historical present in Luke-Acts

Grammar questions which are not related to any specific text.

Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby David Lim » June 29th, 2012, 6:51 am

davidmccollough wrote:
Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:You have missed the obvious. All your examples have a (main) verb of human cognition: seeing, understanding etc. In many respects they behave in the same way that verbs of speaking etc. so that the subordinate verb is in the present tense - as if it were "direct discourse". I don't have any books at hand, but I remember seeing something about it in Rijksbaron's book about Greek verb, and possibly also in Robertson.

This explanation is strictly grammatical, but I find it easy to understand it from an experiental standpoint. It is like taking the place of the person who perceives: They saw: "Hey, he eats with sinners".


Thank you! So if Acts 8:18 is seen as direct discourse then would it be rendered with the reader experiencing it firsthand, as in, Simon saw: "the Spirit is given through the laying on of the apostles' hands"?


I don't think it makes sense to render it that way in English because it does not make sense at all in English. If I had to put it into proper English I would have no choice but to render with the past tense, as Stephen pointed out in his first post:
"Simon seeing that the spirit was given through the laying on of the hands of the apostles,"

davidmccollough wrote:1) Present tense used to state a fact valid in the storyworld at a particular time in the storyworld:
a. (Gen 29:31). “And the Lord, having seen that Leah is hated, opened her womb….” In this case, no one would think that the narrator hates Leah. The narrator uses the present tense to state a fact valid in the storyworld at a specific time in the storyworld. There is no metalepsis.
b. (Ruth 1:18). “And Naomi, having seen that she is determined to go with her, stopped speaking to her anymore.” Again, the narrator uses the present tense to state a fact valid in the story world at a particular time in the storyworld.
c. (Lk 7:37). “…and having known that he is reclining in the house of the Pharisee….” A Lukan example of the same idea.


Correct; the present tense denotes present fact with respect to the time in focus, which in this case is the time that "[the] Lord saw" / "Naomi saw" / "[the] woman realised". It brings us to view the event from that perspective.

davidmccollough wrote:2) A general statement of fact valid in the story world and unrelated to any specific point in time. (Mark 2:16) “And the scribes of the Pharisees, having seen that he eats with the sinners and tax collectors, were saying to his disciples….” The idea here is not that his eating occurred at the time of their seeing, but that they recognized a characteristic – he eats with sinners.


No; the present tense still denotes the present fact, that at that time (though not just one point in time) the scribes saw that he ate with sinners and tax collectors. Like before, the present brings us to view the situation from their perspective at that time. In their shoes we would say, "Look! He eats with them!", and it would be right to use the present tense for it is a present situation.

davidmccollough wrote:3) A statement of fact unrelated to any specific point in time and valid for both the storyworld and narrator’s world.
a. (Acts 28:1). “And having been brought safely through, we then recognized that the island is called Malta.” The island is called Malta, both at the time of the event narrated in the story and at the time of the narration of the story.
b. (Acts 8:18). “And Simon, having seen that through the laying on of the hands of the apostles the Spirit is given, offered them money….” Simon, at a specific point in storytime observed a general principle which the narrator himself considers valid. This shift from reality in the storyworld to reality in the narrator’s world is metalepsis.


No; for the same reason. Just because the statement is true at other times does not mean that the present tense is not used to denote its present truth with respect to the time in focus. Whether or not the island was previously called Malta or still called Malta at the time of the writing of Acts is irrelevant. The present tense simply means that at the time those people recognised the island, it was called Malta. It is to me exactly the same as when someone introducing a place to us for the first time says, "This place is ...". In English we can only use the past tense to describe a recollection of that event, which is in the past with respect to our time of recollection, but in Greek we can use the present tense to re-enact the perspective at that time.

For the same reasons I don't really consider the historical present to be really a different usage of the Greek present tense. In similar manner the present tense in Acts 8:18 is portray Simon's perspective at the time he saw it. Anyway this is just my opinion and nothing more.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » June 29th, 2012, 7:01 am

davidmccollough wrote:Thank you! So if Acts 8:18 is seen as direct discourse then would it be rendered with the reader experiencing it firsthand, as in, Simon saw: "the Spirit is given through the laying on of the apostles' hands"?

