"Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

"Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby WStroupe » January 5th, 2013, 10:51 pm

At Matt. 24:46 the verb participle form of ἔρχομαι - "to come" - appears. This is elthon. Accordingly, some translations render the verb as "arriving" rather than as "coming".
μακάριος ὁ δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ὃν ἐλθὼν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εὑρήσει οὕτως ποιοῦντα·



I am interested to know why the NT writers would sometimes use the vp (verb participle) rather than the 'normal' form of the verb - was there a specific intent on their part which we should recognize? Is there an intentional shade of meaning of the verb which the writer was interested in conveying when he chose to employ the vp? Some translations seem to hint at such when they use "arriving" rather than "coming". The English "arriving" seems to place less emphasis on the act of coming and more upon what happens afterward. I wonder if this was the intent of the writer, and can this supposition be backed up by the Greek grammar?

It would appear that in most texts where ἔρχομαιappears, the verse and surrounding context seems to place most emphasis upon the coming itself and (in the case of Jesus' coming) events are extremely time-compressed, as if the events all happen immediately upon his coming. But where the vp ἐλθών appears, while his arrival is said to be very sudden and without warning, emphasis in those verses and their surrounding contexts seems to be much more upon the series of events that happen afterward.

If I (a mere beginner as respects Greek grammar) were to be put on the spot by someone who wanted me to explain what shade of meaning is pointed to by the use of the vp (such as the particular one that appears inside Matt. 24:46), what explanation could I provide? Can someone here please analyze this question and provide insight into the possible significance of the use of the vp in this verse, and in general, in NT Greek?
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby WStroupe » January 6th, 2013, 2:04 pm

Here are examples of three English translations of Matt. 24:46:

Here is the quote of Matt. 24:46 from the KJV, and then from the NWT and the NRS, which are two examples of the use of “arriving” rather than “coming”:

KJV - “Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.”

NRS - “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.”

NWT – “Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so.”

The subsequent verses in the 24th chapter, and continuing to the end of the 25th chapter, detail for us the events that occur after Christ's "arrival", as if the emphasis is pointed mostly there rather than simply upon the immediate event of his "coming", as at Matt. 24:30, to rescue the righteous and destroy the wicked.
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 6th, 2013, 6:01 pm

There are two facets of meaning to consider here. ἐλθών is an aorist participle.

As for the fact that ἐλθών is aorist, its aspect means that the situation described by the verb is complete. The lexical meaning of this verb is basically to come to a contextually defined place. When this situation is complete, it means that the master has come or arrived there when he finds the slave at work. In this context, I don't see much difference between "come" and "arrive"; either are acceptable renderings, but the end result, not the process of achieving it, is the more important facet of the meaning here.

As for the fact that ἐλθών is a participle, in this case it would normally be classified as an adverbial participle of attendant circumstance. This fairly common construction is a lot like ordinary coordination of two finite verbs (e.g."come and find") except that the action described by the participle is put in the background while the main verb is put into the foreground. So the finding is more important than the coming/arriving, though the latter is certainly a necessary precondition for the finding.

Since the emphasis of an English sentence tends to fall toward the end, I think simple coordination as if they are two main verbs is usually a perfectly fine way to render the attendant circumstance participle construction into good English. Here, however, a translation such "the slave whom his master will come and find at work" is a little awkward because the reader is expecting the first verb too to govern use the relative pronoun "whom" as its object, but "come" is intransitive. As a result, most translations background the participle explicitly with a subordinate clause "when he arrives/comes/cometh." That's perfectly fine. The NWT chose to render the particle with a prepositional phrase using a gerund "on arriving" -- that's also fine.

Though all these translations preserve the meaning of the construction, they do not preserve its form. A translation with the same verbal construction as the Greek, however, "the slave whom his master having come will find so doing," is just too awkward and poorly idiomatic to be an acceptably readable translation.
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby WStroupe » January 6th, 2013, 8:03 pm

Thank you for weighing-in on this subject, Dr. Carlson - your insights are very much appreciated.

I remember from somewhere the advice, "Don't over-Greek the Greek", or something to that effect. I want to follow that good advice and not read more into the Greek than is justified. I think your insights help me to stay within proper bounds in that regard.

It is very helpful to understand, with your assistance here, the fact that in the use of the aorist participle ἐλθών, primary emphasis is being placed upon the end result (the finding that the slave was staying awake and working faithfully) rather than upon the process of achieving that finding, or upon simply the coming of the master in itself. This does fit with the surrounding context of Matt. 24:46 in that the aim or goal of settling accounts with all, both righteous and otherwise, and the results of the Lord's findings in that regard, is what is given quite a lot of attention.

