The imperfect of Romans 9:3

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Garrett Tyson
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The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Garrett Tyson » August 30th, 2018, 7:30 am

I've been reading through Romans and was struck by the imperfect in 9:3: ηὐχόμην γὰρ ἀνάθεμα εἶναι αὐτὸς ἐγὼ ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν συγγενῶν μου κατὰ σάρκα,

English translations tend to treat this as a subjunctive. ESV: For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,[a] my kinsmen according to the flesh.

My question is, does Jewett's explanation (below) make sense, as to why Paul would've chosen the imperfect rather than a different (subjunctive) form? Paul used to pray this way, but now he doesn't, because he understands/accepts God's larger purpose? Nevertheless, the fact that he prayed this way is evidence ὅτι λύπη μοί ἐστιν μεγάλη καὶ ἀδιάλειπτος ὀδύνη τῇ καρδίᾳ μου.


"Paul provides the reason for his anguish by a complex construction introduced by the imperfect verb ηὐχόμην (“I was praying, wishing”), which has “the force of throwing this wish into the past, and into a past that remains always unfinished, so that this expression takes away from the wish all possibility of realization.” Paul avoids the subjunctive formulation with ἄν (“if”) because this would render the wish itself unreal and thus awaken the suspicion that Paul in fact had never wished such a thing. To translate this as “I would pray that I myself be accursed …” implies that the prayer was “unattainable or impermissable” and therefore unlikely to have actually been made by Paul, in which case the preceding threefold assertion of his truthfulness is reduced to claiming good intentions. The subjunctive translation would also render the emphatic αὐτὸς ἐγώ (“I myself”) insincere and unconvincing, because Paul would have actually failed to place his future in jeopardy. It is better in this context to translate, “I used to pray that I myself be banned …” implying actual prayer requests made sometime before the moment of writing, requests that God had thus far chosen not to fulfill. This brings Paul’s prayer in line with the extraordinary dialogue between Yahweh and Moses in Exod 32:31–33*: “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sins—and if not, blot me, I pray you, out of your book which you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.”

Jewett, R., & Kotansky, R. D. (2006). Romans: A commentary. (E. J. Epp, Ed.) (p. 560). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » August 30th, 2018, 10:30 am

A comment on Jewett, Robert. Romans Fortress, 2007.
Surprisingly, he seems to be unaware of recent studies on verbal aspect, and hence in some instances he presses the tense of a verb in unconvincing ways.

Thomas R. Schreiner review: Jewett, Robert. Romans: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007
http://www.sbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/ ... jewett.pdf
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Stephen Carlson » August 30th, 2018, 8:49 pm

I'm not sure what the question is. It is an unrealized wish and Greek uses the imperfect for that. English has a different idiom.

As for a possible use of the subjunctive, we're not dealing with a dependent clause, where most subjunctives are found, but an independent clause marked with the connective γάρ. Off hand, I can't recall a γάρ clause with a subjunctive as its main verb. Maybe @Jonathan Robie can work his syntax tree magic and query for some?
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MAubrey
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by MAubrey » August 30th, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:
August 30th, 2018, 8:49 pm
I'm not sure what the question is. It is an unrealized wish and Greek uses the imperfect for that. English has a different idiom.

As for a possible use of the subjunctive, we're not dealing with a dependent clause, where most subjunctives are found, but an independent clause marked with the connective γάρ. Off hand, I can't recall a γάρ clause with a subjunctive as its main verb. Maybe @"Jonathan Robie" can work his syntax tree magic and query for some?
I'll just second this entire post.
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Garrett Tyson
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Garrett Tyson » August 30th, 2018, 10:33 pm

I was reading Robertson tonight, and his discussion of the potential imperfect (885) helped quite a bit. And then I saw I got lots of helpful replies.

"The “Potential” Imperfect. This is a peculiar use of the tense for present time, where the present ind. fails to meet the requirement of the situation. Gildersleeve (Syntax, p. 97) calls it “modal” use, ἔδει, etc. The unfulfilled duty comes as a surprise. This “modal” force of the imperfect ind. appears still in the modern Greek (Thumb, Handb., p. 128). There are several varieties of it. Verbs of wishing form one class of passages. In a case like ἐβουλόμην (Ac. 25:22), βούλομαι would be too blunt (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8). The exact idea is ‘I was just on the point of wishing.’ It is freely rendered ‘I could wish’ or ‘I should wish.’ ...An example is found in Ro. 9:3, ηὐχόμην, where Paul almost expresses a moral wrong. He holds himself back from the abyss by the tense. He does not say εὔχομαι (cf. 2 Cor. 13:7), nor εὐξαίμην ἄν (Ac. 26:29). Note οὐ ψεύδομαι in Ro. 9:1." (886).

I didn't know Greek used the imperfect to express an unrealized wish. And treating it as a past imperfect action (Jewett) didn't seem to work very well.

Thanks all...
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » August 31st, 2018, 2:49 pm

"Nor does he describe the wish as ever actually formed;
Henry Alford
https://biblehub.com/commentaries/alford/romans/9.htm
This hypothetical wish is impossible in light of Paul's theological argument found in Rom 9-11. Focusing on details like the imperfect will not lead you to a viable answer. Rather, zoom out and look at chapters nine through eleven as a discourse segment. Where does 9:3 fit in that framework? No need to spell it out here. You will need to talk about it somewhere else because b-greek doesn't tolerate discussions of that sort.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Jonathan Robie » September 1st, 2018, 7:28 am

Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
August 31st, 2018, 2:49 pm
"Nor does he describe the wish as ever actually formed;
Henry Alford
https://biblehub.com/commentaries/alford/romans/9.htm
This hypothetical wish is impossible in light of Paul's theological argument found in Rom 9-11. Focusing on details like the imperfect will not lead you to a viable answer. Rather, zoom out and look at chapters nine through eleven as a discourse segment. Where does 9:3 fit in that framework? No need to spell it out here. You will need to talk about it somewhere else because b-greek doesn't tolerate discussions of that sort.
You can most certainly talk about what something is likely to mean in context, just let the context drive, not theology. We do what to be able to discuss what the text says and means.

