Probing the Prologue in the Gospel According to John: John 1:6-8

[See Introduction; John 1:1-2; John 1:3-5]

Some believe the prologue was initially a Christian hymn, repurposed by the Gospel writer.48 At least a few with this perspective construe 1:6-8 as an interpolation, an addition to the original hymn.49 Yet even if the prologue had its genesis as a hymn, with the Gospel writer adapting it, inserting these verses for his own aims, one should hardly view 6-8 as merely parenthetical, as if almost superfluous. On the contrary, these three verses are integral to the overall purpose.50 They serve to shift the light in 1:4-5 from some ambiguous post-creation period to the public sphere at a particular time—thus revealing the apparent polysemy in v. 5—via the witness of a man named John.51

This man, John, is ‘sent from God’ (v. 6). Within the prologue (and the Gospel) he is never identified as “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer”, however the writer consistently records him elsewhere in terms of this function by using various forms of the verb baptize (βαπτίζω, baptizō: 1:25, 26, 28, 31, 33; 3:26; 10:40). Accordingly, he shall be called “the Baptizer” here, in order to differentiate him from the Gospel writer.

The Baptizer will be mentioned yet again in the prologue (v. 15).

A Man Sent from God

 Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ,52 ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης
Egeneto anthrōpos, apestalmenos para theou, onoma autō̧ Iōannēs
Came (a) person,53 having-been-sent from God, name to him John
There was a man, sent from God, named John.

This verse begins with the same verb used throughout v. 3—ginomai (here in the aorist form, egeneto). However, it serves a different purpose in this context, taking on a slightly different nuance. The verb here functions as a discourse marker, signaling a transition, introducing a new character54 (cf. Mark 1:4).

Yet there may be an additional implication in this context. Though the aorist egeneto can be used to signify a ‘coming into being’ at a point in time (cf. 8:58: “Before Abraham came into existence/was born”), it can also indicate a time period, such as an entire lifetime. When considered in conjunction with the perfect participle apestalmenos, as well as the final clause (cf. Luke 1:13: “Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son, and you shall call him John” [to onoma autou Iōannēn]), this interpretation gains plausibility.55 In other words, when the initial (principle) verb is taken in its full sentential context, the Baptizer’s entire existence, beginning from his birth (as foretold in Luke 1:11-20 by Gabriel, who announced both his purpose and the Nazarite restrictions to be placed upon his entire life), is likely authorial intent.

The introduction of the Baptizer in the prologue, his ‘coming’ (egeneto), is contrasted with the introduction of the Word (vv. 1-2), aka the Light (vv. 7-9ff), as ‘being’ (ēn).56 While the Baptizer came (egeneto), as one sent from God within the course of human history, the Word (the Light) existed (ēn) with God in the beginning, pre-history.57 Moreover, the Baptizer was a man (anthrōpos), while the Word (the Light) is identified as God (theos).58

The participle apestalmenos, from apostellō (its noun form apostolos, “apostle”; apostolē is “apostleship, assignment”), means more than merely “sent” here.59 It connotes being commissioned or consigned for a particular purpose. The Baptizer was consigned by God.

The Baptizer Testifies about “the Light”

οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός,
houtos ēlthen eis martyrian hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos,
This-one came for testimony so-that he-might-testify concerning the Light,
This man came as a witness, to testify about the Light,

The writer proceeds from the general of v. 6 to the more specific in 7. In contrast to egeneto in v. 6, ēlthen (the aorist of erchomai) here is best defined “of making an appearance: come before the public, appear”.60 It focuses on the Baptizer’s ministry.

Strictly speaking, a subject pronoun (houtos here) is redundant—all finite verbs encode person and number (though not gender)—so the presence of the demonstrative pronoun provides some measure of emphasis.61 The sense is this particular man (as opposed to another).

The Baptizer was commissioned to bear witness to the Light—not unlike Moses before him, who was commissioned (LXX: apostellō) by the LORD, YHWH to go to Pharaoh, to lead the sons of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10-15).62 The Light is picked up from verse 5, thus firmly situating ‘it’ in the first century via the Baptizer. And, as Hurtado asserts, this ‘Light’ “can only be Jesus, as the succeeding narrative goes on to explain in 1:19-34”.63 Verse 1:31 provides the most succinct statement of his commissioning: “…I came baptizing in water so that He [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel”. This serves as further evidence towards negating the position that “the Word” was an ‘it’—an utterance, or merely a personification of God (see The Word was an “it”? section in 1:1-2).

The clause hina martyrēsȩ̄ is epexegetical, that is, it serves to further explain the preceding eis martyrian.64 The Baptizer came as a witness, but for what purpose specifically? He came as a witness, to testify about the Light.

While the Baptizer’s testimony places the Light into the specific historical setting ca. 30 AD, from the undefined period (and ambiguous function) of vv. 1:4-5,65 one should not think to limit his witness to his first century ministry. The Baptizer continues to testify via this Gospel’s written record (and other New Testament writings) as each new reader imbibes its elixir of life.

Jesus, in speaking with the Pharisees (John 8:12), claims to be “the Light of the world” (to phōs tou kosmou), and those who follow Him will not walk in darkness, but will have “the Light of life” (to phōs tēs zōēs)—certainly a reference to 1:4-5. In v. 4, however, the narrator states that life (zōē) was in the Logos and that this life was “the Light of humanity” (to phōs tōn anthrōpōn).

Jesus explicitly or implicitly refers to Himself as “the Light” a number of times in John’s Gospel (3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36; 12:46).

ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν δι᾿ αὐτοῦ.
hina pantes pisteusōsin di’ autou.
that all might-believe through him.
so that all might come to believe through him.

Since the genitive form (autou) of the Greek personal pronoun autos could represent either a masculine or neuter noun, there is initial ambiguity as to its referent: belief through whom? Is it the Light or the Baptizer? The ambiguity quickly vanishes when the larger context is considered. The subject is the Baptizer, and the emphasis is on his testimony about the Light; thus, the Baptizer is the intended referent. Belief in the Light is to be effected through the Baptizer. The next verse reinforces this. John the Baptizer’s ultimate goal is to bring all to belief in the Light through his testimony—a lofty objective, indeed.

Pantes pisteusōsin di’ autou (“all might believe through him”) here should be compared to v. 3’s panta di’ autou (“all through Him”). In v. 3 panta (“all”) is neuter, denoting the entirety of creation; comparatively, pantes (“all”) in v. 7 is obviously limited to humans (anthrōpos) and is, accordingly, understood to be masculine. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that v. 7’s pantes refers back to the humanity (anthrōpōn) of “the Light of humanity” (to phōs tōn anthrōpōn) in v. 4. The life in the Word is the Light of humanity, and John’s aim is that all men and women believe in this Light.

The use of “believe” here is the very first in John’s Gospel. It forms the initial bookend of an inclusio, with “believe” in 20:31 the other bookend. The Baptizer is one witness among quite a few in this Gospel (the Father, the disciples, etc.), another one being the recording of Jesus’ signs “so that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).66

The aorist subjunctive pisteusōsin, “might believe” is likely ingressive, signifying initial coming to faith (“might come to believe”).67 Yet the temporal sphere of the verb’s action should be understood as encompassing both the Baptizer’s entire earthly ministry and his continuing legacy via the Gospel. All might come to believe by the Baptizer’s words as he spoke them in the first century, and all might come to believe via the record of the Baptizer’s testimony in John’s Gospel in the ensuing centuries on up to the present day.

The Baptizer was Not the Light

οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνος τὸ φῶς, ἀλλ᾿ ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός.
ouk ēn ekeinos to phōs, all’ hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos.
not was that-one the Light, but so that he-might-testify about the Light.
He was not the Light, but ˻he came˼ to testify about the Light.

Once again we find a demonstrative pronoun (ekeinos) used for the Baptizer. In this context, especially given its placement after the verb, it is emphatic, referring back to the demonstrative houtos at the beginning of v. 7.68 The italicized He in the translation illustrates this emphasis.69

Excepting the adversative conjunction alla (the final a elided here), “but”, the last two clauses (hina martyrēsȩ̄ peri tou phōtos) mirror two clauses found in the middle of v. 7. As the phrase is elliptical, with the verb omitted, a verb must be supplied from either v. 7 (ēlthen) or v. 6 (egeneto, or a form of apostellō).70 Most popular English versions insert “he came” (ēlthen)—as rendered here. This seems best, for this is the nearest anteceding principle verb.71

Some believe the emphatic He was not the Light may have been stated in response to a group of individuals who viewed the Baptizer as the Light/Christ (Messiah) or some other lauded figure.72 Possible Biblical evidence for this may be inferred from John 1:19-25 (cf. 3:22-36) and Acts 18:25-19:7. However, some caution must be exercised here, for the Baptizer is highly regarded in this Gospel (and elsewhere), so to see this strictly as a polemic against a presumed John the Baptizer sect is likely overstating the case.73 Rather, this emphatic statement more likely provides a transition to v. 9.74 Moreover, Jesus identifies the Baptizer as “the lamp” (ὁ λύχνος, ho lychnos) in John 5:35. The lamp came not to self-illuminate, he came to shed light on the Light.

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48 Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.334-337; cf. Edwards, Discovering John, pp 84-97.

49 See, e.g., Bultmann, Gospel of John, pp 15-18, 48-49; cf. Bruce (F. F. Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John), who supposes, “It may have been originally a separate composition which has been integrated with the Gospel by having two preliminary sections of narrative dovetailed into it—verses 6-8 and verse 15…” (p 28; cf. p 34). Martin Hengel (“The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth” in Bauckham/Mosser, John and Christian Theology) is “convinced that this hymn corresponds to the text of the Prologue and that only the two passages about John the Baptist in vv. 6-8 and 15—written in the same style as the hymn—have been inserted to clamp it to the Gospel” (p 268).

50 See Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 41; Barrett, St. John, p 159.

51 See Carson, Gospel, pp 119-120; Lincoln, Truth on Trial, p 58.

52 There is no article preceding θεοῦ here, though it is true that the article is lacking before “God”, “Father”, and other ‘concrete’ nouns in prepositional phrases at times throughout Scripture—and as noted earlier in the comments to 1:1a of the non-concrete “beginning”. In John’s Gospel it is lacking after παρα̒ (“from/by”) only a few times (John 1:6 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; 1:14 [παρὰ πατρο̒ς]; 9:16 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; 9:33 [παρὰ θεοῦ]; and maybe 16:27 [split in the manuscripts between παρὰ θεοῦ, παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, and παρὰ {τοῦ} πατρο̒ς]); however, note the presence of the article in a dozen others (John 5:44 [παρὰ τοῦ μόνου θεοῦ]; 6:45 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 6:46 [παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]; 8:38 [παρὰ τῷ πατρι̒, παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 8:40 [παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ]; 10:18 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου]; John 15:15 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 15:26 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς, παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; 16:28 [παρὰ τοῦ πατρο̒ς]; and, John 19:25 [παρὰ τῷ σταυρῷ])—two to three times as many with the article, depending on how one interprets the text critical data in 16:27. Perhaps it’s significant that every time the article is present before “God” and “Father” after παρα̒ Jesus (Word-made-flesh) is speaking, while the times the article is lacking occurs in narrative (1:6; 1:14) or when others are speaking (9:16; 9:33)—excluding verse 16:27 from this analysis. More work needs to be done—that is, analyzing the other prepositional phrases in John—before coming to any conclusions. Of course, we already covered πρὸς τὸν θεόν in both 1:1b and 1:2, but the presence of the article in these may be understood to be a method of differentiating the anarthrous θεός in 1:1c (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος) from ὁ θεός in 1:1b and 1:2, while simultaneously providing some commonality yet distinction between ὁ λόγος as θεός in 1:1c and ὁ θεός of 1:1b and 1:2. In other words, the arthrous θεός in the prepositional phrases of 1:1b and 1:2 may have a separate discourse function.

53 Ανθρωπος is considered gender neutral, generally (e.g. John 1:9; 2:25), yet in the cultural milieu of the first century, the a priori assumption would have been male (see Jaime Clark-Soles’ essay “‘I Will Raise [Whom?] Up on the Last Day’: Anthropology as a Feature of Johannine Eschatology” in New Currents through John: A Global Perspective, eds. Francisco Lozada, Jr. & Tom Thatcher [Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006], pp 33-34). So, even though “man” (as opposed to “woman”) would be assumed, on first reading one should think gender neutrally. Of course, here in 1:6 the gender is made clear by both the masculine participle and the masculine name in the final clause. Note that in John 4 the Samaritan woman is consistently referenced as γυνή, even when she self-references (“being a γυναικὸς Σαμαρίτιδος” [4:9]).

54 Johannes P. Louw & Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1989), Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.1, “γίνομαι,” p 811 (§ 91.5); cf. Beasley-Murray, John, p 12; Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26. Bultmann (Gospel of John, pp 48-49, n 3) sees Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος as a Hebraism, comparing with wayᵉhı̂ ʾı̂š ʾeḥāḏ in Judges 13:2, 19:1 from the same book, and 1 Samuel 1:1, thus, to his mind, providing evidence that (a) this section (vv. 6-8) is not part of the original hymn, but the narrator’s own comments, and (b) that the narrator writes in a Jewish flavor as of one from the area of Syria (p 6). Bultmann finds other commonalities with the Hebrew, as well (p 49, n 3); cf. Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 41. Contra Hengel (“The Prologue”, pp 276-277), who views the verb as punctiliar, paralleling it with ἐγένετο in v. 14.

55 The perfect verbal form can be defined in shorthand as ‘past action with present results’ (see, e.g., H. E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York: MacMillan, 1927], pp 200-205); however, importantly, the time element, including duration, must be determined by context. In the overall context of vv. 6-8, and even the larger context of the entire Gospel, the participle ἀπεσταλμένος here could be viewed as strictly covering his ministry as the Baptizer. Yet, with the initial aorist ἐγένετο and the final clause which seems to allude to Luke 1, it can be viewed as encompassing his earthly existence in its entirety. The aorist ἐγένετο by itself can be understood as either a past action at a particular point in time (“came-to-be”, i.e. birth) or as encompassing a long time period (the aorist is perfective in aspect—see here for explanation), to include even the Baptizer’s whole life. If the participle was also an aorist (or if ἐγένετο was absent, and “sent” was the principle verb and in the aorist), we might be inclined to understand the entire verbal action as strictly punctiliar. But in view of the perfect participle here, ἐγένετο may be better perceived in a constative sense, to include not only the Baptizer’s public ministry (which is not mentioned until the next verse), but his entire ‘coming’, i.e., his earthly life in its totality. In other words, the past action of the perfect would be God’s initial sending (at conception or birth) and the ‘present results’ would consist of his entire earthly life. When comparing the future tense of Luke 1:13’s “you shall call the name of him John” (a then-prophecy) with “Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος…name to him John” (a general truth post-prophetic fulfillment), and given the evidence provided just above, it seems reasonable to see v. 6 as referring to the entire life of the Baptizer. Moreover, comparing ἐγένετο here to ἦλθεν in v. 7, and the specified function stated for the Baptizer there (see below), it seems the Gospel writer intended to start from the general in v. 6 and move to the more specific in v. 7.

56 See Westcott, St. John, para 1146. This writer, though, calls the referent in v. 9 “the Word”.

57 Brown (John I-XII, p 8) observes that ἐγένετο here is, of course, the same verb used in v. 3 and compares with the use of ἦν in vv. 1-2, noting that the former is used of creation, seemingly concluding from this that the Gospel writer used ἐγένετο as a way of identifying the Baptizer as a creature. Leon Morris (Gospel According to John, p 89) is more explicit, acknowledging that, while ἐγένετο here places “no particular emphasis on creation”, the usage in this context “must be held to point a contrast between Jesus and John”.

58 Köstenberger, John, BECNT, p 32.

59 Morris (Leon Morris, Gospel According to John, p 89, n 48) notes that the passive ἀποστέλλω here (cf. 3:28) contrasts with the active voice when this verb is used for Jesus being sent from the Father.

60 BDAG, “ἔρχομαι” (1.b.), p 394.

61 Cf. οὗτος in 1:2.

62 See Barrett, St. John, p 159.

63 Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, p 365.

64 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26; Barrett, St. John, p 159. Lincoln (Truth on Trial, pp 21, 58-60ff, 146) asserts John the Baptizer’s witness is part of a larger “lawsuit motif” in John’s Gospel.

65 See Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, p 34; cf. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, p 129.

66 The bracketed “come to” signifies a text critical issue in 20:31, in which manuscripts are divided between the aorist and the present tense-form. See Harris, John, EGGNT, p 5 for a somewhat detailed discussion.

67 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26.

68 Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26.

69 The KJV renders it “He was not that Light”, likely in an effort to retain, as closely as possible, the original word order in translation.

70 See Harris, John, EGGNT, pp 26-27.

71 This yields ἀλλὰ ἦλθεν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός. While some English versions pick up “sent” from v. 6, this seems dubious. It requires making a periphrastic construction (adding ἦν [from the first clause of v. 8?] to ἀπεσταλμένος) or changing the participle to an aorist (or perfect?) indicative. Louw and Nida (L&N), noting that ἵνα clauses can be “markers of purpose for events and states (sometimes occurring in highly elliptical contexts)”, take ἐγένετο from v. 6 (cf. Harris, John, EGGNT, p 26), rendering this phrase but (this happened) in order that he could witness concerning the light (p 785 [§ 89.59]). But if we apply L&N here we would have two near-consecutive parallel ἵνα clauses (in v. 7 and v. 8) with different meanings, the second one taking the principle verb from the verse preceding the first one (v. 6). Applying Occam’s razor seems prudent here: supplying the principle verb found in the sentence from which this phrase is sourced (v. 7; ἦλθεν) is the simplest solution. While we certainly cannot impose English upon the Greek, this resembles the solution in the following: He went to the convenience store to pick up some milk. He didn’t go grocery shopping, but to the convenience store. We would understand the ellipsis as “he went”, that is: He didn’t go grocery shopping, but [on the contrary] he went to the convenience store (to pick up some milk).

