THE PRESENT INDICATIVE IN
NEW TESTAMENT EXEGESIS
John A. Battle, Jr.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Theology in
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrand
Accepted by the Faculty of Grace Theological Seminary
in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree
Doctor of Theology
James L. Boyer
Homer A. Kent
Charles R. Smith
The study of the Greek New Testament is perhaps the most rewarding
and exhilarating task possible. But this study requires exegetical tools.
The syntax of Greek verb tenses stands at the center of accurate exegesis,
and this grammatical tool must be formed and sharpened by inductive study
of New Testament usage.
It has been this writer's happy task to seek to define more
closely the value of the Greek present indicative verb. He wishes to
thank all those who have assisted in this effort. First of all, thanks
are due to Dr. James L. Boyer, the chairman of the examining committee,
and to its other members, Dr. homer A. Kent, Jr., and Dr. Charles R. Smith,
for their patient and expert advice at several important points. Also,
thanks are due to Dr. John C. Whitcomb, Jr., who directs the Postgraduate
Division of Grace Theological Seminary, for his help and encouragement
throughout the entire program. In addition, this author wishes to express
his gratitude toward several of his colleagues in the faculty of Faith
Theological Seminary who have assisted with their advice, help, and per-
sonal libraries: Dr. A. Franklin Faucette, Dr. Stephen M. Reynolds, Dr.
Sang Chan Lee, and Dr. Richard C. Curry. But the one person who has
helped the most deserves special thanks, the author's wife, Tammie. In
addition to spending many, many hours in difficult work, she has always
been an inspiration and encouragement during this paper's preparation.
Of course, our chief gratitude must be directed to the One who inspired
the New Testament, and of whom it speaks.
It is this author's hope that this study of the present indicative
will shed more light on the New Testament. Julius R. Mantey has advised,
"I trust in your dissertation you will cite several examples in the New
Testament where the present tense functions remarkably well in exegesis,
so much so that its readers would be deprived of much insight if it were
not used" (personal letter, September 13, 1974). Indeed, if the reader
will more thoroughly appreciate the meaning of the New Testament, this
paper's purpose will be fulfilled.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF CONTENTS vi
LIST OF TABLES ix
I. THE PLACE OF TENSE IN GREEK
The Importance of Tense in Exegesis 1
Common Misunderstanding of Tense 4
Modern Translation Approach of Eugene A. Nida 7
Complexity of the Present Indicative 16
Aktionsart and Aspect 18
II. THE PLAN OF ATTACK 24
An Inductive Approach 24
Method of Procedure 26
Summary of the Study's Results 28
III. THE FREQUENCY OF THE PRESENT INDICATIVE 30
Total Occurrences 30
Present Indicative Frequency 35
Doubtful Cases 41
Morphological Note on Movable Nu 42
PART II. PRESENT INDICATIVE EXEGESIS
I. THE USAGE CATEGORIES 45
Traditional Usage Classifications 45
Proposed Classifications 49
II. THE PRESENT INDICATIVE IN PRESENT TIME 53
Progressive Present 53
The Verb "To Be" 56
The Question of Aoristic Presents 58
Declarative Present 61
Customary Present 63
Abstract Present 68
Perfective Present 75
The Present in Kingdom Passages 81
Conclusion for Presents in Present Time 84
III. THE PRESENT INDICATIVE IN PAST TIME 85
Historical Present Frequency 85
Synoptic Comparison 90
The Zero Tense Controversy 107
Relevant New Testament Data 117
Exegesis of the Historical Present 130
Otter Past Time Usages 135
IV. THE PRESENT INDICATIVE IN FUTURE TIME 138
Futuristic Present Frequency 138
Futuristic Present Vocabulary 142
Futuristic Present Aspect 149
Futuristic Present Exegesis 151
Present for Immediate Future 154
V. THE PRESENT INDICATIVE IN RELATIVE TIME 159
Relative Present 159
Indirect Present 160
VI. THE PRESENT INDICATIVE IN CONDITIONAL SENTENCES 163
Present of the Protasis 163
Other Uses with Ei] 172
Present of the Apodosis 173
PART III. CONCLUSION
The Problem of the Present Indicative 181
Suggested Solution 183
The Limits of Syntax 184
APPENDIX A. PRESENT INDICATIVE VERB CLASSIFICATION 186
APPENDIX B. TIE MOVABLE NU IN MATTHEW 245
APPENDIX C. HISTORICAL PRESENT CONTEXT 246
APPENDIX D. PRESENT OF THE PROTASIS 252
LIST OF TABLES
1. Present Indicatives per Chapter 30
2. Present Indicatives per Book 34
3. Present Indicatives per 100 Words 35
4. Present Indicatives per 100 Verb Forms 39
5. Present Indicative Preference by Book 40
6. Present Indicative Preference by Author 40
7. Progressive Present Frequency 55
8. Declarative Presents 61
9. Customary Presents 67
10. Abstract Presents 74
11. Perfective Present 81
12. Historical Present Frequency 86
13. Synoptic Historical Presents 93
14. Synoptic Historical Present Figures 104
15. Historical Present Vocabulary 119
16. Historical Present Verb Types 122
16A. Verb Type Percentages 123
17. Historical Present Contexts 126
18. Historical Present Connections 127
19. Futuristic Present Frequency 138
20. Futuristic Present Vocabulary 142
21. Present for Relative Time 161
22. Protasis Present Frequency 165
23. Apodosis Present Frequency 176
I. THE PLACE OF TENSE IN GREEK
The verb is the center of the sentence. Verbs turn mere phrases
into clauses. They supply the heart, the force of the sentence. Accu-
rate exegesis must begin with the verb.
The two primary features of verb syntax are mood and tense. This
paper will deal exclusively with the indicative mood. Within that mood
Biblical Greek has at least six tenses: present, imperfect, future,
aorist, perfect, and pluperfect.1 Each of these tenses carries with it
an exegetical background and flavor, implications and associations which
belong to that tense alone.2 The exact force of these tenses is still
highly debated. One of them, the present tense, especially has become
the object of recent inquiry and discussion. This paper shall concen-
trate on that single tense, the present indicative.
The Importance of Tense in Exegesis
The Bible student has a special interest in Greek exegesis. The
New Testament in Greek is God's last direct revelation to His people,
inspired and inerrant. Each word reflects the meaning that God intended.
1 For the few possible NT examples of the non-periphrastic future
perfect, see A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the
Light of Historical
(hereinafter referred to as Grammar;
Broadman Press, 1934), pp. 906-07.
2 Ibid., p. 822: "In the beginning the verb-root was used with
personal suffixes. At first this was enough. Some verbs developed some
tenses, others other tenses, some few all the tenses."
Whatever meaning can be extracted from a passage's syntax will be true,
useful, and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16).
The exegesis of the tenses stands at the center of such study.
No element of the Greek language is of more importance to the student
of the New Testament than the matter of tense. . . . Though it is an
intricate nd difficult subject, no phase of Greek grammar offers a
fuller reward. The benefits are to be reaped only when one has invested
sufficient time and diligence to obtain an insight into the idiomatic
use of tense in the Greek language and an appreciation of the finer
distinctions in force.1
This attitude springs from the conviction that the various authors selected
their tenses purposefully.
It is certainly unsafe, however, to proceed upon any supposition other
than that he New Testament writer used the tense which would convey
just the idea he wished to express. This is the rule, and all seeming
exceptions are to be regarded with doubt.2
While ample provision must be allowed for individual variations of style,
as this paper will demonstrate, it should be assumed that each author em-
ployed tenses in accordance with general usage and propriety.
Further, traditional grammarians have assumed that each tense had
its own distinct usage and force, and that one could not be switched with
another without changing the flavor or even the meaning of the passage.
One hundred years ago Alexander Buttmann defended the distinct meaning of
In the use of the Tenses the N.T. writers are by no means deficient
in the requisite skill. Consequently the so-called Enallage Temporum
or Interchange of Tenses, which was applied by some of the older inter-
preters of Scripture often and indiscriminately, is to be opposed
1 H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New
Testament (hereinafter referred
to as Manual Grammar;
on behalf of the N.T. language at the outset, and discarded on
A. T. Robertson, with characteristic care and caution and historical aware-
ness, likewise emphasizes the unique aura of each tense:
The point here is not whether the Greeks used an aorist where we
in English would use a perfect, but whether Greeks themselves drew no
distinction between an aorist and a perfect, a present and a future.
It is not possible to give a categorical answer to this question when
one recalls the slow development of the Greek tenses and the long his-
tory of the language. . . . It is a very crude way of speaking to say
that one tense is used "for" another in Greek. That would only be true
of ignorant men. In general one may say that in normal Greek when a
certain tense occurs, that tense was used rather than some other because
it best expressed the idea of the speaker or writer. Each tense,
therefore, has its specific idea. That idea is normal and can be
readily understood. Various modifications arise, due to the verb it-
self, the context, the imagination of the user of the tense. The result
is a complex one, for which the tense is not wholly responsible. The
tenses, therefore, are not loosely interchangeable. Each tense has a
separate history and presents a distinct idea. That is the starting-
Thus, from the traditional view at least, the study of Greek tenses should
bear rich fruit for Bible students.
The use of the Tenses is a most important subject for the exegesis of
the NT. The student cannot learn too soon that the tenses are used
with absolute accuracy by the NT writers, and he will soon realise
how much is lost in meaning by inexactness.3
On the other hand, if traditional grammarians have been mistaken, if in
certain situations certain tenses are indeed interchangeable, then should
not the exegete be aware of that fact? In fact, by making artificial and
arbitrary distinctions, would not the interpreter, teacher, or preacher
1 Buttmann, A Grammar of the New Testament Greek, tr. by J. H. Thayer
(Andover: Warren F. Draper, Publisher, 1873), p. 195.
2 Robertson, Grammar, pp. 829-30.
3 James Hope Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. I:
be adding his own ideas to the Scripture and obscuring God's intended
meaning? Thus, in either case, the study of Greek tenses is vital for New
Common Misunderstanding of Tense
Perhaps some of the present difficulties among interpreters can be
traced to earlier neglect of this subject by many Greek grammarians. A
typical example might be the classical scholar Philip Buttmann (not to be
confused with Alexander Buttmann quoted above). He exhibits a remarkably
carefree attitude toward the peculiarities of Greek tenses:
As the present, the imperfect, the perfect, the pluperfect, and the
future, agree in the main with the corresponding tenses of other lan-
guages, it is necessary only to speak briefly of the Aorist and the
3d Future of the Passive voice.1
F. W. Farrar was convinced that similar delusions plagued the translators
of the venerable Authorized Version; he wrote that "the translators of our
English version have failed more frequently from their partial knowledge
of the force of the tenses than from any other cause."2
On the other side, many modern writers overstep the rules of syntax,
forcing every occurrence of a particular tense into a supposed semantic
rule. Many examples of such misuse of the present indicative will appear
1 Philip Buttmann, Greek Grammar for the Use of Schools, tr. by
Everett (2nd ed.;
2 As quoted by Robertson, Grammar, p. 821. Robertson quoted from
the 1876 edition of Farrar's Greek Syntax, p. 123 (see p. lxviii). The
edition to which this writer had access, A Brief Greek Syntax and Hints on
Greek Accidence (New ed.; London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1868), does not
seem to contain the quotation in the relevant chapter, pp. 110-27. However,
Farrar does criticize various practices, as using the auxiliary verb "have"
for Greek aorist verbs (pp. 118-19), which criticism appears unjustified.
in this paper. And other moods and tenses receive similar arbitrary
classification in the commentaries, in spite of the warnings issued in
The present imperative, for example, when used with mh<, often
means "stop doing such-and-such." Yet the pattern is by no means a rule.1
One need not claim that Paul accused Timothy of neglecting his ministerial
gifts (1 Tim. 4:14)! And yet, surprisingly enough, even such a highly
respected grammarian as Nigel Turner, who wrote the third volume of
Moulton's Grammar himself appears to maintain that the rule is universal.2
The brilliant linguist Eugene A. Nida follows suit.3 One need only consult
the various standard commentaries at such a passage as John 20:17, "Jesus
says unto her, Do not touch me," to observe the confidence with which most
commentators construct the scene--Jesus trying to wrench his feet from the
woman's grasp. Comparatively few commentators4 even mention the alternative
possibility that Mary was about to touch the Lord.
Along similar lines, many writers misunderstand the impact of the
1 Moulton, for example, carefully explains the qualifications and
exceptions involved, Prolegomena, pp. 125-26.
2 Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (hereinafter
to as Insights;
is not the only difference that separates the authors of Volumes I and III
of the famous grammar! See E. V. McKnight, "The New Testament and 'Biblical
Greek,'" The Journal of Bible and Religion, XXXIV:l (January, 1966), 36-42,
and Nigel Turner, "The Literary Character of New Testament Greek," New
Testament Studies, 20:2 (January, 1974), 107-14.
3 Nida, Toward a Science of Translating (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1964),
199-200; and God's Word in Man's Language
Publishers, 1952), pp. 58-59.
4 As Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, in The New Inter-
national Commentary on
the New Testament,
ed. by F. F. Bruce (
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 840, n. 38, in spite of his
previous statement, p. 195, n. 65.
aorist tense. Frank Stagg in his instructive article "The Abused Aorist,"1
faults such illustrious names as F. W. Beare, Wilhelm Bousset, R. H.
Charles, Joachim Jeremias, Robert Law, Leon Morris, J. A. Sanders,
Rudolf Schnackenburg, A. N. Wilder, Raymond E. Brown, and C. H. Dodd with
misusing the aorist tense. They apply it, he says, too readily to the
action itself as being punctiliar, rather than to the author's presenta-
tion or view of the action. The correct appreciation of the aorist as
mere "non-determined" is not new. Ernest DeWitt Burton employed it
during the previous century in the field of aorist prohibitions.2 More
recently James L. Boyer has noted that the aorist expresses "simple occur-
rence," not "single occurrence," citing several examples of aorists that
describe durative action which is being conceived of as punctiliar.3
The aorist is the most colorless, the least distinctive of all the
tenses in Greek. It is the catch-all tense which was used whenever
there was no particular reason to emphasize duration or abiding result.4
Hence, to continue in his words, the interpretation of aorists should be
From the viewpoint of exegesis a safe rule, perhaps slightly exag-
gerated, might be: When you come to a present, or imperfect, or
perfect tense, dig into it and squeeze out of it its full signifi-
cance. But when you come to an aorist tense, translate it as
simply as possible and forget it.5
And yet respected scholars still "abuse the aorist." Nigel Turner has
1 Stagg, in the Journal of Biblical Literature, 91:2 (June, 1972),
referred to as Moods and Tenses; 3rd
3 Boyer, "Semantics in Biblical Interpretation," Grace Journal,
3:2 (Spring, 1962), 32.
4 Ibid. 5 Ibid.
applied his understanding of the aorist to the science of textual cri-
ticism. Admitting that external manuscript evidence favors the inclusion
of "daily" in Luke 9:23, he yet believes that intrinsic "grammatical
evidence" rules it out, since "the addition of 'daily,' which has excel-
lent manuscript authority, is impossible with the aorist imperative, for
it makes the command durative."1 Note the use of that word "impossible."
Should not grammar be derived from the text, and not vice versa?
While misunderstanding may err on the side of a too stringent
interpretation, it may also err by overlooking subtle but important
shifts in tense. In a very helpful article Julius R. Mantey disputes
with Dr. Henry Cadbury of Harvard, who takes the periphrastic future
perfects in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 to be equivalent to simple futures.
Mantey compares these passages to the simple perfects of John 20:23 and
demonstrates that the future perfect tense itself provides the key to
these difficult verses.2 The apostles simply will be ratifying in their
official capacity what has already been decided and established in
A false understanding of the Greek tenses can lead to arbitrary
and misleading exegesis. A correct understanding will throw light and
clarity upon God's true revelation.
Modern Translation Approach of Eugene A. Nida
Central to this study are the issues of translation and
1 Turner, Insights, p. 31.
2 Mantey, "Evidence that the Perfect Tense in John 20:23 and
Matthew 16:19 is Mistranslated," The Journal of the Evangelical Theological
Society, 16:3 (Summer, 1973), esp. 129, 136.
interpretation. No modern treatment of tense exegesis can ignore the
presuppositions of recent translation theory. The word "presuppositions"
was chosen purposefully, since many conclusions in this field stem from
admittedly theological premises. Eugene Albert Nida is the best possible
spokesman for the new approach. Born in 1914, he studied at the Univer-
nia, and received his Ph.D.
An ordained Baptist minister, he was honored with D.D. degrees from Phila-
delphia's Eastern Baptist
Seminary in 1956 and from
Baptist Seminary in 1959. Then in 1967 he obtained the earned Th.D.
degree from the
1953 he was Professor of Linguistics for the Summer Institute of Lin-
Secretary of Translations for the American Bible Society. Internation-
ally, he is the Coordinator of Research in Translations for the United
Bible Societies--a post from which he exerts enormous influence over
virtually every new published Bible translation throughout the world.
Also, he provides an excellent focus for discussion since he is a pro-
lific writer. In addition to being associate editor of Practical An-
thropology, he is the author of numerous scholarly articles and of at
least ten books dealing with Bible translation.1
The Essence of the Theory
The following diagram appears in a recent article by
1 Detals in this paragraph are taken from "Nida, Eugene Albert,"
Who's Who in
Who's Who, Inc., 1972), II, 2334.
