[B-Greek] Translation of Aorist Indicative Verbs in 1 John 2:12-14
randallbuth at gmail.com
Sun Jun 4 16:45:17 EDT 2006
Your question is really twofold, one part deals with Greek and one
part deals with English.
The first thing to understand is that translation is often intended to
be clear and appropriate in the appropriate language. In this case you
have cited some English translations. Published translations are
usually not intended to show Greek students how the translators read
or interpreted the Greek structures themselves. In other words, the
choice of English tenses must be decided in conjunction with good
acceptable English style for letter writing. The various translators
have shown us their work and best choices. (PS: neither are
necessarily more correct or more accurate. They are different choices,
and we may guess at their reasons, but will not know certainly unless
they publish their committee notes.)
The question you appear to be more interested in, is understanding the
Greek. Your simple past is just fine. EGRAPSA "I wrote". The effect of
this in the letter would seem to reset the starting point for his
communication. In verse twelve he is writing from the "present" (which
is actually a complicated concept, since we have the "present"when
writing, when being read, and potential proverbial, recurring
"present" situations). In verse 14 he chooses to write from the past.
The simple past is sometimes used in Greek to talk about recurring
situations, in which the simple past serves as a simple past example.
O HLIOS ANETEILEN The sun rose//the sun rises. However, here this is
not the intention, since the writing is not expected to be repeated
over and over. Instead, the simple past fits a simple past reference,
the time of writing. The time of writing was a simple past relative to
the time of reading.
So the Greek presents a dual perspective: 3 times from the time of
writing "I am writing" and three times from the time of reading "I
wrote". The two perspectives give John a chance to partially repeat
But as mentioned at the beginning, the question of translating this
dual perspective into English will be affected by appropriate or
preferred English styles. And whatever decisions the translators make,
you may continue to read the Greek as Greek, and you sound like you
already understand the Greek in these verses.
>1 John 2:12 and 2:13 use the present tense of the indicative three times:
"GRAFW hUMIN, TEKNIA...GRAFW hUMIN, PATERES...GRAFW hUMIN, NEANISKOI"
In 1 John 2:14, the author switches to the aorist indicative "EGRAYA hUMIN",
again repeated three times.
I have two questions: first, the New Jerusalem Bible translates these
I would have, assigning the action of the present tense indicativeGRAFW to the
present time, and the action of EGRAYA to the past:
"12 I am writing to you, children, because your sins have been forgiven through
his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the
One who has existed since the beginning. I am writing to you, young people,
because you have overcome the Evil One. 14 I have written to you, children,
because you have come to know the Father. I have written to you, parents,
because you have come to know the One who has existed since the beginning. I
have written to you, young people, because you are strong, and God's word
remains in you, and you have overcome the Evil One. "
However, the Revised Standard and the New Revised Standard Version translate
both forms, present and aorist, with the English present tense, but
differentiating the "aspect" of the action:
"12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are
forgiven for his
sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the
beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil
one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you,
fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young
men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have
overcome the evil one. "
Certainly, the Greek *perfect *tense can often have a present meaning, since it
denotes a state that started in the past and is still true now. OIDA is an
example. But I can't think of an example of the Greek aorist in the indicative
mood denoting anything other than "the simple occurence of an action in past
time; as in EGRAYA, I wrote." (Godwin's Moods and Tenses, p. 16).
However, the RSV and NRSV translators surely knew Greek better than I, so
perhaps there is some point that I've overlooked. Can someone help me out here?
And the greater question is "why is John repeating himself in verse 14? what
point is he trying to make?"
thanks in advance
Randall Buth, PhD
ybitan at mscc.huji.ac.il
randallbuth at gmail.com
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