72 See Brown, John I-XII, pp LXVII-LXX; Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.388-391.

73 See Ridderbos, Gospel of John, p 42.

74 Barrett, St. John, p 160; Carson, Gospel, p 121.

Probing the Prologue in the Gospel According to John: John 1:3-5

[See Introduction; John 1:1-2; John 1:6-8]

The earliest New Testament Greek manuscripts were written with no spaces between words and no punctuation. This could pose challenges for readers and interpreters, especially in places where it may be difficult to determine if a given word or words were meant to close one thought or, alternatively, to open another. One such issue presents itself in vv. 3-4. Does “that has been made/that which had come to be” remain with v. 3, or does it begin the thought in v. 4? While most modern English versions adopt the former, evidence from earliest church writings illustrates most preferred the latter.14 Which is correct? My opinion is that John was being purposely ambiguous, thereby allowing both to be correct.15 With this in mind, I will exegete both ways, beginning with the punctuation used in most English translations.

All Things Came into Being through the Word

In 1:3 John uses the same verb (γίνομαι, ginomai) three different times. This verb has various nuances, most under the same basic meaning of come-to-be or become. The Gospel writer will use this verb quite often, playing on its nuances as a way to self-reference previous and future uses of this same verb, and juxtaposing one nuance with another:

πάντα δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν
panta di’ autou egeneto, kai chōris autou egeneto oude hen ho gegonen
all through him came-to-be, and without him came-to-be not even one that/which has come-to-be
Through Him all things came to be, and without him not even one thing came to be that has come to be

The first clause states it positively, the second negatively to emphasize the point. The pronoun “Him” must refer to the logos, “the Word”. All things came into existence through the Word, and not one thing has come into existence apart from the Word. Panta (without the article) means all things individually in a distributive sense—animate, inanimate, the invisible realm—rather than all things collectively (which would be ta panta, itself akin to ho kosmos [see v. 10], the universe/world).16  The verb in both the first and the second clause is in the same tense-form (aorist), conveying the same meaning. The final ho gegonen is in the perfect form.  The primary meaning of the perfect here is resultative: all things that had come into being are as a result of the mediating work of the Word.

Taken together, 1:1-3 illustrates the Word’s precreation existence. The Word was, while all things (creation) came to be through the Word, thus creation ex nihilo is being described. As the mediate Agent of the creation event (not an intermediary between God and creation),17 logically, the Word’s “beginning” (1:1-2) predates creation. Also, since all things came into existence through the Word, this clearly establishes His pre-temporality, His eternality. Furthermore, that He was “in the beginning with God” establishes that the Word is co-eternal with God.

While “Wisdom” is undoubtedly a backdrop here, the description of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-30 indicates that it is not an exact parallel. In other words, “the Word” is not just another name for “Wisdom”. Proverbs 8:22 specifies that Wisdom is a created ‘being’18—the first of created things (cf. Prov. 3:19), but created nonetheless. Since the Word is uncreated, and is Agent of creation, Wisdom apparently was the Word’s first creation. However, one must keep in mind that the associated Wisdom literature in general is metaphorical, and even allegorical, so it would be precarious to take it too literally. Should we be just as cautious with “the Word” here? In other words, have we been taking an intended metaphor or allegory too far, in asserting a literal, personal “Word” alongside God (the Father)? The answer will come as we progress.

Jesus Christ, the Son also Agent of Creation?

There are other NT Scriptures which speak of an agent in creation. Since most scholars are of the opinion that John’s Gospel was written late in the first century (I agree with this assessment), it would seem reasonable to assume that the Gospel writer was aware of at least some of these texts. Moreover, if The Gospel According to John is part of sacred Scripture—and it is, of course—then we should take it as Holy Spirit inspired, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). That is, the Holy Spirit would have superintended John’s writing and likely have led him to associated Scripture to allude or refer to.

With this in mind, in First Corinthians 8:6 we find God the Father and Jesus Christ in a context about creation: “for us there is but one God, the Father, from Whom are all things [ta panta] and for Whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things [ta panta] and through Whom we exist.” Similarly, in Colossians 1:16 we find of Jesus Christ, the Son: “For in Him all things [ta panta] were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible—whether thrones or dominions, rulers or authorities—through Him and for Him all things have been created and stand created.”19 Finally, in Hebrews 1:2 it is said of the Father that “through” the Son He “made the ages”.  Obviously, there is some sort of overlap between “the Word” and Jesus Christ, the Son, for both cannot be the sole agent of creation.

But there are even more Scriptures in this vein. In John 17:5 Jesus is recorded making a request to the Father to return to the glory they shared “before the world existed”, and in 17:24 Jesus states that the Father loved Him “before the world’s foundation”.  In Revelation 3:14, John records the glorified Jesus referring to Himself as ἡ ἀρχὴ τῆς κτίσεως τοῦ θεοῦ, hē archē tēs ktiseōs tou theou, the Beginning of the creation of God, or, in better English, the Beginning of God’s creation. It could even be understood the Originator,20 or, the Ruler of God’s creation. Since Jesus of Nazareth, Christ Jesus, is verifiably a historical person, we are assured that these Scriptures just referenced are not mere allegory. Moreover, “the Word” and Jesus Christ seem in some way to be the same person; and, given this, apparently “the Word” is not allegorical.  But does this indicate Jesus Christ was and is a precreation Being? That answer will become evident a bit later in the prologue.

In Him was Life, the Light of Humanity

Continuing to v. 4:

ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων
en autō̧ zōē ēn, kai hē zōē ēn to phōs tōn anthrōpōn
in Him/it life was, and the life was the light of (the) men
In Him was life, and that life was the light of humanity

This is fairly straightforward. Like 1:1a, the initial clause places the predicate en autō̧ (dative case, indirect object) first, which means that “life” is the subject here. Thus, we could rearrange it Life was in Him.

But there are two different ways of interpreting v. 4. First, it could be understood In the Word was life, and that life, which came to exist as a result of His mediatorial work in the creation event, was the light of humankind—an allusion to Genesis 2:7. The second way it could be construed is In the Word was life, and that life was the light of humankind—light to those who come to renewed life as a result of believing in Him/His name (1:7, 12; 20:31). The verb used throughout 1:3 (γίνομαι, ginomai) is also found in 1:12, yet in the latter it means not come-to-be, as in from nothing to something, but become, as in from ‘this’ to ‘that’ (cf. 5:24—from death to life).

If one had to choose between the first or second interpretation, perhaps the latter would be a better fit, given the larger context. However, I submit that the Gospel writer fully intended both meanings. A newcomer to John’s Gospel—though one well-versed in the Tanakh (OT)—on first reading would see Genesis 1-2 here, the initial creation event, and nothing more. But a subsequent reading would reveal the deeper meaning.

Given the presence of the article before each of the nominatives (hē and to, respectively) in the second part of this statement—kai hē zōē ēn to phōs tōn anthrōpōn—it is fully convertible, in which the subject “the life” and the predicate “the light of humanity” are interchangeable (A = B / B = A). Accordingly, in the Word is “the life”, and in the Word is “the light of humanity”. As we noted earlier, Word is masculine in gender, however, life is feminine, while light is neuter. These gender distinctions will prove to be important.

While “life” is mentioned only here in the prologue—and only in 1:4 and 8:12 in conjunction with “light”—this term is a central aspect of John’s Gospel. The referent in the prologue is the Word, yet in the rest of The Gospel According to John it is most often in relation to Jesus Christ, and the majority of these instances are in regard to eternal life. Somewhat ironically and somewhat paradoxically, the One who lays down His ‘life’ (psychē) (10:11-18; 15:13) is the One who provides eternal life (zōē aiōnios)—as the Son of Man (3:14-15), the Son of God (3:16; 5:21, 24, 29, 39-40; 10:28; 12:25, 50), or as both (6:27-68)—to those who believe in His name (1:12; cf. 20:31). This eternal life is also known as “living water” (4:10-14), provided by Jesus Christ, the Messiah (4:25-26). Thus, we have another direct connection between the eternal Word and the temporal Jesus.

Somewhat similar to the way in which First (Ethiopic) Enoch is directly referenced in Jude (Jude 1:14-15 > 1 Enoch 1:9) or alluded to (Jude 1:6 > 1 Enoch 10:4, 12),21 “life” finds points of contact with extra-Biblical Wisdom literature here.22 In some of these works both Wisdom (cf. Prov. 3:18; 13:14) and Torah (cf. Deut. 4:1; 8:1) provide or personify life.23 An example of the former is in Sirach 4:12: Whoever loves [Wisdom] loves life, and those who arise early for her will be filled with joy. An example of the latter is in Sirach 17:11: [The Lord] grants them knowledge and the Law of life is distributed to them.

Baruch (aka 1 Baruch) has a self-contained Wisdom poem in 3:9—4:424 (3:12: fountain of Wisdom), in which Wisdom is to be found in the Torah, the Law that exists forever (ὁ νόμος ὁ ὑπάρχων εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ho nomos ho hyparchōn eis ton aiōna), and those embracing it will receive life (4:1). Conversely, those who forsake the Wisdom found in the Torah will die (4:1).

But are these exact parallels, or do they function as background? Or do they provide the means by which to a make a qal vachomer argument—an argument from the lesser to the greater? This will be revealed later in the prologue.

That Which Had Come to Be in Him was Life

As mentioned earlier, the grammar is ambiguous in 1:3-4 to the extent that it is possible to pair ho gegonen at the end of v. 3 with the first clause of v. 4. This is the way it was interpreted in the writings of the ante-Nicene age (before the Council of Nicea in 325 AD) and in the earliest punctuated Greek manuscripts25 (which include C and D—the earlier P66, P75, ℵ, A, and B do not contain any punctuation; the image of P75 in the Introduction is an illustration of this). An example of this interpretation is found in Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 367):

“That which was made in him was life.” That which was in him was certainly not made without him, for that which was made in him was also made through him. All things were created in him and through him . . . None of the things that were created in him was made without him, for he is the life that made their creation possible.26

Hilary seems to be emphasizing that not only were all things made through the Word, but all was made in Him (cf. first clause of Col. 1:16 [en autō̧], and last clause of Col. 1:16 [di’ autou]); that is, the Word was not an intermediary, not a mere conduit of God (cf. Col 1:16 [eis auton]).

Some specifics in the grammar of 1:3-4 need to be explained in order to engage with other possible interpretations. The relative pronoun (ho) governing gegonen is a neuter singular nominative. The pronoun in en autō̧ is a 3rd person singular masculine/neuter; in other words, the dative (indirect object) form of the personal pronoun is the same for masculine or neuter referents. Also, all finite verbs encode number and person (but not gender)—in the case of ēn (“was”) here, it is 3rd person singular. This means that in finite verbs the subject is automatically implied, though the reader must look to the context, since gender is not expressed in the verb.27 Thus, the grammar yields two additional possibilities, though the meaning is essentially the same:

That which had come to be, in Him [the Logos as dative of cause] was the life (for it).
That which had come to be, in it He [the Logos as implied subject for the verb ēn] was the life.28

Rearranging the twisted syntax into perhaps better English:

That which had come to be, (its) life was in Him.
That which had come to be, He [the Logos] was the life in it.

This interpretation understands logos as life source. Also, implied in the above, the Word is the ever-continuing cohering and sustaining power of all that exists—a parallel to Colossians 1:17 and Hebrews 1:3. Keener cites one writer who begins with kai in v. 3, taking that in conjunction with the first clause of v. 4, making this into one sentence: [and] nothing came into being without him that exists in him; he was life.29

Another variation in this vein is to understand ho gegonen is a reference to the new creation “in Him”—a narrowing down of all creation to include only those who believe in His name—such that That which had come-to-be-in-Him was life.30

One of the reasons for conjoining ho gegonen with en autō̧ zōē ēn is based, in part, on ‘staircase parallelism’. In this literary device, the predicate of the first line becomes the subject of the next, and so forth. The Gospel writer does seem to employ this device in the first five verses, thus providing evidence for taking ho gegonen with what follows it.

Early Non-Christian Interpretations

But it appears that at least some fourth and fifth century (and later) interpreters who changed to (or preferred) the punctuation which is now found in most modern translations were responding to heretics claiming it was the Holy Spirit described as “that which had been created”.31 This is possible grammatically, given the neuter singular relative pronoun preceding gegonen. Thus, one could interpret this sentence as That which had come to be [aka The Spirit], in Him [the Word] was the life (for it).  Assuming the post-Nicene punctuation was to counter this claim, this need not have been, as neither the immediate nor the larger context has the Holy Spirit in view at all, thereby rendering such an interpretation a clear example of eisegesis, and easily refutable on that basis.

However, some fourth century Arians interpreted it yet another way, by understanding that it was the Word’s “life” that had come-to-be, which would indicate that the Word had undergone a change, and thus could not be equal to the Father. But, what about that neuter relative pronoun preceding gegonen?32 This clearly refers to what is described by the verbal action earlier in v. 3 (egeneto, “came-to-be”), all things which had come through the Word. But the Arian interpretation was apparently such that egeneto meant “become” in the sense of from ‘this’ to ‘that’. With this in mind, “all things” must have been in some form prior to the Word’s creative action. Thus, through the Word’s own creative action, all things were transformed, which would include the Word Himself, who was transformed such that the result was “life in Him”. In short, when the Word was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2), the Word existed in one form; and subsequent to that, the Word underwent some sort of metamorphosis when all things came-to-be through Him, such that His form had fundamentally changed.

But just like the above in which the Holy Spirit is interpreted as the referent, one must question whether this interpretation is valid contextually. Although the Word is certainly in the immediate context, construing the Word as undergoing change seems a bit forced. For the moment, for the sake of discussion, we will grant the Arian position that v. 3 is describing a metamorphosis of what could be described as pre-creation matter (rather than creation ex nihilo). According to this view then, all things became transformed through the Word and not even one thing became transformed apart from the Word. But it seems a bit odd to think that the Agent of this metamorphosis of creation would Himself be affected by the transformation He effected. Are we to think the Word is a created entity? Is the Word really Wisdom after all—the first created thing? In 1:1-2 is the beginning referring to a pre-creation period, understood to be the foundation, which would subsequently undergo a metamorphosis in v. 3?

This all sounds very plausible until we dig a bit further. While John 17:24 records Jesus describing the love the Father had for Him before the world’s foundation, John 17:5 records Jesus’ request to the Father that He regain the glory they shared before the world existed. If this should fail to persuade the reader, Colossians 1:16 specifically uses κτίζω, ktizō—which means create, build—in reference to the Son’s activity in relation to “all things”. Therefore, the Word cannot be understood to be a created entity, and it stands to reason that 1:3 refers to creation ex nihilo. So, once again, if the post-Nicene punctuation arose in response to this Arian interpretation, it seems an unnecessary change.33

Modern Day Interpretations

Despite the fact that the ante-Nicene punctuation is found in the Critical Text (CT, currently the NA28/UBS5)—the Greek text upon which the modern English translations are largely based (see period/full stop after ἕν here)—the newer versions overwhelmingly depart from the CT here, placing the stop after ho gegonen, rather than before it. Below is a page showing John 1:1-5 from the 1961 The Greek New Testament specifically used for the New English Bible (NEB) translation, a version that failed to gain wide acceptance, which preferred the ante-Nicene punctuation.34

NEB John 1

Greek text for John 1:1-5 in NEB 1961

The superscripted cursive a just before ἕν (hen) in v. 3 points to a footnote reference illustrating the option of putting the stop after ἕν (hen) instead—an option the NEB 1961 rejected. Here is the corresponding page in the English version:35

NEB 1961 John (2)

John 1:1-5 in NEB 1961. Photocopy courtesy Tricia Tillin at http://www.birthpangs.org

Similarly, the New Revised Standard Version uses the ante-Nicene punctuation.

But it may not be necessary to choose one over against the other. As stated above, my position is that John the Gospel writer intended ambiguity such that more than one meaning is to be derived—as opposed to can be derived. Assuming this is correct, this would be an example of intentional amphiboly, in which this section of the prologue is intentionally multi-syntactic, syntactically ambiguous. That is, given the syntax, there is more than one correct way to punctuate, yielding multiple meanings in context. In addition, the writer intended it to be poly-semantic, as in “life” here refers to all creation in a global sense, and, alongside this, “life” refers only to the new creation. Stated another way, ho gegonen is meant both to complete the thought in v. 3 (put a period after ho gegonen, as shown in this 1904 Greek text) and to begin the phrase of the first clause of v. 4 (put a full stop before ho gegonen) such that the reader can and should take it both ways, yielding more than one interpretation.36 And, in a sense, the staircase parallelism remains intact in the Greek—no matter how one reads or punctuates the English.37

This amphiboly provides an apt segue into the latter part of v. 4, in which the light of humanity can be understood broadly (cosmologically), as in sunlight (light for humanity), or as a narrowing down (soteriologically) to include only those who believe in His name. This then sets up the next verse.

The Light Not Mastered by the Darkness

καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
kai to phōs en tȩ̄ skotia̧ phainei, kai hē skotia auto ou katelaben.
And the light in the darkness shines, and the darkness not overcome/understand
The light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not apprehend it.

Carson calls 1:5 “a masterpiece of planned ambiguity”.38 Once again, a newcomer to John’s Gospel would likely only see the creation event of Genesis 1-2 here. But, of course, the Gospel writer intends much more than that.39

The final verb is a compound word consisting of the preposition kata and the verb lambanō. The former means down, the latter take or receive, but as with many words prefixed with a preposition, the resulting word acquires intensification and an additional nuance. Its basic definition is grasp, as in either hostile (seize) or non-hostile (secure), though, alternatively, it can carry the idea of mental grasping (perceive).40 Danker asserts that the writer in this context intends the combined “sense of grasp as seize and comprehend.”41 The translation “apprehend” above is an attempt to capture this perceived polysemy.

The tense-form of the verb translated “shines” (present active indicative) conveys ongoing activity (imperfective aspect).42 Comparatively, the tense-form of the final verb “apprehend” (aorist active indicative) describes the action as a simple bounded whole, without regard for any ongoing activity (perfective aspect).43 This is also purposed for John’s overall conception, though it becomes more obvious on subsequent readings.

On first reading, one could understand all of 1:1-5 cosmologically, such that the darkness of Genesis 1:2 would not overcome the light of Genesis 1:3. But after having read through John’s Gospel, a subsequent reading of the prologue may prompt the reader to see an allusion to Genesis 3.44 More likely, the light/darkness dichotomy exhibited throughout the Gospel will bring the reader to perceive a connection between v. 5 and vv. 10-11.45 While the Light continued and continues to shine (imperfective aspect) in order to illuminate the darkness (8:12; 9:5), the darkness chose to remain in darkness (3:19-21), failing to comprehend the true nature of the Light (11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46).46 This failure of darkness encompasses the entire temporal sphere—for all time. Those in darkness can be brought to the Light through the continuous shining of the Light, but the darkness itself remains.

