Present tence copulative verbs

Jonathan Robie jonathan at
Sat Oct 31 09:49:09 EST 1998

At 02:12 AM 9/1/98 EDT, GregStffrd at wrote:
>The issue has nothing to do with grammatical accuracy, but, rather, with
>*what* is being communicated. If Jesus merely wished to state that he existed
>prior to Abraham, without any emphasis on the *continuence* of that
>then HMHN would be more accurate. But what he said more accurately represents
>the continuence of his existence from a time before Abraham was born, to the
>present moment of his speaking with the Jews. 

I think that there is widespread agreement, regardless of theological
perspective, that this verse says Jesus existed before Abraham and has
continued to exist up until the current time.

The context, which is also fair game on B-Greek, tells us a little more.
Jews attempted to stone him when he said this, which is an indication of
the strength of his statement. Just before 8:58, Jesus claims to know that
Abraham rejoiced to see his coming (the coming of Jesus), and the Jews say,
"you aren't even 50 years old, and have you seen Abraham?" In other words,
if you haven't seen Abraham, how do you know what he rejoiced to see?  So
Jesus claims to have known the mind of Abraham, and when the Jews call him
on it, far from backing down on his claim, he says that he has existed
continuously from before the time of Abraham! In context, this implies also
the claim that he knows full well what Abraham thought.

>Again, as I have told you several times already, the first option you give
>does not emphasize the present aspect the way the PPA does, and the use of
>"since" adds nothing to the expression that would make it any more "correct"
>than what the text does say. Tell me, what does PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI modify?

Please remember in these discussions that the characteristics of the PPA
refer to someone's conclusions about the grammar - if we are discussing
whether a grammatical construct has a particular property, it may be useful
to cite the evidence that someone else found to support a given view, but
citing their conclusions as some kind of final law is rather silly, since
(1) this is the very point that is under discussion, (2) other grammars
will disagree, and (3) there are people here (not me!) who are just as
authoritative as the grammars, but they claim no special authority either.
If we can all agree on the One True Grammar or some other way to determine
which grammatical points may be quoted as holy law, then we can do this,
but until that unlikely day, I'm afraid we have to rely on primary evidence
rather than secondary authority.

However, I agree with your statement that this construct does not imply
either a beginning or the lack of a beginning, merely an existence before
Abraham, i.e. existence before the beginning of the Jewish faith, before
the first patriarch.

>> The sentence PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI EGW EIMI suggests, as some have said,
>> omnitemporality, being an allusion to Exodus 3:14. 

Is it an allusion to Exodus 3:14? I'm not completely certain, but on
balance I think not.

On the one hand, both Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 have reference to Abraham.
In the John passage, Jesus is referring to Abraham as the father of Israel,
and talking about the God of Abraham. In the Exodus passage, God is telling
Moses that he is the God of Abraham and the other forefathers, and calls
himself "I Am".

However, if this were a reference to Exodus 3:14, I would expect it to
quote the entire phrase: EGW EIMI hO WN, "I Am who I Am". If it were a
reference to the second part of Exodus 3:14, where God says "tell them I Am
sent me to you", then it has the wrong form of the verb, because the
be a clear referent to Exodus 3:14, but it doesn't say that. I'm inclined
to think that a reference to Exodus 3:14 would use the phrase hO WN rather
than EGW EIMI.

So I'm inclined to say it is not a reference to Exodus 3:14, but I do think
it is a clear reference to continuous existence since at least before the
time of Abraham, that he has existed and has continued to exist and now
exists. Although I don't think it is a reference to Exodus 3:14, I can
certainly see why this reminds people of the phrase EGW EIMI hO WN, because
the statements are very similar. The phrase in Exodus 3:14 does not refer
to a specific beginning or lack of a beginning either, it merely points to
a continuous existence. The same phrase is expanded in Revelation 1:4,
etc., as hO WN, hO HN, KAI hO ERCOMENOS, "who is, who was, and who is
coming", a phrase which seems to refer to the Lord God Almighty, and not to
Jesus, who appears separately in these phrases.

>John 8:58 does not allude to Exodus 3:14. Exodus 3:14 points *forward* to
>God will become, and John 8:58 points backward to a time before Abraham with
>the adverbial clause, and brings Jesus' existence to the present by the
use of

I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean by Exodus 3:14 pointing forward.
Nothing about the verb forms indicates pointing forward, and the context
points both backward and forward. See, for instance, verse 15: "God,
furthermore, said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, `The
Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and
the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is My name forever, and this is
My memorial-name to all generations. 'Go and gather the elders of Israel

>Again, you are simply making this qualification up. Nothing requires such a
>view. The use of EIMI brings Jesus' existence from a period prior to the
>of Abraham, to the present. That is all this text says, and THAT is a very
>powerful theological statement!
Powerful enough to get stoned!

>> But an imperfective dependent clause cannot grammatically/temporally link
>> to a present tense main verb.
I think that Dan Åke's discussion of Jeremiah 1:5 shows that this is
possible, and also reveals the meaning of the form:

Dan Åke Mattson wrote:

>You CAN carry the idea of "before Abraham" into the present! Look at
>Jeremiah 1:5 LXX. Here we have the stative verb EPISTAMAI ("know") in the
>present. The state expressed by EPISTAMAI started/existed PRO TOU ME PLASAI
>SE EN KOILIA ("Before I formed you in the belly") , and it continued until
>speech time.   The point is that before Jeremiah was formed in the belly
>God knew him, and this knowledge did not cease after Jeremiah`s birth but
>continued.  The next clause confims this conclusion because here is the
>perfect of hAGIAZO used. God "sanctified" Jeremiah PRO TOU SE ELQEIN EK
>MHTRAS ("before you came forth from the womb."). To santify may be viewed
>as a state resulting from a previous act, or, because God is subject, as a
>state without a marked beginning continuing in the mind of God (Both "know"
>and "sanctify" in the Hebrew text are perfects (perfective).

I thought this was illuminating.

jonathan at
Texcel Research

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