S1 M1 R1
R2 S2 M2 R2
Source Language Receptor Language
The top horizontal arrow in the diagram represents the original writing
of a Scriptural portion. The square boxes indicate that the entire
process was carried out in the original language--e.g., Greek. S1
is the original "source" or author; M1 is the "message," or form of
the writing itself; and R1 is the original "receptor" of the message.
The second horizontal arrow represents a translation of the passage into
another language, the circles indicating the new language--e.g., English.
The translator, R2 S2, fulfills two functions, as the symbols indicate.
He must be first of all a receptor of the message in the original lan-
guage, and then he must become the source of the translated message,
M2, for the receptor, R2, who knows only the second language. The
bottom symbol, R3 S3 represents the critic of the translation--a
person who, even as the translator, must be familiar with both the
original language and that of the translation.
The modern theory can now symbolically be stated thusly:
( R1= R2 ) > (M1 = M2 )
1 The diagram and the
following explanation are found in
A. Nida, "Implications of Contemporary Linguistics for Biblical Scholar-
ship," Journal of Biblical Literature, 91:1 (March, 1972), 87-89.
Similar receptor response outweighs similar message form or content.
Nida indicates with dotted lines the traditional method of judging trans-
lations. The critic looks for literary equivalence between M1 and M2--
that is, between the two written texts. He expects literal translations
of vocabular and syntax. As much as possible the exact form of the
original is ought in the translation. Such a critic applauds what Nida
calls an "F-E" translation ("Formal-Equivalence" translation), as, for
example, the American Standard Version of 1901.1
But Nida defends the new method, indicated by the curved arrows.
The critic should compare not the formal equivalence of the texts, but
rather the response produced in the two receptors. The modern reader
should have he same degree of understanding as he reads the translation
as the original Greek readers had in the first Christian centuries. The
modern critic, therefore, will prefer a more free translation, what Nida
calls a "D-E” translation ("Dynamic-Equivalence" translation), as, for
example, the Phillips translation.2 The D-E translation is characterized
by numerous departures from traditional standards. Often words are not
translated literally, but are adapted to different cultural milieus.
Thus "snow" becomes "kapok down"3 and "blood" becomes "death."4 Gram-
matical syntax also often is changed radically; and verb tenses, of
course, need not be slavishly reproduced in a D-E translation.
1 Nida, Toward a Science of Translating, pp. 186, 192.
2 Ibid., p. 160.
3 Ibid., p. 171.
4 As The New Testament: Today's English Version
his death" ( Gk. e]n t&? ai!mati), sponsored by the American Bible Society
(New York: Pocket Books, 1966).
Nida attributes the phenomenal rapidity of this change in trans-
lation theory from "literalness" to "content transfer" to five major
developments in recent years:
(1) the rapidly expanding field of structural linguistics, . . .
the liberation of translators from the philological presuppositions
of the preceding generation.
(2) the application of present-day methods in structural linguistics
to the special problems of Bible translation by members of the
Summer Institute of Linguistics, also known as the Wycliffe Bible
(3) the program of the United Bible Societies, . . . conferences,
its journal The Bible Translator, helps for translators, and its
own research and field work.
(4) the publication since 1955 of Babel, under the auspices of
UNESCO, a quarterly linguistic journal of contemporary trends.
(5) machine translation . . . particularly in such places as the
stitute of Technology,
There can be no doubt of Nida's favoring the new trend. His strongest
criticism is reserved for such literal translations as the English Re-
vised Version and the American Standard Version--citing a particularly
obscurely worded example, he upbraids the "pernicious effects of the
literal, awkward syntax," and continues, "The words may be English, but
the grammar is not; and the sense is quite lacking."2
Conflict with Traditional Theory
Deep crevices separate the two approaches. Nida is aware of these.
He mentions two conflicts in translation theory: "(1) literal vs. free
1 Nida, Toward a Science of Translating, p. 22.
2 Ibid, pp. 20-21.
translating, and (2) emphasis on form vs. content";1 and also three con-
flicts in theological approach: "(1) inspiration vs. philology, (2)
tradition vs. contemporary authority, and (3) theology vs. grammar."2
While one may object to the choice of terms, it is clear that Nida favors
the second alternative in each case. Both translators and receptors must
fall into one of the two categories. Nida asserts that superior trans-
lators will follow his method:
F-E translations tend to distort the message more than D-E transla-
tions, since those persons who produce D-E translations are in
general more adept in translating, and in order to produce D-E
renderings they must perceive more fully and satisfactorily the mean-
ing of the original text.3
Likewise, the more enlightened readers will appreciate the new theory:
The degree of sophistication of the receptors influences the extent
to which one can use functional equivalents. In this connection it
is important to note that so-called primitive peoples, whom we would
regard as entirely unsophisticated, are usually quite ready to accept
radical departures in the direction of functional rather than formal
equivalents. Similarly, highly educated people in the Western world
will gladly accept such far-reaching alterations. But partially edu-
cated persons, whether in folk or civilized societies, appear to have
difficulty with anything but the most literal renderings, for their
newly acquired respect for "book learning" seems to prejudice them
against real comprehension and in favor of literalistic obscurantism.
A little education can be a dangerous thing!4
And lest it be thought that obscurantism is dead, translators and pub-
lishers are warned to proceed with due strategy to overcome the resistance
of the newly literate.
The introductions of revisions is essentially a matter of education.
A church that has used a traditional text of the Scriptures for
several generations will obviously not find immediately acceptable
a radically different translation, reflecting contemporary insights
1 Nida, Toward a Science of Translating, p. 22.
2 Ibid., p. 26. 3 Ibid., p. 192.
4 Ibid , p. 172.
into text, exegesis, and lexicon. Rather, it is necessary to prepare
a whole series of such revisions, with definite grades of adjustment
to the theoretical goal. Thus, over a period of some twenty to fifty
years the people may become better prepared to accept what is more
nearly accurate and meaningful.1
But the heart of the matter is theological. At what point is
"inspiration" applicable, and what aspects of the original should the
translation thus seek to preserve? Nida candidly discusses the problem
in the following definitive paragraph:
One must recognize, however, that neo-orthodox theology has given
a new perspective to the doctrine of divine inspiration. For the
most part, it conceives of inspiration primarily in terms of the re-
sponse of the receptor, and places less emphasis on what happened to
the source at the time of writing. An oversimplified statement of
this new view is reflected in the often quoted expression, "The Scrip-
tures are inspired because they inspire me." Such a concept of
inspiration means, however, that attention is inevitably shifted from
the details of wording in the original to the means by which the same
message can be effectively communicated to present-day readers.
Those who espouse the traditional, orthodox view of inspiration quite
naturally focus attention on the presumed readings of the "autographs."
The result is that, directly or indirectly, they often tend to favor
quite close, literal renderings as the best way of preserving the
inspiration of the writer by the Holy Spirit. On the other hand,
those who hold the neo-orthodox view, or who have been influenced by
it, tend to be freer in their translating: as they see it, since the
original document inspired its readers because it spoke meaningfully
to them, only an equally meaningful translation can have this same
power to inspire present-day receptors.2
If the new method were found only among the neo-orthodox, the Bible
student could deal with it easily. Yet, Nida continues by noting the
adherence of many evangelicals as well to the new method:
It would be quite wrong, however, to assume that all those who
emphasize fully meaningful translations necessarily hold to a neo-
orthodox view of inspiration; for those who have combined orthodox
theology with deep evangelistic or missionary convictions have been
equally concerned with the need for making translations entirely
1 Nida, Toward a Science of Translating
2 Ibid , p. 27. 3 Ibid.
No one would dispute the essence of Nida's claim. For example, the para-
phrased Living Bible has received immense publicity from evangelist Billy
Graham. The controversy among conservatives concerning such translation
theories will continue to rage until a correct understanding of the place
of syntax in inspiration and exegesis can be ascertained and defended.
May this study contribute to that end.
Some Criticisms of the Modern Theory
While a full analysis of this conflict deserves a separate treat-
ment, two shortcomings of the modern theory are relevant to this paper.
First, the orthodox doctrine of inspiration does indeed place the vital
point on the written autograph, not the original receptors. Nowhere does
the Bible claim that the R1 of Nida's notation understood the full
import of the revelation. Rather the message, M1, was inspired and
inerrant (cf. Isa. 6:9-10; 2 Pet. 3:16).
Second while almost all Scripture is lucid, each passage is a
rich mine from which other truth, not immediately apparent, can be
extracted. Using an analogy, an electronic musical synthesizer can pro-
duce a "pure" musical note, which would appear as a simple, perfect curve
on an oscilloscope. A fine violin, playing the same note, will produce
in addition a innumerable variety of overtones or harmonics, which would
cause the curve on the oscilloscope to appear jagged and irregular. The
Bible resembles the violin, not the synthesizer. All one has to do is
read the Scripture proofs listed in any discussion in any standard sys-
tematic theology text to see the point: many verses which are teaching
one main thought also contain subsidiary words, phrases, or clauses which,
when compared to other passages, may imply some doctrine or truth quite
unrelated to that main thought. These are the "harmonics" of the Scrip-
ture. In a "free" translation the main thought is often preserved, or
even emphasized. But in the process many of these "harmonics" are of
necessity lost. In addition, the new wording will often introduce new
subsidiary thoughts which are foreign to both the original message and
the original receptors. And it cannot be argued that the translator can
know what these points are and can thus preserve them in his free trans-
lation. Biblical exegesis is never complete, and no one knows what great
truths still lie hidden in the vocabulary and syntax of Scripture.
It also should be mentioned that the "orthodox" translator does
not seek "literalistic obscurantism." Rather, he desires to reproduce
the exact meaning of the passage, within the limits of translatability,
into modern speech. But he tries to preserve as much of the passage
intact as possible. He seeks to know the exact force of a present tense,
a dative pronoun, a particular vocabulary term. Each and every item of
the sentence is weighed and analyzed. And as far as is possible, each
part, along with the whole, is reproduced with its nearest equivalent in
the new language. He thus must master thoroughly the Biblical language,
and also the language of the translation. Perhaps, as Tyndale and Luther,
the translator will even enrich and expand the potential and force of
his own language, as he seeks to adapt it to the sublime thoughts of
Concerning the present indicative tense in particular, this
study was undertaken to see just what that tense does imply in the New
Testament. If the tense was used strictly, it should be translated
strictly. If it was used loosely, it should be translated loosely.
In either case, the resulting translation will be "orthodox."
Complexity of the Present Indicative
At first thought, the present indicative should be the easiest
of the tenses to understand. Normally, it is the first to be learned.1
Yet, perhaps because of its very commonness, its usage patterns bewilder
the investigator who feels at home with consistent and dependable limi-
tations and rules. Some of its perplexing features are here noted under
The linguistic status of the present indicative in both classical
and koine Greek is now a live issue. Older traditional grammar claims
the indicative mood establishes the tenses as specifically defining time,
allowing several categories of special usage exceptions. Most modern
grammarians claim that the type of action, Aktionsart, or view of action,
"aspect," is more important even in the indicative. Some even believe
the present indicative to be a "zero" tense, after the analogy of early
Indo-European languages, which in many contexts is a simple substitute
for the prevailing tense of the passage.
In the more practical sphere, Bible translators must grapple with
all the kinds of present indicatives, including perfective, historical,
and futuristic usages. Should the translator reproduce the present
tense, or should he use the appropriate past or future tense?
1 E.g., J.
Translations differ: some keep the present (as in Mark 10:1, KJV and ASV,
“cometh”); some change the tense to suit the context (RSV and NIV, "went,"
using a cumbersome punctuation system ("*went"). Which method best
conveys the meaning of the Greek text?
The use of the historical present also figures largely in the
question of Synoptic origins. The descending percentage uses from Mark
to Matthew to Luke often are used as arguments to sustain the theory of
Markan priority. A careful comparison of present indicative usage in the
Synoptic Gospels should help to shed light on this question.
The extremely frequent occurrence of the present indicative
results in its inclusion in many important historical, prophetical, and
doctrinal passages. At times the meaning of the passage itself depends
on the understanding of the verb's tense and mood usage. Some demand
a time interpretation (John 3:36, "He that believeth on the Son hath
everlasting life"; 8:58, "Before Abraham was, I am"); others must be
interpreted in terms of aspect (Hebrews 7:3, "abideth a priest continu-
ally"; 1 John 3:6, "whosoever abideth in him sinneth not"). In some
passages a possible futuristic use introduces various possible interpre-
tations (John 18:36, "My kingdom is not of this world").
Another exegetical question concerns the use of the present
indicative in various classes of conditional sentences. There are two
variables: the degree of certainty or uncertainty indicated by various
Biblical authors in these constructions, and the time element, if any,
impliedjn the condition.
Aktionsart and Aspect
When one thinks of "tense," he automatically relates the word
to time: past, present, or future. Yet in Greek, careful study reveals
that tense often performs a double function.
Every tense has generally speaking a double function to perform, at
least in the indicative: it expresses at once an action (continuance,
completion, continuance in completion), and a time-relation (present,
past, future), and the latter absolutely, i.e. with reference to the
stand-point of the speaker or narrator, not relatively, i.e. with
reference to something else which occurs in the speech or narrative.1
This double function is most apparent in the indicative, but even in that
mood the time element is secondary.
The time of the action of the verb is often left to be inferred from
the content, and cannot always be certainly told from the form of
the verb. This is almost invariably the case with the moods other
than the indicative, and is sometimes the case in the Indicative mood
The non-time feature of Greek tenses perplexed grammarians for
many years. Occasionally a scholar with above average insight would
fleetingly touch the nerve, as B. L. Gildersleeve, when he mused, "Moods
are temporal, tenses are modal.”3 Many older grammars neglect the
1 Friedrich Blass, Grammar of New Testament Greek, tr. by Henry
2 H. P. V. Nunn, A Short Syntax of New Testament Greek (5th ed.;
3 Basil Lanneau
Gildersleeve, Problems in Greek Syntax
The Johns Hopkins Press, 1903), D. 127; this book is a reprint of articles
from the American Journal of Philology, XXIII (1902), of which he was the
editor (p. 3)
subject altogether in discussions of the indicative.1 Although the ori-
ginal edition of Goodwin omits the subject, the revision by Charles B.
Gulick remedies the deficiency. Gulick notes in his preface,
Goodwin was a master in his own field of moods and tenses, and his
exact knowledge combined with common sense produced a lucidity of
statement that could hardly be improved. . . . I have tried to empha-
size more distinctly the "character of the action."2
And in the appropriate section Gulick inserts his own understanding of
the dual nature of Greek verb tense:
The tenses may express two relations. They may designate the time
of an action . . . and also its character. . . The character of an
action appears in all the moods and in the infinitive and participle;
the relation of time appears always in the indicative, and to a cer-
tain extent in some dependent moods and in the participle.3
This new understanding of tense significance sprang from the inves-
It was James Hope Moulton who first popularized the terms "linear" and
"punctiliar" in English New Testament Greek studies in his first edition
of his Prolegomena in 1906.4 At this stage the German word Aktionsart
("kind of act-on") became a standard designation in English as well:
Our first subject under the Verb will be one which has not yet achieved
an entrance into the grammars. For the last few years the compara-
tive philologists--mostly in
1 William W. Goodwin, A Greek Grammar (Rev. ed.;
Company, 1879), pp. 246-56; and George Benedict Winer, A Grammar of the
Idiom of the New Testament (hereinafter referred to as Idiom), rev. by
Lunemann, tr. from the 7th
2 William Watson Goodwin, Greek Grammar, rev, by Charles Burton
Gulick (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1930), p. iv.
3 Ibid , p. 266.
4 C. F D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek (hereinafter
to as Idiom Book;
the problems of Aktionsart, or the "kind of action" denoted by dif-
ferent verbal formations.1
The term now is thoroughly entrenched. "Tenses in Greek indicate the
kind of action, rather than the time of the action. Hence grammarians
Grammarians have discerned three major types of action in Greek.
The three essential kinds of action are thus momentary or punctiliar
when the action is regarded as a whole and may be represented by a
dot (•), linear or durative action which may be represented by a
continuous line (----), the continuance of perfected or completed
action which may be represented by this graph (*------).3
Eugene Nida, using the alternative term "aspect," to be defined later,
notes six possible categories in Indo-European languages.
Aspect, which defines the nature of the action, is a much more
frequently used grammatical category than tense. Even within the
Indo-European languages it was at one time more significant than at
present. As a description of the kind of action involved in the verb,
aspect serves to differentiate a number of contrasts, of which some
of the most common are: (1) complete vs. incomplete, (2) punctiliar
vs. continuous, (3) single (or simulfactive) vs. repetitive, (4)
increasing vs. decreasing, (5) beginning vs. ending, and (6) single
vs. habitual or customary.4
According to these grammarians, in the earliest stages of Greek
the stem of the verb indicated its Aktionsart, as it is called. Later
the verbal prefix and suffix further defined its time or nature.5
Certain durative roots could be made perfective, for example, by the
1 Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 108.
2 Turner, Insights, D. 24.
3 Robertson, Grammar, p. 823.
4 Nida, Toward a Science of Translating, p. 199.
5 Moule, Idiom Book, p. 6.
addition of prefixed prepositions.1 Classical Greek also sought to
maintain Aktionsart distinctions within the future tense.2 In any case,
time distinctions in verbs developed later.