B-Greek has loosened up on some things too. Please let the moderators tell people what is and is not appropriate here. We don't want things like text criticism debates or theological debates here, we want to keep the focus on the passage in the original language, on the language itself, etc.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Jonathan Robie » September 1st, 2018, 7:32 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:
August 30th, 2018, 8:49 pm
Maybe @Jonathan Robie can work his syntax tree magic and query for some?
Probably when I get back from Labor Day ... I have been busy on other things this week.
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Garrett Tyson
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Garrett Tyson » September 1st, 2018, 10:13 am

Let me try this one more time, with the benefit of a decent night's sleep and a couple days to think about it and study it.

I've still been wrestling with Decker's view of indicative verbs as being aspect only. Partly because of the feedback I've gotten from this website, I've been deliberately trying to read Romans (and other letters I've been reading) using a more traditional approach to see if/how it works. When I got to 9:3, the imperfect surprised me.

Greek grammars are consistent in explaining imperfects as being/portraying past imperfective actions. Admittedly, this doesn't always seem to make very good sense of particular verbs, so grammarians add a few categories to help explain uses that don't fit this sense.

I didn't realize it initially, but Romans 9:3 is part of a small subset of "wishing" imperfect verbs that are often viewed as being a special use.
As far as I can tell, there are three basic approaches we could take to this imperfect:

(1) We can attempt to treat it as a standard imperfect-- past imperfective action. The end result looks something like Jewett. Even if one disagrees with him, it seems like he does a good job summarizing what that approach would look like.

(2) We can treat it as an exception to the rule, as an imperfect of courtesy/request. Robertson acknowledges that this is being used in present time (especially the use in Acts 24:22). The effect of this use is to somehow soften the wish. This approach would treat this as a special category, without substantially rethinking the function/nature of the imperfect.

(3) Using Decker's approach, we could say the imperfect expresses an imperfective action viewed remotely, usually in time, but also sometimes in logic. Decker's approach in general makes good sense of it, and it turns out he's spent some time specifically unpacking these imperfects. He describes Agrippa's imperfect as a "reticent curiosity" (http://ntresources.com/blog/documents/PorterObj.pdf). Agrippa doesn't want to sound too eager; he's distancing himself from the wish. (I picture it as holding the request out away from himself like a slightly dirty diaper). But he'd nevertheless like to see him. We could maybe gloss the sense of this, "I'd sort of like to see him." But that's not maybe strong enough.

I was curious to see how people on the forum handled Romans 9:3, based on what I've seen so far about the views of the indicative. But I didn't make myself very clear, partly because (1) I was trying to avoid making this into a big Porter/Decker thing, (2) I didn't want to try to steer the conversation that way, and (3) I'd been up since 4:30 and shouldn't have posted on that little sleep.

Returning to Romans 9:3... At this point, what I've settled on is that Paul is, first of all, expressing a present wish (so Jewett is wrong). The entire clause is set up as an explanation or support of his initial statement through the γὰρ. Paul has (imperfective) great pain over his according-to-the-flesh- people.

Ἀλήθειαν λέγω ἐν Χριστῷ, οὐ ψεύδομαι, συμμαρτυρούσης μοι τῆς συνειδήσεώς μου ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ, 2 ὅτι λύπη μοί ἐστιν μεγάλη καὶ ἀδιάλειπτος ὀδύνη τῇ καρδίᾳ μου•
3 ηὐχόμην γὰρ ἀνάθεμα εἶναι αὐτὸς ἐγὼ ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν συγγενῶν μου κατὰ σάρκα,

The force of the γὰρ statement is to show the extent to which this pains him. It's explanatory/supporting. "Evidence of the extent to which I feel this way is...."

Paul then uses an imperfect to express this wish remotely, distancing himself from it to some degree. "For" the pain is great enough that I almost wish I could be cursed from Christ for them. Or, we could maybe gloss it, "part of me wishes I could be cursed from Christ for their sake." "I kind of wish I..." "I half wish..." I'm actually getting quite fond of the last gloss. "I half-wish I could be cursed."

However we gloss it (or understand the implications of the remoteness here), the idea is that Paul distances himself from this wish to some degree, but in a way that doesn't deny the feeling of it. He wishes, but in a way that holds the wish away from himself to some degree like a dirty sock. We don't get the full force of the wish.

It's interesting in reading English translations that they all seem to adopt Robertson's suggested translation, "I could wish," which makes it sound like something Paul hasn't actually been doing.

Maybe I'll attempt a Perseus search of imperfect wishing to see how common this is.

Hopefully this makes more sense...
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Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: The imperfect of Romans 9:3

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » September 1st, 2018, 11:12 am

(1) We can attempt to treat it as a standard imperfect
(2) We can treat it as an exception to the rule
(3) Using Decker's approach

Then there's (4) the modern view informed by linguistics where Koine has both tense (location in time) and aspect, but they can be used in many ways. You seem to think that it would be similar to (2) and contra (3), but it's not that simple.

In Decker's approach "remoteness" is primary while remoteness in time is derived. In the tense+aspect view remoteness in time is primary while it can be used for other kind of remoteness (e.g. remoteness in reality or realization), too. That's how it works in many other languages which have tense, for example in English and Finnish. I don't think a linguist would call it an "exception to the rule".
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