Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

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Peter Streitenberger
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Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by Peter Streitenberger » July 16th, 2011, 9:22 am

Dear Friends,
Joh 1,18 reads (RP 2005): Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε• ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός, ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός, ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.
One German Translation (Bengel) translates ὁ ὢν as past tense. What is the precise force of this present tense and is it possible to take it as a past reference ?
Thanks for any help !
Yours
Peter, Germany
www.streitenberger.com
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cwconrad
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Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by cwconrad » July 16th, 2011, 10:26 am

Peter Streitenberger wrote:Dear Friends,
Joh 1,18 reads (RP 2005): Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε• ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός, ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός, ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.
One German Translation (Bengel) translates ὁ ὢν as past tense. What is the precise force of this present tense and is it possible to take it as a past reference ?
It would perhaps have been helpful if you had cited the German version. I see that the Schlatter version has, "der im Schoße des Vaters ist, ... " Since this is a present participle and has imperfective aspect, the only way I can see of understanding it with any reference to the past would have to indicate existence ongoing from the past into the present. From that perspective, I think that ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός might be conveyed -- or glossed -- as "who has his being in the bosom of the Father (and who has always had his being there)."

I think the question here is, To just what extent are we entitled to draw inferences regarding the author's tent from the minimal formulation of our text? The fact is that the tense-aspect of the participle really does not reveal anything at all about whether or when this existence εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός may have begun. On the other hand, it may be possible to infer from other verses within the Johannine prologue that this existence εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός extends backward to ἐν ἀρχῇ -- but I think that sort of discussion belongs rather to exegesis and lies beyond the scope of the sort of analysis of the Greek text as a Greek text that we limit ourselves to in this forum.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Peter Streitenberger
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Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by Peter Streitenberger » July 24th, 2011, 11:00 am

Thank you, Prof. Conrad ! After thinking of your answer for some time, my impression is that ὢν shouldn't be translated as past tense (he was). The best way to understand it seems to me to take the time reference as coincidental to the point of writing the gospel. At this time Jesus is back in Heaven at the right hand of god, or so to say "in the bosom of the father".
Yours
Peter, Germany
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cwconrad
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Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by cwconrad » July 24th, 2011, 11:18 am

Peter Streitenberger wrote:Thank you, Prof. Conrad ! After thinking of your answer for some time, my impression is that ὢν shouldn't be translated as past tense (he was). The best way to understand it seems to me to take the time reference as coincidental to the point of writing the gospel. At this time Jesus is back in Heaven at the right hand of god, or so to say "in the bosom of the father".
Why is that the best way to understand it? You might say that I'm asking that question rhetorically, because resolving a question like this really does require careful consideration of the context in John's gospel -- and there are lots of assumptions that are necessarily involved in this but that can't be discussed in this forum.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Peter Streitenberger
Posts: 219
Joined: June 3rd, 2011, 10:45 am

Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by Peter Streitenberger » July 24th, 2011, 11:52 am

Why is that the best way to understand it? You might say that I'm asking that question rhetorically, because resolving a question like this really does require careful consideration of the context in John's gospel -- and there are lots of assumptions that are necessarily involved in this but that can't be discussed in this forum.
In general there are three options for a time-setting: past, present or future. The present participle ὢν doesn't allow to see the action as a reference to the past only (he was). So only the present tense (he is) makes sense. I know that's a hermeneutical question, but it doesn't make much sense to see Jesus on earth and in the bosom of the father at the same time. So it's best to see it coincidental to the moment of writing the gospel. At the time John wrote his account, Jesus is seen to be in the bosom of the father.
ok ?
Yours
Peter
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Jason Hare
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Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by Jason Hare » July 24th, 2011, 3:31 pm

Peter Streitenberger wrote:In general there are three options for a time-setting: past, present or future. The present participle ὢν doesn't allow to see the action as a reference to the past only (he was). So only the present tense (he is) makes sense. I know that's a hermeneutical question, but it doesn't make much sense to see Jesus on earth and in the bosom of the father at the same time. So it's best to see it coincidental to the moment of writing the gospel. At the time John wrote his account, Jesus is seen to be in the bosom of the father.
ok ?
Yours
Peter
Hi, Peter.