In other contexts whereἜΡΧΟΜΑΙ is used, not its participle, the "coming" itself appears to be treated as of primary importance - because the coming itself results almost immediately in profound and dramatic consequences, according to the surrounding context - Matt. 24:30 is an example I would point to in this respect.

Please, allow me to posit a supposition here with regard to what I perceive to be the most important unique shades of meaning of the aorist participle ἐλθών and the verb ἜΡΧΟΜΑΙ as illustrated at Matt. 24:46 and 25:31, and then at Matt. 24:30, and please critique me on this:

I would say that where the aorist participle is used, the "coming" is merely the prerequisite event - it must occur, of course, but it introduces a period of "finding" or of evaluation of persons. The Greek grammar thus causes us to focus primary attention upon the period subsequent to the "coming", not the "coming" itself. And true to this supposition, the verses immediately after Matt. 24:46 and after Matt. 25:31 grab our attention because they give us details of how persons are evaluated and what decisions or judgments are rendered. This period of evaluation that is begun by the "arrival" of the Lord is a period that evidently lasts for more than a few minutes - please see the first two prophetic illustrations in the 25th chapter of Matthew where Jesus illustrates how he will settle accounts. It appears to take a little time - certainly more than a few minutes, I would say.

However, where the normal form of the verb ἜΡΧΟΜΑΙ is used, the "coming" itself seems to receive primary focus. Matt. 24:30 illustrates this. The "coming" almost immediately results in dramatic consequences for all, both righteous and wicked. No evaluation of persons or decisions or judgments regarding them need be rendered, as is the case at Matt. 25:31, for example. The judgments have already been rendered, and now they merely need to be executed. Thus, the coming itself is, in context, 'the real deal', because it so rapidly results in such profound effects.

If I, as a writer in English, wanted to speak of a situation where a court would suddenly begin to sit, but its proceedings would take a bit of time as decisions were being rendered, then I would say something like, "The defendant will be happy if the court, having arrived, finds him innocent".

However, if I wanted to merely to depict the swift execution of any judgment already rendered by the court, I would write, "The defendant will see the court coming with all its authority and power".

I hope I have made the shades of meaning, which I think I see in the Greek, clear.

Please critique me on this.
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 7th, 2013, 7:34 am

WStroupe wrote:Thank you for weighing-in on this subject, Dr. Carlson - your insights are very much appreciated.


Thanks for your reply. (Feel free to call me Stephen or Στέφανος on this forum.)

WStroupe wrote:I remember from somewhere the advice, "Don't over-Greek the Greek", or something to that effect. I want to follow that good advice and not read more into the Greek than is justified. I think your insights help me to stay within proper bounds in that regard.


Yeah, I'm getting the feeling that there is a bit of a theological undercurrent in your response. This forum focuses on the meaning of the Greek text rather than it's theology, to the extent that this distinction is practicable.

WStroupe wrote:It is very helpful to understand, with your assistance here, the fact that in the use of the aorist participle ἐλθών, primary emphasis is being placed upon the end result (the finding that the slave was staying awake and working faithfully) rather than upon the process of achieving that finding, or upon simply the coming of the master in itself. This does fit with the surrounding context of Matt. 24:46 in that the aim or goal of settling accounts with all, both righteous and otherwise, and the results of the Lord's findings in that regard, is what is given quite a lot of attention.

In other contexts whereἜΡΧΟΜΑΙ is used, not its participle, the "coming" itself appears to be treated as of primary importance - because the coming itself results almost immediately in profound and dramatic consequences, according to the surrounding context - Matt. 24:30 is an example I would point to in this respect.


For this meaning, the key here is the aspect, as shon in its verb stem, not the finiteness of the verb form (participle or indicative form). The situation type (Aktionsart) of this verb is an accomplishment: there's some activity progressively leading up to an inherently defined culmination point. The use of the aorist stem selects the realization of the culmination point, while the use of the present stem selects the activity (i.e. the going or even the planning for it) leading up to it. So the fact that ἐλθών is a participle has nothing to do with what part of the meaning of the verb is more important.

WStroupe wrote:Please, allow me to posit a supposition here with regard to what I perceive to be the most important unique shades of meaning of the aorist participle ἐλθών and the verb ἜΡΧΟΜΑΙ as illustrated at Matt. 24:46 and 25:31, and then at Matt. 24:30, and please critique me on this:

I would say that where the aorist participle is used, the "coming" is merely the prerequisite event - it must occur, of course, but it introduces a period of "finding" or of evaluation of persons. The Greek grammar thus causes us to focus primary attention upon the period subsequent to the "coming", not the "coming" itself. And true to this supposition, the verses immediately after Matt. 24:46 and after Matt. 25:31 grab our attention because they give us details of how persons are evaluated and what decisions or judgments are rendered. This period of evaluation that is begun by the "arrival" of the Lord is a period that evidently lasts for more than a few minutes - please see the first two prophetic illustrations in the 25th chapter of Matthew where Jesus illustrates how he will settle accounts. It appears to take a little time - certainly more than a few minutes, I would say.