It may be more of a surprise to be told that in our own family of
languages Tense is proved by scientific inquiry to be relatively a
late invention, so much so that the elementary distinction between
Past and Present had only been developed to a rudimentary extent
when the various branches of the family separated so that they ceased
to be mutually intelligible.3
Ideally, assuming three types of action and three sorts of time,
the language could have developed nine tenses. However, language being
a human creation, it hardly develops along theoretically, mechanically
A completer system of Tenses would include the nine produced by
expressing continuous, momentary, and completed action in past,
present, and future time. English can express all these, and more,
but Greek is defective.4
Unfortunately, terms and titles often fail to indicate precisely
the concept involved. Such is the case with the term Aktionsart. When
one hears "kind of action," he easily falls into a trap. The next logical
deduction is that the verbal tense can define the sort of action which
occurs in reality. Nigel Turner, as shown earlier, tends to follow this
lead. This theoretical basis appears clearly in this statement:
Examining carefully the kind of action . . . grammarians have analysed
it as either Durative (lasting) or iterative (repeating) in all moods
of the present tense. The Aktionsart of the present must be clearly
1 Moulton, Prolegomena, pp. 111-13.
2 Blass, Grammar, pp. 36-37.
3 Robertson, Grammar, D. 108.
4 James Hope Moulton, An Introduction to the Study of New Testa-
ment Greek (hereinafter referred to as New Testament Greek; 4th ed.;
distinguished from that of the aorist, which is not durative or
iterative) and expresses no more than one specific instance of the
action of the verb, involving usually a single moment of time.1
Even when distinguishing Aktionsart from the corrected term, "aspect,"
he mixes his definition:
Essentially the tense in Greek expresses the kind of action, not
time, which the speaker has in view and the state of the subject, or
as the Germans say, the Aspekt. In short, the tense-stems indicate
the point of view from which the action or state is regarded.2
While properly noting the "point of view from which the action or state
is regarded," he defines "aspect" as "the state of the subject," which
definition clouds the issue. A clearer definition of the two terms is
this: "The original function of the so-called tense stems of the verb in
Indo-European languages was not that of levels of time (present, past,
future) but that of Aktionsarten (kinds of action) or aspects (points of
view)."3 Note there the contrasting emphases in the terms Aktionsart and
1 Turner, Insights, p. 29.
2 Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. III: Syntax
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963), p. 59.
3 F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament
and Other Early Christian Literature (hereinafter referred to as BDF), tr.
rev. from the 9th-10th
sity of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 116. Here is a good opportunity to com-
pare two English editions of Blass's Grammar: Thayer's translation of
Blass, and Funk's translation of Blass-Debrunner. The former is very
readable and lucid, and provides an invaluable help to understanding the
latter work, with its large mass of detail and extreme abbreviation, which
render it hardly discernable to most Greek students. In Thackeray's
"Preface to the English Edition," written in 1905, he compares Blass's
grammar to that of Winer: "The books to which the author expresses his
obligations are the grammars of Winer and Buttmann, Jos. Viteau, and Bur-
ton. The first-named of these works having grown to such voluminous
proportions, the present grammar, written in a smaller compass, may,
the author hopes, find a place beside it for such persons as maintain
the opinion me<ga bibli<on me<ga kako<n." Indeed, there has been an ironic
turn of events. Imagine how dismayed Thackeray would be, were he to
discover that Blass's latest edition has far surpassed even the me<geqoj
"aspect." Aktionsart draws one's attention to the event itself; "aspect"
more properly emphasizes the vantage point of the author.
This label (Aktionsart) has since become well known among New Testa-
ment grammarians, but it is possible that its significance is less
well understood. In common with most English-speaking classical
scholars, I prefer to use another label, "aspect," for what is refer-
red to is not the kind of action, but the way in which the writer
or speaker regards the action in its context--as a whole act, as a
process, or as a state.1
To avoid the confusion inherent in the term Aktionsart, many Greek scholars
now prefer the term "aspect" as designating the chief meaning of the ten-
ses. For example, Maximilian Zerwick consistently prefers "aspect" to
the term "tense" in his grammar, and does not use the term Aktionsart.2
The new term provides an accurate insight into the syntactical data.
The aorist tense can describe durative action; the present can describe
punctiliar action; both tenses can describe perfected action. As W. D.
Chamberlain has put it, "Remember that the same act may be looked at
from any of these three viewpoints."3
The aspect of the present indicative will be seen to be complex,
since the aspect is influenced also by the verbal root and by the his-
torical evolution of present tense usage. However, a correct understand-
ing of the concept of aspect itself will enable one to profit most greatly
in any inductive study of the data.
1 K. L. McKay, "Syntax in Exegesis," Tyndale Bulletin, 23 (1972),
2 Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples (hereinafter re-
ferred to as Biblical Greek), tr. from the 4th Lat. ed. by Joseph P. Smith
(Rome: Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963), e.g., pp. 77-78.
New Testament (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941), p. 67.
II. THE PLAN OF ATTACK
An Inductive Approach
The most valuable data for the study of any Greek point of syntax
in the New Testament is found in the Biblical text itself. Especially
when the occurrences are frequent, the knowledge of New Testament usage
provides the best guide--whether in lexicography or in syntax.
The opposite method seeks absolute grammatical rules first, and
then seeks to impose these rules on every Biblical example. An outstand-
ing example of the extremes to which this method can lead was cited
earlier1--Nigel Turner's attempt to impose an inferior reading on the
text because of supposed "grammatical evidence."
The method of this paper is inductive. The primary material shall
be the New Testament examples.2 With over five thousand occurrences of
the present indicative in the New Testament, the material is more than
ample to form valid conclusions. And these conclusions, in turn, should
provide the most relevant guidelines to the exegesis of the present
1 See above, p. 7.
2 The superiority of the inductive method in grammatical research
does not necessarily imply the superiority of that method in teaching a
new language to beginners. For an interesting conflict of viewpoints,
compare Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia, or the Vitality
of Greek Studies in
29-30, who offers an amusing yet stringent criticism of inductive teaching
methods, with William Sanford LaSor, Handbook of New Testament Greek: An
Inductive Approach Based on the Greek Text of Acts (2 vols.; Grand
Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973), I, vii-ix. LaSor's
text, in fact, outlines a one year Greek course for beginners, using the
The best preparation for proper Biblical exegesis, particularly in
matters of semantics, the meaning of words, including both lexical
and grammatical study, is the widest possible experience with and
constant practice in the use of the original languages. One dare not
look up a word in the analytical lexicon, discover it is a verb in
the aorist tense, turn to the aorist tense section of Dana and Mantey,
then say, "The original Greek says so and so."1
Previous investigations have failed to treat the New Testament
verb exhaustively. Normally, each writer will list a particular usage
category and will offer three to six examples for each. Comparing the
grammars, one notices that the examples are nearly always the same, lead-
ing one to suspect that they merely have been handed down and received
from one generation to the next without independent investigation. For
example, Zerwick's discussion of concessive clauses2 cites, with one ad-
dition, a long list of illustrative references--which are identical, even
in their order, with an earlier list compiled by Burton.3 In addition,
the failure to be exhaustive often has resulted in an unbalanced cate-
gorization. For example, the so-called "conative present" is catalogued
in nearly every grammar as a major category. Yet an inductive search
reveals fewer than five New Testament examples, each of which would fall
more logically into another category with nearly fifty examples. An-
other drawback of previous investigations has been the retention of the
older categories, even after the developments in the field of verbal
aspect. Statements like this one by Chamberlain--"Those futuristic
presents are usually aoristic"--appear with regularity, but without
1 Boyer, "Semantics in Biblical Interpretation," p. 33.
2 Zerwick, Biblical Greek, p. 102.
proof.1 Also, recent studies in comparative linguistics, including the
"zero tense" hypothesis, have raised serious questions regarding the in-
terpretation and force of the present tense when used for non-present
time; and these questions have yet to be faced by Biblical scholars.
Finally, an exhaustive, inductive study brings to light many thoughts and
suggestive examples which lead to the formation of newer, more relevant
Method of Procedure
Since every inductive study must begin with a full collection of
data, the first step was to locate and record every present indicative
verb in the New Testament. This was no small task. The search began with
a careful reading of the Greek New Testament, underlining every occurrence
of a present indicative verb form. Each of these was written on a sepa-
rate file card with the reference. The text used was the United Bible
Societies' Greek New Testament, second edition.2 In order to check the
list for omissions, it was compared with Nathan E. Han's A Parsing Guide
to the Greek New Testament (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1971).
This work lists and parses most of the verb forms verse by verse through-
out the New Testament. While Han's list is based on the twenty-fifth
edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek text (p. vii), it still provides an
effective check, since the two texts normally are quite similar. However,
Han's list is not complete. It omits repeated verb forms which have been
listed already within the previous several verses, and it omits many
1 Chamberlain, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament,
2 Ed. by Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metz-
ger, and Allen Wikgren (2nd
first person singular forms. In addition, it contains several omissions
and numerous errors.1 Hence it has been necessary to correct the original
data from time to time--adding overlooked examples, and deleting misread
ones. The final result is listed in Appendix A. It is believed this
list is complete. If anyone should find a missed example, the author
would appreciate the information.
The second step was perhaps the most demanding of all. The over
five thousand verb cards were repeatedly analyzed and distributed among
various exegetical or syntactical categories. These categories often
shifted as the study progressed, with resulting mergers, divisions, ex-
pansions, and multiplications. Some verbs, like people, just seem to
dislike fitting in with the others, no matter how the arrangements are
made. Finally, however, the basic lines began to form and solidify, re-
sulting in the categories presented in Part II.
The third step involved a detailed study of each category. The
lines of study were determined by the nature of the category, the exege-
tically significant issues involved, and the variety of the Biblical
examples. In each case there is at least an effort to state a conclusion
regarding any controversy concerning the particular category (e.g., the
aspect of "punctiliar presents," the zero tense concept for historical or
1 E.g. proseu<xesqe in Mt. 5:44 and 6:9 is parsed as an indicative,
as is mh> gi<nesqe in 6:16; Mt. 16:8 and Mk. 8:17 dialogi<zesqe is listed as
imperfect; the three dative participles penqou?si, klai<ousin, and peripa-
tou?sin in Mk. 16:10, 12, are parsed as indicatives, whereas the indicative
pra<ssousi in Acts 17:17 is parsed as a dative participle. These mistakes
are typical of many others--e.g., the verb "ye sin against Christ" in 1 Cor.
8:12 is parsed as either indicative or imperative! Yet a work of this much
detail, especially in its first edition, must necessarily contain many
typographical and editorial errors which will undoubtedly be corrected
subsequently. In spite of these, it represents a major accomplishment,
and a welcome balm to Greek students everywhere.
futuristic presents, or the precise force of simple conditional presents).
The final step was to compare the results of the study with tra-
ditional and contemporary literature about the Greek present indicative.
The wide divergencies in this literature make it impossible to analyze
it as a block. Rather, it appears that various authors seem to explain
the data better at various points, and are less adequate elsewhere. As
a result; the literature must be considered in the discussion of each
category rather than as a unit at the end. Likewise, various Bible verses
or passages will be discussed in the chapter dealing with the appropriate
Summary of the Study's Results
It is the conclusion of this author that most previous definitions
of the exact nature and force of the present indicative are inadequate.
The tense can describe action in any time--past, present, or future; and
it can describe action of any kind--durative, punctiliar, or perfective.
In short, time and Aktionsart are both inadequate concepts to define the
Concerning the modern zero-tense claim, it is concluded that the
concept is valid for certain roots and certain authors. But it is be-
lieved that in portions of Mark's and John's writings the historical pre-
sent is a vivid, narrative form, and that in Revelation many futuristic
presents are likewise vivid.
Concerning the tense's use in conditions, it is concluded that
a present indicative protasis implies nothing as to the truth of the
protasis; but, rather, that it establishes the subject as a question
Finally, concerning the aspect of the present indicative, it is
conclusions that the tense has--except in zero usages--a legitimate aspect.
It normally signifies a durative and/or present time aspect. The aspect
is not related to the type of action, but to the force and attention
with which the author perceives and relates it.
III. THE FREQUENCY OF THE PRESENT INDICATIVE
The present indicative occurs with consistently high regularity.
As A. T. Robertson has put it, "The present indicative, from the nature
of the case, is the most frequent in actual usage and hence shows the
greatest diversity of development."1 This author counted over five
thousand present indicatives in the New Testament. The count includes
the verb oi#da, which has "come to be used as a practical durative pre-
sent,"2 in spite of its perfect form.3 The following table shows the
number of present indicatives counted in each chapter of the New Testa-
PRESENT INDICATIVES PER CHAPTER
chapter occurrences chapter occurrences
Matthew 1 2 Matthew 15 34
2 8 16 26
3 17 17 21
4 11 18 26
5 40 19 27
6 42 20 28
7 21 21 30
8 22 22 31
9 33 23 44
10 21 24 27
11 32 25 12
12 43 26 63
13 59 27 29
14 13 28 6
1 Robertson, Grammar, p. 350. 2 Ibid., p. 881.
3 In the same category is e@oiken in James 1:6, 23.
chapter occurrences chapter occurrences
Matthew total 768 John 3 57
Mark 1 20 5 65
2 40 6 67
3 28 7 66
4 49 8 101
5 28 9 59
6 23 10 71
7 39 11 45
8 38 12 38
9 43 13 62
10 44 14 56
11 31 15 31
12 36 16 48
13 18 17 21
14 61 18 41
15 24 19 32
16 7 20 36
total 529 21 54
2 6 Acts 1 5
3 10 2 19
4 12 3 11
5 24 4 10
6 41 5 7
7 46 6 2
8 32 7 16
9 31 8 14
10 23 9 16
11 54 10 27
12 61 11 --
13 30 12 6
14 24 13 16
15 22 14 4
16 29 15 10
17 16 16 11
18 27 17 21
19 22 18 5
20 32 19 19
21 10 20 15
22 37 21 22
23 20 22 16
24 19 23 21
total 636 24 13
John 25 19
1 50 26 30
2 14 27 11
chapter occurrences chapter occurrences
Acts 28 7 2 Corinthians 10 13
total 379 11 40
Romans 12 27
1 20 13 18
2 28 total 216
4 12 Galatians 1 13
5 9 2 15
6 15 3 25
7 34 4 30
8 43 5 22
9 19 6 10
10 21 total 115
12 7 Ephesians 1 5
13 10 2 9
14 30 3 8
15 12 4 11
16 14 5 22
total 314 6 9
1 Corinthians 1 16
2 12 Philippians 1 17
3 30 2 12
4 24 3 13
5 6 4 16
6 31 total 58
8 17 Colossians 1 17
9 40 2 14
10 38 3 8
11 39 4 9
12 39 total 48
14 45 1 Thessalonians 1 3
15 56 2 11
16 13 3 9
total 478 4 14
2 Corinthians 1 20 total 50
3 16 2 Thessalonians 1 7
4 14 2 8
5 20 3 14
6 9 total 29
8 10 1 Timothy 1 11
9 8 2 7
chapter occurrences chapter occurrences
1 Timothy 3 10 2 Peter 1 10
4 8 2 9
5 14 3 15
6 13 total 34
1 John 1 20
2 Timothy 1 12 2 55
2 15 3 42
3 3 4 45
4 6 5 46
total 36 total 208
Titus 1 9 2 John 12
3 5 3 John 19
Revelation 1 13
Hebrews 1 7 2 46
2 12 3 35
3 7 4 6
4 7 5 6
5 9 6 5
6 6 7 6
7 20 8 1
8 10 9 11
9 14 10 4
10 20 11 15
11 15 12 6
12 14 13 12
13 14 14 12
total 155 15 1
James 1 18 17 22
2 25 18 7
3 22 19 14
4 32 20 5
5 9 21 13
total 106 22 14
1 Peter 1 8
Before summarizing these results, it might be profitable to note
a single instance of style variation within a single book. Notice that
chapters 2-3 of Revelation each contain many more present indicatives
than any of the other chapters of the book. Of course, these chapters.
the Letters to the Seven Churches, comprise a different literary genre
from the others. Yet both portions come from John's pen. This example
should warn the investigator to refrain from construing differences in
present indicative frequency as evidence for divergent authorship.
The findings of Table 1 are summarized below:
PRESENT INDICATIVES PER BOOK
book occurrences book occurrences
Matthew 768 1 Timothy 63
Mark 529 2 Timothy 36
Luke 636 Titus 15
John 1,083 Philemon 11
Acts 379 Hebrews 155
Romans 314 James 106
1 Corinthians 478 1 Peter 40
2 Corinthians 216 2 Peter 34
Galatians 115 1 John 208
Ephesians 64 2 John 12
Philippians 58 3 John 19
Colossians 48 Jude 13
1 Thessalonians 50 Revelation 261
2 Thessalonians 29 total NT 5,740
With the number of occurrences in hand, one can see that he is working
with a great deal of data. He also begins to feel that the tense is used
differently by the different authors. Both these conclusions are true.
But more data is needed. Total occurrence is not enough; there needs to
be a frequency evaluation for each book and author.