I don't agree that "[t]he present participle ὢν doesn't allow to see the action as a reference to the past only (he was)", as you wrote above. The present participle can indeed be used to refer to something that was going on only in the past. It's dependent on the main verb, not having its own independent time. The only thing that a present participle can tell us is that it was currently going on when the main action was being described – well, not even that it was really going on, but only that it was stated to be going on.

So, if the main verb on which it depends is describing a past event, then the present participle can certainly refer only to that past tense without having any relation to the present.

In this case, we find the participle actually dependent on the time when the narrator is speaking rather than on the main verb in the independent clause.

θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε: μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

Of course, ἑώρακεν is perfective; ἐξηγήσατο is aorist.

All I can assume is that the ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς is describing the time of the delivery of the message, not implying a time past or future. Wouldn't you say? I don't see any reason to interpret the past into this.

So, I agree that "it's best to see it coincidental to the moment of writing the gospel."
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Jason A. Hare
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Peter Streitenberger
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Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by Peter Streitenberger » July 24th, 2011, 4:02 pm

Dear Jason,
thank you - this was helpful for me !

Prof. Conrad wrote:
to indicate existence ongoing from the past into the present
I think this statement makes perfect sense. That's why I wrote
[not] as a reference to the past only
Grammar alone won't tell us, when Jesus Christ went to be with the father (or in the bosom of the father) and how long he has been there already. The context of scripture has to make that point clear. But the greek present seems to indicate that this is (from the viewpoint of John the author) an ongoing process (imperfective aspect).
Do you agree?
Yours
Peter, Germany
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Jason Hare
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Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by Jason Hare » July 24th, 2011, 4:32 pm

Peter Streitenberger wrote:Do you agree?
Yours
Peter, Germany
Seems too theologically geared for me to really agree with. I'm not sure what to make of it. But, it's an interesting thread anyway. :)
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Jason A. Hare
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Iver Larsen
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Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by Iver Larsen » July 25th, 2011, 4:48 am

In the sentence ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός, ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός, ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο the present participle is used subtantively and ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός functions as a relative clause modifying ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός. This verb has no aorist participle and there is no focus on the time involved. It is a general descriptive statement which in a sense is timeless. Logically, the event described precedes the action of the main aorist verb ἐξηγήσατο. It is precisely because he was in that close relationship with the Father and because he came from the Father that he was able to explain who the Father was (and still is). Where Jesus was at the time of writing or is now is irrelevant and unspecified as far as the grammar is concerned.

If you compare with John 11:31 οἱ οὖν Ἰουδαῖοι οἱ ὄντες μετ᾽ αὐτῆς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ καὶ παραμυθούμενοι αὐτήν, ἰδόντες τὴν Μαριὰμ ὅτι ταχέως ἀνέστη καὶ ἐξῆλθεν, ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῇ
you see the same kind of present participle where a group of Jews (here probably Judeans) are described as having been in the house with Mary comforting her. When they saw her leave they followed her. English expects a past tense "were" here or "had been" as in NIV, since these people were not in the house at the time of writing nor are they still there today. It is possible to use a past tense in John 1:18 also, but it depends on the implications. If the past tense is understood as "past and not now" then it is problematic in this verse, because the "not now" part is not implied in the original. That is probably why most versions go with a present tense here. But this is more a matter of translation and implications than of Greek grammar. There is no direct correlation between a present tense participle in Greek and a present tense main verb in English. A closer English equivalent would be: "who being in the bosom of the Father, has made him known." But that is not normal English grammar. Maybe one could say: "who by virture of having been in the bosom of the Father, was able to make him known and did so", but then I am probably moving too far into translation which I tend to do as a bible translator.

Compare also the other examples of ὁ ὢν in John: 3:31, 6:46, 8:47, 12:17, 18:37.
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Re: Joh 1,18 - force of the present tense of ὢν

Post by cwconrad » July 25th, 2011, 5:10 am

I simply want to say that I very much appreciate Iver's thoughtful and sound explication of what I really wanted to say about the present tense of the participle ὢν in John 1:18. I feared that a fuller discussion might become embroiled in theological implications and discussions of time and eternity that clearly don't belong in this forum. But Iver has touched very nicely, I think, on the special nature of the verb εἶναι and what might be called the incongruity of Greek participial usage with English (and other) expressions of temporal relationship.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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