John 8:58

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Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen »

Your opponent's grammatical viewpoint is new to me, and it sounds untenable. This instance of εἰμι really means "to exist", not "to be something". That should be clear from the context. But it's difficult to prove by arguing if the opponent already has a contratry view and doesn't want to accept something which is obvious. This isn't parallel with other I Am sayings of Jesus, even though even seasoned commentators have been confused (or at least confusing). See the latest discussion: Errors in Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek where I also tell my opinion that seeing this as "present of past action" (PPA) of "extending from past present" (EFPP) is questionable. (Historical present is totally out of question. Today we know enough about HP from discourse grammar research that we can say that for sure.)

I have analyzed all "present of past action" instances I could find from the NT and this one doesn't follow the pattern. The main problem with the PPA view is that here πριν really limits the time we are talking about to past, unlike in passages which unambiguously have PPA. For this explanation to work, we would need parallels where either 1) πριν would mean "since before", which is very improbable; or 2) the present tense, at least that of εἰμι, can be without difficulties used in the context where the time we are talking about is limited to past by some explicit syntactical/grammatical expression so that the present tense would act like in PPA. Number 2 seems to be within limits of possible to me, but I need parallels to be convinced. In my opinion it would still be different than PPA.

Then there's a possible option 3) where the present tense of εἰμι would just works as an imperfect. But that's unlikely, given that there exist imperfect forms for that verb. Or maybe the present tense of any verb could behave like this (so that the present could be used instead of imperfect when there's an expression which limits the time to past), but that needs to be proved, not assumed.

I am really, really interested about finding more assumed instances of PPA/EFPP so that I can be sure if my analyzis is correct. Please tell me if you find some outside of NT. Unfortunately I'm not competent enoug to read Koine texts fluently to do that myself.

Another way to approach this is to find all instances of πριν and προ του from Koine literature and see if a present main verb can be used with them. I of course did that for the NT and Septuagint and the result was negative.
Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen »

Scott Lawson wrote: July 30th, 2021, 6:57 pm ….because there isn’t a full paradigm for ειμι (no aorist or perfect) my presumption is that ειμι is here being used with the sense of a present perfect…
Can you prove that? Do you have examples? The problem with seeing this as a perfect is that this doesn't work easily with the semantics of the perfect. It works only in English translation ("I have existed"). As with the view which interprets this as an imperfect, there's the same problem: if John wanted to say that Jesus said he existed before Abraham, why not say so? There exists the imperfect form which would have worked very well. No need to use the present form.
Barry Hofstetter
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Barry Hofstetter »

I see this migrated over from the Facebook discussion. I'm still stuck on πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι. πρίν is really the key word here, before. It's hard to get around that. As for the use of the aorist infinitive, which is relative to the tense of the "controlling verb" (which is just another way of saying the main verb), well, the syntax of the infinitive is a big subject. When used in clauses like this or in indirect statement (though the accusative and infinitive construction is rare in the NT, we mostly get ὅτι clauses instead), the aspect of the infinitive follows essentially the same rule as participles -- an aorist infinitive would then show action prior to that of the main verb. This is practically how everyone since ancient times has understood it including my favorite go-to translator, Jerome (because, you know, Latin):

antequam Abraham fieret ego sum

Jerome renders with a relative clause (antequam) and uses an imperfect subjunctive (fieret) following good Latin grammar in sequence of tenses. "Before Abraham was born..." However he doesn't mess at all with ἐγώ ειμι, but renders it literally with ego sum, leaving us with the same problem as how to render it.

Sometimes it's helpful to have a look at other usages (sometimes?). From Hebrews 10:15, Μαρτυρεῖ δὲ ἡμῖν καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον· μετὰ γὰρ τὸ εἰρηκέναι... Why does anyone think εἰρηκέναι is the "tense" that it is? Admittedly, it's an articular infinitive, but otherwise similar syntax.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter, M.A., Th.M.
Ph.D. Student U of FL
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
καὶ σὺ τὸ σὸν ποιήσεις κἀγὼ τὸ ἐμόν. ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε.
Jonathan Robie
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Jonathan Robie »

I think the syntax is fairly straightforward here. I agree with Barry, πρίν narrows it down. But of course, once you understand the syntax, there are a variety of things that it could mean. The real question is this: what did Jesus mean when he said this?