Present Indicative Frequency
Due to the detailed research of Robert Morgenthaler,1 it is pos-
sible to compare the findings recorded above with other relevant statisti-
cal data, and to determine the frequency of the present indicative in each
New Testament book and author. Morgenthaler's Greek text is Nestle's
twenty-first edition;2 but due to the large numbers involved and the basic
similarity of that edition to the text used in this study, his figures
are close enough for the purposes of this study.
Frequency per 100 Words
Morgenthaler lists a total of 137,490 words in the Greek New
Testament.3 The number of words in each book is listed below, along with
the number of present indicative verbs, and the resulting percentage:
the number of present indicative verbs per one hundred words, to the
nearest hundredth of a percent.
PRESENT INDICATIVES PER 100 WORDS
book words P.I. verbs P.I. verbs/100 words
Matthew 18,305 768 4.20
Mark 11,242 529 4.71
Luke 19,428 636 3.27
John 15,416 1,083 7.03
Acts 18,382 379 2.06
Romans 7,105 314 4.42
1 Corinthians 6,811 478 7.02
2 Corinthians 4,469 216 4.83
Galatians 2,229 115 5.16
Ephesians 2,418 64 2.65
Philippians 1,629 58 3.56
1 Statistik des Neutestumentlichen Wortschatzes (hereinafter re-
ferred to as Statistik; Frankfurt am Main: Gotthelf-Verlag Zurich, 1958).
2 Ibid. p. 9. 3 Ibid., p. 164.
book words P.I. verbs P.I. verbs/100 words
Colossians 1,575 48 3.05
1 Thessalonians 1,475 50 3.39
2 Thessalonians 821 29 3.53
1 Timothy 1,588 63 3.97
2 Timothy 1,236 36 2.91
Titus 658 15 2.28
Philemon 33.3 11 3.28
Hebrews 4,951 155 3.13
James 1,749 106 6.06
1 Peter 1,678 40 2.38
2 Peter 1,098 34 3.10
1 John 2,137 208 9.73
2 John 245 12 4.90
3 John 219 19 8.68
Jude 457 13 2.84
Revelation 9,834 261 2.65
total NT 137,490 5,740 4.17
One notes several interesting phenomena. John's books have the
highest usage, far above the New Testament average of 4.17 present indi-
catives per 100 words. His Gospel and epistles are very high; yet his
Revelation is quite low, with only 2.65 present indicatives per 100 words;
only four books have a lower rating. The nature of the Apocalypse's
content accounts for the difference, as will be seen later.1 Also it is
of interest that Paul's epistles tend to fall into natural groups:
Eschatological-- 1 Thessalonians 3.39
2 Thessalonians 3.53
Soteriological-- Romans 4.42
1 Corinthians 7.02
2 Corinthians 4.83
Christological-- Ephesians 2.65
1 However, the "letter" genre of Rev. 2-3, mentioned earlier, has
a percentage more in line with John's other books. Independent count of
the Nestle-Aland text, 25th ed., shows 1146 words for Rev. 2-3. With 81
present indicatives in the two chapters, the resulting percentage is 7.07
present indicatives per, 100 words, a typical figure for John.
Pastoral-- 1 Timothy 3.97
2 Timothy 2.91
Obviously, the lines are not absolute, but in general there is a pattern.
From the highest percentages downward this order appears: Soteriological
Epistles Eschatological Epistles, Christological Epistles (with Philip-
pians reaching up and Ephesians down), then the Pastoral Epistles (over-
lapping the Christological Epistles).
While this frequency list is highly instructive, another frequency
base would be even more helpful. Next shall be shown the frequency of
the present indicative as compared with other tenses and moods, including
infinitives d participles. This information will give a better idea of
each author's style and tense preference.
Frequency per 100 Verb Forms
In order to compute the number of present indicatives per 100
verbs, it was necessary first to determine the total number of verb forms
in each book. The author was unable to locate this information already
published; so it was necessary to add up the occurrences listed under
every verb in a New Testament concordance. The concordance of Jacob Bru-
baker Smith1 would be suited admirably for the project, since each entry
charts the number of occurrences in each book, but his concordance is
based on the Textus Receptus rather than on a later critical text.2 The
1 J. B. D Smith, ed., Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament
(Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1955).
2 Ibid., p. v.
closest work to J. B. Smith's based on a critical text, was found in the
vocabulary list of Robert Morgenthaler.1 Using Nestle's twenty-first
edition, Morgenthaler charts every vocabulary word in the New Testament,
showing how many times it occurs in each book. The one drawback is that
Morgenthaler combines John's epistles into a single entry. Hence, for
John's epistles this author obtained the information from Moulton and
Geden's Greek concordance.2
In order to ascertain the number of verbs in each book it was
necessary to pick out the verbs from the other vocabulary words, to write
them down ,with the number of occurrences in each book, and to add up the
totals. Morgenthaler's list contains 1,846 verbs. Many occur only one
time in the New Testament; the others range all the way up to the most
common one, ei#nai, which is found in the New Testament 2,450 times.3
In all, the New Testament contains 27,714 verb forms. Table 4 lists the
number of verbs in each book, and the number of present indicatives per
100 verb forms. Notice that this table, while generally agreeing with
the previous one, gives a much more accurate assessment of each book's
preference for the present indicative. For example, Table 3 showed that
the Gospel of John and 1 Corinthians have nearly identical P.I./100 words
frequency. Yet Table 4 shows that Paul in 1 Corinthians actually is much
1 Morgenthaler, Statistik, pp. 67-157.
2 W. F. Moulton and A. S. Geden, eds., A Concordance to the Greek
New Testament According to the Texts of Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf
and the English Revisers (2nd ed.;
3 Morgenthaler, Statistik, p. 91. The task of recording these
words and statistics was a strenuous one, involving nearly 48,000 entries
in a difficult chart format. This author wishes to thank his wife,
Tammie, for cheerfully doing this work with exemplary care and precision.
PRESENT INDICATIVES PER 100 VERB FORMS
book P.I. verbs verb forms P.I. verbs/100 verbs
Matthew 768 3,948 19.45
Mark 529 2,612 20.25
Luke 636 4,388 14.49
John 1,083 3,535 30.64
Acts 379 3,874 9.78
Romans 314 1,159 27.09
1 Corinthians 478 1,288 37.11
2 Corinthians 216 758 28.50
Galatians 115 407 28.26
Ephesians 64 325 19.69
Philippians 58 254 22.83
Colossians 48 234 20.51
1 Thessalonians 50 243 20.58
2 Thessalonians 29 122 23.77
1 Timothy 63 299 21.07
2 Timothy 36 224 16.07
Titus 15 112 13.39
Philemon 11 44 25.00
Hebrews 155 916 16.92
James 106 347 30.55
1 Peter 40 275 14.55
2 Peter 34 194 17.53
1 John 208 436 47.71
2 John 12 48 25.00
3 John 19 51 37.25
Jude 13 84 15.48
Revelation 261 1,537 16.98
total NT 5,740 27,714 20.71
more fond of the tense than John is in his Gospel. The reason for this
variation is that Paul in 1 Corinthians uses all verb forms less frequently
than John, thus having a lower P.I./word rating; but when he does use a
verb form, he favors the present indicative, thus raising the P.I./verb
rating. These findings can be summarized by listing the books in descen-
ding order of preference for the present indicative. This follows in
Table 5, along with the rounded off percentage of present indicative usage,
as opposed to other moods and tenses.
PRESENT INDICATIVE PREFERENCE BY BOOK
rank book P.I. usage rank book P.I. usage
1 1 John 48% 15 Colossians 21%
2 3 John 37% 16 Mark 20%
3 1 Corinthians 37% 17 Ephesians 20%
4 John 31% 18 Matthew 19%
5 James 31% 19 2 Peter 18%
6 2 Corinthians 28% 20 Revelation 17%
7 Galatians 28% 21 Hebrews 17%
8 Romans 27% 22 2 Timothy 16%
9 2 John 25% 23 Jude 15%
10 Philemon 25% 24 1 Peter 15%
11 2 Thessalonians 24% 25 Luke 14%
12 Philippians 23% 26 Titus 13%
13 1 Timothy 21% 27 Acts 10%
14 1 Thessalonians 21% ________________
NT average 21%
Finally, with the above information in hand, one can ascertain
each Biblical author's style and preference for the present indicative.
These findings are tabulated below; the authors are arranged in the order
of the amount of their material in the New Testament.
PRESENT INDICATIVE PREFERENCE BY AUTHOR
author words verbs P.I. verbs %--P.I. verbs/100 verbs
Luke 37,810 8,262 1,015 12%
Paul (incl. 37,300 6,385 1,652 26%
Paul (excl. 32,349 5,469 1,497 27%
John 27,851 5,607 1,583 28%
Matthew 18,305 3,948 768 19%
Mark 11,242 2,612 529 20%
Hebrews (if 4,951 916 155 17%
Peter 2,776 469 74 16%
James 1,749 347 106 31%
Jude 457 84 13 15%
total NT 137,490 27,714 5,740 21%
Therefore, the authors with above average present indicative
usage, in descending order, are James, John, and Paul, while those below
average are Mark, Matthew, Hebrews (if non-Pauline), Peter, Jude, and
In a few forms the present indicative is identical to either a
subjunctive or an imperative. Normally the context clearly indicates
which parsing is intended. However, occasionally both are possible with-
in the context. In these cases the examples are included in this paper's
discussion, bit they are here listed:
11:3, prosdokw?men, ind. or subj. (
ative questions use either the Subjunctive or the Future Indi-
cative," Moods and Tenses, p. 77.)
Mt. 24:43, ginw<skete, ind. or impv.
Mt. 26:45, kaqeu?dete and a]napau<esqe, ind. or impv., decided by punc-
Lk. 7:19, 20, prosdokw?men, see Mt. 11:3 above
Lk. 12:39, ginw<skete, ind. or impv.
Jn. 12:19, qewpei?te, ind. or impv.
Jn. 14:1a, pisteu<ete, ind. or impv.
Jn. 15:27, marturei?te, ind. or impv.
Acts 25:24, qewpei?te, ind. or impv.
1 Cor. 1:26, ble<pete, ind. or impv.
1 Cor. 6:4, kaqi<zete, ind. or impv., depends on punctuation
Eph. 5:5, i@ste, ind. or impv.
1 Th. 2:9, mnhmoneu<ete, ind. or impv.
1 Pet. 1:6, a]gallia?sqe, ind. or impv.
1 Jn. 2:27, me<nete, ind. or impv.
With the inclusion of this list, the raw data for this study is
complete. Part II will show the division of these occurrences into their
respective categories and will develop the evidence for the conclusions
of this study delineated in Part III.
Morphological Note on Movable Nu
Students in first year Greek learn the following rule:
When the -ousi of the third person plural of the verb comes either
before a vowel or at the end of a sentence, a n, called movable n,
is added to it. Thus ble<pousin a]posto<louj. Sometimes the movable
n is added even before a word that begins with a consonant. Thus
either lu<ousi dou<louj or lu<ousin dou<louj is correct.1
Of course, the movable Nu also appears in the present indicative on the
third person, singular and plural, of non-thematic verbs. The impression
given in Machen's textbook is that seldom--"sometimes . . . even"--the
movable Nu is used when the "rule" does not require it. However, it ap-
pears that the "rule" cited applies more to Byzantine and modern Greek
than to classical or koine Greek. The movable Nu
is so universal in the forms which admit it at all, that it is only
necessary to take note of omissions. Modern use, by which n is in-
serted before vowels only, is known to be wrong even for classical
writers, and in Hellenistic it is altogether to be set aside.2
Actually, in Hellenistic Greek, it often runs counter to the rule:
Its particular place . . . is the pause, i.e. the end of a sentence or
clause. Moreover, from the v BC on the tendency to employ n to avoid
hiatus, and therefore to comply with the modern rule which stems from
the Byzantine period, betrays itself in an increasing degree. It is
very popular in the Hellenistic language, but e.g. in the papyri of
the Ptolemaic period it is omitted often before vowels and appears
still more often before consonants. . . . The standard MSS of the NT
almost always employ it, whether a consonant or vowel follows, or the
word stands at the end of a sentence.3
Interest in this subject began when it was noticed that in the New Testament
examples of the present indicative, the movable Nu was nearly always present.
1 Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners, p. 27.
2 James Hope Moulton and Wilbert Francis Howard, A Grammar of New
Testament Greek, Vol. II: Accidence and Word-Formation (
3 BDF, p. 12.
In fact, a careful search revealed that in only ten instances was the
final Iota left final:
Mt. 18:10, ble<pousi Acts 17:7, pra<ssousi
Mk. 2:4, xalw?si Acts 18:10, e]sti<
Lk. 16:29, @Exousi Acts 19:38, e@xousi
Jn. 5:23, timw?si Acts 26:4, i@sasi
Jn. 10:14, ginw<skousi Rev. 9:4, e@xousi
In each of these places the word is followed by a consonant, thus up-
holding the rule; but in one of them, Acts 17:7, the form is followed
immediately by a comma, which, while allowed by Machen's wording, contra-
dicts that of BDF, "Its particular place . . . is the pause, i.e. the end
of a sentence or clause."1 However, these references do support this
further statement in BDF:
It is omitted here and there (never, however, before a vowel and in
pause) following e and with e]sti<, somewhat more often after the -si
of the 3rd pl., most frequently by comparison after the -au of the
In order to see how often the movable Nu could have been omitted,
according to the rule, compared to the number of times it was omitted,
this author selected at random the book of Matthew. Every potential case
of a present indicative with the movable Nu was located. Then those ex-
amples were eliminated which were followed by a vowel or which were fol-
lowed by any mark of punctuation in the UBS text. All of these occur-
rences, as expected, had the movable Nu. The remaining list, therefore,
consisted solely of examples in which the verb was followed by a consonant
and was not in pause--in other words, cases in which the movable Nu was
not necessary. In only one case was the Nu missing (Mt. 18:10), but in
1 BDF, p. 12. It should be noted that the Nestle text, used by
BDF, inserts the Nu in Acts 17:7.
sixty-six cases it was still present. These cases are identified in Ap-
pendix B. As stated by Moulton-Howard, "The irrational addition of -n
may be set beside its irrational omission."1 Hence, an easier rule to
remember, and more accurate, is this one: "The rule of the koine was to
use the n movable irrespective of what followed."2
1 Moulton and Howard, Accidence and Word-Formation, p. 113.
2 Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, p. 24.
PART II. PRESENT INDICATIVE EXEGESIS
I. THE USAGE CATEGORIES
Before the present indicative can be treated as a whole, it must
be considered in its various exegetical usages separately. This chapter
shall define the categories to be explored in this paper.
Traditional Usage Classifications
Earlier grammarians were aware of the broad use of the present
indicative found in the New Testament. W. H. Simcox, for example, wrestling
with this problem, sought the solution in "foreign influence" and in "the
special requirements of the Scriptural order of thought."1 Subsequently,
A. T. Robertson noted simply,
All three kinds of action are found in the present (punctiliar,
durative, perfect). All three kinds of time are also found in the
present ind. (historical present = past, futuristic present = future,
the common use for present time), 2
thus adding to the time variations already noted by Simcox the aspect
variations as well.
The difficulty and complexity of this subject becomes evident as
one examines the various schemes which have been proposed for classifying
the uses of the present indicative. No two systems are the same. How-
ever, in spite of the numerous differences, a few categories are so out-
standing or unique that they appear in virtually every list:
1 William Henry Simcox, The Language of the New Testament (4th ed.;
2 Robertson, Grammar, p. 869.
a) Progressive present, action going on at the same time as the
speaking or writing
b) Conative present, attempted action not carried out
c) Gnomic present, general truth
d) Iterative present, repeated or customary action
e) Aoristic present, punctiliar action in present time
f) Historical present, past action
g) Futuristic present, future action
h) Perfective present, past action, with either the action itself or
its effects continuing into present time
In spite of this general consensus grammarians have never fully agreed.
In fact, none of the grammars consulted in this study had even the nine
categories listed above.
The classical grammarian H. W. Smyth omits the aoristic category,
and adds two others. He adds another perfective category for continuing
action, and he adds the annalistic present, a present which "registers
historical facts or notes incidents," in addition to the historical pres-
Another classical scholar, B. L. Gildersleeve, uses categories
similar to these used later by Smyth.2 He calls the progressive present
the specific present, and the gnomic present the universal present. He
includes the classical annalistic present under the head of historical
present. But he leaves out the iterative as well as the aoristic cate-
1 Herbert Weir Smyth, A Greek Grammar (
Company, 1916 , pp. 276-78.
2 Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve and Charles William Emil Miller, Syntax
of Classical Greek from Homer to Demosthenes (hereinafter referred to as
Among scholars of Biblical Greek the variation is even greater.
R. T. France, for example, lists only five categories, omitting the gnomic,
iterative, and perfective categories.1 And in his discussion of the aoris-
tic present he shows some confusion.2
C. F. D. Moule's analysis conforms fairly well to the list above,
except there is no category for the perfective present whose effects con-
tinue into the present. Instead, another category of "present in reported
speech" is introduced.3
The older grammarian S. G. Green notes only four categories, omit-
ting these categories: conative (his is the only grammar seen to omit this
category), gnomic (unless it be included under "habitual or usual act"),
aoristic, and perfective. The last omitted category is, however, brought
forward in th discussion of the "certain futurity" category.4
and two additional, the periphrastic present (present of ei#nai plus a
present participle) and the present in indirect discourse. In addition,
he divides the perfective present into its two natural parts.5
A. T. Robertson's scheme is a little harder to follow and compare,
since he analyzes his Aktionsart categories rather than the tenses as
such. Under “aoristic present” he includes the specific or constative
Notes on Translation, 46 (December, 1972), pp. 4-5.