However, where the normal form of the verb ἜΡΧΟΜΑΙ is used, the "coming" itself seems to receive primary focus. Matt. 24:30 illustrates this. The "coming" almost immediately results in dramatic consequences for all, both righteous and wicked. No evaluation of persons or decisions or judgments regarding them need be rendered, as is the case at Matt. 25:31, for example. The judgments have already been rendered, and now they merely need to be executed. Thus, the coming itself is, in context, 'the real deal', because it so rapidly results in such profound effects.

If I, as a writer in English, wanted to speak of a situation where a court would suddenly begin to sit, but its proceedings would take a bit of time as decisions were being rendered, then I would say something like, "The defendant will be happy if the court, having arrived, finds him innocent".

However, if I wanted to merely to depict the swift execution of any judgment already rendered by the court, I would write, "The defendant will see the court coming with all its authority and power".

I hope I have made the shades of meaning, which I think I see in the Greek, clear.

Please critique me on this.


I'll try to avoid the theological undertones this part of your response is gesturing towards. If you're interested about the primary emphasis in the clause, you really have to focus on the finite verb in the relative clause: εὑρήσει. You seem to spend a lot of time worrying about import of the participle when the syntax of the clause is saying that the spotlight is on the finding, not the coming. The participle backgrounds the action and provides some context for understanding what is conveyed by the main verb. So I think it is probably not a good idea to make the critical part of one's exegesis focus on a participle. Almost by definition, participles are less important to the author of the text.

In the parable at hand (not its application to the Final Judgment), how can the master find the slave without already being there? The finding presupposes the coming and it is redundant to mention it. But Matthew says it anyway, even though he doesn't have to, in order to slow down the pace, create some anticipation, and make the finding more dramatic. There's no spotlight on the coming; it belongs on the finding. That's what I think is going on in the text.
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby WStroupe » January 7th, 2013, 12:07 pm

Stephen stated:

There's no spotlight on the coming; it belongs on the finding.


Thanks for making this clear to me (again).

Yes, I was letting some theological bent accelerate me forward into conclusions, or tentative conclusions, not actually supported by the Greek grammar. Thanks for pointing that out.
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby WStroupe » January 12th, 2013, 4:53 pm

I received an enlightening email today from one Gernot Ruediger Frey (grf@scripture4all.org) on this matter of ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών. Here are some of his insights:

Common grammars look at it (ἐλθών) as the "2.Aorist" which means "a momentary single act" (Present tense) that really is timeless or indefinite concerning time. The moment you look at a momentary single action this action already has gone (Perfect) - that in reality indicates a state or condition.

This makes clear the different kinds of translations:

AV Mt 24:46 Blessed [is] that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.

YLT Mt 24:46 Happy that servant, whom his lord, having come, shall find doing so;

CLV Mt 24:46 Happy is that *slave whom his *lord, coming, will be finding doing thus.

AV translates Simple Present, YLT Perfect and CLV Present Progressive. However, in every case this participle describes the master as someone having come, or who comes, or coming with emphasis on the verb to come. What probably will happen after the coming is declared in the next verse.


Not exactly sure why, but this struck me pretty hard - the participle, translated literally, "having come", really denotes a state or condition. In that new state or condition, the "finding" takes place. Thus, the "finding" is naturally given focus, less so the coming or arrival itself. It is as if the Lord desired the reader (or listener) to focus most upon the "finding" and making sure the results of that finding are happy ones, rather than to be caught up in the coming itself, and possibly miss its real purpose - to settle accounts. There we are right back to the "finding" he performs after "having come". Others here had pointed out essentially the same insights - but for some reason Gernot's explanantion just turned on the light for me.

For some reason, which I am not quite sure how to explain even to myself, taking 'the long way around' like this, analyzing the Greek in a particular verse, and then getting to the meaning of the phrase or sentence or statement, makes me understand much more deeply, even though most of the thoughts and ideas are fundamental and out in the open. But I traversed them, one-by-one at a low level with everyone's help, and now they glow with much more meaning than they did before.

I'm not expressing myself very well here - but the experience of this forum is something very valuable.
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby Barry Hofstetter » January 13th, 2013, 9:17 am

WStroupe wrote:I received an enlightening email today from one Gernot Ruediger Frey (grf@scripture4all.org) on this matter of ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών. Here are some of his insights:

Common grammars look at it (ἐλθών) as the "2.Aorist" which means "a momentary single act" (Present tense) that really is timeless or indefinite concerning time. The moment you look at a momentary single action this action already has gone (Perfect) - that in reality indicates a state or condition.

