Question on Present Tense in Romans 7.14-25

Question on Present Tense in Romans 7.14-25

Postby Aubrey Sequeira » October 15th, 2013, 10:11 am

Moderator's note: please ignore the theological debate outlined in this message and focus on the text itself, and what it means.

One of the arguments used by proponents of a "Christian view" of Romans 7:14-25 is Paul's shift to the present tense in these verses (cf. Dunn, Cranfield). On the other hand, those who argue for a non-Christian view have noted that the tense here cannot be decisive. Some have argued for a "historic present," others (following Porter's model of an aspect-only verbal system) have stated that the tense should not be a factor here, and yet other find some way of explaining the tense-change (cf. Moo - "this paragraph describes, in personal terms, the state that resulted from the event he has narrated in vv. 7-13. This goes some way in explaining the shift from past to present tense verbs; Paul first narrates past events, then depicts the continuing status of those who were involved in those events", Moo, Romans (NICNT) p. 451.

Daniel Wallace has argued that the present tense verbs in Romans 7.14-25 cannot be labelled as HPs because Paul is speaking the first person, the use of εἱμι and the absence of secondary tenses in the context (https://bible.org/article/john-52-and-d ... spel-again).
I recently have read Runge's article on the verbal aspect of the HP in narrative, and find his approach to HPs very helpful.

My questions then pertain to the present tense here in Rom 7.14-25:
- Can these be classified as HPs or not?
- Could there be a discourse-pragmatic function for Paul's shift to the present tenses here (to build anticipation as he prepares the reader for chapter 8?) OR is Paul's shift to the present tense an indication of shift to present time (i.e., Christian experience).
- Or are the present tenses in Romans 7.14-25 inconclusive either way, and the argument (on both sides) should focus on other data in the text rather than on the present tense.

Would appreciate your thoughts and help here!
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Re: Question on Present Tense in Romans 7.14-25

Postby Jonathan Robie » October 15th, 2013, 10:28 am

Welcome to B-Greek, Aubrey!

Since you are new here, let me point out that we avoid theological debates and focus on the text itself, not the debates that may surround it. So I put a note in the front of your message to make sure people don't fly off on the theological debate.

Is the Runge article available online?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Question on Present Tense in Romans 7.14-25

Postby Aubrey Sequeira » October 15th, 2013, 11:48 am

Thanks! Yes, I would rather focus on the way the present tense is functioning in the text instead of the theological debate! I apologize for framing the discussion along those lines.
The Runge article is available online:
http://www.ntdiscourse.org/wp-content/u ... ringHP.pdf

I have read Runge's Discourse Grammar Introduction textbook as well and have found it very helpful for exegesis, but I am still new to this approach and so do not want to misapply his schema.

In the article, Runge limits the "pragmatic effects" associated with the HP to narrative proper and first-person narrative in apocalyptic literature (and excludes its usage in "reported speeches and epistolary literature" since the usage in these is "prototypical"). ("Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present," p.219.
Therefore, my questions primarily pertain to whether or not the usage of the present tenses in Romans 7:14-25 are "prototypical" or if Runge's scheme can be legitimately applied here and the present tenses can be seen as having a discourse-pragmatic function..
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Re: Question on Present Tense in Romans 7.14-25

Postby Jonathan Robie » October 15th, 2013, 1:55 pm

I am not educated on Discourse Analysis, so others will probably be bringing more intelligence to this than I can, but let me ask a few questions.

Here is the text:

14 Οἴδαμεν γὰρ ὅτι ὁ νόμος πνευματικός ἐστιν· ἐγὼ δὲ ⸀σάρκινός εἰμι, πεπραμένος ὑπὸ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν. 15 ὃ γὰρ κατεργάζομαι οὐ γινώσκω· οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω τοῦτο πράσσω, ἀλλ’ ὃ μισῶ τοῦτο ποιῶ. 16 εἰ δὲ ὃ οὐ θέλω τοῦτο ποιῶ, σύμφημι τῷ νόμῳ ὅτι καλός. 17 νυνὶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγὼ κατεργάζομαι αὐτὸ ἀλλὰ ἡ ⸀οἰκοῦσα ἐν ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτία. 18 οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι οὐκ οἰκεῖ ἐν ἐμοί, τοῦτ’ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου, ἀγαθόν· τὸ γὰρ θέλειν παράκειταί μοι, τὸ δὲ κατεργάζεσθαι τὸ καλὸν ⸀οὔ· 19 οὐ γὰρ ὃ θέλω ποιῶ ἀγαθόν, ἀλλὰ ὃ οὐ θέλω κακὸν τοῦτο πράσσω. 20 εἰ δὲ ὃ οὐ ⸀θέλω τοῦτο ποιῶ, οὐκέτι ἐγὼ κατεργάζομαι αὐτὸ ἀλλὰ ἡ οἰκοῦσα ἐν ἐμοὶ ἁμαρτία. 21 Εὑρίσκω ἄρα τὸν νόμον τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ ποιεῖν τὸ καλὸν ὅτι ἐμοὶ τὸ κακὸν παράκειται· 22 συνήδομαι γὰρ τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ θεοῦ κατὰ τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον, 23 βλέπω δὲ ἕτερον νόμον ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου ἀντιστρατευόμενον τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ νοός μου καὶ αἰχμαλωτίζοντά με ⸀ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τῆς ἁμαρτίας τῷ ὄντι ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου. 24 ταλαίπωρος ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπος· τίς με ῥύσεται ἐκ τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου; 25 ⸀χάρις τῷ θεῷ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν.


I don't see anything in the text that places this in the past. When Wallace talks about "the absence of secondary tenses in the context", the secondary tenses indicate past reference, and I don't see anything here that does. Do you?

Runge's article also seems to make that point.

I think of a historical present as a present tense verb that occurs where you might rather expect an aorist or perhaps an imperfect because the context clearly signals that the action is in the past. And that clear signal seems absent here.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: Question on Present Tense in Romans 7.14-25

Postby Stephen Carlson » October 15th, 2013, 2:16 pm

Aubrey Sequeira wrote:My questions then pertain to the present tense here in Rom 7.14-25:
- Can these be classified as HPs or not?

They should not for the reasons that Wallace gives.

Aubrey Sequeira wrote:- Could there be a discourse-pragmatic function for Paul's shift to the present tenses here (to build anticipation as he prepares the reader for chapter 8?) OR is Paul's shift to the present tense an indication of shift to present time (i.e., Christian experience).

In my opinion, the main options are either a personal statement or a speech in character of a fictional persona (prosopopoeia) as if delivered in the present.

Aubrey Sequeira wrote:- Or are the present tenses in Romans 7.14-25 inconclusive either way, and the argument (on both sides) should focus on other data in the text rather than on the present tense.

Exactly right.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D. (Duke)
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Faculty of Theology, Uppsala
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Re: Question on Present Tense in Romans 7.14-25

Postby Iver Larsen » October 19th, 2013, 8:16 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:
Aubrey Sequeira wrote:My questions then pertain to the present tense here in Rom 7.14-25:
- Can these be classified as HPs or not?

They should not for the reasons that Wallace gives.

Aubrey Sequeira wrote:- Could there be a discourse-pragmatic function for Paul's shift to the present tenses here (to build anticipation as he prepares the reader for chapter 8?) OR is Paul's shift to the present tense an indication of shift to present time (i.e., Christian experience).

In my opinion, the main options are either a personal statement or a speech in character of a fictional persona (prosopopoeia) as if delivered in the present.

Aubrey Sequeira wrote:- Or are the present tenses in Romans 7.14-25 inconclusive either way, and the argument (on both sides) should focus on other data in the text rather than on the present tense.

Exactly right.


As an addition to these points, I would describe it as a rhetorical device, using 1st person for a 2nd person reference. Paul does the same in Gal 2:18 "If I build up again the things I have dismantled/deconstructed, then I show myself to be a transgressor." Paul is rebuking Peter here for doing exactly this kind of rebuilding which Paul would not do. In Rom 7 Paul is talking to Roman Jewish-Christians some of whom were still trapped under the law as Paul used to be. To use the 1st person to mitigate a rebuke to the hearers is common in many languages. It is sometimes called the "representative I", because the speaker uses himself as an example to represent the hearer. He is only referring to himself as a polite rhetorical device.
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