2 Ibid., cf. pp. 6-7. 3 Moule, Idiom Book, pp. 7-8.
4 Samuel G. Green, Handbook to the Grammar of the Greek Testament
(Rev. ed.; New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1912), pp. 297-98.
present (as “I say” in the Gospels) along with the gnomic, historical,
and futuristic categories.1 Under "durative action" he includes the ob-
viously progressive examples ("descriptive present"), past continuing ac-
tion ("progrssive present"), and iterative and conative Presents. He
allows some historical and futuristic presents, and adds "deliberative"
and "periphrastic" presents.2 Finally, under "perfected action" he
includes "presents as perfects."3
Blass gives many examples of each category he lists. However, he
does not include the gnomic, iterative, or perfective categories. He
does add the "relative present," which is similar to the present in indi-
rect discourse, only is limited to verbs of perception and knowledge.4
One of the few grammars to attach any priority to the categories
is that of Dana and Mantey. Listed under "regular uses of the present"
are the "progressive" and iterative categories. "Progressive" presents
are divided into what has earlier been listed as progressive and perfective
presents. An Dana and Mantey see two types of iterative presents, repe-
titive ("iterative") and habitual ("customary"). Under "special uses of
the present" are listed the aoristic, futuristic, historical, conative
("tendential" , and gnomic ("static") categories.5
The only writer this author discovered who tried to actually count
the number of usages in each exegetical category was G. Mussies,6 His
1 Robetson, Grammar, pp. 864-70. 2 Ibid., pp. 970-82.
3 Ibid. pp. 881, 903. 4 BDF, pp. 167-69.
5 Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, pp. 182-86.
6 Mussies, The Morphology of Koine Greek as Used in the Apocalypse
1971), p. 333.
categories are sufficiently different from the average that they deserve
a separate listing, along with an example and the number of occurrences
1) General present, Rev. 10:3, 6 times
2) Direct address to the reader, Rev. 16:15, 11 times
3) Explanatory remarks in visions, Rev. 17:18, 42 times (including
13 which should also be listed under #4, but are not counted
4) Reported speech, mainly Rev. 2-3, 121 times
5) Historical present, Rev. 19:12, 43 times
6) Future present, Rev. 14:9, 39 times
While this author would dispute the assignment of several examples to these
categories, the list does demonstrate three things: the unusual grammatical
character of the Apocalypse, the approximate weight of the major categories,
and the difficulty of defining exegetically significant categories.
The exegetical categories arrived at by this author are here out-
lined, with an example of each usage, and the symbol used for each cate-
gory (as in Appendix A).
I. Present indicative in present time
A. Progressive present (10), describes action or state of being
going on during the time of speaking or writing.
Mt. 9:4, "Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts?"
B. Declarative present (11), introduces a statement of the
speaker or writer.
Lk. 7:28, “I say to you, . . .”
C. Customary present (12), describes habitual, customary, or
1. General customary present (121), describes customary
action without reference to its repetition for any
1 Cor. 1:22, "The Jews seek a sign."
2. Singular iterative present (122), describes action re-
peated by one individual.
Jn. 14:10, "The Father abiding in me does his works."
3. Plural iterative present (123), describes action repeated
by each member of a plural subject.
Lk. 5:33, "The disciples of John fast often."
4. Non-iterative customary present (124), describes customary
action which occurs only once to any individual.
Mt. 11:5, "The blind receive sight."
5. Parabolic customary present (125), describes the expected
action of a typical person in a parable.
Mt. 13:44, "From joy he goes and sells all he has."
D. Abstract present (13), describes truth or fact which is theo-
retical or abstract, and therefore always valid.
1. Explanatory present (131), explains relevant facts and
information to help the reader.
"the city of
2. Factual present (132), describes a natural, theological,
or theoretical truth.
Jn. 15:5, "Without me you are not able to do anything."
3. Impersonal present (133), expresses what is right, proper,
advantageous, or necessary.
2 Cor. 5:10, "It is necessary for all of us to appear."
4. Interpretive present (134), explains the theological sig-
nificance of an item in the text.
Mt. 13:38, "The field is the world."
5. Comparative present (135), compares the similarities of
E. Perfective present (14), describes a present state resulting
from past action.
1. General perfective present (141), describes perfected
action with a simple present tense.
Jn. 11:28, "The teacher has come."
2. Present in periphrastic perfect (142), provides the helping
verb for a perfect participle.
Col. 2:10, "You are completed in him."
3. Present in citation periphrastic perfect (143), provides
the helping verb in the phrase "it is written."
Jn. 6:31, "even as it is written."
4. Citation present (144), describes the actions or previous
Scriptural writers or characters.
Rom. 10:5, "Moses writes concerning the righteousness
which is of the law."
II. Present indicative in past time
A. Historical present (21), describes simple past action in a
Mk. 7:28, "She answered and says."
B. Present for immediate past (22), describes action immediately
Jn. 13:22, "being uncertain concerning whom he says."
C. Imperfective present (23), describes past action continuing into
Lk. 13:7, "For three years I come seeking fruit."
III. Present indicative in future time
A. Futuristic present (31), describes future action.
Jn. 20:17, "I ascend to my Father."
B. Present for immediate future (32), describes action just about
Lk. 19:8, "Lord, I give to the poor."
IV. Present indicative in relative time
A. Relative present (41), describes action which is present to
the verbal context of the clause, but not necessarily to the
speaker or writer.
1 Cor. 7:36, "That which he wishes let him do."
B. Indirect present (42), describes action presented in indirect
discourse, thought, or perception.
Lk. 18:37, "They declared to him that Jesus the Nazarene is
V. Present indicative in conditional sentences
A. Present of the protasis (51), describes the condition necessary
to produce the apodosis.
Ja. 4:11, "if you judge the law."
B. Concessive present (52), describes the condition in spite of
which the apodosis will take place.
Heb. 6:9, "though we speak thus."
C. Substantive present (53), describes the content of desired
Lk. 6:7, "They were watching . . . if he heals on the Sabbath."
VI. Modal use of the present indicative (60), employs the word as
a subjunctive or an imperative.1
1 In a few places the present indicative seems to take on the
meaning of another mood. It appears to be used as a subjunctive in de-
liberative questions with prosdokw?men (Mt. 11:3; Lk. 7:19, 20), a form
which can be either indicative or subjunctive; likewise, a subjunctive
sense seems best for gi<netai, in Rom. 11:6 and ginw<skomen in 1 Jn. 5:20.
In two places the present indicative resembles the imperative mood: Lk.
2:29, a]polu<eij; and 2 Tim. 1:15, oi#daj. These few cases evidently should
be treated as with the other mood and do not fall into the purview of
II. THE PRESENT INDICATIVE IN PRESENT TENSE
By far the largest number of usages lie within this category.
Except for the perfect tense and specialized uses of the aorist, the pres-
ent tense monopolizes expressions of present time. But within this gen-
eral category are numerous subtypes. Each of these shall be examined in
This constantly used designation finds various interpretations
The most constant characteristic of the Present Indicative is that
it denote action in progress. It probably had originally no reference
to present time. But since, in the historical periods of the language,
action in progress in past time is expressed by the Imperfect, and the
Future is used both as a progressive and as an aoristic tense for fu-
ture time, it results that the Present Indicative is chiefly used to
express action in progress in present time. Hence in deciding upon
the significance of any given instance of the Present Indicative in
the New Testament as well as in Classical Greek, the interpreter may
consider that there is, at least in the majority of words, a certain
presumption in favor of the Progressive Present rather than any of
the other uses mentioned below.1
This author concluded that nearly 40% of the New Testament's present in-
dicatives are progressive presents. Robertson tends to lean more toward
an "aoristic" present--i.e., no aspect distinction--as the basic idea of
the tense, with the progressive feature being added later.
The original present was probably therefore aoristic, or at least some
roots were used either as punctiliar or linear, and the distinctively
durative notions grew up around specially formed stems and so were
applied to the form with most verbs, though never with all. 2
2 Robertson, Grammar, p. 865.
However, he admits that it is the largest category in the New Testament.1
He calls it "descriptive present," and reserves "progressive present" for
presents that carry on past action (e.g., 1 John 2:9),2 which cases will
be treated later in this chapter.
In this study the term "progressive present" describes any present
which describes an action or state of being which is present to the speaker
or writer, and which does not fall into another, more specialized category.
Some examples often given for this category, as Matthew 25:8 ("our lamps
are going out") or 8:25 ("Lord, save, we perish"), are included rather
in the "immediate future" category for reasons which will be argued in
The title "progressive present" is indeed vague. But the alter-
natives are misleading. Thus "simple present" might be assumed to be
aoristic; "general present" might be confused with "present of general
truth," the "gnomic" category.
Translating the progressive present often leads to the English
periphrastic present--"he is drinking milk"--to avoid confusing it with
the English general present of customary action--"he drinks milk."4
Sometimes the Greek stresses the progressive idea by combining the present
indicative of ei#nai with a present participle--the "periphrastic present."
In these cases, the participle takes on the nature of a predicate adjective:
The Greek has no special form for the progressive present of English,
nor for the progressive tenses generally. In the periphrasis with the
1 Robertson, Grammar, p. 879.
3 Cf. Robertson, Grammar, p. 879;
4 Moule, Idiom Book, p. 7; cf. Robertson, Grammar, p. 879.
present participle, the participle is generally equivalent to a
characteristic adjective or substantive, with which it is often cou-
The progressive present is the largest single category of present
indicative verbs, being used frequently by all authors. The following
table notes its frequency in each book, as compared with other uses of
the present indicative.
PROGRESSIVE PRESENT FREQUENCY
book prog. pres. P.I. verbs %--prog. pres.
Matthew 210 768 27%
Mark 136 529 26%
Luke 201 636 32%
John 404 1,083 37%
Acts 204 379 54%
Romans 124 314 39%
1 Corinthians 174 478 36%
2 Corinthians 122 216 56%
Galatians 55 115 48%
Ephesians 38 64 59%
Philippians 42 58 72%
Colossians 33 48 69%
1 Thessalonians 29 50 58%
2 Thessalonians 12 29 41%
1 Timothy 19 63 30%
2 Timothy 19 36 53%
Titus 5 15 33%
Philemon 5 11 45%
Hebrews 50 155 32%
James 28 106 26%
1 Peter 17 40 42%
2 Peter 16 34 47%
1 John 120 208 58%
2 John 3 12 25%
3 John 11 19 58%
Jude 4 13 31%
Revelation 84 261 32%
total NT 2,165 5,740 38%
It is noticeable that the highest frequencies are found in Paul's Prison
1 Gildersleeve, Syntax, I, 81.
Epistles, Acts, and scattered epistles of Paul and John. In these books
more than half of the present indicatives are simple progressive presents.
Yet one should beware of generalizations, as, for example, the difference
between Second and Third John might prove.
The Verb "To Be"
The most common verb, ei#nai, is also one of the most complex.
Its aspect is basically durative.1 In this sense it is contrasted with
gi<nesqai, which denotes "temporal existence which has a beginning and
ending."2 It especially is durative as a present tense helping verb in
a periphrastic construction.3
General agreement prevails concerning the verb's linking capa-
a) x equals y,
b) x is described by y, or
c) x is located at y,4
as well as its primary syntactical usage:
Ei#nai is mainly a structure signaling word in Greek. As such, it is
nearly lexically empty, in distinction from all other verbs in Greek.
On the basis of this study, one may formulate the following generali-
zations with respect to ei#nai: ei#nai, belongs to a restricted class
of verbs, consisting of one member; ei#nai is primarily a syntactic
rather than a lexical item in the vocabulary stock of Greek: ei#nai,
determines one sentence type that plays a fundamental role in the
structure of Greek.5
1 Charles H. Kahn, "The Greek Verb 'To Be' and the Concept of Be-
ing," Foundations of Language, 2 (1966), 254-55.
2 Lane C. McGaughy, Toward a Descriptive Analysis of "Einai as a
Linking Verb in New Testament Greek (hereinafter referred to as "Einai),
Series, No. 6, The Society of Biblical Literature (
3 Ibid., p. 7. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid., pp. 150-51.
Where disagreement arises is in understanding its lexical status when used
absolutely, as in the famous statement, "I am." Some writers vehemently
deny any "existential meaning" for ei#nai, and assume a predicate comple-
ment should be supplied.1 Kahn even goes so far as to assert that the
Greeks' understanding of the verb ei#nai led to certain distinguishing
points in Greek philosophy.2
On the other side, however, the verb seems to have "existential"
force in the statement "I am." In John 8:58, for example, "It stands in
unmistakable contrast to pri>n ]Abraa>m gene<sqai. This is the only passage
in the NT where we have the contrast between ei#nai and gene<sqai. The
verse ascribes to Jesus consciousness of eternity or supra-temporality."3
A crucial passage is John 8:24-29. In verse 24 Jesus says, "If you be-
lieve not that I am, you shall die in your sins," and similarly in verse
28, "then shall you know that I am." This expression is tied closely
to the description of Jehovah in the Old Testament.4 In this understand-
ing Abbott is joined by Ethelbert Stauffer, who notes the special Messi-
anic use of e]gw< ei]mi in Mark and John.5 Some writers see the possibility
1 McGaughy, @Einai, pp. 119-25; Kahn, "The Greek Verb 'To Be' and
the Concept of Being," pp. 250-54.
2 Ibid., p. 260.
3 Friedrich Bachsel, "ei]mi<," Theological Dictionary of the New
Testament, Vol. II, ed. by Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. by Geoffrey W.
Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 399.
4 Edwin A. Abbott, Johannine Gramar (
Black, 1906), pp. 183-86, notes Isa. 43:10-13; 46:4; 48:12; Dt. 32:39;
also the parallel phrases "from the beginning," "working," and "speaking"
in John 6:68-69 and Isa. 43:10; 52:6.
5 "e]gw<," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. II, ed.
Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), pp. 352-54.
of the simple translation "I am he" or "it is I" in many instances, as
B. F. Westcott at John 6:20.1 But "I am he" is clearly rendered by e]gw<
ei]mi< au]to<j, as in Luke 24:39.2 Rather, e]gw< ei]mi, in the Gospels often
has the added significance of "I am the Savior," "I am the Son of God."3
The phrase "seems to call upon the Pharisees to believe that the Son of
man is not only the Deliverer but also one with the Father in the unity
of the Godhead."4
The Question of Aoristic Presents
Most grammars have a major category of admittedly few examples
for "punctiliar presents."
In those few cases where a punctiliar act taking place at the moment
of speaking is to be denoted, the present is usually used since the
punctiliar aorist stems form no present. 5
1 Westcott, The Gospel According to
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1881), p. 98. Westcott lists the following
verses under his explanation: Mk. 13:6; Lk. 21:8; Jn. 4:26; 8:24, 28, 58;
(9:4); 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8. However, Abbott is wrong to assume that Westcott
favors the same translation in each passage, as an examination of each in
Westcott's commentary will prove (Johannine Grammar, p. 183).
2 Abbott, Johannine Grammar, p. 182.
3 Cf. Mk. 13:6 and Lk. 21:8 with Mt. 24:5, which adds, o[ Xristo<j.
4 Abbott, Johannine Grammar, p. 187; an interesting issue of similar
import is the possible Messianic claim in Christ's answers to the Sanhedrin
and Pilate: "Are you the Son of God?" Jesus says, "You have said." For
a convincing defence of the claim, see D. R. Catchpole, "The Answer of Je-
sus to Caiaphas (Matt. xxvi. 64)," New Testament Studies, 17:2 (January,
1971), 213-26. On pp. 217 and 226 Catchpole summarizes the statement's
force: "In Matt. 26:25 su> ei#paj contains an affirmation modified only by
a preference for not stating the matter expressis verbis. . . . In each
case considerations of the literary background of su> ei#paj or u[mei?j
le<gete converge with the position of the phrases at the turning point of
the hearing to recommend the following meaning: affirmative in content,
and reluctant or circumlocutory in formulation."
5 BDF, p. 167.
However, the argument is lacking, since the aorist indeed can describe
events in present time, as examples of the so-called "dramatic aorist"
show.1 On the other hand, some claim the present tense cannot be aoristic,
it "cannot denote the
completion of an act."2
ficulty by defining the present indicative as "action in progress" and
then having to allow for a large exception category.
The Present Indicative is sometimes used of an action or event coinci-
dent in time with the act of speaking, and conceived of as a simple
event. Most frequently the action denoted by the verb is identical
with the act of speaking itself, or takes place in that act. . . .