In both Jewish and Greek milieus antithesis was a common rhetorical device.47 This fact likely accounts for the Gospel writer’s use of the light/darkness motif (and other dichotomies). While the writer would cease from using life in the prologue, he would continue to use the Light as an apparent substitute for the Word.

[Go to John 1:6-8.]

——————————————————–

14 See Westcott, St. John, para 1512-1537 [ADDITIONAL NOTES on Chap. 1:3-4.]; cf. Brown, John I-XII, pp 6-7.

15 While I could not initially find confirmation for this hypothesis in any of the commentaries I consulted, I was delighted to see the following expressed in Comfort, Text and Translation Commentary: “[S]ince the prologue is poetic, it is possible that John intended ambiguity; thus, it is not a question of which reading is correct . . . ancient readers could read it either way and still make sense of it” (p 252). Amen!

16 See Harris, John, EGGNT, p 22.

17 In Revelation 4:11 the ultimate Creator of all things is the One Who sits on the Throne: ὅτι σὺ ἔκτισας τὰ πάντα, καὶ διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου ἦσαν καὶ ἐκτίσθησαν, hoti sy ektisas ta panta, kai dia to thelēma sou ēsan kai ektisthēsan, “. . . for You created all things—because of Your Will they came to exist, they were created” (my own translation, as is all Scripture throughout). Cf. Rev. 10:6; Acts 14:16.

18 The Hebrew in Proverbs 8:22 is the verb qānānı̂, which means possess, buy, or create, while the LXX (aka, Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT by Jewish scholars ca. 200BC) uses ktizō, which means create, build, found (as in “foundation”).  The word being here is in quotes because the language appears to be allegorical, not literal, with Wisdom personified (cf. Prov. 3:15-18) though not an actual person. Though some English versions apparently translate from the Hebrew (rather than the LXX), translating the verb as possess, this indicates an interpretative choice that does not necessarily mean God did not ‘acquire’ Wisdom at some point. Yet 8:23 reads (LXX): πρὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐθεμελίωσέν με ἐν ἀρχῇ, pro tou aiōnos ethemeliōsen me en archȩ̄, “before the ages I was established—in the beginning”. But the verb here means either found or establish, and in either case, the connotation is some sort of generative event (the verb in 8:25 [LXX] is “beget”). Both Keener (Gospel of John, pp 1.367-369) and Brown (John I-XII, p 522) assert that Wisdom here is a creation.

19 In Him I take as locative, rather than instrumental. See Constantine R. Campbell, Colossians and Philemon, BHGNT (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2013), p 11; cf. Murray J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon, EGGNT (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2013): “[A] . . . local sense is to be preferred. ‘All things in heaven and on earth’ were created in God’s beloved Son (v. 13), not in the sense that he was the preexistent or ideal archetype of creation but in the sense that creation occurred . . . ‘within the person of’ Christ. In his person resided the creative energy that produced all of creation . . . “(p 40). This, I think, is to be compared and contrasted with dia and eis used at the end of this verse, which clearly refer to the Son as both agent of creation and the one for whom all things were created, respectively. That is, though a human person as part of creation could not possibly have been agent of creation (thus, in Him), in some sense the Son was the agent of creation. Within the Son resided the creative power used in the creation event, yet all things have been created and stand created through Him, though also for the Son (see Harris, Colossians and Philemon, p 41). A paradox.

20 Keener, Gospel of John, specifically calls ἡ ἀρχή here, “a divine title signifying the originator of creation” (p 1.366, nt 14).

21 Thanks to Steve Delamarter’s handy A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), p 47, for providing quick reference.

22 See Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.300-301, 350-363, 367-369, 386; cf. Brown, John I-XII, pp 519-522.

23 Keener, Gospel of John, p 1.386.

24 David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), pp 198-199.

25 Westcott, St. John, paragraph 1516 [notes at end of chapter 1]. Westcott did not have P66 and P75 at the time, for these papyri were not discovered until the 1950s. While Westcott claims that A includes punctuation, both Comfort (Text and Translation Commentary, p 252) and Metzger (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/German Bible Society, 1994], p 167) claim it does not.

26 “On the Trinity 2.20,” in Joel C. Elowsky, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, IVa: John 1-10, Thomas Oden, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), p 23; emphasis in original.

27 This means that a finite verb can function as a complete sentence by itself.

28 See Bultmann, Gospel of John, pp 38-40. The verb ἦν here should be understood as inceptive.

29 Keener, Gospel of John, 1.382. Here Keener refers to an article by Peter Van Minnen: “The Punctuation of John 1:3—4”, Filologia neotestamentaria 7, no. 13 (1994): 33-41.

30 See Brown, John I-XII, p 7.

31 See Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Gospel of John, 5-1-2”, in Elowsky, p 23; cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, p 167.

32 On the surface, another possibility emerges in the grammar. Given that the earliest manuscripts did not contain any punctuation, the lone omicron (Ο, transliterated ho) could be construed as a masculine definite article (instead of a neuter relative pronoun), making the Word its antecedent. But this would be a grammatical anomaly, and highly unlikely; see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 237, 62-64.

33 While Brown, John I-XII, does not offer an opinion on this change in punctuation, both sides are briefly discussed (p 6); cf. Comfort Text and Translation Commentary, p 252. Comfort, Text and Translation Commentary, also notes that P66 does not include the en before autō̧, either by accident (ΟΓΕΓΟΝΕΝΕΝΑΥΤΩ becomes ΟΓΕΓΟΝΕΝΑΥΤΩ through homoeoteleuton—omission because a series of letters are duplicated, causing the less than careful copyist to miss the second set), or on purpose to make the text less likely to be interpreted as per the Arians. In any case, the resultant text would more clearly be understood That which has come to be by Him was life.

34 R. V. G. Tasker, ed., The Greek New Testament: Being the Text Translated in The New English Bible 1961, Edited with Introduction, Textual Notes, and Appendix (Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford UP and  Cambridge UP, 1964), p 140. Importantly, neither P66 nor P75 were available to the translation committee.

35 C. H. Dodd, ed., The New English Bible: New Testament (Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford UP and Cambridge UP, 1961). Though the NEB, in its germination stage, was initially intended to be a revision of the English Revised Version (1885—translation committee included both B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort), the committee instead decided on making a completely new Greek text from the now more widely available Greek manuscripts (and other language versions). In 1970, an update included the Apocrypha: C. H. Dodd, ed., The New English Bible with the Apocrypha (Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1970). Below is John 1:1-5, including the footnote on the division regarding the syntactical variation of 3-4:

NEB 1970 John (2)

John 1:1-5 in NEB 1970. Photocopy courtesy Tricia Tillin at http://www.birthpangs.org

36 Along with Comfort’s amenability to this stance (see note 15 above), Köstenberger (John, BECNT, p 30 nt 32) cites T. L. Brodie, The Gospel according to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary (New York: Oxford UP, 1993), as confirming the position adopted here, understanding this text “as inherently ambiguous and as being ‘part of a careful literary strategy’ designed to focus on ‘the continuity between creation and the incarnation, between creation and redemption’” (p 138). I will agree with Brodie here, except his understanding that the Incarnation is part of this context. Note that Köstenberger himself sides with most modern commentaries and most modern versions.

37 Although the majority of the committee in Metzger’s Textual Commentary preferred the ante-Nicene punctuation, Metzger himself strongly opposed it. Those of the committee in favor of the rendering explain: “[It] is in accord with what a majority regarded as the rhythmical balance of the opening verses of the Prologue, where the climactic or ‘staircase’ parallelism seems to demand that the end of one line should match the beginning of the next” (p 167). In his bracketed response, Metzger rejects staircase parallelism here as “present in only a portion of the Prologue, and may not necessarily involve ὃ γέγονεν” (pp 167-168). While Metzger is correct that this particular parallelism is not in use for the entire prologue, it does seem to be a feature of the first five verses. To further support his stance, Metzger notes that the post-Nicene punctuation which results in v. 4 beginning with ἐν αὐτῷ is characteristically Johannine, while, in a footnote, he characterizes exegesis for the ante-Nicene punctuation as exhibiting “valiant attempts . . . to bring sense out of the passage” that are yet still “intolerably clumsy and opaque” (p 168). There is also a multi-witness textual variant replacing the first ἦν (“was”) in v. 4 with ἐστίν (“is”)—universally rejected (and rightly so, I opine) by the committee (p 168)—apparently in an attempt to smooth out a perceived difficulty in the ante-Nicene rendering. However, I think that understanding ἦν as inceptive alongside its inherent imperfective aspect (ongoing activity) would work just fine (while concomitantly construing the perfect ὃ γέγονεν as both conveying entry into the resultant state of what had-come-to-be, and the resultant state itself), thereby rendering unnecessary this change in verb tense. If this verbal interpretation is viable, this would provide a counter to those amenable to Metzger’s position. Nevertheless, if John were employing amphiboly intentionally—as I contend he is—most of these sorts of discussions would be rendered moot. Certainly, it is not unusual for a poem to begin a thought at the end of one line and continue it to the next; therefore, such attempts to try to fit the punctuation (or not) to the staircase parallelism seem unnecessary.

38 Carson, Gospel, p 119.

39 Carson, Gospel, states, “it is quite possible that John, subtle writer that he is, wants his readers to see in the Word both the light of creation and the light of the redemption the Word brings in his incarnation” (p 120).

40 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 191.

41 Ibid. Emphasis in original. Cf. Keener, Gospel of John, p 1.387. Contra, e.g., Köstenberger, Encountering John, p 55, in which the author opines that “overcome” is the primary meaning, though “understand” may be ‘latent’ (my word) in the verse “in preparation of 1:10-11”.

42 See, e.g., Rodney J. Decker, Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014), pp 224-225. An example: John was writing his Gospel. This indicates a process: John’s (then) ongoing activity of writing.

43 Ibid. Example: John wrote his Gospel. While this is past time, perfective aspect can be used for present or future—any temporal sphere. A good illustration for a long period of time is Romans 5:14: Death reigned from Adam to Moses. The example in our text can be interpreted a number of ways, to include what is called gnomic, in which the time period covers all of temporal existence.

44 See Brown, John I-XII, p 8. This understanding would indicate the aorist κατέλαβεν is reflecting a one-time past event.

45 See Barrett, St. John, p 158.

46 See Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.382-387 for fuller discussion of light, including light as Wisdom and Torah; cf. Brown, John I-XII, pp 519-522.

47 Keener, Gospel of John, pp 1.386-387.

 

It is Perfectly Finished, part II

[On 05/08/17 an addendum was appended (9:25pm). See part I]

28 After this, knowing that now everything was completed, Jesus said—so that Scripture might be perfected—“I’m thirsty.” 29 A container was lying there full of wine vinegar; so, affixing a sponge soaked with the wine vinegar to some hyssop, they brought it to His mouth. 30 After Jesus received the wine vinegar He said, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit (John 19:28-30)

He Handed Over His Spirit

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh’s Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John has some relevant insights into Jesus’ final human act:

Simultaneous with these words [“It is finished”], Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit . . . literally “he handed over the spirit” . . . Yet for those who believe in Jesus, something quite other happened. When human beings die, while struggling for life to the end, they stop breathing and then their head drops. But here Jesus first bows his head, and only then does he give up his spirit. As a king who was lifted up, he “gives the nod.” The act of sanctioning by a king was indicated by movement of the head; approbation is declared by a sign of the god’s head . . . “Zeus gave a sign with his head and ratified his wish” (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 222).

After thus ratifying that his purpose has been fully accomplished, Jesus hands over his spirit to those around the cross—the community of those who believe in him their leader, the beloved disciple and the witnessing women.33

In order to fully analyze their words, a few points of grammar need to be addressed. First, it can be argued that “It is finished” precedes the bowing of His head. The Greek word in between the two—kai—is a conjunction, a connective, with a host of meanings such as and, also, but, and yet, then, even, among others. It seems more likely that Jesus would utter His final words using the remaining strength He possessed before He’d breathe no longer, bowing His head in death—though this is, admittedly, only one possible interpretation.

The verb for bowed, is a participle (aorist active), which is part of a dependent clause (bowed His head), the main clause on which it depends being He handed over His the spirit.34 In Greek, the participle is known as a ‘verbal adjective’, with characteristics of both a verb and an adjective. Like a finite verb, it encodes tense and voice (active, passive, or middle-passive). Like an adjective, it encodes gender, number, and case. Unlike the Greek finite verb, however, the participle does not denote mood or person—these are to be found in the main verb in the clause on which it relies. The Greek participle may function in a variety of ways; it is more diverse than the English participle.35

In the present instance, the participial phrase is acting adverbially.36 While the verbal action of the participial clause (bowed His head) could (a) antecede the final sentence (He handed over His the spirit), the action may well (b) coincide with it. The sense of the two options would be: (a) After bowing His head, He handed over His the spirit; or, (b) Bowing His head, He [simultaneously] handed over His the spirit. Statistically, when a participle precedes the main verb, as it does here, its relative time is more likely to antecede that of the main clause;37 however, “like any verb form in Greek, [time] must be determined by the larger context”.38 And since the context here provides no explicit cues, it may be one or the other.

Recent work in Discourse Analysis may be of assistance here, as, recognizing that all participles rely on the main verb with which they are associated, this subservient nature of the participle typically “has the effect of backgrounding the action of the participle, indicating that it is less important than the main verbal action”.39 In other words ‘handing over His spirit’ is more important than ‘bowing His head’. But this still does not provide a definitive answer; the translator must make an exegetical decision, or leave it sufficiently ambiguous for the interpreter (such as bowing His head, He handed over His the Spirit, or He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit).

In any case, if we accept the Malina-Rohrbaugh sequence—“It is finished” [at the same time as] He bowed His head [and after that] He handed over His the spirit—then their insight of a kingly/godly act depicted here is plausible. And it is certainly possible that the Gospel writer had contemporaneous Greco-Roman literature in mind as a background here—not to appeal to as authoritative literature, of course, but to provide yet another backdrop—assuming, perhaps, that the audience might understand this connection. This motif could also provide a point of connection with John 10:34-38.

While I agree with their translation ‘handed over his spirit’ “handed over the spirit” (the verb is in the active rather than passive voice),40 the question of who Jesus hands it over to must be addressed. However, before that can be adequately answered, “spirit”, pneuma, must be identified. In this context, is it Jesus’ human spirit, or is it the Holy Spirit, as the authors imply above?41

Brown finds it plausible that “Jesus handed over the (Holy) Spirit to those at the foot of the cross” as “a symbolic reference to the giving of the Spirit” understood proleptically, that is, prefiguring 20:22 and Pentecost (Acts 2).42 However, against Brown and Malina-Rohrbaugh, it may be best to simply understand the recipient of the pneuma as the Father (as in the Synoptic parallel in Luke 23:46), to whom the Son willingly obeyed, ‘laying down His life’ (10:17), and to whom the Son hands over His human spirit. But how does one decide which is correct?

Which Pneuma?

Comfort notes that an early Greek manuscript (P66, ca. late 2nd to 3rd  century) expresses pneuma in 19:30 as a nomen sacrum—a contraction of the word using its first, second, and last letters, with an overline atop all three (Π͞Ν͞Α)—usually a method to signify the Holy Spirit.43 Nomina sacra (plural of nomen sacrum) were also used for God, Son of God, Son of Man, Christ, Jesus, etc. in apparent reverence, this practice having begun in early antiquity.44 This indicates that the scribe either copied the nomen sacrum directly from his exemplar (the copy from which he was copying), or that he made a conscious exegetical choice to amend his document, “perhaps denoting that he considered Jesus to have been handing over the divine Spirit.”45 However, even if this particular scribe made an editorial decision to change the text, we cannot presuppose his theological motivation. Even still, this is merely one extant manuscript with this designation.

A Scriptural examination of the Gospel’s use of pneuma may be instructive.46 The term is used twenty-four times in John’s Gospel, with the overwhelming majority (17 times) in reference to the Holy Spirit (1:32, 1:33{x2}, 3:5, 3:6{contrasted with human spirit spirit in a general sense}, 3:8{x2—first occurrence a double entendre of wind/Spirit}, 3:34, 6:63{x2}, 7:39{x2}, 14:17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:13, 20:22). Excluding 19:30, the remainder represent: the human spirit in a general sense (3:6—contrasted with the Holy Spirit), Jesus’ human spirit (11:33, 13:21) being unsettled (tarassō), God’s identity/ontology (4:23—pneuma ho theos, “God is spirit”), and the manner in which God is to be worshiped (4:23, 4:24—“in spirit and truth”). It is possible, though, that the first instance in 3:6 could be “spirit” in a general sense, as in: ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, spirit gives birth to spirit’.

One may be inclined to align with the statistical evidence such that, since the referent is most often the Holy Spirit, the referent in 19:30 must be, or is most likely to be, the Holy Spirit—just as one might wish to choose (a) in the previous section in regard to the participle—but this would fall prey to a logical fallacy. In 19:30 the choice is between either the (Holy) Spirit or Jesus’ (human) spirit. Hence, the choice is one out of two, and this is irrespective of the number of other occurrences of one against the other. Essentially, the analysis of pneuma above serves to illustrate that there are two possibilities (the others clearly do not apply). This means we are back to the context—though we will find out below that this exercise was not in vain.

Intertextual clues may be of assistance. Parallel passages seem to suggest that pneuma could be construed as Jesus’ human spirit. Matthew 27:50 contains language similar to John here, using a synonymous verb, also in the active voice: “He gave up His pneuma.” However, note that the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53:12 (LXX) uses psychē (soul, life)—rather than pneuma—though with the same verb as John’s Gospel (paradidōmi, “handed over”) but in the passive voice: “His psychē was handed over to death.” Could this be harmonized such that when Jesus, of His own volition (10:18: “No one takes it [psychē] from Me”), handed over His pneuma this necessarily corresponded with His psychē being handed over to death?