As often happens, things get complicated when people try to read semantics and broader meanings into the syntax. You have to start with the plain meaning of the sentence. Of course, these sentences are pregnant with meaning beyond the pure syntax, but we can't force the syntax to bear those meanings. Syntax is one layer of meaning, there are many others.
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen »

Barry Hofstetter wrote: July 31st, 2021, 7:26 am the aspect of the infinitive follows essentially the same rule as participles -- an aorist infinitive would then show action prior to that of the main verb. This is practically how everyone since ancient times has understood it
I don't quite follow your flow of thought here. The time of Abraham's beginning depends on the knowledge about the world, I don't see how it would depend on the main verb. The clause could be understood as "before Abraham's birth". The verb is in aorist because being born includes the endpoint of the event by default.

If I understand you correctly you agree that the present tense of the main verb doesn't fit well with this πριν clause.
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen »

Jonathan Robie wrote: July 31st, 2021, 8:01 am I think the syntax is fairly straightforward here.
I think the syntax, grammar and semantics of the πριν clause are straightforward. But the grammar of the present tense of the main verb in this context isn't. Nobody has yet given me examples where an expression which limits the time we are talking about to past is combined with the present tense main verb. (This is the most generic and generous requirement I can think about when I'm requesting parallels or similar examples.) I can't myself find any; therefore I ask if anyone else can find them. Also I very much want to find examples of PPA (which aren't parallels of this) so that I could see if my hypothesis holds.

The original question of this topic, whether ειμι can be interpreted as elliptical "to be (something)" instead of "to exist", is of course very different question. Maybe I was too harsh in my fist comment and sounded like I'm judgemental against people with other views. I just don't see "to be (something)" plausible at all here, considering the context. As far as I know, no commentator has ever even entertained the possibility, but I'm not an expert on exegesis of this passage, either.
Daniel Semler
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Daniel Semler »

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote: July 31st, 2021, 8:59 am
Jonathan Robie wrote: July 31st, 2021, 8:01 am I think the syntax is fairly straightforward here.
I think the syntax, grammar and semantics of the πριν clause are straightforward. But the grammar of the present tense of the main verb in this context isn't. Nobody has yet given me examples where an expression which limits the time we are talking about to past is combined with the present tense main verb. (This is the most generic and generous requirement I can think about when I'm requesting parallels or similar examples.) I can't myself find any; therefore I ask if anyone else can find them. Also I very much want to find examples of PPA (which aren't parallels of this) so that I could see if my hypothesis holds.

The original question of this topic, whether ειμι can be interpreted as elliptical "to be (something)" instead of "to exist", is of course very different question. Maybe I was too harsh in my fist comment and sounded like I'm judgemental against people with other views. I just don't see "to be (something)" plausible at all here, considering the context. As far as I know, no commentator has ever even entertained the possibility, but I'm not an expert on exegesis of this passage, either.
When Scott mentioned PPA I wasn't really convinced. Apparently Wallace either didn't consider this possibility or rejected it in favour of the I AM identity. But I also disliked his test for this, which was translate to English and see if you think it fits, which seems completely contrary to how one ought to go about understanding a stretch of text.

2. Key to Identification

The key to this usage is normally to translate the present tense as an English present perfect. Some examples might not fit such a gloss, however.

Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 520.
https://accordance.bible/link/read/Wallace_Greek#8836

So I'm interested in why PPA might work here ? Is it because of the context, that is, that the one speaking is the one who was before Abraham, and thus by implication still is ? That I suppose I would buy as sufficient to establish the possibility.

Wallace lists other PPA cases that perhaps you've already looked at but I'll add them as you asked for examples. I haven't studied them or this construction adequately really to comment.