This makes clear the different kinds of translations:

AV Mt 24:46 Blessed [is] that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.

YLT Mt 24:46 Happy that servant, whom his lord, having come, shall find doing so;

CLV Mt 24:46 Happy is that *slave whom his *lord, coming, will be finding doing thus.

AV translates Simple Present, YLT Perfect and CLV Present Progressive. However, in every case this participle describes the master as someone having come, or who comes, or coming with emphasis on the verb to come. What probably will happen after the coming is declared in the next verse.


Not exactly sure why, but this struck me pretty hard - the participle, translated literally, "having come", really denotes a state or condition. In that new state or condition, the "finding" takes place. Thus, the "finding" is naturally given focus, less so the coming or arrival itself. It is as if the Lord desired the reader (or listener) to focus most upon the "finding" and making sure the results of that finding are happy ones, rather than to be caught up in the coming itself, and possibly miss its real purpose - to settle accounts. There we are right back to the "finding" he performs after "having come". Others here had pointed out essentially the same insights - but for some reason Gernot's explanantion just turned on the light for me.

For some reason, which I am not quite sure how to explain even to myself, taking 'the long way around' like this, analyzing the Greek in a particular verse, and then getting to the meaning of the phrase or sentence or statement, makes me understand much more deeply, even though most of the thoughts and ideas are fundamental and out in the open. But I traversed them, one-by-one at a low level with everyone's help, and now they glow with much more meaning than they did before.

I'm not expressing myself very well here - but the experience of this forum is something very valuable.


William, I have appreciated your sincerity and your concern both to be a learner and not to transgress the rules (purpose, really) of this forum.

μακάριος ὁ δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ὃν ἐλθὼν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εὑρήσει οὕτως ποιοῦντα·

I think ὁ Στέφανος has explained many, ahem, aspects of the participle well. Let me add one detail: Greek often uses participles to express subordinate and even coordinate action where English uses clauses instead. For example, if I were to translate into Greek "When the governor comes he will judge the city" I would almost certainly write something to the effect of ἔλθων ὁ ἡγεμὼν τὴν πόλιν κρινεῖ. Not to oversimplify, but this is simply the way the Greek expresses the concept. The fact that a participle is used is a feature of Greek syntax that you have to understand. I appreciate the comments about what I call over-reading or over-theologizing the Greek. The action of the participle is of necessity antecedent (and that's why it's aorist). In Mat 24:46, the master has to return before he finds what the slave is doing. In my example, the governor has to get to the city before he can judge it. You could also render my example "The master will come and judge the city." Contextually, most likely, the actions of both judging and coming are future to the writer or speaker of the sentence, and we often in English don't make a formal distinction between the sequence of tenses -- we expect our hearers or readers to pick that up from context (sort of like Hebrew, maybe).

As to your correspondent's comments above, whether or not the action is "settled" is not really expressed, I think, by the fact that the participle is aorist (it's simply, as noted, expressing antecedent action), but would be a function of the context.

Beware of handling the Greek in a way that would horrify us if people tried to do it with English...
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby cwconrad » January 13th, 2013, 10:23 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:Beware of handling the Greek in a way that would horrify us if people tried to do it with English...


All that is implicit in this is of fundamental pedagogical importance. At the heart of the pedagogical urgency toward oral/aural interaction in (ancient) Greek as essential to an authentic grasp of the language is the realization that understanding spoken and written Greek depends upon thinking in (ancient) Greek rather than in one's native language, whatever language that may be.
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Re: "Come" vs "Arrive" - ἔρχομαι & ἐλθών

Postby Paul-Nitz » January 22nd, 2013, 7:49 am

μακάριος ὁ δοῦλος ἐκεῖνος ὃν ἐλθὼν ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εὑρήσει οὕτως ποιοῦντα·

cwconrad wrote:essential to an authentic grasp of the language is the realization that understanding spoken and written Greek depends upon thinking in (ancient) Greek


And this is just the sort of sentence that ties my English brain in knots. The relative pronoun ὃν is so far removed from it's partner ποιοῦντα. I would like to see more examples of similar sentences. Is it is a simple thing for anyone to list several LXX or NT verses in which we see the same sort of construction.


(If anyone is extra generous, they could explain how to search for such a thing. If I understood Logos Syntax search, maybe I could find this... but that is one it's a puzzle to me. α-μακάριος εγω ὅν ἐλθὼν ὁ κύριος μου εὑρήσει ἔτι πειρῶμενον συνιεναι Logos Syntax Search. )
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