A quick investigation of psychē in John’s Gospel seems to confirm this. Psychē is found ten times, with four in reference to Jesus laying down His life (10:11, 10:15, 10:17, 15:13), two referring to Peter’s claim that he’d lay down his life for Jesus (13:37, 13:38), two refer to life in a general sense (12:25{x2}), one for the Jews’ plea to Jesus to make His Messianic identity known (10:24), and the final one references Jesus’ psychē being unsettled (12:27). This last instance uses the same verb (tarassō) as employed in combination with pneuma in 11:33 and 13:21, thus providing a direct connection. In other words, John records Jesus’ use of psychē in 12:27 in perfect synonymous parallel with pneuma in 11:33 and 13:21. Stated yet another way, pneuma and psychē are interchangeable when referring to Jesus’ humanity, His spirit/soul (at least when used in combination with the verb tarassō), in John’s Gospel.

With this point of connection between pneuma and psychē established, compare 19:30 to Gen. 2:7 (LXX), in which God breathed the “pnoē of life”, “breath of life” (pnoē being a cognate of pneuma), into Adam, after which he became a “living psychē.” In other words, taking all this together, in 19:30 when Jesus volitionally handed over His pneuma (the pnoē of life) this coincided with His psychē being handed over to death, His psychē now devoid of the pnoē of life. This would be in harmony with Jesus’ words in 10:17: “I lay down my psychē”. In other words, handing over His pneuma is tantamount to laying down His psychē.

See also Mark 15:37 and Luke 23:46 in which the verb ekpneō (“breathe out”) is used in the active voice. Ekpneō is a compound word, with the verb pneō (breathe) prefixed by the preposition ek, (out of, from), the word meaning breathe one’s last, expire.47 Pneō is the verb form of the noun pnoē, both cognates of pneuma. Thus, in the Markan and Lukan parallels, if this analysis is correct, the authors depict Gen. 2:7 ‘in reverse’, so to speak, being more direct than John or Matthew. That is, Mark’s and Luke’s ekpneō more pointedly express that Jesus was now devoid of the pnoē of life, having “breathed out” God’s “breath of life” which had been bestowed at conception.48 This verb is only found three times in the entire NT, the remaining instance in the immediate context of Mark’s account (15:39).

Excursus on Psychē in John 10:24

A brief excursus is in order regarding the use of psychē in 10:24. Here John likely employs a play on words, in using a rather humorous idiomatic phrase, not found anywhere else in Scripture. The words rendered in most translations “How long will you keep us in suspense?” are more literally How long will you take up the psychē? (heōs pote tēn psychēn hēmōn aireis?).49 The verb here (airō) has a range of meanings, such as take away, lift up, carry away, remove, withdraw, depart.50 While the idiom is clearly not meant to be taken literally, Brown opines that the biblical author may intend a double meaning in that, though Jesus lays down His psychē for His followers, He brings judgment against His foes, ironically taking away the psychē of those rejecting Him.51 To clarify, the biblical author had just used this same verb in 10:18 in the context of Jesus’ statement that “no one takes (airō) it [psychē] from Me”, so the astute reader could make the connection.

My own opinion—a variation on the above—is that John is being quite purposeful here: though the Jews (hoi Ioudaioi) are using a metaphorical expression, at the same time their literal intent is to take away (airō) Jesus’ psychē, but Jesus himself ironically takes that goal away from them by ‘laying down His own psychē’ (10:17), because “no one takes (airō) it [psychē] from Me” (10:18). Furthermore (in agreement with Brown, though rephrasing a bit), subsequently, their own psychēs will be taken away from them in their eschatological judgment as a result of their unbelief in Jesus, in the aftermath of His death and resurrection.

Addendum

In some philosophical circles of the time the Greek word nous, which means mind, thought, etc., is a part of the psychē, soul. In Scripture nous is used mostly by Paul, it is found once in Luke’s Gospel (24:45), while John the Revelator employs it twice (Rev. 13:18; 17:9). John’s Gospel does not utilize the term; however, nous could be conceived as subsumed under psychē in both 12:27 and in the idiom in 10:24. Would this change the analyses?

As regards 10:24, this would strengthen the word play, making it more overtly a pun. That is, the idiom would be understood “How long will you ‘take up’ the psychē [mind]?” which would then be juxtaposed with Jesus’ words “I lay down my psychē [life]…no one takes it from Me”. This would constitute an instance of paronomasia—a linguistic device the Gospel writer employs somewhat frequently—in which the quote by “the Jews” can be construed as either mind, or life, the latter in view of its meaning in 10:17-18. Not explicitly stated earlier, it is also possible that the verb airō in the idiomatic phrase intends something different than the meaning of the same verb in 10:17-18; if that is the case, it would further strengthen the paronomasia.

The understanding of psychē, as mind appears to have no effect on 12:27. For this understanding to go against the analysis above, one would have to argue that “mind” is not as all-encompassing as psychē, and from this contend that the context of 12:27 indicates a less intensive ‘troubling’ than the respective contexts of 11:33 and 13:21, the latter two verses referring to the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus’ human spirit. In assessing the contexts, that argument would be difficult to sustain, for 11:33 is most likely referring to Jesus’ human emotions, not the Holy Spirit, as He subsequently weeps. More damaging—though the analysis above did not explicate this—the contexts of 12:27 and 13:21 both refer to Jesus’ ‘troubling’ regarding His impending death. Could one relate to Jesus’ human seat of emotions with the other to the move of the Spirit? That is possible, though improbable, as it would appear difficult to explain why this would be so.

____________________________________________

33 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), p 271. The bracketed editorial note “It is finished” is in place of the authors’ questionable translation “has been fully accomplished” (as seen in the second paragraph of the quotation). More on this below.

34 This is stated as somewhat of a concession to English, as the Greek participle should not be viewed as a dependent clause per se; see Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. ((Biblical Languages: Greek 2), Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1994), pp 190-191.

35 See Porter, Idioms, pp 181-193.

36 But it also functions adjectivally, as it modifies the subject encoded in the main verb paradidōmi and implied by the context (Jesus).

37 Stanley E. Porter, Jeffrey T. Reed, and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), p 110. This generality only applies to adverbial participles, as in the present example.

38 Ibid. Decker recognizes this (Rodney J. Decker, Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014], p 397), though he stresses that one should “[t]ake all such claims [regarding word order] with caution”, for “context is a more reliable guide than any rule” (p 397).

39 Stephen E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, © 2010 Logos Bible Software), p 249; cf. pp 249-268.

40 The passive voice of this same verb (paradidōmi) is used in describing the death of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:12: “His soul [psychē] was handed over to death . . . .” See Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), p 551 nt 60.

41 Malina-Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary, p 271) do not capitalize “spirit”; however, the context makes it plain that the authors intend the Holy Spirit.

42 Brown, John XIII-XXI, p 931.

43 Comfort, New Testament Text, pp 319-320. Though most date this manuscript late 2nd to 3rd century, Brent Nongbri suggests a later date, based on his own findings (“The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P.Bodmer II [P66],” Museum Helveticum 71 [2014], p 1-35.)

44 This practice may be in imitation of the use of YHWH (the tetragrammaton) for the Divine Name in the OT, though there are notable differences between the Jewish and Christian traditions. See Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2016), pp 138-141 (and related footnotes).

45 Comfort, New Testament Text, p 320.

46 The impetus to perform this particular investigation came from Jaime Clark-Soles’ essay “‘I Will Raise [Whom?] Up on the Last Day’: Anthropology as a Feature of Johannine Eschatology” in New Currents through John: A Global Perspective, eds. Francisco Lozada, Jr. & Tom Thatcher (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), pp 29-53. However, I depart from some of the author’s conclusions. E.g., she asserts that pneuma is “[c]learly . . .  not a natural, normal part of a person’s constitution” (p 36) in John’s Gospel, but I’m not so sure can one make such a definitive claim. Moreover, the author doesn’t expand on the interrelationship of 11:33 and 13:21 and their relationship with 12:27 (see below).

In 3:6 I see the two instances of pneuma as possibly distinct from one another: the first could be the Holy Spirit, while the second could be either the human spirit or spirit in a general sense. Of course, the Holy Spirit clearly does not beget Holy Spirit offspring! The Johannine Jesus employs word play here. The point of the statement in 3:6 is to define what it means to be born anōthen (3:3; 3:7), this latter term possessing the dual meaning of “from above” and/or “again”—in other words a spiritual rebirth for humans (3:5; 3:8). With this in mind, I understand 3:6 to possibly mean ‘the Spirit “gennaō” (“begets”) spirit’ in a figurative sense (cf. 1:13). But what does that entail? Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit will be (figuratively?) deposited (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14; cf. Ezek. 36:2627). Ezekiel 36:26-27 does not necessarily imply that the existing human spirit is to be supplanted. Applying this to John’s Gospel, does this potentially indicate a relationship between the Holy Spirit and one’s human spirit—if there is a literal human spirit separate from the body in John’s Gospel?  Assuming humans do possess a human spirit, this does not mean I would see a sharp dichotomy (a la Gnosticism) between flesh (sarx, this term used wholistically yet non-specifically in John at times—cf. 1:14; 3:6; 17:2) and spirit. It is plausible that John portrays Jesus’ spirit as an integral though ultimately ‘detachable’ ‘part’ of his flesh (though see analysis below). In this Gospel sōma only refers to Jesus, specifically to His dead body (19:31, 19:38, 19:40, 20:12) or to His body generally (2:21). Hence, if one interprets that Jesus has ‘detachable pneuma’, and that this spirit was ‘handed over’ in 19:30, one could state this mathematically (In John’s Gospel) as: sarxpneuma = sōma. Consequently, assuming this implicitly applies equally to all humans, then it could follow that the Holy Spirit ‘unites’ with the human spirit upon belief, i.e., being born anōthen.

Comfort, NT Text and Translation, notes that the P66 scribe differentiated between the two instances in John 3:6 by use of the nomen sacrum in the first instance (in English translation) but not the second (p 263).

47 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 119.

48 One must be cautious not to read too much into this in one’s philosophical musings.

49 Barrett (According to St. John), notes a similarity to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex 914 and Euripedes’ Hecuba 69f. (p 380).

50 BDAG, p 29.

51 Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p 403.

It is Perfectly Finished, part I

[See part II]

28 After this, knowing that now everything was completed, Jesus said—so that Scripture might be perfected—“I’m thirsty.” 29 A container was lying there full of wine vinegar; so, affixing a sponge soaked with the wine vinegar to some hyssop, they brought it to His mouth. 30 After Jesus received the wine vinegar He said, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and handed over His the spirit (John 19:28-30).1

John records Jesus’ last word on the cross as tetelestai, “It is finished,”2 choosing to narrate Jesus’ handing over of His spirit rather than quoting His words as Luke prefers (23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit”), thus highlighting tetelestai Here. This article will discuss the significance of this one-word statement—including the implication of the perfect tense-form—and, along the way, comment on some other aspects of these three verses.

Jesus’ Last Testament

The two words beginning this selection, after this, refer back to 19:2627 (“Here is your son”, “here is your mother”), as does knowing that now everything was completed. This indicates that Jesus’ words to Mary and John (19:26-17) completes the work He came to do in this regard. The implication in this exchange here is that Joseph is deceased, and Jesus’ desire is for His earthly mother to be cared for—as He Himself had apparently been doing.

Evidence suggests that Jewish custom allowed “a dying man . . . to settle the legal status of the women for whom  he was responsible.”3 This appears to be what Jesus is doing in 19:26-27—legally appointing John to His former position as the person responsible for His mother, a widow.4 Common practice required that Jesus would ensure that His mother Mary be “adequately cared for by a male head of household in the patriarchal culture of first-century Israel.”5 Apparently, in doing so, Jesus proclaimed what would be akin to His last will and testament.6 Importantly, rather than a sibling, Jesus entrusts a disciple to the care of His mother, in accordance with the Jewish custom of “the believing community [being] stronger than natural familial bonds,”7 for not even His own brothers believed in Him (John 7.5).  “When Jesus entrusted His mother to the Beloved Disciple, He established a new household centered on a common relationship with Jesus”8

Christ’s earthly ministry to others had come to a close:9 “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

Which Scripture “Perfected”?

There is some ambiguity in the grammar of verse 28: (a) does the clause so that Scripture might be perfected refer to knowing that now everything was completed, in turn referring to Jesus’ words to Mary and John (19:26-27); or, alternatively, (b) does so that Scripture might be perfected point to Jesus’ thirst and, ultimately, His final words “It is finished”?10 The former (a) seems unlikely, for one would have to account for Jesus expressing his thirst, and this would seem better suited to the context if the “perfected” clause refers to what follows it.  However, another option to consider is that one could assume (a), but look even further back to 19:24, in which Psalm 22:18 (“They divided my garments among them . . .”) had just been quoted, and apply “I’m thirsty” to verse 15 of the same Psalm. In this scenario, Jesus is reminded again of Psalm 22 and, recalling “my tongue cleaves . . .” of verse 15, in His humanity, He realizes that He is thirsty.11

Nonetheless, given the three-fold use of wine vinegar (oxos) here and Jesus’ final words “It is finished” upon receiving it, (b) appears most likely to be the author’s intent.12 If so, any or all of the following events must perfect Scripture in some way: Jesus’ statement of thirst, His subsequent receiving of the wine vinegar, His final statement, the handing over of His spirit.

Assuming the translation and the interpretation above are correct—option (b) above—to which Scripture does so that Scripture might be perfected refer? The two best candidates are Psalm 69:21 (LXX 68:22) and Psalm 22:15 (LXX 21:16). Each, however, has its own problems as a contender. On the former, the wine vinegar is offered with apparent malicious intent, while here in verse 29 it appears to be given without malice.13 On the latter (22:15), there’s no mention of a drink being offered. On the other hand, Psalm 69:21 specifically mentions oxos, wine vinegar, like here in our subject verses, and the noun form of the verb used here for thirst (dipsaō) is in this psalm as well, while Psalm 22:15 specifically mentions both extreme thirst and death. It should be noted that John’s Gospel elsewhere references Psalm 69 (2:17; 15:25) and Psalm 22 (19:24—right in the Passion narrative, as noted just above). Carson’s concise yet complete manner of describing one interpretation is worth quoting:

If we grant that Jesus knew he was fulfilling this Scripture [Ps. 69:21], presumably he knew that by verbally confessing his thirst he would precipitate the soldiers’ effort to give him some wine vinegar. In that case, the fulfillment clause could be rendered: ‘Jesus, knowing that all things had been accomplished, in order to fulfil [the] Scripture [which says “They . . . gave me vinegar for my thirst”] said “I thirst”’.14

But, could the clause refer and/or allude to both?15 Though graphē, “Scripture”, is in the singular here, this does not necessarily restrict its reference to only one Scripture. For comparison, even though graphē in John 20:9 is in the singular, it very likely refers to more than one single referent or section of Scripture.16 The same could apply here.

More investigation is needed.

The Fullness of Perfection

Notably, the common word used in reference to the fulfilling of Scripture, the verb plēroō (see Matthew 1:22; 5:17, etc.), is not used in 19:28, but rather teleioō—here specifically as teleiōthȩ̄ (an aorist passive subjunctive)—which is a cognate of teleō, the root of tetelestai. In other words, teleioō, the lexical form (dictionary word) of teleiōthȩ̄, is directly related to teleō, the lexical form of tetelestai. While some claim that plēroō and teleioō are perfectly synonymous,17 others assert that each has a slightly different connotation.18 Westcott makes a strong statement, perceiving a distinction between the two:

The word used (τελειωθῇ [teleiōthȩ̄] . . . for which some [manuscripts] substitute the usual word πληρωθῇ [plērōthȩ̄]) is very remarkable. It appears to mark not the isolated fulfilling of a particular trait in the scriptural picture, but the perfect completion of the whole prophetic image. This utterance of physical suffering was the last thing required that Messiah might be “made perfect” (Heb. 2:10, 5:7ff.), and so the ideal of prophecy “made perfect” in Him. Or, to express the same thought otherwise, that “work” which Christ came to “make perfect” (John 4:34, 17:4) was written in Scripture, and by the realisation of the work the Scripture was “perfected.” Thus under different aspects of this word [teleioō and teleō] and of that which it implies, prophecy, the earthly work of Christ, and Christ Himself were “made perfect.”19

Stated another way, Westcott sees a deliberate connection between John’s usage of teleioō in 19:28 and his use of teleō in 19:30, believing the Gospel writer chose teleioō over plēroō for an express theological purpose.20 It may be significant that plēroō is employed in 19:24 (as plērōthȩ̄, an aorist passive subjunctive—the same verbal form in 19:28), just a few verses prior to the use of teleioō (teleiōthȩ̄) in 19:28.

Bultmann opposes this view: “This [use of teleiōthȩ̄ instead of plērōthȩ̄] is repeatedly understood . . . as if it were intended to signify the conclusive fulfillment of the entire Scriptures. Nevertheless it seems, as in 13:18, that the fulfillment of a particular passage is meant.”21 So, who’s correct? Does the use of this verb (teleiōthȩ̄) over the other (plērōthȩ̄) indicate a fulfillment of all Scripture, or does it simply express the fulfillment of one specific passage?

An investigation finds John using teleioō a scant four times in his Gospel—three in reference to the Father’s work (4:34; 5:36; 17:4) and one in relation to the “perfecting” of believers into one (17:23).22 Comparatively, John’s Gospel employs plēroō fifteen times, five of which refer to the fulfillment of a particular passage (12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 19:24; 19:36),23 another three the fulfillment of words of Jesus in John’s Gospel (17:12; 18:9; 18:32), with the others in reference to either joy (3:29; 15:11; 16:24; 17:13), time (7:8), fragrance of perfume (12:3), or grief (16:6).24 Thus, as we can see, plēroō has a range of uses, but, when used of Scripture, it references either a specific OT verse or a particular prophecy of Jesus; whereas, teleioō is utilized much more sparingly, with the majority in reference to the Father’s work that Jesus was to “perfect.”