This usage is a distinct departure from the prevailing use of the
Present tense to denote action in progress. There being in the Indi-
cative no tense which represents an event as a simple fact without at
the same time assigning it either to the past or the future, the Pre-
sent is used for those instances, in which an action of present time
is conceived of without reference to its progress.3
Robertson is quick to point out this inconsistency:
A greater difficulty is due to the absence of distinction in the tense
between punctiliar and linear action. This defect is chiefly found
in the indicative. . . . There is nothing left to do but to divide
(or Punctiliar Present and Linear Present). The one Greek form covers
both ideas in the
distinct tense. . . The present is formed on punctiliar as well as
linear roots. It is not wise therefore to define the pres. ind. as
denoting "action in progress"
like the imperf. as
he has to take it back on p. 9 in the discussion of the "Aoristic
Present," which he calls a "distinct departure from the prevailing use
of the present tense to denote action in progress." In sooth, it is
no "departure" at all. The idiom is as old as the tense itself and is
due to the failure in the development of separate tenses for punctiliar
and linear action in the ind. of present time. 4
Due to the combined durative-punctiliar history of the present indicative,
1 Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, p. 198.
2 Goodwin-Gulick, Greek Grammar, p. 268: this statement was not made
in Goodwin's own edition, cf. A Greek Grammar, p. 246.
4 Robertson, Grammar, p. 864.
it appears that the tense cannot be limited to either category.
It must not be thought, however, that the durative meaning monopolises
the present stem. In the prehistoric period only certain conjugations
had linear action; and though later analogic processes mostly levelled
the primitive diversity, there are still some survivals of importance.1
The only limitation would come through the nature of the action itself.
If the action takes any time at all, it could be classed as progressive.
On this basis, K. L. McKay has denied a punctiliar present:
Some grammarians write as if the present may be used to express a
punctiliar action in present time ("aoristic present"), but can it?
If a real action is really in present time it is almost inevitably
in process. In the rare cases where an aoristic sense in present
time is appropriate--mainly in the colloquial language of comedy--
the aorist is used.2
But in view of the many examples of presents with "undefined" action, it
seems best to define the aoristic present as Robertson does: "The aoristic
present = undefined action in the present, as aoristic past (ind.) = un-
defined action in the past."3 In the New Testament, it "may be interpre-
ted either as durative or as aoristic, depending on the context."4
In this study the common examples of aoristic presents have been
switched to other--it is hoped, better--categories. Thus Robertson's
example of Luke 7:8, "I say go, and he goes," is listed under customary
present; and his "common ei]mi<" is under progressive presents.5 The only
special category derived from these "aoristic presents" shall be the
declarative category discussed next.
1 Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 119.
2 McKay, "Syntax in Exegesis," p. 49.
3 Robertson, Grammar, p. 865. 4 Mussies, Apocalypse, p. 276.
5 Robertson, Grammar, p. 865.
The largest single category normally listed under "aoristic pres-
ents" is "le<gw in the Gospels."1 This category was considered sufficiently
large and distinctive to be included as a separate category. Other ex-
amples belong with it, as "says the Lord" in Old Testament quotations,
and the frequent "I exhort," "I command" and "I make known" statements
throughout the New Testament, especially in the epistles. At first the
category was entitled "presents of self-expression." But the strongly
assertive quality of the examples made the title "declarative present"
more appropriate. The following table delineates this category in the
major New Testament sections.
1 3 2 8 5 11 66 2 97
2 - - - - - 33 - 33
3 27 3 36 3 1 4 1 75
4 - 2 5 - - - - 7
5 27 12 6 - - - - 45
6 - 1 - - - - - 1
7 - - - 20 - - - 20
8 - - - 5 - - - 5
9 - - - - 4 8 16 28
total 57 20 55 33 16 111 19 311
Key: 1--miscellaneous: "I exhort, command, ask, adjure, etc,"
2--"I say" introducing the speech
3--"I say to you (pl.)"
4--"I say to you (sing.)"
5--"truly I say to you (pl.)"
6--"truly I say to you (sg.)"
7--'truly truly I say to you (pl.)"
8--"truly truly I say to you (sg.)"
9--"says the Lord (or the Spirit)"
Moule, Idiom Book, p. 7.
As expected, books with more homiletic material rate higher than histori-
cal or prophetical books. However, authorship style here has an important
bearing. Paul often "beseeches," "commands," and "exhorts." Jesus, on
the other hand, as reported by all four Evangelists, merely "says." Yet
the form of "I say" varies from book to book: Mark prefers "truly I say
to you"; Luke prefers to omit "truly"; Matthew balances the two forms.
John, who only three times has "I say to you," never writes "truly I say
to you." Instead, twenty-five times John has the formula "truly truly I
say to you," a form found nowhere else in the New Testament.
In almost all these instances the declarative verb is followed by
the content of the speech.1 The declarative verb can therefore be under-
stood as either durative, emphasizing the process of making the speech, or
aoristic, emphasizing the content of the speech as a unit. The latter
seems the most likely. The introduction probably is intended to add force
to what is said. This understanding is that of the United Bible Societies'
translating rule #19: "Introductory expressions such as 'verily, verily,'
must be related to the content of what is said, not to the fact of saying."2
But one must be careful to distinguish Aktionsart and aspect in these verbs.
The speech itself is not punctiliar, but it is merely viewed as aoristic,
with no reference to its linear or punctiliar nature, but concentrating
on the matter only.
1 Sometimes "says the Lord" comes within or after the speech. Bruce
M. Metzger notes, "Paul occasionally adds within or at the end of the quo-
tation the words le<gei ku<rioj," "The Formulas Introducing Quotations of
Scripture in the New Testament and in the Mishnah" (hereinafter referred
to as "Formulas"), Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and
Christian, Vol. VIII of New Testament Tools and Studies, ed. by Bruce M.
Metzger (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1968),p. 55.
2 Nida, Toward a Science of Translating, p. 182.
This category, as many others, covers a wide territory and finds
various definitions in the grammars. Robertson calls it "iterative" or
"customary," and charts it as a series of punctiliar dots (• • • •).1
Dana and Mantey find a subdivision, calling "iterative" those presents
which recur at successive intervals, and "customary," those which denote
habitual action.2 Thus "I brush my teeth" would be customary, while
"I still get cavities" would be iterative. On the whole, however, this
method seems artificial and is difficult to carry out when assigning
categories—What does one do with "I sin"?
Other grammarians lump several categories together.
separate category for repeated action, except what might be implied in
"General or Gnomic Present."3 H. M. Smyth, on the other hand, divides the
category into "customary," i.e., repeated by one person, and "factual,"
for "general truth."4
It appears that the most cogent subdivision is that offered by
Moulton, who uses the terms "frequentative" and "iterative." Using the
word a]poqn^<skw, he notes,
We find the present stem used as an iterative in 1 Cor. 15:31, and as
frequentative in Heb. 7:8; 10:28; 1 Cor. 15:22; Rev. 14:13: the latter
describes action which recurs from time to time with different indi-
viduals, as the iterative describes action repeated by the same agent.5
This division seems the best, and more objective than that suggested by
Dana and Mantey. Eventually, this author divided customary presents into
1 Robertson, Grammar, p. 880. 2 Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, p.
5 Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 114. In this sense he, as opposed to Bur-
ton, includes aa]fi<omen in Luke 11:4 as frequentative, since the same indi-
viduals "habitually forgive," p. 119.
five groups. Each of these will be noted in turn.
General Customary Present
This is the largest section, and includes repeated, customary, or
habitual action, whether the subject is singular or plural. None of these
examples fits certainly in any of the following four categories.
Usually the subject is plural, and the action described may or may
not be repeated by any particular individual. This category does not
stress the repetitive nature of the act for any particular individual;
rather, it stresses the repetitive nature of the act itself. In the case
of a singular subject, this category stresses not so much the repetitive
nature of the act, as it emphasizes its dependability in any particular
case; thus John 10:27-28, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and
they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life." The plural verbs
(hear, follow) are customary--whether each sheep hears and follows once
or more than once is not the question in view. Also the singular verbs
(know, give) are customary, since each individual instance is more in view
than the mere repetition required for Christ to know and give life to
all the sheep throughout history.
An interesting example of this usage is a]pe<xousin in Matthew
6:2, 5, 16, "they have their reward." Adolf Deissmann has compared this
usage to the common use of a]pe<xw on papyri and ostraca business and tax
receipts: "I have received payment in full--nothing more is due."1 Jesus
was speaking of the Pharisees as a class, not necessarily of individuals.
As Moulton has put it, "The hypocrites have as it were their money down,
1 Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, tr. by Lionel R. M.
Strachan (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1927), pp. 110-12.
as soon as their trumpet has sounded."1
Singular Iterative Present
This category includes cases where a singular verb represents re-
peated action for that one subject. For example, John the Baptist says
in Matthew 3:11, "I baptize with water." The action is not progressive,
but rather repetitive or habitual. Many times Jesus says, "The things
which I say unto you." Yet the verb refers primarily to His repeated
speeches made throughout His ministry, not primarily to the speech He is
making at the time. Paul uses this category in Romans 7, where he des-
cribes his constant struggles with his sinful nature. It is wrong to sup-
pose that he is describing his earlier life.2
Plural Iterative Present
Often the present verb is plural and the action is customary.
But, in addition, it is clear from the context and important in the
statement, that each individual in the plural subject repeatedly does the
action. Thus the disciples of John ask, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast
often, but thy disciples fast not?" (Mt. 9:14). The point of the question
is not that fasting as such is at issue, but repeated fasting is the norm.
Often the subject is "we," as with Paul's frequent "we preach Christ,"
"we boast on you," or "we give thanks often for you."
1 Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 247.
2 Charles Horne, Salvation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p.
113; cf. Boyce W. Blackwelder, Light from the Greek New Testament (Ander-
son, Indiana: The Warner Press, n.d.), p. 67.
Non-Iterative Customary Present
This title may sound incongruous or self contradictory. Yet there
are several New Testament examples which need such a category. In these
cases the action occurs only once to each particular individual, but the
action is considered repetitive as it occurs with many different indivi-
duals at different times. There is a close relationship between this
category and the factual or gnomic present. The dividing line is a matter
of emphasis, and thus of personal judgment. This category stresses the
repetitive--and thus inevitable--nature of the action. The gnomic present
instead emphasizes the physical, logical or legal basis of the action.
Thus Matthew 7:19, "Every tree that brings not forth good fruit
is hewn down, and cast into the fire," is non-iterative, since it obvi-
ously can happen only once to each tree; yet it is customary, since it hap-
pens to many trees over the years. When Jesus declared in Matthew 11:5
that "the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are
cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the
gospel preached to them," He was referring to the sun of the single heal-
ings of each person as repetitive, since many people were being healed.
Perhaps the finest example is Paul's in 1 Corinthians 15:22, "In Adam all
die." Each person dies once; yet Paul uses the present tense because
the action constantly repeats itself with different individuals.1
1 James Oliver Buswell is a bit unclear when he says, "The present
tense of the verb justifies the implication of a continuous process. All
men are subject to death," A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion
word "continuous" is better replaced by "continuously repeated"; the
action itself is not durative.
Parabolic Customary Present
Often as He related a parable, Jesus would describe a hypotheti-
cal situation, and would describe the actions of the character which
would be expected in that situation. For example, the man in Matthew
13:44, having found the treasure-field, "goes and sells all that he has,
and buys that field." This action is not iterative, but it is customary
for a person in his circumstances. Similarly, the plants in shallow
ground "have no root" (Mk. 4:17) because there is no soil. Since these
examples occur in parables and hypothetical situations, they are divided
from the general customary presents.
Having seen all the types of customary presents, it is now possible
to delineate the occurrences of each type in the New Testament books.
book 1 2 3 4 5 total
Matthew 99 31 14 13 17 174
Mark 21 15 10 - 21 67
Luke 73 27 13 12 25 150
John 55 47 8 5 2 117
Acts 10 14 4 - - 28
Romans 25 36 8 - - 69
1 Corinthians 82 15 15 3 - 115
2 Corinthians 33 4 2 - - 39
Galatians 10 2 - - - 12
Ephesians 4 - - - - 4
Philippians 4 1 - - - 5
Colossians 2 - 1 - - 3
1 Thessalonians 5 - 2 - - 7
2 Thessalonians 5 - 1 - - 6
1 Timothy 12 2 - - - 14
2 Timothy 6 1 - - - 7
Titus 3 - - - - 3
Philemon - 1 - - - 1
Hebrews 33 3 - 1 - 37
James 40 - - - - 40
book 1 2 3 4 5 total
I Peter 9 - - - - 9
2 Peter 8 - - - - 8
1 John 24 1 2 - - 27
2 John - - - - - -
3 John - 7 - - - 7
Jude 8 - - - - 8
Revelation 18 - 1 - - 19
total NT 589 207 81 34 65 976
Key: 1--general customary presents
2--singular iterative presents
3--plural iterative presents
4--non-iterative customary presents
5--parabolic customary presents
Often the present indicative indicates a general truth or a time-
less statement or idiom. Unlike the previous category of customary or
repeated presents, this category is necessarily durative. Yet the action
itself need not be durative, only the truthfulness or validity of the
statement within the context of the speaker or writer. Thus Jesus can
say, "The seed is the word of God," and the context is established--the
parable of the sower. In another parable the seed may represent something
else entirely. There are five major types of abstract presents, and they
are examined below.
Often the Biblical writer will step aside to interpret or explain
some item in his account to the reading audience. The very second occur-
rence of the present indicative in the New Testament falls into this
group, " . . . which is interpreted, With us is God" (Mt. 1:23). Matthew
uses this device only four times (above, and in 27:33, 46, 62), and Luke
only twice (2:4; 8:26). But it is frequent in Mark (12 times: 3:17; 5:41;
7:2, 4, 11, 34; 12:18, 42; 15:16, 22, 34, 42), and John (10 times: 1:38,
41, 42; 4:9; 5:2; 9:7; 19:17, 40; 20:16; 21:24), and Acts (9 times: 1:12,
19; 4:36; 8:26; 9:36; 13:8; 16:12; 23:8, 8). It is found only once in
the epistles (Heb. 9:2) and three times in Revelation (2:24; 21:17;
22:20). It is possible to include some citations under other categories
as well; for example, the verbs in Acts 23:8, "The Sadducees say that
there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees
confess both," could be classified as customary presents as well as ex-
planatory presents. Yet here it seems that the confidential tone of Acts
calls for classing those verbs as primarily explanatory.
This category, often called the "gnomic" present, has a fairly
high number of occurrences. Unfortunately, the line separating this cate-
gory and several others is not always clear, and the confusion is evident
in the grammars. While all recognize a sort of "gnomic" present,1 the
definitions and examples for the category are far from uniform. The dif-
ficulty arises from the nature of the category. If every statement of the
Bible is true, is it not a fact, and is it not, therefore, factual?
Furthermore, many progressive presents as well as customary presents lend
themselves to this grouping.2
Perhaps one helping factor is the durative nature of these verbs'
aspect. K. L. McKay goes so far as to distinguish gnomic presents from
1 Dana and Mantey call it "static" present, Manual Grammar, p. 186.
gnomic aorists on the basis of aspect alone:
The difference between the present and the aorist in these timeless
contexts is the normal aspectual difference between process and com-
plete action, and we need not apologize for it.1
While this estimation appears a bit sweeping, it seems reasonable to re-
strict this category to more or less "timeless" expressions of fact. The
aspect of these verbs could be either durative or "non-determined."
Robertson thinks that gnomic presents are aoristic, and defines the gnomic
present as "the aorist present that is timeless in reality, true for all
time."2 Of course, "aoristic" here means "non-determined" aspect, not
"punctiliar" in reality. Likewise, the timeless idea influences Dana
and Mantey, who define their "static" present as "practically the present
of duration applied to a verb of being."3
The examples chosen for this category are those which appear too
uniform or durative to be included under the customary presents. The
statement is a matter of fact, theoretical or actual. Thus, Matthew 5:14,
"A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid" is a theoretical statement;
there need be no historical example of such a city. On the other hand,
Matthew 5:37, "whatsoever is more than these is of evil," is a theoretical
statement which has many sad examples in reality. Matthew 6:22, "The light
of the body is the eye," expresses a general truth of relative nature;
that is, it is valid within the present created human race. Finally,
1 John 4:8, "God is love," declares a truth which is universally valid
for all time.
1 McKay, "Syntax in Exegesis," p. 49. 2 Robertson, Grammar, p. 866.
3 Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, p. 186.
The little expressions "it is necessary," "it is lawful," "it is
good," "it is proper," "it is better," and a few others pop up throughout
the New Testament. They trace their descent to the ancient Greek language.
"In the present tense the idiom is on purely Greek lines, not Semitic.
. . . So the impersonal verbs (and e@xw) stand to themselves in support
from ancient Greek and the koinh<."1 The identity of these has been
disputed by some, as Nigel Turner, who maintains that the verbs quoted
above are not impersonal if followed by "an infinitive as subject."2
For truly impersonal verbs, Turner finds their origin at least partially
in the desire to avoid God's name when He is the implied subject)
In this study the idiomatic phrases o! e]stin and tou?t’ e@stin are
not normally included as impersonal presents (as in Robertson, Grammar,
p. 881), but are classed under such categories as explanatory or interpre-
tive presents. One particular example stands out as highly problematical.
It is a]pe<xei, in Mark 14:41, translated, "It is enough." That particular
usage is included as impersonal, since the verb allows that meaning in
contemporary koine Greek.
Deissmann reproduces an ostracon from
dated 32-33 A.D., with identical usage in the first singular.4
What does the present tense of the impersonal verbs signify? Ex-
amining the examples, one concludes that the present tense normally stresses
the present time application of the statement. "It is necessary (dei?)"
applies to the present; "it was necessary (e@dei)" applies to the past.