3. Illustrations

Luke 15:29 τοσαῦτα ἔτη δουλεύω σοι

I have served you for these many years

2 Pet 3:4 πάντα οὕτως διαμένει ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως

all things thus continue [as they have] from the beginning of creation

1 John 3:8 ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει

the devil has been sinning from the beginning

Cf. also Luke 13:7; John 5:6;18 Acts 15:21; 27:33;19 1 Cor 15:6 (possible).

Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 520.
https://accordance.bible/link/read/Wallace_Greek#8839

Also, Burton, Moods and Tenses lists a couple.

131. (c) THE PRESENT OF PAST ACTION STILL IN PROGRESS, the action denoted beginning before the action of the principal verb and continuing in progress at the time denoted by the latter.

Acts 9:33; εὗρεν δὲ ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπόν τινα ὀνόματι Αἰνέαν ἐξ ἐτῶν ὀκτὼ κατακείμενον ἐπὶ κραβάττου, and there he found a certain man named Æneas, who had been lying on a bed eight years. See also Matt. 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43; John 5:5; Acts 24:10.

Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago press, 1903), paragraph 355.
https://accordance.bible/link/read/Burton_Greek#355

Thx
D
Daniel Semler
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Daniel Semler »

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote: July 31st, 2021, 8:22 am
Barry Hofstetter wrote: July 31st, 2021, 7:26 am the aspect of the infinitive follows essentially the same rule as participles -- an aorist infinitive would then show action prior to that of the main verb. This is practically how everyone since ancient times has understood it
I don't quite follow your flow of thought here. The time of Abraham's beginning depends on the knowledge about the world, I don't see how it would depend on the main verb. The clause could be understood as "before Abraham's birth". The verb is in aorist because being born includes the endpoint of the event by default.

If I understand you correctly you agree that the present tense of the main verb doesn't fit well with this πριν clause.
I assume Barry, you meant that absent πρίν this is how the infinitive works ?
Thx
D
Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen »

Daniel Semler wrote: July 31st, 2021, 12:22 pm So I'm interested in why PPA might work here ? Is it because of the context, that is, that the one speaking is the one who was before Abraham, and thus by implication still is ? That I suppose I would buy as sufficient to establish the possibility.
The present (indicative) tense naturally refers to the time of speaking, and in PPA the time is explicitly stretched to past using some temporal expression. Superficially this works as an explanation. But the reason why it doesn't work is that πριν limits the time totally to the past. It's not so with uncontested PPA examples where the temporal expression is something like "from" or "until now" or "for so long" which all inherently allow interpreting the time continuing to the present moment. πριν just can't work that way any more than English "before" can when combined with something which refers to the past. So, using "before Abraham's birth" prevents talking about the present moment grammatically because it limits the time we are talking about to the time before Abraham's birth (great tautology, isn't it?). The event continuing to the present moment in the real world isn't enough - we are talking about what language allows.
Also, Burton, Moods and Tenses lists a couple.
I have Wallace. Burton is new to me, thanks. I have to look at the other examples, but the quoted one is interesting. It has participle which I think can't be used as a parallel example because participle works differently. The indicative is anchored to the present time while participle isn't. (ειμι being anchored to the time of speaking is exactly what I see as the grammatical problem here, together with the πριν clause.) But I think I understand why Burton sees the phenomenon in a certain way. Maybe participle can belong to the same category, but it's not a parallel for our problematic passage. And even if it can be be used as a parallel, I would require seeing it used with πριν or προ του with the same effect, which I think is impossible.

One problem with using PPA as an explanation is that grammarians don't agree at all about what it is and they don't define it exactly. I haven't seen other grammarians using participles as examples. I have an impression that nobody has ever researched PPA critically. Therefore it's too easy to use it as an explanation and downplay the traditional explanation which takes this as basically ungrammatical as much as "I am" is ungrammatical here as a translation.
Scott Lawson
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Re: John 8:58

Post by Scott Lawson »

There’s just something that nags at me if my interlocutor is correct and it’s possible that there is an unexpressed predicate with εγω ειμι. That means that ειμι is a linking verb and also completes the infinitive and gives it its time. The linking verb seems to function in two different ways simultaneously. I’m probably not describing this rignt…but that’s why it’s nagging at me.
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