The evidence supports Westcott. Adopting this view, so that Scripture might be perfected prefigures the events following up to and including Jesus’ climactic words and handing over of His spirit, resulting in the  “perfecting” of all Scriptures related to the ‘work’ of the Father.25

As mentioned earlier, given that the singular graphē in John 20:9 most likely refers to more than one Scripture, the same may well prevail in 19:28. Accepting this is the case, we’ll assume that 19:28 fulfills both Psa. 69:21 and Psa. 22:15. In this way,  the former’s oxos (wine vinegar) and dipsaō (noun form of the verb here for “I’m thirsty”) are fulfilled, while the latter’s extreme thirst and death are fulfilled as well. However, more broadly, when a portion of Scripture is quoted, those Jews in the audience would mentally fill in the remainder of the book from which the quote was taken (though this does not mean they necessarily understood the significance). For example, in both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 the very first verse of Psa. 22 is quoted (“why have you forsaken me!”), yet the entire psalm should be understood as in mind. In light of this, Blomberg observes, “The view that Jesus’ quotation of Psa. 22 anticipates the vindication found in the larger context of the psalm stresses what does not appear in the text at the expense of what does.”26 In other words, Jesus’ quotation of Psa. 22:1 is intended to refer to the entire psalm, thus prefiguring His resurrection (Psa. 22:22-24).

More on teleioō will be forthcoming.

Wine Vinegar, a Sponge, and Hyssop

The physical elements of 19:29 and their interrelationships are variously understood. The wine vinegar, oxos, is not to be confused with the wine mixed with myrrh (oinos) offered but refused by Jesus in Mark 15:23.  It was most likely a common drink of the Roman soldiers to quench thirst, called posca, which would have been readily available at the scene.27 This would mean “they” here refers to members of the Roman army.

There is some question as to whether hyssop, hyssōpos, was the actual implement that the wine vinegar-soaked sponge was affixed to. A branch of hyssop would be too flimsy to support the weight of the sponge, and so various theories have been proffered.28 F. F. Bruce opines:

A sprig of hyssop seems an unsuitable instrument for the purpose, but John’s wording may be influenced by the symbolic use of hyssop in the Old Testament (Num. 19:6; Ps. 51:7). The death of Jesus is the true Passover and the effective means of inward cleansing. Another possibility is that the sponge soaked in sour vinegar, with some hyssop thrust into it, was stretched to Jesus’ mouth on the end of a reed or the like, in order that the cooling effect of the hyssop leaves might enhance the refreshing property of the sour wine.29

The latter possibility could explain the passage, harmonizing it with Mark 15:36. However it seems that the connection between the use of hyssop for ritual cleansing, and King David’s use of it as a metonymy for the cleansing of sin, as compared to its use here seems a bit tenuous, though Comfort opines that the “hyssop in the crucifixion scene reminds readers of their need for spiritual cleansing.”30 But Brown, after mentioning that hyssop was used to sprinkle the paschal lamb’s blood on the doorposts at the original Passover (Ex. 12.22), helpfully, offers additional insight:

Of course, there is a difference between using hyssop to sprinkle blood and using hyssop to support a sponge full of wine, but John shows considerable imagination in the adaptation of symbols. (In a way it is just as imaginative to see a reference to the paschal lamb in the fact that Jesus’ bones were not broken, but John 19:36 does not hesitate to make the connection.) It is difficult to apply rigorous logic to symbolism.31

Keener adds, “The very implausibility of the literal portrait reinforces the probability that John intended his audience to envision the symbolic allusion to Passover”32 (cf. John 1:29; Heb. 9:19ff). If this explains the significance of the hyssop in the Passion narrative—and it well may—this would be akin to the remez (deep meaning), or the sod (hidden meaning) in the Jewish midrashic approach to Scripture interpretation. Of course, in Paul’s writings especially, the Apostle describes Christ as the mystery, mystērion, now revealed (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:9; Col. 1:26).

part II
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1 My own translation in which I try to strike a balance between formal equivalency (“literal”, or ‘wooden’) and functional (dynamic) equivalency.  As a self-studying layman, I’ve relied on Accordance / OakTree Software (Version 11.2.4.0) using the NA28 text, various grammars, lexicons—including the BDAG (W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000) and F. W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009)—and, as a final check, English translations. As an example of my methodology, for dipsō a formal equivalency would be I thirst, but of course this is not idiomatic English, which would instead be I am thirsty; however, considering the context, it would be improbable that Jesus would be even that ‘formal’, as He’d be more likely to speak colloquially, therefore, I’m thirsty is a more realistic functional equivalent. After arriving at this tentative conclusion, I checked some English versions finding a few with this rendering (ISV, Holman, GOD’s WORD).

2 Greek finite verbs encode person and number, and in this case it’s in the 3rd person singular, “it”, forming the complete sentence “It is finished.”

3 Craig Keener, The Gospel of John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), p 1144.

4 See Keener, John, pp 1144-1145; cf. Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), p 252.

5 Blomberg, Historical Reliability, p 252.

6 See George R. Beasley-Murray, John, WBC (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), p 349; Keener, John, p 1144.

7 Keener, John, p 1145. The phraseology used by Jesus in 19:26-27 is reminiscent of adoption language: See Beasley-Murray, John, p 349; cf. Craig Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995), pp 214-216.

8 Koester, Symbolism, p 254; cf. pp 215-216.

9 See B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Westcott’s Commentaries on the Gospel of John, Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John; Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 5364-5 (John 19:28); cf. 4080 (13:1): Compare verse 28’s εἰδὼς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι with 13:1. Westcott’s commentary was originally written ca. late 1800s.

10 See Roger L. Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 2006), p 209.

11 While not enumerated as a plausible understanding within his work, this possibility came to me while reading D. A. Carson’s The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p 619.

12 Given perceived theological importance concerning so that Scripture might be perfected, the translation here employs em dashes before and after the clause, in order to draw more attention to it, as compared to using parentheses, which tend to make parenthetical content more subdued.

13 Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary, The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2015) states that the oxos here is “probably the drink known in Latin as posca . . . a common drink of the Roman army”, which “served to slake thirst, not exacerbate it” (p 401). Cf. Keener, John, p 1147.

14 Carson, According to John, p 619 (brackets in original, except “Ps. 69:21”).

15 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1978) asserts: “There can be little doubt that [Ps. 69.21 (LXX 68:22)] is the γραφή [graphē] in mind” (p 553).

16 See, e.g., Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, The Anchor Yale Bible; (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), pp 987-988.

17 E.g., Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John, transl. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Gen Ed., R. W. N. Hoare & J. K. Riches (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971), p 674.

18 E.g., Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary, transl. J. Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), p 616.

19 Westcott, According to St. John, paragraph 5369; bracketed statements added. An editorial decision was made here in the last sentence of this quote. In its original form it reads: Thus under different aspects of this word and of that which it implies, prophecy, and the earthly work of Christ, and Christ Himself, were “made perfect.” The “and” preceding the earthly work of Christ was stricken, and the comma following Christ Himself was deleted for the sake of readability. This is not to slight Westcott, his editor(s), or the publisher—with modern word processors, it is much easier to edit today.

20 In the Westcott quote just above, the author notes that some manuscripts substitute plērōthȩ̄. While there are more than just a few ( Ds Θ ƒ1.13 (565) it), the evidence is decisively against its originality.

21 Bultmann, John, p 674; cf. Beasley-Murray, John, p 351.

22 John also uses the term four times in his first epistle, each time related to God’s love “perfecting” the believer (2:5, 4:12, 4:17; 4:18).

23 Respectively, Isa. 53:1; Ps. 41:9; Ps. 69:4 (cf. 35:19; 109.3); Ps. 22:18; Ps. 34:20.

24 There is also a reference to joy in John’s first epistle (1:4), another in 2 John (12); and, there are two additional references in Revelation: deeds (3:2) and number killed (6:11).

25 Not Bultmann’s “conclusive fulfillment of the entire Scriptures”, though the author may have meant to limit his statement to those referencing the cross. Relatedly, Luke (3:32) records Jesus’ words, “On the third day I will be ‘perfected’.”

26 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary 22; Gen. Ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1992), p 419.

27 See note 13 above. Cf. Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, p 909.

28 See Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, pp 909-910; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p 373; Carson, John, pp 620-621.

29 Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, p 373.

30 Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008), p 319

31 Brown, According to John XIII-XXI, p 930.

32 Keener, John, p 1147.

Appendix: Proposal for a Possible New Conception of the Plu/Perfect Forms

[In this appendix to the multi-part “A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference” we’ll be dispensing with the cumbersome practice of adding “tense-form” to each of the verb names.]

We must continue to ask questions of our methodologies as well as of the text.[102]

The following will be speculative. It may provide a possible way toward a consensus among the various positions on the plu/perfect, or it may prove to have no merit whatsoever. Since this writer lacks the requisite knowledge base to fully test out the following theory, it will not be rigorously argued.[103] The focus here – as in this work as a whole – is on the indicative mood.

Could it be that all the current views on the plu/perfect possess some form of the truth with respect to verbal aspect, yet none capture it in its entirety? That is, is it possible that Fanning is correct that both forms are perfective, Campbell is right that both are imperfective, that Porter and Decker are correct that both forms are a third category altogether, and the traditional view found in most grammars is true in that the plu/perfect are both essentially perfective and imperfective (though some use different terminology)?

Randall Buth, in a blog post late last year[104] – in part recapping a portion of the 2013 SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) meeting in which Porter, Fanning, and Campbell restated their respective views on the perfect – illustrates how the morphology of the perfect emanates diachronically from both aspects.[105] Though apparently adhering to the traditional view including that the perfective (aoristic) portion reflects an anterior event, while the imperfective (present) constitutes ongoing relevance,[106] Buth approaches the theory proposed that will be proposed below:

The Greek perfect is an aspectual category and its morphology reinforces the viewpoint that it is not only an ‘imperfective’ like Campbell, nor is it simply a third aspect category like Porter’s stative, but that it is an aspect that has a perfective element inside it, like Fanning…The perfect is a complex, fused category that includes two ordered parameters that may be labelled {+perfective, +imperfective}. The perfective parameter explains why the perfect includes a complete action.[107]

What if Buth is correct in that the perfect is a “fused category,” consisting of both perfective and imperfective aspects – not that the perfective portion depicts an antecedent verbal action (VA),[108] while the imperfective illustrates ongoing relevance of that VA,[109] but that the two aspects are superimposed one over the other? In other words, rather than two separate VAs in which the imperfective follows the perfective, the perfect is portraying one VA expressed both perfectively and imperfectively simultaneously. Stated yet another way, the expressed viewpoint of the perfect is concurrently perfective and imperfective, as opposed to a sequencing of perfective then imperfective. This is the proposal presented here.

Comrie notes that in Bulgarian, another Proto-Indo-European language, there are the seemingly self-contradictory ‘imperfective aorist’ and ‘perfective imperfect’ forms, each combining both aspects into one.[110] One use of the ‘imperfective aorist’ is, “to indicate an action which is presented as a single whole (whence the Aorist as marker of perfectivity), but with internal complexity (whence the Imperfective as marker of imperfectivity).”[111] In the Bulgarian system it is the tense-form’s aspect that predominates over the added aspectual feature, i.e. with the ‘perfective imperfect’ it is the imperfective aspect of the imperfect that prevails over the perfective aspect.[112] In other words, the imperfective aspect is superimposed over the perfective. Similarly, with the ‘imperfective aorist’ it is the perfective aspect of the aorist which is superimposed over the imperfective aspect.[113] Therefore, the two forms are not redundant, as one has the imperfective dominant, while the other has perfective dominant, thus differentiating the one from the other.[114] In both cases, it seems that the purpose is to emphasize the VA by the use of both aspects.[115]

Is it possible that the Koine Greek perfect and pluperfect resemble the Bulgarian here?[116] Let’s investigate how this might work out after making a few preliminary assumptions.

It seems pretty clear that what is commonly known as the pluperfect exhibits the remoteness feature of the imperfect, which we’ll call remote imperfectivity. Of course, remoteness is not a necessary part of the imperfective aspect, as the present form well illustrates. Therefore, if the Bulgarian schema were to apply to Koine,[117] it seems best to understand the pluperfect as a ‘perfective imperfect’ (PI), with remote imperfectivity the dominant aspectual feature.[118] Hence, borrowing from the Bulgarian model, it superimposes its intrinsic remote imperfectivity over its perfectivity.

But what of the perfect? It appears it could function either as an ‘imperfective aorist’ or a ‘perfective present.’ For now we’ll assume that it’s an ‘imperfective aorist’ (IA) and proceed to argue the case for it, in part because it matches the Bulgarian system; but, more importantly, this seems to provide for the best explanation and outworking of this morphological form, as will be discussed below. Hence, for our purposes here, the IA will be portrayed as superimposing its presumed inherently dominant perfective aspect over its imperfectivity. Since the imperfectivity of the IA is different from that of the PI, we could term it non-remote imperfectivity, or, perhaps better, proximate imperfectivity, in order to distinguish between the two.

Using Isachenko’s parade analogy,[119] we can restate our relative positions on the two forms:

The IA primarily views the VA of the parade in its entirety from the helicopter, yet concurrently views it in progress at street-level of the parade, a proximate imperfective perspective akin to the present. The concurrent perfective and proximate imperfective VA in the IA likely has the effect of semantic emphasis, as compared to single-aspect forms.

The PI primarily views the VA in progress from a remote imperfective perspective, the parade view from the grandstand (a bit more remote from street-level), while simultaneously viewing the VA in its entirety, from start to finish, from the helicopter. The concurrent remote imperfective and perfective VA in the PI likely has the effect of semantic emphasis, as compared to single-aspect forms.

Once again adapting Campbell’s helpful diagrams, graphically the IA and PI could resemble the figures below (these are composites of the diagrams from the third part of this article, with the IA combining the aorist + present graphs, and the PI the aorist + imperfect). The viewpoints in the figures should be understood as ‘looking at’ the VA which resides on T1 – T2. This is not intended to depict a ‘time distance’ from or to the T1 – T2; the distance between the viewpoints and the timeline is depicting remoteness, or non-remoteness/proximity, from the VA. Both T1 and T2 should be understood as adapting to the temporal reference of the specific context. For example, with past temporal reference, both T1 and T2 will be in the past, whereas with present temporal reference (and an omnitemporal, or gnomic, implicature), T1 will represent the past while T2 will represent the future.

Alternatively, the current position in each figure could be seen is illustrating a present-time perspective, envisioning each viewpoint as a ball on a pendulum with its fixed point directly above it on T1 – T2 representing the VA. Swinging to the right (towards T2) will depict a past-time perspective, while swinging to the left (towards T1) will exhibit a future-time perspective. In other words, swinging to the right illustrates the viewpoint to the right of the VA, looking ‘back’ at the VA, looking at the past; swinging to the left illustrates the viewpoint to the left of the VA, looking ‘ahead’ to the VA, peering into the future. Of course, by necessity, each individual figure’s two viewpoints will ‘swing’ in tandem, i.e. the perfective and imperfective viewpoints in each individual figure will always be identical in temporal reference (hence the connecting dotted line).

Stated in previous segments and worth repeating here is that remoteness does not necessarily entail past temporal reference. Also, one must bear in mind that perfectivity, the helicopter view, is inherently more remote than imperfectivity. To differentiate from remote imperfectivity, we could call it perfective remoteness, with the understanding that its remoteness feature is amplified as compared to that of the PI (and the imperfect).

Imperfective Aorist To reiterate, as we are proposing here, the IA is predominately a perfective perspective with added proximate imperfectivity (shown above), whereas the PI is superimposing its remote imperfective viewpoint over perfectivity (shown below). Note that the arrows of the respective perfective viewpoints are placed both further left (at T1) and further right (at T2) of the imperfective arrows, thus illustrating that perfectivity encompasses both the inception and the termination of the VA while imperfectivity does not.

 Perfective Imperfect

In testing this hypothesis we’ll begin with the IA (perfect), since it is much more prevalent in the NT as compared to the PI (pluperfect).

Imperfective Aorist

Colossians 1:17; συνέστηκεν: Most agree that this signifies the continuous holding together of the cosmos by Christ – in other words, imperfective aspect. Taking the traditional understanding of the perfect, what would be the anterior VA in view here?[120] One cannot say it’s the advent of creation (that would be κτίζω from v 16), for this particular verb says nothing about the initial act of creating, but rather sustaining that which has already been created. Applying our theory of the perfect as an IA, this verb is depicting the VA in its entirety, perfectively – an omnitemporal implicature, encompassing the entire temporal realm, from its inception to termination (or to infinity) – while concurrently conveying the VA in its particulars, with its intrinsic proximate imperfectivity. In other words, Paul is communicating that in Christ all things have always been continuously held together, are currently being held together, and will continue to be held together. Admittedly, it’s a bit difficult to translate simultaneous perfectivity and imperfectivity.

John 5:33; ἀπεστάλκατε: This is the first of two perfects in this verse, both of which Campbell opines are difficult to reconcile with Porter’s stative view, asking if this one is reflecting the Jewish leaders as being in “a state of having-sent-to-John-ness?”[121] While this doesn’t necessarily negate Porter’s stance, it does point to a lack of clarity in his rather vague description of this morphological form as constituting “a given (often complex) state of affairs,”[122] as mentioned in the previous segment. This example also seems to create difficulty for the traditional view, as what would be the continuing relevance of the Jewish leaders having sent (messengers) to John (cf. v 35)?[123] Employing our hypothesis here, the IA is illustrating the entire VA of the Jews having sent (messengers) from inception until termination, while simultaneously depicting that they kept sending (messengers). By the context this is evidencing past temporal reference (cf. v 35: ὑμεῖς δὲ ἠθελήσατε ἀγαλλιαθῆναι πρὸς ὥραν ἐν τῷ φωτὶ αὐτοῦ – and you were willing to rejoice in his light for a time).

John 5:33; μεμαρτύρηκεν: This one is very similar to the immediately preceding. Implementing the IA, the sense would be he has borne witness (perfective) and he was bearing witness (imperfective) – past temporal reference. While some may argue that John’s testimony still had some validity at the time of Jesus’ utterance, this seems more of a pragmatic implicature drawn out from the context rather than a part of the aspectual semantics.

Coming from a different angle on this subject of continued relevancy, the VA in the aorist ἐνίκησεν (has conquered) in Revelation 5:5, for example, certainly has ongoing importance, but this is borne out by the context (pragmatics), not necessarily from the perfective aspect (semantics) of the aorist.[124] Could the same be true for some perfects; i.e. could it be the context providing the continuing relevance rather than the presumed semantics of the perfect? Moreover, keeping the traditional understanding of the perfect in mind, the use of the aorist for νικάω in Rev 5:5 begs the question: Why wasn’t the perfect used here instead of the aorist?