1 Robertson, Grammar, p. 881. 2 Turner, Syntax, pp. 291-92.
3 Ibid., p. 291.
4 Deismnann, Light from the Ancient East, pp. 111-12; photograph,
p. 111; cf. Robertson's comments, Grammar, p. 866.
Yet, even here, usage is more subtle. Thus, Jesus says, "These things it
was necessary (e@dei) to do" (Mt. 23:23), and yet it is still necessary:
here the imperfect may be used because it was more important that they do
something else also. Most of the impersonal verbs are found in the
present tense, indicating that the time is indeed abstract, the aspect
These verbs seek to explain the meaning of events, sayings, or
parables from the theological perspective. They differ from explanatory
presents, which explain more technical matters of language or custom.
Thus e]stin in Matthew 3:3 is interpretive, "This is that which was spoken
through Isaiah," and in 7:12, "This is the law and the prophets." Mat-
thew 11:14 provides an important interpretive use as well: "and if you
wish to receive (it), he is Elijah who is about to come." Often this
present is used in the explanation of parables--e.g., "The one sowing
the good seed is the son of man" (Mt. 13:37). This author included the
crucial passage Matthew 26:26 in this category: "Take, eat, this is my
body." The identity of the bread with Christ's body springs from theo-
logical truth and symbolism, not physical equality (Jn. 6:63). Sometimes
the wording of the passage causes another verb to be used besides e]sti<n,
as Mark 4:14, "The sower sows the word."
Often in the book of John Jesus or the author explains a term or
fact introduced into the narrative, as "the witness of John" in 1:19,
"the judgment" in 3:19, "the work of God" in 6:29, "the bread of God" in
6:33, "the will of my Father" in 6:40, and many other examples. Also in-
cluded are the famous "I am" passages in John, already discussed in this
The interpretive present is frequent in epistolary literature
(e.g., Rom. 5:14), especially in Paul's more "theological" longer epistles;
and in Hebrews, with that book's continual interpretation of Old Testament
symbolism and prophecy. An example in Hebrews is at 10:20, "the veil,
that is, his flesh." The verse has caused difficulty for some. Hebrews
often uses the form tou?t ] e@stin (2:14; 7:5; 9:11; 11:16; 13:15; and here
at 10:20). N. H. Young has shown that word order is not a factor in de-
termining the antecedent in these cases.1 Yet the natural interpretation
is to tie "veil" to "flesh," and the structure of the passage bears it
out.2 The usage occurs with greatest frequency (23 times) in Revelation,
interpreting the apocalyptic visions (1:20a, b; 4:5; 5:6, 8; 11:4; 13:10,
18a, b; 14:12; 16:14; 17:9a, b, 11b, c, 12, 15, 18; 19:8; 20:2, 12, 14;
21:8). In fact, the abundance of these interpretive presents should en-
courage the student toward a literal, futuristic interpretation of Reve-
lation, since John goes out of his way to avoid a mystical understanding
by frequently employing interpretive presents.
In a few places the interpretive present is modified or softened
by stating the interpretation as a "similarity,"--"is similar to"--much as
a simile is distinguished from a metaphor by the addition of "like" or
"as." Also, this category of verbs ushers the reader from the reality to
the figure, while the interpretive present brings him back from the figure
1 Young, "tou?t ] e@stin th?j sarko>j au]tou? (Heb. x. 20): Apposition,
Dependent or Explicative?" New Testament Studies, 20:1 (October, 1973), 101.
2 Ibid., pp. 102-04; cf. Homer A. Kent, Jr., The Epistle to the
Hebrews; a Commentary (Winona Lake, Indiana: B.M.H Books, 1972), pp. 198-99.
to the reality.
Usage for this category in the New Testament is limited primarily
to the Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 11:16; 13:31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52; 20:1; Mk.
4:26; Lk. 6:47, 48, 49; 7:31, 32; 13:18, 19, 21). The only other exam-
ples in this category are the two occurrences of eouxcy in the book of
James (1:6, 23).
This last group brings to an end the category of abstract pres-
ents. The occurrences of each type in the books of the New Testament are
book 1 2 3 4 5 total
Matthew 4 54 21 22 8 109
Mark 12 33 23 6 1 75
Luke 2 35 30 9 8 84
John 10 66 15 22 - 113
Acts 9 4 21 5 - 39
Romans - 25 4 8 - 37
1 Corinthians - 69 15 5 - 89
2 Corinthians - 4 4 - - 8
Galatians - 9 - 7 - 16
Ephesians - 4 5 2 - 11
Philippians - - 1 - - 1
Colossians - 1 3 3 - 7
1 Thessalonians - - 1 - - 1
2 Thessalonians - - 1 - - 1
1 Timothy - 8 5 - - 13
2 Timothy - - 2 - - 2
Titus - 1 5 - - 6
Philemon - - - 1 - 1
Hebrews 1 8 3 7 - 19
James - 18 1 - 2 21
I Peter - 1 - 1 - 2
2 Peter - 1 2 - - 3
1 John 1 38 - 3 - 41
2 John - 3 - 3 - 6
3 John - 1 - - - 1
Revelation 3 1 7 23 - 34
total NT 41 384 169 127 19 740
Key: 1--explanatory present
While these verbs may be considered timeless, the present tense is appro-
priate since the truth is applicable to present time--whether to the
speaker at the time of speaking, or the the author at the time of writing.
The aspect, therefore, is aoristic, in the sense of the "undetermined"
view of the action's duration.
The perfect aspect describes a present, continuing effect produced
by a past event. Many times in the New Testament a present indicative is
used in contexts where the perfective meaning is obvious. The unqualified
denial of this fact by G. Mussies appears forced: "The present indicative
does not express any view except the non-perfective view, and as such it
is unmarked as opposed to the perfect indicative."1 The perfective present
is indeed found in the New Testament, and can be divided into the follow-
ing four heads.
General Perfective Present
Often the stem of the verb itself is made perfective by the ad-
dition of a prepositional prefix, as a]poqn^<skw and only gradually does
1 Mussies, Apocalypse, p. 275. If it be thought that the wording
of this sentence is unclear, perhaps J. Neville Birdsall rightly attributes
Mussies's awkward writing style to the fact that he, a German, himself
wrote his book in English; review in the Evangelical Quarterly, XLV:1
(January-March, 1973), esp. p. 49.
it resume its durative nature.1 Such is also the case with pa<reimi,
which can mean "I have come," as well as "I am present."2 In other cases
the roots themselves evidently had a perfective meaning, as h@kw or a]kou<w.3
A. T. Robertson notes that in these cases the "root has the sense of
state, not of linear action. This is an old use of these roots."4 When
the stems themselves are perfective, as h@kw or pa<reimi (often), it is
important to remember that "this is not a Present for the Perfect of the
same verb, but a Present equivalent to the Perfect of another verb."5
On the other hand, is there any contrast between a perfect verb and a
present used as a perfect?
But it seems better to see with Dana and Mantey a greater stress on the
present state in the perfective present than in the simple perfect tense.
To say that this use is "present for perfect" is not accurately rep-
resenting the case. It does approach quite closely the significance
of the perfect, but stresses the continuance of results through
present time in a way which the perfect would not do, for the perfect
stresses existence of results but not their continuance.7
New Testament examples of perfective presents are not lacking.
John asks Jesus, "Do you come to me?" (Mt. 3:14); Jesus had already come
and was there as a result. Jesus consoles the paralytic, "Your sins are
forgiven" (Mt. 9:2), for Jesus had seen his faith already shown. This
1 Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 114.
2 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New
Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (
Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 71.
4 Robertson, Grammar, p. 881. 5
6 Ibid. 7 Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, p. 182.
last example is often listed under the category "aoristic present," but
truly it better is perfective--God had already forgiven his sins, which
forgiveness Jesus declared with authority (cf. v. 6). An undebatable
example is found in Luke 1:34, where Mary protests to the angel, "How will
this be, since I know not a man?" Her previous chastity resulted in her
present virginity. Often in court scenes this usage comes forth. Pilate
declares, "I find no fault in him" (Jn. 19:4), speaking of the results of
the previous interrogation. Some controversy surrounds Acts 26:31, "This
man has done nothing worthy of death or bonds." Winer believes the present
is customary, his conduct in general.1 However, it seems better to class
pra<ssei there as perfective, since Paul's previous conduct was at issue,
not his conduct, for example,
while being held two years in
To strengthen this claim, note the strongly parallel wording in Luke 23:15,
"Nothing worthy of death has been done by him." Here the form is e]sti>n
pepragme<non, the periphrastic perfect. If this be the case, then Acts
26:31 parallels the force of Acts 25:11: "if I am guilty," a conditional
present which is also perfective,2 and also "if I have done (pe<praxa<)
anything worthy of death," a normal perfect tense verb.
Present in Periphrastic Perfect
A periphrastic construction combines the present indicative of
the helping verb--normally ei]mi<3--with a participle, to form a synthesis.
The helping verb does influence to a degree the aspect of the resulting
1 Winer, Idiom, p. 267; also BDF, p. 168.
2 Ibid., for both Winer and BDF.
3 But e@xw appears in Mk. 8:17.
tense--making it more linear. "The periphrastic use of ei#nai must be
clearly distinguished from its equative function."1 Normally the con-
struction is the present indicative of ei#nai with either the present
participle, forming the periphrastic present, discussed earlier, or the
perfect participle, forming the periphrastic perfect, which McGaughy holds
to be a simple equivalent to the perfect tense.2 The other possibility,
the periphrastic aorist, using the imperfect form h#n with the aorist
participle (blhqei<j), is "quite exceptional," being limited in the New
Testament to Luke 23:19.3
A good example of the aspectual contribution of the Present indi-
cative to the periphrastic perfect is in Ephesians 2:5, 8. Kenneth S.
Not content with the details offered by the perfect tense, Paul uses
a periphrastic construction consisting of a participle in the perfect
tense and the verb of being in the present tense. The perfect tense
speaks of the existence of finished results in present time, whereas
Paul wanted to express persistence of finished results through present
time. So he borrows the durative aspect of the present tense verb to
give persistence to the existing results. . . . The security of the
believer could not have been expressed in stronger terms.4
Present in Citation Periphrastic Perfect
This category is merely a subdivision of the previous one. It
consists of periphrastic perfects applied to Scripture citation--i.e.,
the form ei]stin gegramme<non, "it is written." The form is found only six
times, and always in John's Gospel (2:17; 6:31, 45; 10:34; 12:14; 20:30).
1 L. C. McGaughy, @Einai, p. 82.
2 Ibid., p. 81. 3
4 Wuest, "The Eloquence of Greek Tenses and Moods," Bibliotheca
Sacra, 117:46 (April, 1960), 135.
The first five refer to Old Testament Scripture; the last reference re-
fers to his own book, "which things are not written in this book." He
then employs the normal New Testament perfect form, "but these things are
written (ge<graptai) that you might believe." Since this periphrastic
form is a special Johannine idiom, it appears best to understand its
aspect as perfective, the equivalent of the perfect indicative, and not
as especially durative. This form thus constitutes an idiomatic exception
to the conclusion of the previous section.
Often when one quotes from a written source, he thinks of the
author as speaking still, in his writings. Thus in English, as well as
other languages, the citation present is actually a perfective present--
e.g., "Shakespeare extols the quality of mercy." The saying is past,
yet the saying continues as an echo.
Some writers have sought to identify various Biblical citation
formulas with the intended interpretation of the citation. Thomas
Hartwell Horne has shown the fallacy of this method in practice.1 However,
the form of citation presents does show the high regard of the New Testa-
ment writers for the Old Testament Scriptures. For the subject of the
verbs "he says," "it says," and so forth, is often "God" or "the Holy
Spirit," as well as "the Scripture."2 For an extremely important discussion
1 Horne, An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of
the Holy Scriptures (8th ed.; 5 vols.;
1839), II, 336-46.
2 Turner, Syntax, p. 293; Turner notes the textual variant supplying
h[ grafh< in Rom. 10:8 in MSS D and G; see the Nestle-Aland text.
of the theological importance of citation presents, see Benjamin Breckin-
ridge Warfield, "'It Says:’ ‘Scripture Says’ ‘God Says'"; he shows how
these formulas confirm the orthodox doctrine of verbal inspiration.1
Bruce M. Metzger notes that there needs to be an investigation comparing
the New Testament citation formulas with those of the Mishnah, to show the
difference between the Christian and the Orthodox Jewish attitudes toward
the Old Testament in the first century A.D.2 While Metzger in his article
does not discuss the significance of the present tense in citation for-
mulas, he does observe that "the New Testament writers allow themselves
more freedom in attributing personality to the Scriptures than do the
Sometimes the human author is regarded as still speaking, as in
Matthew 22:43, "How does David call his Lord?" Jesus considered David as
still speaking, even though he was dead and buried (Acts 2:29). Other
times the Scripture itself speaks (Jn. 19:37), or God in Scripture (Acts
13:35; Gal. 3:16). This form of citation present is especially frequent
in the books of Romans and Hebrews, both of which make extensive theolo-
gical use of the Old Testament.
The occurrences of the perfective present are enumerated in the
1 Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, ed. by
G. Craig (
Company, 1948), pp. 299-348; the chapter originally appeared in The Pres-
byterian and Reformed Review, X (1899), 472-510.
2 Metzger, "Formulas," pp. 52-53.
3 Ibid., p. 55; this is especially true of Hebrews; see the appendix
Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the
Hebrews (2nd ed.:
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1892), pp. 474-76.
book 1 2 3 4 total
Matthew 5 2 - 1 8
Mark 3 1 - 1 5
Luke 8 5 - 3 16
John 13 2 6 1 22
Acts 8 4 - 6 18
Romans 1 1 - 24 26
1 Corinthians 2 3 - 4 9
2 Corinthians - 1 - 1 2
Galatians 1 - - 2 3
Ephesians 1 2 - 2 5
Philippians 2 - - - 2
Colossians - 1 - - 1
1 Thessalonians 2 - - - 2
2 Thessalonians 1 - - - 1
1 Timothy 1 - - 1 2
2 Timothy 1 - - - 1
Hebrews 9 4 - 14 27
James 1 - - 2 3
2 Peter - 1 - - 1
1 John 1 1 - - 2
Jude 1 - - - 1
total NT 61 28 6 62 157
Key: 1--general perfective present
2--present in periphrastic perfect
3--present in citation periphrastic perfect
The Present in Kingdom Passages
Twenty three times the present indicative describes some truth
specifically about the
a category for this study, but will be scattered among the other cate-
gories. However in view of their exegetical importance, they are here
This author believes the theocratic Kingdom of the Bible to be
still in the future, to be ushered in by Christ after His personal, physical
return to the earth. In many cases when the Kingdom is mentioned in the
Gospels, therefore, the usage is taken as futuristic, especially when
grammatical factors in the context suggest a futuristic usage. However,
in some of these instances, the presents could also be factual--describing
what the Kingdom is like without stating the time of its manifestation.
Included as futuristic presents are the following references:
a. Mt. 5:3, e]stin; parallel beatitudes are future
b. Mt. 5:10, e]stin; see "a"
c. Mt. 11:11, e]stin: they will be greater in the future; note future
in Lk. 13:30
d. Mt. 18:1, e]sti>n; see "c"
e. Mt. 1 :4 e]stin; see "c"
f. Lk. 6:20, e]sti>n: see "a"
g. Lk. 7:28b, e]stin; see "c"
h. Lk. 17:20a, e]rxetai; po<te shows Pharisees expected a future
One additional reference qualifies as expressing immediate future, even
though it is listed under the interrogative substantive category:
i. Acts 1:6, a]pokaqista<neij: immediate future implied by "at this
time"; future implied by "to
Even though the kingdom is future in its manifestation, it is
present in it representatives and in many of its blessings for believers.
The Church and the Kingdom are different. Yet the Church experiences spiri-
tual blessings promised in the New Covenant.1 Even before Christ's death
and resurrection, the Kingdom was present in Himself and in His appointed
delegates; and after Pentecost the Kingdom was present in the Church
1 Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary, pp. 158-60.
through the Holy Spirit in many of its spiritual manifestations.1 This
idea does not contradict the truth that Jesus and the apostles taught an
earthly futuristic Kingdom of both physical and spiritual aspects, in line
with literal Old Testament prophecy.2 All these remarks lead to the
following two usages of the present indicative as progressive presents:
j. Lk. 17:21, e]stin; i]dou< calls attention to the present time; "as
to the personal presence of its King, the Kingdom was actually
'in the midst' of men."3
k. Lk. 22:29, diati<qemai; for both the disciples and Jesus, the con-
ferring takes place before the realization
One case is relative:
1. Lk. 21:31, e]]stin; "when you see" sets the time
Occasionally the present indicative is customary, describing "how
things happen" concerning the Kingdom:
m. Mt. 21:31, proa<gousin; speaks of new birth
n. Lk. 17:20b, e@rxetai; Pharisees do not recognize the King4
o. Lk. 18:24, ei]sporeu<ontai; compare with "m"
Closely related to the customary presents are the factual presents. Each
of these states a truth about the Kingdom, its source, character, or its
1 George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future (
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), pp. 271-73.
2 Ibid., pp. 319-20.
3 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, An Inductive Study
of the Kingdom of God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1959), p. 272.
