[B-Greek] Translation of Aorist Indicative Verbs in 1 John 2:12-14

Benjamin Pehrson benjamin_pehrson at sil.org
Sun Jun 4 16:45:16 EDT 2006

Dear Steve,

I'll pass on what Robert Longacre says about the distribution of GRAPHW in
his article "Towards an Exegesis of 1 John Based on the Discourse Analysis
of the Greek Text" in Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation, ed. by
David A. Black, Nashville: Broadman (1992) 271-86. Longacre has a more
detailed analysis in his article "Exhortation and Mitigation in First John"
in Selected Technical Articles Related to Translation, 9, Dallas: Summer
Institute of Linguistics (1983): 3-44. Longacre's specialty is discourse
linguistics, where the distribution of tense/aspect/mood often provides some
kind of indication of discourse type and/or a shift in the development of
the plot/argument of a discourse. His analysis seems appropriate as an
answer to your question since you asked about why John is repeating himself
in 2:12-14.

Regarding the repetition in 2:12-14 is probably best explained because this
is part of a paragraph 2:12-17 that should be considered a peak in the
introduction of the letter. Peak is a notion from discourse linguistics that
is associated with the climax of narrative discourse, but it is also
identified in non-narrative discourse types. It is usually marked by various
kinds of linguistic shifts that heighten the excitement and importance of
the text (i.e. change in participants, change of vantage point,
tense/aspect/mood, sentence length, repetition, change in verb ratio,
increased number of imperatives in hortatory discourse). A discourse may
have more than one peak. Since 1 John is a mitigated hortatory text with
relatively few imperative verbs (3.5%, the lowest in the whole NT), Longacre
takes the first imperative of the whole letter in 2:15 to express "a peak of
practical and ethical exhortation." Longacre finds two peaks in the
introduction (ethical peak in 2:12-17 and doctrinal in 2:18-27) and two in
the body (doctrinal peak in 4:1-6 and doctrinal peak in 4:7-21). 

Regarding the shift from present to aorist tense in 2:12-14, Longacre notes
that GRAPHW occurs in the introduction and conclusion of 1 John, but not in
the body. He admits that this makes for a lengthy introduction (1:1-2:29)
compared to the body (3:1-5:12), but he maintains that the introduction
contains most of themes that are covered in the body and that the
introduction may have its own performative peak material that occurs in
2:12-14 (considering the large number of performative verbs and vocatives)
but leading up to 2:15-17 as the nucleus of the whole paragraph 2:12-17
(1983:13). Longacre notes that 2:12-14 marks a shift in the tense of GRAPHW
not only for this paragraph but for the entire letter (cf. present tense in
1:4; 2:1,7,12,13 with aorist tense in 2:14,21,26; 5:13). He writes:

"It is possible to argue here that the apostle begins with the sense of
writing only a (short?) letter. After he has gone past a certain point, he
is able to view the letter as something of an event that is completed, or at
least reasonably sure of being completed. This would then account for the
difference between the continuative thrust of the present ("I am writing")
and the sense of completion in the aorist ("I have written").
	"My claim, then, is that the contribution of the verb GRAPHW
("write") is such that we can claim that the first two chapters are
introductory material, despite the heavy weaving in of thematic material
that characterizes the body of the book as a whole. Not only is the verb
GRAPHW found but other performatives as well, so that in these two chapters
the speech situation ("I am writing to you") is foregrounded." (1992:277)

Well, that's what Longacre says about it from the perspective of discourse
linguistics, sometimes referred to as textlinguistics.

Grace & peace,
Benjamin Pehrson

> -----Original Message-----
> From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-greek-
> bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Steve Hulme
> Sent: Sunday, June 04, 2006 7:19 AM
> To: B-Greek
> Subject: [B-Greek] Translation of Aorist Indicative Verbs in 1 John 2:12-
> 14
> Dr. Conrad,
> Thanks for your tip about the need to send messages in plain text format
> to this list.  Indeed, I had sent the blank message in MIME format.
> To all,
> Here's the original question:
> 1 John 2:12 and 2:13 use the present tense of the indicative three times:
> 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
> verses as
> 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
> Steve Hulme
> Raleigh, NC
> ---
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