Many have noted that there are a number of perfects which some think are merely aoristic, retaining only the perfective aspect.[125] Revelation 5:7 contains one such example in εἴληφεν (He took). Yet Porter notes that John the Revelator uses the aorist form of this verb in the very next verse,[126] thereby indicating that there must be some sort of aspectual distinction between them.[127] On the surface, “took” would seem to be strictly punctiliar, but, as Comrie notes, a verb commonly considered punctiliar can be construed as having duration, albeit very short duration.[128] More importantly, the fact that λαμβάνω is existing in the NT in the present, to include Revelation (14:9, 14:11, 17:12), indicates it can and is used as an imperfective. Hence, εἴληφεν can work as an IA, concurrently perfective and imperfective. Assuming so, John the Revelator describes the taking of the scroll in its entirety, while also illustrating that action in progress. The effect of the added imperfectivity intrinsic to the IA seemingly would be to heighten the significance of the taking of the scroll.

2 Cor. 2:13; ἔσχηκα: While providing his own reasons why some seemingly aoristic perfects actually function as ‘true perfects,’[129] Robertson nearly concedes the usage here is a “preterit punctiliar,” i.e. merely aoristic.[130] However, he goes on to reject both the aorist and imperfect as unsuitable for the presumed literary purpose of Paul who “wished to accent the strain of his anxiety up to the time of the arrival of Titus.”[131] Then Robertson hints at our proposal here: “It was durative plus punctiliar.”[132] Our position on the IA works well in this instance (I did not have rest in my spirit), as Paul is conveying his overall discontent perfectively – from inception to termination – while focusing on the state of his feeling of unrest at that time (imperfectivity). Porter renders this I was not in the state of having, i.e. possessing, rest in my spirit.[133]

1 Cor. 15:4; ἐγήγερται: We’re stepping a bit outside our self-imposed parameters by using an example of a perfect middle indicative, as Porter seems to stand alone in his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:4.[134] Even McKay departs from Porter, adhering more closely to the traditional understanding in that though he affirms stativity, McKay asserts that the state continues.[135] Porter, on the other hand, finds the perfect in this context deictically limited by τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ (on the third day):

…Many commentators extrapolate an unhealthy amount of exegetical insight from the Perfect…claiming that it means that Christ was raised and the results of his being raised continues. This may be good theology, but it cannot be argued for solely on the basis of the stative aspect. In this context temporal deixis (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ) specifically limits the temporal implicature to the state of raisedness that was in existence three days after the burial…Cf. 1 Cor 15:12, 13, 14, where this specific state is referred to, twice in conditional sentences…[136]

Yet it would seem possible that τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ is descriptive rather than limiting, i.e. the Apostle Paul is describing the point at which the state of risen-ness began. On the other hand, if Paul is recounting events chronologically, this may provide more credence to Porter’s position.[137] A final resolution is not necessary, as the IA will work in either case. As regards the traditional understanding, the perfective reflects the beginning of the state of risen-ness on the third day and its extending to infinity, with the imperfective ‘looking at’ the state itself up close in its particulars. As to Porter’s perspective, perfectively the IA signifies the beginning and endpoint of the VA as on the third day; its imperfectivity is the same as in the traditional view, though of much shorter duration.

Matthew 4:4 (cf. 6, 7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8, 10); γέγραπται: One more perfect middle was chosen, for, on the surface at least, this particular example does not appear to work with our hypothesis. Imperfectivity is plainly evident, but perfectivity seems to be an anterior event, thus, by appearances, tipping the scales toward the traditional interpretation. Perhaps Buth is correct in that it is due to “the reduced focus on the causative action [ED: perfective VA] in the perfect middle.”[138] But, on the other hand, this is no different from our immediately preceding example in this regard. In keeping with our conception here, it is not that the initial handwriting is in “reduced focus,” just as the actual raising of Jesus is not a reduced focal point in 1 Cor. 15:4. Neither the actual writing nor the initial raising is in view at all, but rather, implied.[139] In both cases it is stativity that is the sole focus. In other words, the inception of the state, signified before the ink was dry, so to speak in this case, and a nanosecond after Christ’s raising in the Corinthians passage, is the beginning point of the perfective VA in the IA, which follows the immediately preceding implied action, and so the lexemes here should be understood as stative rather than dynamic/actional. Hence, the perfective VA for γέγραπται is the entire state of ‘written-ness,’ which, after inception, is unbounded temporally, with the imperfective VA the continuing stativity itself. Thus, it seems best to translate the verb as it stands written, or perhaps something akin to it is on record.

Could it be that, in general, a concurrently perfective and imperfective form such as the IA aspectually transforms dynamic/actional lexemes to stative ones, whether in the passive or active mood? Both verbs in John 5:33 above – sending and bearing witness – are actional lexemes, yet the IA has the effect of converting each into stative verbs, as in the Jews were in a state of continuously sending messengers to John and John was in a state of continuously bearing witness about Jesus.   Συνίστημι in Col 1:17 appears to make a similar lexical transformation. It’s too premature to conclude anything definitive given our limited sampling above, but if it be determined that all dynamic/actional lexemes are converted to stative in the IA (perfect), this would provide explanatory force to Porter’s position on the stative aspect. Moreover, this would provide a more firm foundation to counter those who oppose Porter’s position of stative aspect on the basis that stativity is strictly an Aktionsart function, for this would indicate that stativity is subjectively chosen by the writer in his use of the IA (perfect), no matter the lexeme, which in turn would lead to objectively stative Aktionsarten. To put it succinctly, assuming our analysis from the small sampling above holds true universally, in the IA (perfect) it is the concurrent perfective and imperfective VA providing the means by which the Aktionsart values are necessarily stative.

We’ll see if this resulting stative Aktionsart works out in the PI (pluperfect) in the next section.

While our position is that the form known as the perfect is in actuality an ‘imperfective aorist,’ we’ve not yet addressed why it could not be a ‘perfective present’ instead, though we shall do so forthwith, using the following very brief rationale. It is known that the perfect later took on a strictly ‘aoristic’ meaning before it eventually disappeared altogether.[140] Hence, it seems more logical that the form was a perfective-dominated one, with the imperfective portion somewhat subsidiary, rather than an imperfective-prominent form.[141]

Perfective Imperfect

The PI (pluperfect) is only occasionally used in the NT. In keeping with its relative scarcity, fewer examples will be chosen as compared to the IA. Due to the remote imperfective quality of the imperfect, the PI is intrinsically more remote than the IA. This does not necessarily mean the PI will be reflecting past temporal reference, but in many cases it does so.

John 6:17; ἐγεγόνει: This is the first of two PI forms in this particular verse. It had become dark. Once again, we have a normally dynamic lexeme[142] with stative Aktionsart as a result of the use of the two aspects concurrently. The setting is such that it was in a state of having become dark. Because of the overriding thrust of the imperfect, the inherent meaning of the lexeme, and the presence of ἤδη, there is focus on the arrival of darkness.   Here the imperfective VA is the continuing state of darkness which had just begun. The perfective VA is circumscribing the entire VA to the scene depicted in the boat on the water. There is no antecedent event; the entire VA is encompassed in its perfective imperfectivity.

John 6:17; ἐληλύθει: Έρχομαι is also an inherently dynamic/actional lexeme. Jesus had not yet come – here it appears that, once again, the lexeme is transformed into a stative. The point seems not merely that Jesus had not come down to them on the boat, but more in the sense of Jesus had not come and remained with them on the boat. If this is a correct interpretation, then our hypothesis on lexical transformation of the IA and PI holds in this particular case, as well.

Mark 15:7; πεποιήκεισαν: Here we have another dynamic/actional lexeme. Barabbas had brought about murder, or had committed murder, but the focus is not on the initial action. This is more to make an identification of the insurrectionist as a murderer, as one in a state of having committed murder. The Gospel writer could have just chosen the nominative φονεύς or ἀνθρωποκτόνος (murderer). Could it be that the PI was chosen because it carries more weight, perhaps because of its dual-aspectual character? The imperfective VA is the focus on the past and yet-present (at that time) state, while the perfectivity is circumscribing this state to the time encompassing the point immediately following his committing murder to the then-present.

Luke 4:29; ᾠκοδόμητο: Another verb in the middle voice was chosen to determine if it acts the same as the IA examples above. Οἰκοδομέω, building a house, is another dynamic/actional lexeme, and here it is indeed similar to the middle IAs. Once again, it is not the actual building of the city in view; it is the fact that the city is standing. Hence, the sense here is on which their city stood built. The PI’s imperfectivity is the standing of the city, its perfectivity encompasses the time period just after it was built to the then-present.

John 8:19; ᾔδειτε: This verse was chosen because it contains the same verb used in slightly different ways. If you knew Me, you would also know My Father. The first usage seems akin to what Robinson calls a “polite idiom,”[143] which in English is rendered as past tense for the present, as it is here. The second is also present temporal reference. This is an example of the inherent remote imperfectivity of the imperfect portion of the PI being used in a non-past context.

Conclusion

While recognizing that our sampling is inadequately small and the argumentation insufficiently rigorous, we have posited that the perfect and pluperfect forms may well have been intended as ‘imperfective aorists’ and ‘perfective imperfects,’ respectively, in view of the Bulgarian. Assuming so, these morphological forms encode the verbal action as concurrently – as opposed to sequentially – perfective and imperfective. Employing Isachenko’s parade analogy, this is akin to viewing the parade from the helicopter while simultaneously viewing it at street level – a dual perspective. This simultaneity in these dual-aspectual forms inherently produces a stative implicature. Moreover, it appears that normally dynamic/actional lexemes are transformed to stative verbs by the use of these forms, thus resulting in stative Aktionsart. This supports Porter’s stance of stative aspect regarding these morphological forms, while potentially providing specific methodological bases for Porter’s position.

[102]   Guthrie, “Boats in the Bay,” in Porter, Carson, eds. Linguistics and the New Testament: Critical Junctures, p 25. For the purposes of this appendix I’ve taken Guthrie a bit out of context here, but his larger point is what I’m after: We must be willing to continually ask questions of the methodologies used to extract meaning from the NT texts, and studies in the discipline of linguistics may provide a possible way forward in finding a solution to the disparate opinions on the function of the perfect and pluperfect.

[103]   Perhaps there’s a really good reason why the following theory will not work, eluding me due to lack of expertise. I humbly and sincerely welcome any feedback/criticism.

[104]   Randall Buth, “Getting the Right Handles on the Greek Perfect,” Biblical Language Center website, (November 29, 2013), retrieved from http://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com/handles-greek-perfect/, as accessed 9/23/14.

[105]   ibid, paragraphs 5-8. Buth notes that both reduplication, a marker of imperfectivity, and a κ from aorists “preserving an archaic feature of Greek morphology” (par 6), signifying perfectivity, are/were present in the perfect.

[106]   Using ἐμήμεκα (translated as “I have vomited”) as an example (“Getting the Right Handles,” para 4), and adding, “[o]ne could use the label ‘stative’ to describe the ongoing relevance, as long as the ‘completeness’ parameter was also included” (para 4), Buth appears to support the traditional view in this context. Elsewhere (“Verbs Perception and Aspect,” in Taylor, Lee, et. al., eds. Biblical Language and Lexicography) he affirms, “…I, like most Greek grammarians, feel that time intersects with aspect in the indicative. However, I would not disagree with those who would point out that an aspect that is (+ perfective, + imperfective) implies a certain temporal sequencing” (p 192 n 30; emphasis added). This is contrary to the findings of Porter and Decker, which indicate that this does not always work out in practice, as summarized in the fourth part of this series. See also footnote 65.

[107]   ibid, par 3-4.

[108]   The term “verbal action” here is meant as a shorthand, collective descriptor, used for either perfective or imperfective aspect, substituted for “event” (for dynamic/actional lexemes in the perfective), “process” (for dynamic/actional lexemes in the imperfective), and “state” (for stative lexemes in the imperfective, and for stative lexemes in the perfective, which are not merely stative, but typically seen as both incepting and terminating), for brevity. See Comrie, Aspect, pp 48-51.

[109]   Even the presumed perfective VA followed by imperfective VA in the traditional view is not applied universally, as the so-called “extensive perfect” (see Robertson, Grammar, pp 895-896), aka “consummative perfect” (see H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1955), pp 202-203) are explained as the converse, reflecting imperfective followed by perfective.

[110]   Comrie, Aspect, pp 23, 31-32

[111]   ibid, p 23

[112]   ibid, p 32

[113]   ibid.

[114]   In addition, the imperfectivity of the ‘imperfective aorist’ is intrinsically more proximate than the imperfectivity of the ‘perfective imperfect.’ Conversely, the imperfectivity of the ‘perfective imperfect’ is more remote than the imperfectivity of the ‘imperfective aorist.’ More on this below.

[115]   This is my own conclusion, based on the fact of each form’s dual-aspectual value. This seems to comport with the traditional view of the perfect and pluperfect.

[116]   It should be noted that Comrie describes the ancient Greek perfect as per the traditional view: “[T]he Perfect, although referring to a past situation, is still treated as a primary (i.e. non-past) tense for the purpose of determining the sequence of tenses” (Aspect, p 53). However, it seems the author is merely ‘reporting,’ i.e. Comrie is only parroting the positions in typical grammars.

[117]   There is one important difference: In the Bulgarian model each of these forms are past tense, for past temporal reference, according to Comrie (Aspect, p 23). As illustrated in previous sections of this article, Porter has demonstrated that the Koine perfect is reflecting both past and non-past contexts, and the pluperfect, though mostly reflecting past temporal reference, is not exclusively so.

[118]   This would not seem to work as an ‘imperfective aorist,’ as we would most likely assume the imperfectivity in such a form would be akin to the present, i.e. it would be non-remote.

[119]   See Porter, VAGNT, p 91

[120]   Robertson (Grammar) claims the verb here “has lost the punctiliar [ED: aoristic VA, perfective aspect] and is only durative” (p 896).

[121]   Campbell, Verbal Aspect, p 171; cf. 169-175. The same specific example is cited in Campbell, Basics, p 49. Campbell’s difficulty here lies in his confusion of Porter’s position of the subjective use of the perfect to connote a “state of affairs,” as opposed to the objective stativity of Aktionsart.

[122]   Porter, Idioms, p 22

[123]   Robertson (Grammar, pp 896-897) calls this a “vivid” historical present perfect, meaning the VA was actually in the past, but conveyed as if present in order to provide emphasis.

[124]   I state “not necessarily” here since perfective aspect may or may not include durativity, as Comrie notes (Aspect, p 22). One example illustrating durativity is found in the aorist of βασιλεύω in 1 Cor. 4:8: ἡμῶν ἐβασιλεύσατε (You have become kings). Porter (VAGNT), apparently with durativity in mind, renders ἐνίκησεν in Rev 5:5 as the present-referring “stands victorious” (p 228). Osborne (Grant R. Osborne, Revelation: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002)) recognizes a possible present temporal reference here, but ultimately concludes past: “[T]he aorist refers to his life as a victory over the powers of evil (global aorist) or, more likely in this context, to his sacrificial death as the great “victory” over Satan (punctiliar force)” (p 253; parentheses in orig.). At first blush this appears to better fit the context (see ἀρνίον ἑστηκὸς ὡς ἐσφαγμένον in Rev 5:6), agreeing with Thomas (Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, Kenneth Barker gen. ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992)): “The purpose of Jesus’ victory is expressed by anoixai (“that He may open”). This is a shade different from calling the opening a result of His victorious redemptive work…The opening of the scroll is best seen as the object or purpose of Jesus’ conquest” (p 388). On the other hand, David Aune (Word Biblical Commentary, 52A: Revelation 1-5, David A. Hubbard & Glenn W. Barker gen. eds. (Dallas, TX: Word, 1997)) observes that the verb νικᾶν here “is used without an object limiting the scope of victory [which] suggests that his victory is unlimited and absolute” (p 349). While Aune translates the aorist has conquered (pp 321, 349), his understanding suggests then-present and perhaps even current-present reference (similar to Porter?). In other words, this means that Aune understands has conquered as an English present perfect to include the then-present, whereas Thomas and Osborne understand has conquered as an English present perfect which only includes the past on up to but excluding the then-present – see footnote 94.

Robertson (Grammar) calls the usage in Rev 5:5 an application of the “effective aorist,” with a focus on the “end of the action” (pp 834-835). But this seems a bit forced, as if he wants to retain the presumed past tense feature of the aorist – “…because of the time-element in the indicative (expressed by the augment and secondary endings),” (p 835) – while somehow providing a present-time application in order to fit the context here.

[125]   See Robertson, Grammar, pp 898-902; McKay, Syntax, p 50; Mathewson, “Rethinking Greek Verb Tenses,” pp 20-22; Wallace, Grammar, pp 578-579; H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1955) pp 202-205.

[126]   Porter, VAGNT, pp 264-265; cf. Mathewson (“Rethinking Greek Verb Tenses”) in which the author observes that Rev 5:9 also contains the aorist form of λαμβάνω (p 20). Robertson (Grammar) calls the usage here a “vivid dramatic colloquial historical perfect” (p 899). Dana and Mantey (Manual Grammar, p 204) follow Robertson.

[127]   Robertson (Grammar) notes this: “The mere fact of the use of the aorists and perfects side by side does not prove confusion of the tenses. It rather argues the other way” (p 901).

[128]   Comrie (Aspect, pp 42-43) uses the example of “cough” – not as iterative (a series of coughs), but as a semelfactive (one single cough) – in a situation in which a film of an individual’s single cough is slowed down to where it is revealed as having very brief duration. It seems one may even be able to argue that “kick” can be imperfective, taking into account the individual’s swing of the foot leading up to the actual point of impact, and perhaps even including its follow-through.

[129]   Robertson, Grammar, pp 898-902

[130]   Robertson, Grammar, p 901. Robertson uses “punctiliar” rather loosely in describing perfectivity throughout.

[131]   ibid.

[132]   ibid. Though Robertson opines that the perfect or pluperfect could work here, he ultimately interprets Paul’s usage as a “(historical dramatic) present perfect” (p 901; parenthesis in original).

[133]   Porter, VAGNT, p 258

[134]   This is according to the works surveyed here.

[135]   McKay (New Syntax) asserts: “[T]he event producing the state may be implied strongly enough for the addition of an adverbial attachment which applies particularly to the event: e.g. 1 Cor. 15:4 καὶ ὅτι ἐγήγερται τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ, and that he rose on the third day (and remains risen). The emphasis is still on the state rather than the event, but the flexibility of the language permits the addition of an adverbial phrase which would usually accompany the aorist which might have been used here” (p 32). Cf. pp 40, 50; McKay “The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect,” pp 12-13.