4 This passage has been variously interpreted. Arndt and Gingrich
it progressive: "the
i.e., in such a way its rise can be observed," Greek-English Lexicon, p.
628. Premillennialists can understand it either as in this paper, or by
meta> parathrh<sewj as prophetic date-setting. This author prefers the
former, since the reference in Jesus' answer seems to be to the Pharisees'
subjects. The category is like the comparative present in the Kingdom
p. Mt. 19:14, e]sti>n: describes the nature of its subjects
q. Mk. 10:14, e]sti>n: see "p"
r. Lk. 18:16, e]sti>n: see "p"
s. Jn. 18:36a, e@stin; describes its source
t. Rom. 18:36b, e@stin: see "s"1
u. Rom. 14:17, e]stin: describes its character
v. 1 Cor. 15:50, du<natai; describes the necessary nature of its
w. Eph. 5:5, e@xei; see "v"
These few passages provide rich material for fascinating discussion,
and for further specialized research in other tenses and moods.
Conclusion for Presents in Present Time
So far the study has consisted of present indicative usage which
directly bears on present time. The major categories--progressive present,
declarative present, customary present, abstract present, and perfective
present--contribute various aspectual emphases. Even in present time the
present indicative expresses both durative and aoristic points of view. In
order to work out a general conclusion, it is necessary to push the tense
to its time-limits, past and future, and to its modal limit in conditional
sentences. This plan provides the basis for the rest of Part II.
1 The "but now" indicates a future reversal when the Kingdom shall
be more worldly in its influence, if not in its source; cf. George N. H.
III. THE PRESENT INDICATIVE IN PAST TIME
Since Greek was a living language, it took on character and flavor
by use, which still confuses the grammarian desiring "the rule of law" in
language. The use of the present tense for past time, while it sounds
incongruous, is actually common to all language. This chapter shall deal
with three types of present indicatives: the historical present, the
present for immediate past, and the imperfective present. The largest and
most debated category is that of historical presents, and it will require
the bulk of this chapter. The other two categories will be discussed at
Historical Present Frequency
The historical present is simply a present indicative in past nar-
ration, where one would expect a "past" tense, such as an imperfect or
an aorist. The first one in the New Testament is fai<netai in Matthew
2:13, "And after they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appears
to Joseph in a dream."
Since the historical present is limited to narration, it is rare
in epistles, being encountered only in Hebrews. It is found chiefly in
the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation (ch. 4-22). The individual occurrences
of all the historical presents in the New Testament are listed in Appendix
C. The following table shows the frequency of the historical present in
each book in which it occurs. In addition to these there is a possible
historical present in Hebrews 11:15 (mnhmoneu<ousin); but since it is
conditional, it is included in that list. This table is more accurate
HISTORICAL PRESENT FREQUENCY
book hist. pres. verb forms hist. pres./100 verb forms
Matthew 94 3,948 2.38
Mark 150 2,612 5.74
Luke 13 4,388 0.30
John 163 3,535 4.61
Acts 14 3,374 0.36
Revelation 54 1,537 3.51
and helpful for comparing frequencies than earlier attempts. John C.
Hawkins, not knowing the total number of verbs in each book, had to
estimate frequency by figuring the average number of historical presents
on each page of the Westcott and Hort printed Greek text.1 Hawkins thus
estimates: "it appears that Mark uses it more freely than John":2 now an
exact comparison is possible: 5.74 to 4.61, a difference of just under
Obviously, the frequency of the historical present varies con-
siderably from book to book throughout the New Testament. This fact fits
with the general usage of historical presents in all language. "It is a
well-known idiom in all periods of Greek, particularly in popular, non-
literary usage."3 Various strata of writing styles reflect various usage
It was indeed a permanent element in prose narrative, whether colloquial
or literary; but it seems to have run much the same course in English,
where the historic present is not normally used in educated conversation
or in literature as a narrative form. It carries a special effect of
1 Hawkins, Horae Synopticae (2nd e.;
House, 1909), p. 143.
its own, which may be a favourite mannerism of a particular author,
but entirely avoided by others.1
The historical present is so universal that Paul Kiparsky can cite a
usage even from a Hittite inscription: "He went to his grandfather and
speaks to him.2
It is interesting to note how other Greek writings use the histori-
cal present. It is not found at all in Homer.3 However, it is frequent
in other classical writers.4 This variation in classical authors invites
speculation. Gildersleeve suggested that the tone of content influences
the use or disuse of the historical present.
This use of the present belongs to the original stock of our family
of languages. It antedates the differentiation into imperf. and
aorist. Being a familiar form, it is set down as a mark of simplicity
(a]fe<leia) of style. By reason, therefore, both of its liveliness
and its familiar tone it is foreign to the leisurely and dignified
unfolding of the epos, and is not found in Homer, whereas it is very
common in the rhetorical Vergil, as it is very common in the Attic
orators. Nor is it used to any extent, if at all, in the statuesque
Pindaric ode, whereas it is frequent in the Attic drama, which seems
to have introduced it to higher literature.5
The usage finds a home among the neo-classicists as well. Nigel
Turner quotes the statistics produced by K. Eriksson (Das Praesens His-
toricum in der nachclassischen griechischen Historiographie, Diss. of
1 Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 121.
2 Tense and Mood in Indo-European Syntax" (hereinafter referred
to as "Tense and Mood"), Foundations of Language, 4(1968), 32.
3 Goodwin-Gulick, Greek Grammar, p. 268.
4 Several examples in classical literature are cited by Winer,
Idiom, p. 267. H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar, rev, by Gordon M. Messing
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956), p. 277, offers an example
of the similar "annalistic present."
5 Gildersleeve, Syntax, I, 86.
present in the Archeology of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Arrian's Anabasis,
and Xenophon's Anabasis.1 He also notes a few samplings from Josephus,
showing a high ratio of historical presents per page.2 This author spot
checked a page of Josephus selected at random. One page of Greek contains
several aorists and many imperfects, and in addition, three historical
presents: paragi<netai, eu]ri<skei, and a]polu<ei.3
The historical present occurs often in the LXX. Winer's statement,
"as to the Sept., in which this usage is extremely rare,"4 is misleading.
Parts of the LXX, especially the books of Kings, have many historical
presents. Thackeray's classic work notes that even within the books of
Kings, vocabulary and style vary sharply. He uses the following notations:5
earlier portions: K.a (= 1 K.)
K. bb (= 2 K. 1:1 - 11:1)
K.gg (= 3 K. 2:12 - 21:43)
later portions: K.bg (= 2 K. 11:2 - 3 K. 2:11)
K. gd (= 3 K. 22:1 - 4 K. end)
K.bd = K.bg + K.gd
He then states that K.bd shows an "almost complete absence of the histori-
cal present," while the other sections show varying amounts (145 in K.a,
28 in K. bb, 47 in K.gg).6 He notes the resulting contrasts within
1 Turner, Syntax, p. 61. 2 Ibid.
3 Josephus, The Jewish War, 1:301, in The Jewish War, Books I-III
a translation by H. St J. Thackeray, Loeb Classical Library (
William Heinemann, Ltd., 1927), p. 140.
4 Winer, Idiom, p. 267.
according to the
(hereinafter referred to as Septuagint;
The historic present tends to be used with verbs of a certain class;
apart from le<gei, etc. it is specifically used of verbs of seeing in
the Pentateuch, of verbs of motion (coming and going) in the later
historical books: its absence from K. bd, distinguishes the later from
the earlier portions of the Kingdom books.1
Hawkins enlarges on Thackeray's list, and offers the following occurrences
in LXX books:2
Genesis, 9 2 Esdras, 8
Exodus, 24 --Ezra, 3
Numbers, 7 --Nehemiah, 5
Joshua, 1 Job, 25
Judges, 2 Esther, 2
Ruth, 1 Tobit, 10
1 Kingdoms, 151 Daniel, 1
2 Kingdoms, 32 Bel and the Dragon, 1
3 Kingdoms, 47 1 Maccabees, 2
4 Kingdoms, 2 2 Maccabees, 1
1 Chronicles, 2 3 Maccabees, 3
1 Esdras, 3 4 Maccabees, 3
total LXX, 337
Having tabulated the total, he observes that the historical present is
still more rare in the LXX, even in narrative portions, than in Mark's
Gospel.3 Moulton has suggested that the difference is due, at least in
part, to the lack of le<gei, in LXX narration.4
As would be expected, the historical present is most common in
popular speech. This fact is borne out by its very common use in the
papyri,5 and even in modern Greek.6
1 Thackeray, Septuagint, p. 24.
2 Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, p. 213.
3 Ibid., p. 214.
4 Moulton, Prolegomena, p. 121.
5 Ibid. Moulton includes examples.
6 BDF, p. 167.
One of the most interesting fields of Bible study is the subtle
and intricate nuances of the three Synoptic Gospels. The so-called "Synop-
tic Problem" has intrigued scholars for centuries, and has produced a pro-
found as well as elaborate literature. Entering into this picture is the
historical present. Those who defend the Markan priority claim the higher
frequency of the historical present in that book as evidence that the
other authors "corrected" his usage by supplying past tenses.1 While this
study cannot cover the point completely, a few comments are in order.
First, it is evident from Table 12 that Mark does use the historical
present much more frequently than Matthew and Luke. But the distance be-
tween Matthew and Luke far exceeds that between Matthew and Mark. Hence,
the remark, "Matthew and Luke do not favor the historic present,"2 tends
to be misleading.
The Case of Luke 24:12
It has been assumed by many that Luke corrected Mark's grammar,
deleting "Mark's historical presents except in 3:49."3 Hence, the appear-
ance of any historical present in Luke is immediately suspect. One
celebrated case is Luke 24:12, "Peter having arisen ran unto the tomb,
1 For example, Ned B. Stonehouse, Origins of the Synoptic Gospels,
Some Basic Questions (
pany, 1963), pp. 61-62.
2 Charles H. Talbert and Edgar V. McKnight, "Can the Griesback
Hypothesis Be Falsified?" (hereinafter referred to as "Griesback"),
Journal of Biblical Literature, 91:3 (September, 1972), 350.
3 Robertson, Grammar, p. 367.
and having stooped down sees the linen cloths alone; and he departed
wondering to himself what had happened." The UBS text includes the verse,
but with a "D" rating.1 This rating appears strange in view of the verse's
overwhelming textual support, including Aleph, A, B, and the Byzantine
text, along with the Bodmer Papyrus, p75. Against the verse stands the
western D alone.2 Three reasons have been advanced against the verse:
the parallel wording in John 20, indicating (to some) an interpolation;
the textual "Western Non-Interpolations" in Luke;3 and the presence in
the verse of a historical present. Metzger reports that a "sharp difference"
prevailed in the Committee as they debated these verses:
During the discussions a sharp difference of opinion emerged. Accor-
ding to the view of a minority of the Committee, apart from other ar-
guments there is discernible in these passages a Christological-
theological motivation that accounts for their having been added,
while there is no clear reason that accounts for their having been
omitted. Accordingly, if the passages are retained in the text at
all, it was held that they should be enclosed within square brackets.
On the other hand, the majority of the Committee, having evaluated
the weight of the evidence differently, regarded the longer readings
as part of the original text.4
And the Committee also refected theological borrowing from John as an
explanation for Luke 24:12.
A majority of the Committee regarded the passage as a natural ante-
cedent to ver. 24, and was inclined to explain the similarity with
the verses in John as due to the likelihood that both evangelists
had drawn upon a common tradition.5
Recently two scholars have attempted to disqualify the verse.
1 The Greek New Testament, pp. 314-15. 2 Ibid.
3 The nine so-called Western Non-Interpolations are Mt. 27:49;
Lk. 22:19b-20: 24:3, 6, 12, 36, 40, 51, 52; Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual
Commentary on the Greek New Testament (hereinafter referred to as Textual
4 Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 193. 5 Ibid., p. 184..
K. P. G. Curtis considers the "linguistic evidence" as "most weighty" for
excluding the verse. He does not mention such niceties as textual evidence.1
Raymond E. Brown is more cautious, but he also considers "the Western text
as original not because of better transmission but through correct emen-
dation."2 Both these critics are answered on their own ground by John
Muddiman, who notes that the verse now "has at last been put up for re-
habilitation.3 Muddiman asserts that, if Luke had a redactor, he would
no doubt have "corrected" the historical present in 24:12, just as he
supposedly had corrected the others taken from Mark.4 He continues with
this bit of wisdom:
The uncorrected historic present . . . is a good illustration of
the frequent inconclusiveness of the stylistic criterion in textual
criticism. Unless we resort to emendation, we must admit that the
Third Gospel contains at least two "scandalous" historic presents.
Our author, then, is not infallible, but if he slipped twice, why not
a third time, considering human rather than mathematical probability.5
F. Neiynck, following up Muddiman's article, adds the obvious fact that
John could very well have referred to Luke when writing John 20,6 adding
significant details, or perhaps relating a separate but similar event.
Furthermore, he sees as a possible "'source' of the uncorrected historic
present" in Luke 24:12, the historical present qewrou?sin, which is found
1 Curtis, “Luke xxiv. 12 and John xx. 3-10," Journal of Theological
Studies, XXII (1971), esp. 515.
2 Brown, The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi), in The Anchor
Bible, ed. by William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman (Garden
3 Muddiman, "A Note on Reading Luke XXIV. 12," Ephemerides Theolo-
gicae Lovanienses, XLVIII:3-4 (December, 1972), 542.
4 Ibid., p. 544. 5 Ibid.
6 Neiynck, "The Uncorrected Historic Present in Lk. xxiv. 12,"
Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, XLV11.1:3-4 (December, 1972), 553.
in Mark 16:4.1
Thus it appears that Luke really did use historical presents.2
Once again, grammar must proceed from the text, not the reverse.
In order to compare accurately the three Synoptics' use of the
historical present, one must examine the individual examples for each of
the Gospels. The occurrences are here tabulated, along with the parallel
usages (if any) in the other Synoptic Gospels. This table is a compila-
tion of several charts in Hawkins's Horae Synopticae (pp. 144-49), along
with the results of this author's research. The parallelism followed is
that worked out by
(*) are historical presents.
SYNOPTIC HISTORICAL PRESENTS
Matthew Mark Luke
*2:13 fai<netai - -
*2:18 ei]si<n - -
*2:19 fai<netai - -
*3:1 paragi<netai 1:4 e]ge<neto 3:2 (e]ge<neto)
1 Neiynck, "The Uncorrected Historic Present in Lk. xxiv. 12,"
2 Thus Abbott is wrong to say that John is the only Evangelist to
3 Ernest DeWitt
the Synoptic Gospels in
Matthew Mark Luke
*3:13 paragi<netai 1:9 h@lqen -
*3:15 a]fi<hsin - -
4:1 a]nh<xqh *1:12 e]kba<llei 4:1 h@geto
*4:5 paralamba<nei - 4:9 h@gagen
*4:5 i@sthsin - 4:9 e@sthsen
*4:6 le<gei - 4:9 ei#pen
*4:8 paralamba<nei - 4:5 a]nagagw<n
*4:8 dei<knusin - 4:5 e@deicen
*4:9 le<gei - 4:6 ei#pen
*4:10 le<gei - 4:8 ei#pen
*4:11 a]fi<hsin - 4:13 a]pe<sth
*4:19 le<gei 1:17 ei#pen 5:10 ei#pen
- *1:21 ei]sporeu<ontai 4:31 kath?lqen
- *1:30 le<gousin 4:38 h]rw<thsan
- *1:37 le<gousin -
- *1:38 le<gei 4:43 ei#pen
8:2 i]dou<. . . proselqw<n *1:40 e@rxetai 5:12 e]ge<neto. . . kai> i]dou<
8:3 le<gwn *1:41 le<gei 5:13 le<gwn
*8:4 le<gei *1:44 le<gei 5:14 parh<ggeilen
*8:7 le<gei - -
- - *7:40 fhsi<n
*8:20 le<gei - 9:58 ei#pen
*8:22 le<gei - 9:60 ei#pen
*8:26 le<gei - -
Matthew Mark. Luke
9:2 i]dou< *2:3 e@xretai 5:18 kai> i]dou< . . .
proselqw<n fe<rontej fe<rontej
- *2:4 xalw?si 5:19 kaqh?kan
9:2 ei#pen *2:5 le<gei 5:20 ei#pen
9:4 ei#pen *2:8 le<gei 5:22 ei#pen
*9:6 le<gei *2:10 le<gei 5:24 ei#pen
*9:9 le<gei *2:14 le<gei 5:27 ei#pen
9:10 e]ge<neto *2:15 gi<netai -
9:12 ei#pen *2:17 le<gei 5:31 ei#pen
*9:14 le<gontej *2:18 e@rxomai -
9:14 le<gontej *2:18 le<gousin 5:33 ei#pan
12:3 ei#pen *2:25 le<gei 6:3 ei#pen
- *3:3 le<gei 6:3 ei#pen
12:11 ei#pen *3:4 le<gei 6:9 ei#pen
*12:13 le<gei *3:5 le<gei 6:10 ei#pen
- *3:13 a]nabai<nei 6:12 e]ge<neto . . . e]celqei?n
- *3:13 proskalei?tai 6:13 prosefw<nhsen
- *3:20 e@rxetai -
- *3:20 sune<rxetai -