I don't mean it should be thought to be direct discourse or something like that, I just mean that direct discourse-like tense is natural from cognitive point of view if you think of it. As it's used it's just grammar and doesn't represent anyone's viewpoint specifically - it just describes the content of seeing, knowing, understanding etc.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 29th, 2012, 8:27 am

[quote="David Lim"]

I don't think it makes sense to render it that way in English because it does not make sense at all in English. If I had to put it into proper English I would have no choice but to render with the past tense, as Stephen pointed out in his first post:
"Simon seeing that the spirit was given through the laying on of the hands of the apostles,"


I fully understand your point. There is a Greek grammar rule that is in play. However, I would ask how the Greek language would represent the English sentence, "Judah, having seen that the Roman military is the mightiest on earth, surrendered." In a case where the author intends to communicate his own opinion of what "is," namely, that Judah recognized what the author believes to be true, how would one render it into Greek? I presume that the same subordinate clause structure with a present tense would be used. Context would supercede grammar. That is what I am arguing happened in Acts 8:18.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby David Lim » June 29th, 2012, 11:18 am

davidmccollough wrote:
David Lim wrote:
I don't think it makes sense to render it that way in English because it does not make sense at all in English. If I had to put it into proper English I would have no choice but to render with the past tense, as Stephen pointed out in his first post:
"Simon seeing that the spirit was given through the laying on of the hands of the apostles,"


I fully understand your point. There is a Greek grammar rule that is in play. However, I would ask how the Greek language would represent the English sentence, "Judah, having seen that the Roman military is the mightiest on earth, surrendered." In a case where the author intends to communicate his own opinion of what "is," namely, that Judah recognized what the author believes to be true, how would one render it into Greek? I presume that the same subordinate clause structure with a present tense would be used. Context would supercede grammar. That is what I am arguing happened in Acts 8:18.


For your hypothetical question, I suppose there are many ways to do so, but I do not think we should assume that a similar structure does it. Rather I think a different sentence structure may be necessary to convey the same meaning as in English. Also, context in Acts 8:18 doesn't indicate that the author was conveying his opinion. It seems no different from the present tense used in Mark 7:2, 16:11, John 4:1, 11:6, 21:4, Acts 17:16, Gal 2:14, in all of which my explanation holds; they simply convey the perspective at that time of the person involved. Also in Matt 24:43 the present is used to portray the hypothetical situation of the thief coming from the perspective of the house-master at the very time that the thief comes.

(And try not to delete the "[/quote]" tags so that it displays correctly. :) )
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 29th, 2012, 1:03 pm

David Lim wrote:
davidmccollough wrote:
David Lim wrote:
I don't think it makes sense to render it that way in English because it does not make sense at all in English. If I had to put it into proper English I would have no choice but to render with the past tense, as Stephen pointed out in his first post:
"Simon seeing that the spirit was given through the laying on of the hands of the apostles,"


I fully understand your point. There is a Greek grammar rule that is in play. However, I would ask how the Greek language would represent the English sentence, "Judah, having seen that the Roman military is the mightiest on earth, surrendered." In a case where the author intends to communicate his own opinion of what "is," namely, that Judah recognized what the author believes to be true, how would one render it into Greek? I presume that the same subordinate clause structure with a present tense would be used. Context would supercede grammar. That is what I am arguing happened in Acts 8:18.


For your hypothetical question, I suppose there are many ways to do so, but I do not think we should assume that a similar structure does it. Rather I think a different sentence structure may be necessary to convey the same meaning as in English. Also, context in Acts 8:18 doesn't indicate that the author was conveying his opinion. It seems no different from the present tense used in Mark 7:2, 16:11, John 4:1, 11:6, 21:4, Acts 17:16, Gal 2:14, in all of which my explanation holds; they simply convey the perspective at that time of the person involved. Also in Matt 24:43 the present is used to portray the hypothetical situation of the thief coming from the perspective of the house-master at the very time that the thief comes.

(And try not to delete the "[/quote]" tags so that it displays correctly. :) )


Quite right. It would probably take a native Koine speaker to tell how he would write my sentence, and they are non-existant. In which case, it may not be possible to tell whether a native speaker would have perceived a grammatical pun in Acts 8:18. I did look carefully at each of the examples you cite and the only one that could possibly represent a conflation of time in the storyworld and in the narrator's world is the last, ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε εἶδον ὅτι οὐκ ὀρθοποδοῦσιν πρὸς τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, (Gal 2:14). Would a native Greek speaker have thought that Paul still considered Cephas and the others to not be straightforward? The story has not explicite statement that Peter repented at Paul's rebuke. Paul continues to fight the circumcision party in the letter.

In regards to context and Luke's opinion, we do have what Ronald D. Witherup, drawing upon Meir Sternberg's work, calls "functional redundancy" (Ronald D. Witherup, Functional Redundancy in the Acts of the Apostles: A Case Study, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 48 (1992), 67-86). Verse 17 narrates the handlaying/Spirit connection, then in v.18 the narrator repeates the connection, focalizing through Simon's eyes, and then in v.19 the connection is again stated in dialogue.

All the best to you!
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby Mark Lightman » June 29th, 2012, 1:04 pm

...I would ask how the Greek language would represent the English sentence, "Judah, having seen that the Roman military is the mightiest on earth, surrendered."