[136]   Porter, VAGNT, p 262

[137]   That is, if verse 4 is seen as the beginning of a chronological series of events describing Christ’s death and resurrection and the ramifications of His atoning work (“Christ died for our sins” in v 3), then we have 1) He was buried, 2) He was raised on the third day, 3) He appeared to Peter, 4) then to the Twelve, etc., which could be construed as limiting ἐγήγερται to Easter.

[138]   Buth, “Getting the Right Handles,” par 10

[139]   McKay (“The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect”) suggests this regarding the Corinthians passage: “But the context is that Christ is risen, a continuing condition which has given rise to a new state of affairs. A more strict grammarian would no doubt have used the aorist at this point and introduced the perfect later, but Paul is less concerned with the respective provinces of aorist and perfect than with his theological purpose: the past facts of death, burial, resurrection and attestation are to him subsidiary to the significance of the fact that Christ continues in the risen state” (p 12; italics in original, bold added for emphasis).

[140]   See, e.g. Rodney J. Decker, Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), p 236; McKay, “The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect,” pp 1-2. Perhaps the dual-aspect quality of the form proved too confusing.

[141]   Moreover, with two other imperfectives – namely the present and the imperfect – the decision to use it ‘aoristically,’ rather than imperfectively, makes sense. It would make an interesting study to see if, upon its adoption as a strictly perfective, the ‘perfect’ was used predominantly, or even solely, in one temporal sphere as opposed to another, in order to differentiate it from the aorist, before the ‘perfect’ eventually disappeared.

[142]   Γίνομαι is used to denote a change from one state to another by some sort of process or event. Thus, the verb is dynamic, signifying the act of transition. This differentiates it from, e.g. εἰμί. That it results in a new state does not negate that it is inherently dynamic/actional.

[143] Robertson, Grammar, pp 918-919. See footnote 68 above.

A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference (pt 4)

[See part 1, part 2, and part 3.]

Stative Aspect

This brings us to the perplexing perfect and pluperfect tense-forms. While there are different understandings as regards the outworking of the plu/perfect forms, there is general agreement that the relationship between the perfect and the pluperfect bears resemblance to the relationship between the present and imperfect tense-forms.

Traditionally the perfect tense-form has been described as a past action with present results, or present continuing relevance. Julius R. Mantey, co-author with H. E. Dana of A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, notes the following about the perfect tense-form: “The perfect tense is the most difficult of Greek tenses to understand and to interpret. This is true chiefly due to the fact that it has been explained as being a combination of the two tenses, the aorist and the present.”83 Obviously, this view is time bound, to include the understanding that the aorist tense-form necessarily encodes past time, while the present tense-form encodes present time. This is what is reflected in most Koine Greek grammars, i.e. that the perfect tense-form encodes a past action with presently existing results (sometimes understood as extending beyond the time of the writing to include the modern day present time). It is also fraught with troubles when applied universally, as we shall see.

Fanning identifies the perfect tense-form as a complex consisting of past time with present results, stative Aktionsart, and perfective aspect.84 As noted earlier, Campbell claims the plu/perfect forms encode imperfective aspect. Porter, following McKay, asserts that the plu/perfect tense-forms constitute a third aspect, stative aspect. As a Proto-Indo-European language, Porter’s position that Koine Greek includes a stative aspect comports with the Encyclopedia Britannica: “The Proto-Indo-European verb had three aspects: imperfective, perfective, and stative…The stative aspect, traditionally called ‘perfect,’ described states of the subject…‘be in a standing position’…‘have in mind.85 And as with the perfective and imperfective, Porter asserts that the time element of the stative aspect is not intrinsic.

Going back to the parade analogy, Porter describes the stative aspect thusly:

…[I]f I am the parade manager considering all of the conditions in existence at this parade, including not only the arrangements that are coming to fruition but all the accompanying events that allow the parade to operate, I view the process not in its particulars [imperfective aspect] or its immediacy [perfective aspect] but as “stative,” i.e. as a condition or state of affairs in existence.86

Porter defines it more simply elsewhere as “the action is conceived of by the language user as reflecting a given (often complex) state of affairs.”87 One could criticize Porter’s definition as too vague, and perhaps rightly so.88 Importantly, Porter does not mean that the plu/perfect forms encode stative Aktionsart – i.e. lexical (objective) stativity, as stative verbs such as ἔχω (I possess/have), μένω (I remain/stay), etc. convey stativity with any aspectual form – but instead a “state of affairs” portrayed subjectively by the writer/speaker in the use of these morphological forms, and by this understanding of stativity, either stative or dynamic (actional) lexemes in the plu/perfect tense-forms produce a stative implicature.

As mentioned earlier, according to Porter, the perfective aspect is the least marked aspect, with the aorist carrying the narrative, the story-line, being the “background” tense-form.89 The present tense-form (imperfective) slows down the narrative by bringing in “selected or highlighted events,” and is termed the “foreground” tense-form.90 The perfect is the most heavily marked,91 defined as the “frontground” tense-form, “reserved for selective mention of a few very significant items.”92

As the previous sections above have shown with the aorist and the present tense-forms, the following will illustrate that the perfect tense-form is found in all temporal spheres. We’ll begin with Mark 9:13, which exhibits past temporal reference of the perfect tense-form:93

Ηλίας ἐλήλυθεν, καὶ    ἐποίησαν    αὐτῷ     ὅσα    ἤθελον
Elias come,        and     they do  to him as much as they want
Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wanted

Jesus is speaking of John the Baptist here who had been beheaded earlier (cf. Mark 6:14-29). Importantly, note that this ‘coming’ of John is completely in the past; i.e. there are no continuing results of his coming, as he’s not still alive at the time Jesus spoke those words. Moreover, the context clearly indicates past temporal reference as “they” (Herod and Herodias) had already “done to him everything they wanted.” This is clearly a past state/condition best translated as an English present perfect (has come), indicating an unspecified time before the present (at the time of the speaker). While the English present perfect may indicate either past action at some unspecified time before the present or past action on up to and including the present,94 the overall context here, including personal deixis (“Elijah” – John the Baptist), indicates the former.

Because it is assumed that the Koine Greek perfect tense-form refers to present and/or continuing states, we’ll provide two more examples of past-referring perfects, the first from John 6:32:

οὐ Μωϋσῆς δέδωκεν ὑμῖν τὸν ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ
not Moses      give       you the bread from the heaven
Moses did not give you the bread from heaven

In this context, it is, once again, personal deixis (Moses) indicating a past reference. Obviously the ‘giving’ of the bread has not continued beyond the time of the Exodus.

The next example of past temporal reference is found in John 8:57, in which the Pharisees are astounded by Jesus’ claim in the previous verse that Abraham saw Him (and, by implication, vice versa) – with personal deixis (Abraham) yet again, plus the overall context, illustrating past implicature:

πεντήκοντα ἔτη    οὔπω   ἔχεις καὶ Ἀβραὰμ  ἑώρακας
Fifty             years not yet have and Abraham you see!
You have (are) not yet fifty years (old), and you have seen Abraham?!

The above example cannot be referring to present time, as the Pharisees’ point is that, from their perspective, Jesus is not possibly old enough (not yet fifty years) to have been a contemporary of Abraham in order to have seen him.

Porter cautions against necessarily reading past actions into the perfect form: “Whether a previous event is alluded to or exists at all is a matter of lexis in context and not part of aspectual semantics.”95 Decker makes note of this, providing Mark 6:14 as an example: “Here the point is not that a past action has taken place, but on the present state that exists: the people are convinced that John’s resurrected state accounts for his [Jesus’] power.”96 In other words, in this verse the thought was that a supposed resurrected John the Baptist was providing Jesus’ powers, thereby implicating present temporal reference. Moreover, since one cannot ascertain whether or not the perceived risen state of John extends beyond the time identified by the immediate context, it would seem dubious to claim continuing relevance:

Ιωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ διὰ    τοῦτο ἐνεργοῦσιν αἱ δυνάμεις ἐν αὐτῷ.
John     the Baptist   raise      from dead and through this   he works   the powers in/through him.
John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and by this he performs miracles in Him.

John 1:18 is one example of a timeless application of the perfect tense-form, again with no previous event in view:

Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε…
God no one see         ever/at any time…
No one sees God ever…

In this clause, the verb seems best translated as “no one sees God ever” (cf. Ex 33:20), rather than as an English present perfect (“no one has ever seen God”) as per most English translations, since πώποτε connotes unrestricted temporal deixis, indicating no specific temporal sphere.97 The Gospel writer’s point is that the λόγος (Logos: word, message), Who came from the Father, became flesh (Jn 1:14) and this enfleshed λόγος, Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17), was the One who revealed the Father to us (Jn 1:18b-d), and though no one ever sees God (Jn 1:18a), we have seen God in a sense, in the Person of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 14:7, 9-11).

In translating ἑώρακεν as “has ever seen” the temporal reference is strictly limited to the time preceding and on up to and including the Incarnation (past + then-present), or the time the words were narrated by the Gospel writer, rather than leaving it open-ended, timeless. To provide an analogy by way of another example of the English present perfect: Making the claim that no one has ever run a marathon faster than 2 hours does not preclude someone from breaking this perceived barrier at some point in the future. Similarly, stating “no one has ever seen God” does not prohibit the possibility that someone will see God in the future – a statement that violates other Scripture (Ex 33:20; 1 Tm 6:16; 1 Jn 4:12).

An omnitemporal implicature is found in 2 Peter 2:19, according to Porter:98

ᾧ                        γάρ      τις      ἥττηται    τούτῳ δεδούλωται
who/which/what for a certain overcome  that/this enslave
for by what someone is overcome, by this he is enslaved.

In the immediate context, Peter is illustrating the fact that these unregenerate individuals (false teachers, cf. 2:1) are continually overcome and therefore enslaved by their sins.

James 5:2 (and 5:3) provides examples of future temporal reference of the perfect tense-form:

ὁ πλοῦτος ὑμῶν σέσηπεν καὶ τὰ    ἱμάτια    ὑμῶν σητόβρωτα γέγονεν
the riches  your rot    and the garments   your moth-eaten become
your riches will rot and your garments will become moth-eaten99

These perfects are traditionally rendered as either past or present temporal reference (proleptic or prophetic); however, Porter asserts these should best be translated as future. Certainly it would seem that the earthly rich described by James here have their riches unrotted temporally, but they won’t have them to enjoy eternally.

Similar to the perfect, traditionally the pluperfect has been asserted as being a combination of the aorist and the imperfect tense-forms. Porter identifies some problems with the traditional view, noting that there are occasions in the NT in which 1) “the aoristic past is not of importance,” 2) “the result is lacking,” and 3) “the context is not past-referring.”100 As to the first, Porter cites John 6:17 as one example,101 for Jesus had not yet come:

καὶ σκοτία    ἤδη ἐγεγόνει καὶ οὔπω ἐληλύθει πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς
and darkness now become and not yet   come   to   them the Jesus
Now it had become dark and Jesus had not yet come to them.

The second point is evidenced in Acts 23:5:

ἔφη τε ὁ Παῦλος· οὐκ ᾔδειν,      ἀδελφοί, ὅτι ἐστὶν ἀρχιερεύς
said so the Paul   not understand brothers that be   high priest
So Paul answered, “I did not realize, brothers, that he was the high priest.”

The pluperfect, like the imperfect, is used predominately in past-referring contexts, yet not exclusively so. Thus, the final point above is found in John 8:19, with its implicature indicating present temporal reference:

εἰ ἐμὲ ᾔδειτε,    καὶ τὸν πατέρα μου ἂν    ᾔδειτε
if me you know also the father my would you know
If you knew Me, you would also know My Father

Summing Up

Porter contends that temporal reference is not intrinsic to the Koine Greek verb, with aspect being the sole semantic property encoded into the verb’s morphological form, while temporal reference, a pragmatic implicature, is found via the accompanying context. To claim that a specific temporal reference is a feature of the verb that can be cancelled out based on context is to allow for exceptions when it would seem best to minimize exceptional cases to the extent possible in a given system. This somewhat brief survey supports Porter’s position of the non-temporality of the Koine Greek verb, by illustrating that the aorist, the present, and the perfect tense-forms can be found in the full range of temporal spheres (past, present, omnitemporal, timeless, and future), while even the imperfect and pluperfect tense-forms are available in other than the traditionally presumed past temporal reference.

(Also see Appendix)

 

83  Julius R. Mantey “Evidence that the Perfect Tense in John 20:23 and Matthew 16:19 is Mistranslated” in Journal of Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), 16-3 (September 1973), p 129.

84   Decker (Temporal Deixis, p 108) sketches Fanning’s position, as does Trevor V. Evans (“Future Directions for Aspect Studies in Ancient Greek,” in Taylor, Lee et al eds. Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography, p 205). Campbell (Verbal Aspect, p 189) also defines Fanning’s conception, rightfully criticizing it as “a modern restatement of the classic view,” which then “admits too many exceptions” (p 189; cf. 189-190 for additional, more specific critique).

85   Encyclopaedia Brittanica online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/286368/Indo-European-languages/74556/Morphology-and-syntax

86   Porter, VAGNT, pp 91. Bracketed explanation is mine.

87   Porter, Idioms, pp 21-22; original is italicized. This exact verbiage is also found in Porter’s newest grammar (Fundamentals, p 315).

88   See e.g. Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 170-171.   In the appendix a possible alternate understanding of the perfect and pluperfect forms will be proposed, which may or may not provide a more adequate methodological approach and explanation, though this position will not be rigorously argued.

89   Porter, Idioms, p 23. It should be noted that Porter’s terminological distinctions are at odds with other linguists (and Fanning).

90   ibid.

91   Porter, VAGNT, p 258. For background on markedness, see Comrie, Aspect, pp 111-122.

92   Porter, Idioms, p 23

93   This example found in Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 109

94   Following are examples illustrating ‘past excluding present’ and ‘past including present’ usages of the English present perfect. Past time, excluding the present: Dr. Brown has been to Antarctica on expeditions many times over the past 30 years (but he is not currently in Antarctica, and no further expeditions are scheduled). In a different context, with Dr. Brown currently on an expedition in Antarctica, the statement would convey – excluding the parenthetical portion, of course – both past and present. For past time including the present: Jorge has lived in San Antonio his entire life (and he remains a resident of San Antonio).

95   Porter, VAGNT, p 259

96   Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 109

97   See Porter, VAGNT, p 269

98   Porter, VAGNT, p 268

99   Porter (VAGNT, p 267) renders these are going to rot and are going to become moth-eaten.

100   Porter, VAGNT, p 288

101   ibid.

A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference (pt 3)

After an introduction of verbal aspect, followed by its illustration in English in part I, we proceeded to an overview of verbal aspect in Koine Greek, moving to a discussion of the perfective aspect in part 2. This third part will cover the imperfective aspect.

Imperfective Aspect

As previously noted, the imperfective aspect is exhibited by both the imperfect tense-form and the present tense-form. The difference between the two is one of remoteness, with the imperfect tense-form more remote than the present tense-form. In other words, the present tense-form is more proximate56 (closer to the event/situation) than the imperfect tense-form, yet both are ‘street-level’ perspectives, using our parade analogy.57 The difference could be envisioned as the present tense-form standing on the sidewalk next to the parade, while the imperfect tense-form is perched upon a grandstand placed alongside the street, or some other position at a slight distance from the parade.58

It may be helpful to provide diagrams to differentiate between the remoteness of the aorist tense-form (perfective aspect) and that of the imperfect tense-form.59 In the figures below, the horizontal line illustrates the time element of the event/situation (derived from the pragmatics of the context), with T1 representing the beginning point and T2 the end. The time period can be of very short duration or very long. Taking the example of John 11:35 above (Jesus wept), this time period is likely only a few minutes or so, whereas in Romans 5:14 (death reigned from Adam to Moses) it is quite long!

Perfective Aspect

The perfective viewpoint is like a snapshot of the action, an overview, a summary perspective of the whole event/situation. In John 11:35 and Romans 5:14 both T1 and T2 are in the past; however, as noted in the previous section, the event/situation could be in present time, future time, of an omnitemporal nature, or timeless. In the latter case the viewpoint would retain its relative remoteness, or distance from the horizontal line (event/situation), however neither T1 nor T2 would be able to be definitively identified in terms of past, present, or future.

Comparatively, the imperfective viewpoint of the imperfect tense-form is only remote relative to the proximity of the present tense-form. It is much closer to T1 – T2 than the perfective aspect, as the imperfective aspect is the street level perspective, with a closer look at the interval between T1 and T2.

 Imperfective Aspect Imperfect

The present tense-form, then, is graphically illustrated as closer yet to the event/situation (on the sidewalk), as compared to the imperfect tense-form (on the grandstand).

 Imperfective Aspect Present

While the perfective aspect looks at the entirety of the event/situation, the imperfective aspect looks at its internal structure as it is unfolding, with the present tense-form providing a comparatively closer look at its enfoldment than the imperfect tense-form. And while the perfective perspective includes both the beginning and the end points, the imperfective is depicting the internal progress or process rather than focusing on the beginning and/or end. The imperfective aspect is more heavily marked than the perfective aspect, and it logically follows that the present tense-form, due to its relative proximity, is comparatively more heavily marked than the imperfect tense-form.60

To help demonstrate Porter’s assertion that verbal aspect is subjective, i.e., that the NT writer makes a (probably subconscious) choice to use one particular aspect over another,61 we’ll compare the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew and Mark.62 Matthew uses the aorist form for the verb “give” (δίδωμι, didōmi), while Mark uses the imperfect tense-form for this same exact event. Therefore, Matthew (14:19) chooses to provide a summary view of Jesus’ distribution of the multiplied bread and fish to the 5000 by using the perfective aspect (He gave), while Mark (6:41) chooses to highlight the actual progression of this miracle by using the imperfective aspect (He was giving), focusing on the process of Jesus multiplying and handing out the bread.63

It is its relative spatial remoteness (distance from the event/situation) that makes the imperfect tense-form well-suited for use in past time narratives, and this is most often where they are found. Along with the example of Mark 6:41 just above, John 5:18 provides an example:

διὰ             τοῦτο οὖν       μᾶλλον ἐζήτουν      αὐτὸν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἀποκτεῖναι,
because of this therefore more   seek/strive  him the Jews     to kill
For this, therefore, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him.

