last but not least, if you mean that we should understand the whole Koine imperfect through this, those quotes actually logically contradict it. If it isn't proper to talk that way about god, it's proper to talk that way about something else. Otherwise they wouldn't have needed to say this. Therefore they didn't describe normal grammar. I think it has been natural for human beings to change their mode of speaking when they talk about God or god or gods because god is above normal and mundane, needing special care with language, too, and even something which goes against normal language use.

So why they said this about the imperfect? I'm inclined to think that when word forms are totally isolated from all contexts and are reflected upon they may raise some instinctive feelings even if you don't know how to analyze them linguistically or grammatically. The present moment is naturally more important and, well, present, to us than the past. The imperfect refers to past, therefore it's naturally to feel it's somehow "weaker" than the present. It's also less "default", pure and abstract than the present tense.

The present tense can also be used gnomically, i.e. referring to any moment in time. The imperfect can't. In pure abstract contexless present we can see the eternity distilled. (This itself is of course pseudophilosophical talk, but hopefully can help understand why they saw the present working for their purposes.)

This may give rise to playing with grammar in these philosophical discussions. They don't describe grammar, they play with it for their own purposes. This kind of "mis"use of grammar can have good rhetorical force.
______________________

Grammatically and linguistically the tenses give us views to reality, but they don't limit or define the reality. With the imperfect we limit our view to the past, but it doesn't go any further than that. Actually the aspect of the imperfect would go against what you claim. The aoristic forms give us a view with the endpoint of an event. The imperfective forms give us a view without the endpoint. That's a basic, simple linguistic (academic) description of the aspects which can be seen in modern discussions about tense and aspect. When the imperfect is used, it doesn't in any way tell us whether the situation continued or not. It just tells that the situation was going on at the moment we are talking about.

Let's compare some English examples:
1. Yesterday I was sad. I couldn't sleep and was sad all the night. Today, even now, I'm still sad.
Did the imperfect limit what was going on? No. But we can limit it using language:
2. Yesterday I was sad. After sleeping overnight I felt much better.
You can see in the first example how the imperfect itself doesn't limit our view so that we could say that the event stopped before the present moment. In the first example none of the imperfects tells us that the event ended or that the state changed. The same situation went on, but we changed our view on it with each new "was" and "am". In the second example we changed our view, too, but this time got new information about the situation which told us the event ended or "state changed". Without the new information we would have been left in dark about what happened.

It's all contextual.

The Koine imperfect isn't any different. The aorist, on the other hand, by definition includes the endpoint of the event in our view. Also the perfect forms of some words have completed action with current relevance.
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen »

Stephen Carlson wrote: August 3rd, 2021, 4:43 am
Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 12:21 pm7.) If identity was what Jesus was expressing with εγω ειμι then do you view it as an absolute?
I don't understand this question.
If I now understand Scott correctly, this "identity" refers to the question: does what Jesus says answer to the question "how long you have lived", or "who are you". If the latter, Jesus was expressing identity.

"An absolute", if I understand correctly, means that ειμι is lexicosemantically interpreted to mean "to exist", not "be something (x is y)". Because only in the former case the word stands alone. BAGD has "I. as predicate to be" and "II. As a copula, uniting subject and predicate". This whole thread started with:
In discussing this verse with a BU he sees ἐγὼ εἰμί as a predicateless copula used by Jesus to identify himself as the Messiah.


Which means we should understand an ellipsis there. I'm totally against that interpretation regardless that some participants here defended at least the possibility. I just don't think it's cognitively, discourse-grammatically and contextually tenable. No translator or, at least as far as I know, any commentator has taken that path.

If the answered question is "who are you", then the predicate interpretation is natural only if we translate as "I am" or "I exist" (implying Jesus being God) because "I existed before Abraham" can't answer the question.
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Jonathan Robie »

Scott Lawson wrote: August 2nd, 2021, 7:55 pm Jonathan None of the examples have a controlling verb that is a linking verb with an unexpressed predicate and at the same time acting as the main verb for the infinitive. But I’ve marked out the controlling verbs for the infinitives anyway with two asterisks. One on each side of the verb. I’ve also put the main verb and the infinitive below each sentence.
Yeah, sorry about that. I did a quick search and didn't take the time to think. They all have a linking verb with an unexpressed predicate, but it is not the main verb for the infinitive.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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