ἰδὼν μὲν οὖν τὴν Ῥώμην ῥώμην ἔχουσαν, ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὁ Ἰούδας.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 29th, 2012, 1:35 pm

Mark Lightman wrote:
...I would ask how the Greek language would represent the English sentence, "Judah, having seen that the Roman military is the mightiest on earth, surrendered."


ἰδὼν μὲν οὖν τὴν Ῥώμην ῥώμην ἔχουσαν, ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὁ Ἰούδας.


Sounds good to me!
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby David Lim » June 29th, 2012, 11:44 pm

Mark Lightman wrote:
...I would ask how the Greek language would represent the English sentence, "Judah, having seen that the Roman military is the mightiest on earth, surrendered."


ἰδὼν μὲν οὖν τὴν Ῥώμην ῥώμην ἔχουσαν, ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὁ Ἰούδας.


Haha! Mark, would using "αληθως" help to establish that it is the author's opinion too? (John 7:26, 17:8) Like:
ιδων ο ιουδας και ειδως αληθως οτι η ρωμα μεγαλη εχει την ρωμην μεγιστην παρεδωκεν εαυτον
(Please point out any mistakes too!)
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby David Lim » June 29th, 2012, 11:59 pm

davidmccollough wrote:
David Lim wrote:For your hypothetical question, I suppose there are many ways to do so, but I do not think we should assume that a similar structure does it. Rather I think a different sentence structure may be necessary to convey the same meaning as in English. Also, context in Acts 8:18 doesn't indicate that the author was conveying his opinion. It seems no different from the present tense used in Mark 7:2, 16:11, John 4:1, 11:6, 21:4, Acts 17:16, Gal 2:14, in all of which my explanation holds; they simply convey the perspective at that time of the person involved. Also in Matt 24:43 the present is used to portray the hypothetical situation of the thief coming from the perspective of the house-master at the very time that the thief comes.


Quite right. It would probably take a native Koine speaker to tell how he would write my sentence, and they are non-existant. In which case, it may not be possible to tell whether a native speaker would have perceived a grammatical pun in Acts 8:18. I did look carefully at each of the examples you cite and the only one that could possibly represent a conflation of time in the storyworld and in the narrator's world is the last, ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε εἶδον ὅτι οὐκ ὀρθοποδοῦσιν πρὸς τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, (Gal 2:14). Would a native Greek speaker have thought that Paul still considered Cephas and the others to not be straightforward? The story has not explicite statement that Peter repented at Paul's rebuke. Paul continues to fight the circumcision party in the letter.


I am not sure what you mean. I was saying that indeed the examples I cite are clear instances where the present tense has nothing to do with the narrator's world but instead only has to do with the statement being a present factual statement at the time it was perceived. In Gal 2:14 also, the situation that Paul perceived at that time was, in his eyes: They are not walking rightly. Whether or not the situation persisted after that time is not part of what was conveyed in that sentence.

davidmccollough wrote:In regards to context and Luke's opinion, we do have what Ronald D. Witherup, drawing upon Meir Sternberg's work, calls "functional redundancy" (Ronald D. Witherup, Functional Redundancy in the Acts of the Apostles: A Case Study, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 48 (1992), 67-86). Verse 17 narrates the handlaying/Spirit connection, then in v.18 the narrator repeates the connection, focalizing through Simon's eyes, and then in v.19 the connection is again stated in dialogue.


Whether there is a purpose in the author of Acts presenting the event this way is beyond grammar and beyond those three sentences in my opinion. Verse 18 is simply stating the way Simon viewed it at the time that he saw it. I would say that the author was not trying to repeat something many times but was just narrating what happened in an ordinary way. "I caught a fish, and when my friend saw that I caught the fish so easily, he asked me to teach him how to catch fish." Not redundant I think.
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Re: historical present in Luke-Acts

Postby davidmccollough » June 30th, 2012, 1:10 pm

I think your examples and argument has persuaded me that the grammatical argument for a case of Genette type metalepsis is tenuous at best. And, though others have seen erlebte rede here it seems that it is just a case of the present in a subordinate clause taking the time orientation of the main verb (Cf. K.Haacker, “Einige Fälle von ‘Erlebter Rede’ im Neuen Testament,” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 12 (1970), 70-77; 75 and Ute E. Eisen, Die Poetik der Apostelgeschichte: Eine Narratologische Studie NTOA 58 (Fribourg: Academic Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), 117).

Thank you for your help!

As far as the repetition in 17 and 18, you are certainly right that repetition occurs as a natural part of telling a story. In the example of fishing, the repetition of the idea of "catching fish" occurs because that is what the story revolves around. Acts 8:17-19 is the same. The idea of imparting the Spirit through apostles' hands is central to the story and so gets repeated.

All the best to you.
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