Instead of using the aorist form (ἐζήτησαν, ezētēsan, sought), the narrator chose to illustrate the event as in progress, in order to make it more vivid. While the aorist provides the skeletal outline of the narrative, the imperfect tense-form provides further description of events, supporting details, and can introduce conversations.64

The imperfect tense-form is also used in discourse (speech, conversations) that reference the past. One such example is found in the words of Jesus in Luke 17:27, with the Lord speaking of the time before the flood:

ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἐγάμουν, ἐγαμίζοντο,
eat,     drink, marry, give in marriage,
They were eating, drinking, marrying, being given in marriage,

While the imperfect tense-form is used predominantly for past-time events/situations, it is not exclusively so.65 Its relative remoteness, as compared to the non-remote (proximate) present tense-form, puts it in a “broader, demonstrative category that may be logical, temporal, conditional, physical, etc.,”66 meaning that, e.g., it may signify a spatial (or logical) distance but with a time reference other than past.67 Two examples are found in Acts 25:22 and Galatians 4:20, in which a present temporal reference is used:

Αγρίππας δὲ πρὸς τὸν Φῆστον· ἐβουλόμην καὶ αὐτὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀκοῦσαι
Agrippa then to the Festus     will/want   also myself the   man    to hear
Then Agrippa (said) to Festus: “I myself also would like to hear this man.”

 

ἤθελον        δὲ    παρεῖναι        πρὸς    ὑμᾶς ἄρτι καὶ    ἀλλάξαι  τὴν φωνήν
want/wish but to be present for/with you   now and to change the voice
But I wish to be present with you now and change (my tone of) voice.68

 “I am wishing” may work as a translation, though perhaps a bit clumsily, but “would like” and “wish” convey the continuing action of the imperfective aspect just fine. Both Porter and Decker find an omnitemporal use of the imperfect tense-form in Matthew 23:23:

ταῦτα [δὲ]             ἔδει    ποιῆσαι  κἀκεῖνα       μὴ  ἀφιέναι.
these things it is necessary to do and the others not to neglect.
It is necessary to do these things and not to neglect the others.69

Jesus’ point in His rebuke of the Pharisees is that they should practice the more important part of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness – without neglecting those of lesser importance (tithing – as per OT Mosaic Law). It is always (omnitemporally) necessary to continually exhibit justice, mercy and faithfulness – Jesus is not merely telling them they “should have,” as most translations render this, they should have and they should continue to do so. Hence, it is necessary is probably the best rendering. Even if one were to argue against a continuing relevance into the future, asserting it is beyond the context (though certainly theologically true), it is clear that both a past and present time reference are in view (T1 is past time and T2 would be present time in such a case – rather than future, as in the Porter/Decker stance).70 Nonetheless, with either understanding it is necessary is probably the best translation.

An omnitemporal usage of the imperfect tense-form is found in Colossians 3:18 in the subordinate clause following a present tense-form imperative:

Αἱ γυναῖκες, ὑποτάσσεσθε τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ὡς ἀνῆκεν ἐν κυρίῳ.
The wives submit yourselves to the husbands as is fitting in [the] Lord.
Wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.71

The present tense-form imperative ὑποτάσσεσθε (submit) in the independent clause should be understood as an omnitemporal command, with the imperfect tense-form ἀνῆκεν (is fitting) in the dependent clause correlating to this same omnitemporal implicature. The imperfect tense-form is used here since the information is supplementary (though important!) detail.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to get into specific theological interpretation (though this is not completely unavoidable as can be seen above), this verse requires a bit of grammatical analysis. In the main (independent) clause rendered Wives submit to your husbands the middle voice rather than the passive voice in the command “can imply a voluntary submission,” which would make it the wife’s “willing choice, not some universal law that ordains masculine dominance.”72 The subordinate clause (as is fitting in the Lord) qualifies the wife’s submission as “an allegiance shown to Christ,”73 with the likely understanding that the degree of subjection should be in accord with that which befits the husband’s love of the wife “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it” (Eph 5:25).74 Note that Paul’s command (present active imperative) to the husband in verse 19 is much stronger.75

While the imperfect tense-form is evident in only relatively few instances outside of past temporal reference in the NT, the present tense-form has as much temporal variety as the aorist. Present temporal reference is the one assumed to be normative, so we’ll begin there. Luke 24:17 is but one example:

εἶπεν     δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· τίνες οἱ λόγοι οὗτοι οὓς ἀντιβάλλετε πρὸς ἀλλήλους
say/speak then to them, what the words these that you exchange with one another
Then He asked them, “What are these words that you discuss with each other?”

James 3 evinces quite a few instances of the omnitemporal use of the present tense-form, in reference to the tongue.76 James 3:9 contains one such usage:

ἐν αὐτῇ εὐλογοῦμεν τὸν κύριον καὶ πατέρα καὶ ἐν αὐτῇ καταρώμεθα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους
With it we praise     the Lord   and Father and/yet with it we curse       (the) men.
With it we praise the Lord and Father, yet77 with it we curse men.

After using timeless aorists in most of Romans 1:18-32 to describe the sinful nature of man, chapter 2 begins with the timeless application of a number of present tense-forms for God’s righteous judgment.78 We’ll illustrate this with the latter part of the first verse of the second chapter in Romans:

ἐν ᾧ   γὰρ κρίνεις    τὸν ἕτερον, σεαυτὸν κατακρίνεις, τὰ γὰρ αὐτὰ πράσσεις       ὁ κρίνων.
In what for you judge the other yourself you condemn the for same you do the one judging
For in what you judge the other you condemn yourself, since you who judge practice the same.

Stated another way: For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, practice the same things.

While it is true that in English the present tense-form can be used for present, omnitemporal, and timeless temporal references,79 the point here is to illustrate that what is termed “present tense-form” in Koine Greek can be used for all temporal categories (see future and past just below) – just like the aorist (see previous section) and perfect tense-forms (see next section below) can be employed for any sphere of temporal reference. This indicates that time is not an intrinsic part of NT verbs’ morphological forms, and that there must be something else that differentiates the tense-forms from one another. That ‘something else’ is, as we’ve been illustrating, aspect.

This next example in Matthew 26:18 illustrates a future usage (from the time of Jesus’ speaking) of the present tense-form:

πρὸς σὲ           ποιῶ            τὸ     πάσχα  μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν μου.80
for/with you I to make/keep the Passover with the disciples   my
With you I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples.

The so-called “historical present” (HP), or past-referring present tense-form, has received quite a bit of ink, mostly due to the perceived ‘wrong use’ of the tense-form, which is misconstrued as encoding present-time. When viewed from a framework of verbal aspect, it is understood that past temporal reference is merely one of five possible choices (including Porter’s delineation between timeless and omnitemporal). In narrative these past-referring present tense-forms are usually best rendered as an English simple past tense-form. John 6:19 provides one such example:

θεωροῦσιν τὸν Ἰησοῦν περιπατοῦντα ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης καὶ ἐγγὺς τοῦ πλοίου γινόμενον
They saw   the Jesus     walking         on the water       and near the   boat    becoming
They saw Jesus walking on the water coming near the boat

Scholars have observed some discourse functions of the HP, noting that it is generally a prominence marker, though it seems each Gospel writer employs it a bit differently. This is a natural implicature for the more heavily marked present tense-form, due to its proximity as compared to the relative remoteness of the imperfect tense-form, but especially to the unmarked aorist. It is outside the purview of this article to get into the specific variety of uses of the HP in the various Gospels, so we’ll provide a brief overview:81

(a)    To begin a new pericope

(b)    To begin a specific scene after a general introduction

(c)    To introduce new characters

(d)    To illustrate a character’s movement to new locations

(e)    To highlight following events (cataphoric function)

(f)     To close a pericope

In our example of John 6:19 above (c) applies.82

This concludes our study of the imperfective aspect. The next part will cover the stative aspect.

 

56   Inferring from Campbell’s words (Verbal Aspect, p 36), Fanning may be the first to use the term “proximity” (Campbell cites Fanning, Verbal Aspect, p 27) in the context of verbal aspect. Campbell then adopts this term to explain the difference between the present and imperfect tense-forms, and, in a different way, the difference between the perfect and the pluperfect tense-forms (see Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 48-57, 195-211). I’m adopting a variation of Campbell’s views on both the relationship of the imperfect to the present (see figures just below) and the pluperfect to the perfect (see Appendix).

57   See above. Campbell (Basics) provides a helpful explanation: “[T]he present tense-form [has] the spatial value of proximity. The imperfect tense-form [has] the spatial value of remoteness. These are semantic values that are not cancelable but are expressed pragmatically in a variety of ways in context” (p 60).

58   My own extrapolation based upon my view of the differences between the present and imperfect tense-forms. Campbell provides helpful diagrams illustrating the relative proximity of the present tense-form, as compared to the imperfect tense-form (Basics, pp 42, 61; cf. Campbell Verbal Aspect, pp 50-51), yet the way in which Campbell has pictured the imperfect tense-form seems to lend itself solely to a past time implicature. It seems better instead to place the viewpoint at a further distance from the timeline of the event/situation than the present, in order to account for its relative remoteness as compared to the present tense-form’s proximity. See figures below.

59   While Campbell provides diagrams for the present and imperfect tense-forms, (see note 58 above), he provides none at all for the aorist/perfective. I’m hopeful the diagrams here will help the reader to distinguish the function of the aorist from that of the imperfect tense-form.

60   Porter, Idioms, p 34: “The imperfect is similar in function to the historic [past] use of the present. Although they share the same verbal aspect, the present is used to draw even more attention to an action.” The “even more” here refers to a comparison with the aorist in which the imperfect “is the narrative form used when an action is selected to dwell upon” (p 34).

61   Porter, VAGNT, pp 88, 91-92; Porter, Idioms, pp 28-29.

62   The idea to use this example comes from David Alan Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek (3rd ed., Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, pp 15-16), though Black differs a bit from Porter’s views (see pp 13-16). For more on authorial subjective choice regarding aspect, see Matthew’s use of the historic present (tense-form) in his account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and its juxtaposition with the aorist as compared to Mark’s and Luke’s use of these tense-forms in Stephanie L. Black, “The Historic Present in Matthew: Beyond Speech Margins,” in Porter, Reed, eds., Discourse Analysis, pp 120-135.

63   One could argue that these should be rendered began to give and began giving, respectively, as the context implies that the multiplying of the bread began in Jesus’ hands. Yet, this does not mean we would call these, respectively, an “inceptive aorist” or “inceptive imperfect,” as it’s not the verbs’ form (aspect) that determines this, nor the lexis; it’s the context that would make it so. Hence, according to Porter, these terms should not be used in general (Idioms, pp 27-28). See also short section titled “Semantic Meaning and Pragmatic Effects” in Stephen H. Levinsohn Discourse Features of New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on the Information Structure of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2000), p IX.

64   See Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 107.

65   It is commonly assumed that the imperfect tense-form is a preterite (past-time) marker; e.g., Biblical linguist Randall Buth: “The Greek imperfect is a past imperfective” (“Verbs Perception and Aspect: Greek Lexicography and Grammar” [sic] in Bernard A. Taylor, John A. L. Lee, et. al., eds. Biblical Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004, p 182, n 15). However, as we will see, this does not hold unequivocally.

Some contend that the augment is a past-time marker. However, McKay’s 1965 work “The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect Down to the Second Century A.D.” (cited earlier), remarking in a footnote, questions, “whether the augment, which is generally taken as originally an adverb denoting past time, was not rather an adverb of remoteness, signifying either past time or reduced actuality, as required” (p 19 n 22; italics in orig, bold added). Porter (VAGNT, pp 208-211) is more assertive, stating outright that the augment is not a past-time indicator.  Cf. Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 39-40; Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 88-91.

66   Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 106, cf. 107.

67   McKay (New Syntax) observes that, “some common time indicators sometimes occur in situations where they are markers of some other part of the temporal setting, or where they are markers of some other factor, such as reality, rather than time” (p 40). Campbell (Verbal Aspect), citing James T. Hooker, notes that there are “many non-past-referring imperfects in the wider Greek literature,” to include Homer, Aristophanes, Plato, and Aristotle (p 87 n 17).

68   Both Gal 4:20 and Acts 25:22 (among others) are construed by Robertson (Grammar, pp 885-886) and Wallace (Grammar, pp 550-552) as “potential” and “voluntative/tendential” (“an attempt was about to be made or one that was almost desired to be made”), respectively. Yet elsewhere Robertson (Grammar, pp 918-919) refers to this is as a “polite idiom,” similar to the English “I was just thinking,” and while he comes just shy of explicitly affirming the Acts passage as present temporal reference, he affirms the Galatians: “Paul is speaking of present time” (p 919). Somewhat similarly, Wallace states that this particular usage “frequently is present time in which the action is entirely unrealized in the present” in which the imperfect tense-form “seems to be used to indicate the unreal present situation” (p 551; italics in original).

Richard N. Longenecker (Galatians: Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas, TX: Word, 1990), pp 187, 196), follows Robertson, stating the usage here is “expressing the desire for something in the present, with, of course, that wish unable to be realized” for, quoting Robertson (Grammar, p 886), “‘wishes about the present are naturally unattainable’” (p 196). However, Longenecker is quick to affirm that the context is an actual present time desire (at the time of writing) of Paul, as v 20 picks up from v 18 which “lays emphasis on Paul’s desire to be personally present with his Galatian converts – not present just by means of his letter or some emissary who might have brought the letter, but himself there with them. The adverb ἄρτι (“now”) is often used to connote more sharply defined present time than its synonym νῦν, and so should probably be understood to suggest ‘at this very moment’” (p 196).

In the Acts passage Agrippa clearly wants to hear Paul, with the king receiving that hearing the very next day (25:22-23). Porter (VAGNT, p 210), Decker (Temporal Deixis, pp 46-47, 51), and Campbell (Verbal Aspect, p 86) all affirm these two passages as present time usage of the imperfect tense-form, without qualification.

Another example of present temporal reference is cited by Porter in John 11:8 (VAGNT, p 210; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 19, though Decker changed his stance – see just below in this same paragraph), rendered “the Jews are now seeking,” but the NASB/ESV/ISV interpretation is probably correct (“the Jews just now were seeking;” “were trying” in ISV) in view of the overall context, with νῦν understood as representing near-past time reference (see H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (founded upon the 7th ed. of LSG-EL, Oxford: Clarendon, 1889, p 537) for “just now” in Homeric Greek; cf. Decker, “Semantic Range of νῦν,” pp 202-204; cf. John 13:31 above for near-future use of νῦν), considering that the Jewish leaders were seeking to stone Him earlier (8:59, 10:31). It seems difficult to imagine that the Jews in Judea were “now” still actively seeking to stone Him, given the time interval involved in Jesus crossing the Jordan (10:40) to Bethany (“where John had been baptizing in the early days” – see Carson Gospel of John, pp 146-147, for two different Bethany’s) where He had been staying for a period of at least three days (11:6 – Jesus stayed “two more days” before announcing his intent to return to Judea). In the final analysis, a near-past time reference seems most likely.

69   Porter’s translation (VAGNT, p 211), with Decker following (Temporal Deixis, p 51); cf. McKay, New Syntax, p 76. The translation is as a result of the combination of the finite imperfect tense-form verb (ἔδει) in conjunction with the aorist infinitive which follows it (ποιῆσαι) – known as a catenative construction (see VAGNT, pp 487, 488). Cf. Robertson, Grammar, pp 886, 919, 1080.

70   I may incline towards this view, which is one of the reasons why another example of omnitemporal reference is provided just below. Perhaps another category of temporal reference should be coined, such as “multi-temporal reference,” in order to differentiate from “omnitemporal,” if this view has merit.

71   Decker (Temporal Deixis) makes brief reference to this verse in a footnote (p 192 n 109).

72   David E. Garland, Colossians/Philemon: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapid, MI: Zondervan, 1998), p 244. It’s important to note that the verb ὑποτάσσω in the imperative mood is the same in both passive and middle voice, which means the interpreter must decide which is most likely intended (see Todd D. Still “Colossians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed., Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, gen. eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), p 337).

73   Garland, Colossians/Philemon, p 244. Robertson (Grammar) calls the usage here as one of “propriety” (pp 885-87, 919-20).

74   James D. G. Dunn (The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: New International Greek Testament Commentary, I. Howard Marshall, W. Ward Gasque, & Donald A. Hagner, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996)) observes that the subordinate clause can be read one of two ways, either “as an affirmation that the husband headship of the household is ‘fitting’ also within the community” of believers in Christ as Lord or “as a qualification that only that degree of subjection to the husband which is ‘fitting in the Lord’ is to be countenanced” (p 248). Dunn prefers the latter, citing 1 Corinthians 7:15 as correlative (ibid.). CF. Peter O’Brien Colossians, Philemon: Word Biblical Commentary, Bruce M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Dallas, TX: Thomas Nelson/Word, 1982), p 222.   With this understanding, the scales are tipped more decisively to the middle voice in the independent clause.

75   O’Brien (Colossian, Philemon), asserts, “The exhortation to be subordinate is balanced with the instruction to husbands to love their wives [ED: in v 19]: the admonition is an appeal to free and responsible agents that can only be heeded voluntarily, never by the elimination or breaking of the human will, much less by means of a servile submissiveness” (p 222). Once again, this points to the middle over the passive voice in the main clause in v 18.

76   See Porter, VAGNT, p 224.

77   Robertson (Grammar, pp 1182-83) notes that καὶ can be used in an adversative sense (“and yet”); cf. BDAG (W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000), p 495, 1bη); cf. F. W. Danker (The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009), p 183), though none explicitly cite this verse.

78   See Porter, VAGNT, p 238.

79   And even future temporal reference, see note 14 above.

80   See Porter, VAGNT, pp 77-78, 231; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 7, which provides a fuller illustration.

81   These points culled from Porter, VAGNT, pp 196-198; Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 103-104 (Decker relies on and agrees with Fanning here); S. H. Levinsohn, Discourse Features, pp 200-213; M. V. Leung, “The Narrative Function and Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present in the Fourth Gospel,” p 710; S. L. Black, “The Historic Present in Matthew,” pp 127-139.

82   See Levinsohn, Discourse Features, pp 208-209; Leung, “The Narrative Function and Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present in the Fourth Gospel,” p 710.