EIMI of John 1:1- 'eternal existence' re the "Word" ?
An arguement by Trinitarians that indicate that the Word in John 1:1c is "eternal," is often met with. This is definitely a matter of interpretation, an interpretation that can easily be dismantled and proven to be without any foundation.
John 1:1a reads:
"EN ARKHE HN HO LOGOS.."
HN is the imperfect state of EIMI "to be," hence means "was."
"Of the 389 examples of the third person imperfect of this verb in the NT, all are compatible with the common definition of stative verbs as "a state that continues." Therefore, the meaning of the first clause of John 1:1 seems to be at the point of time described as "the beginning" the Word existed(or was existing).
Murray J Harris states:
"Since the Greek Bible begins with the expression [EN ARKHE] ("in the beginning"), rendering [bere'shith], it seems likely that John is alluding to Genesis 1:1. But whereas the first verse of the Torah continues "God created," John follows with "the Word[already]existed." In Genesis the creation of the world is contemporaneous with or marks "the beginning"; in John the existence of the Word is anterior to "the beginning." In itself John 1:1a speaks only of the pretemporality or supratemporality of the Logos, but in his conjunction of [EN ARKHE] and EN(not EGENETO) John implies the eternal pre-existence of the Word."-Jesus As God. p.54.(italics ours)
Does John "imply" the "eternal pre-existence" of the Word
In a footnote from Furuli (p.209) the author is familiar with this arguement by Harris and comments:
"..it is an example of a statement of faith in the middle of fine scholarly arguements. Harris uses three premises: 1) The "beginning" mentioned in John 1:1 is identical with the beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1,2; 2) Nothing was created before this "beginning"; and 3) time did not exist before this "beginning." His point 1) may be true, though John 8:44 and 1 John 1:1 show that "beginning" may refer to things other than the creation of the world. He errs regarding 2) because there is nothing in Genesis which indicates that spirit beings are included in the words "the heavens and the earth." ..."
Further along on p.210 Furuli remarks:
If we, from the expression in John 1:1a, namely, that the Word "was" in the beginning, can draw the conclusion that the Word was eternal, what about the angels? The rabbis interpretated the words, "Let us create man in our image" in Genesis 1:26 as an instance where God spoke to the angels, and the words of Job 38:4-7 show that the angels, too, 'were' in the beginning... But from this should we draw the conclusion that the angels are also eternal?"
He concludes, correctly:
"Regarding the expression "in the beginning was the Word," all we can say with reasonable certainty is that at that particular point of time called "the beginning" the Word existed. This is a far cry from saying "the Word is eternal."
So to claim that the use by John here with the imperfect EIMI indicates the 'eternity' or 'timelessness' of the Word is wholly interpretational and reading an already held belief into John 1:1.
Interestingly, Trinitarian scholar Moses Stuart stated:
"To say, as some have said, that HN of itself denotes timeless existence(like ESTI in QEOS ESTI), seems not to be well founded in the laws of grammatical usage. The assertion of the eternality of the Logos depends not on the use of HN, but on the nature of the declaration respecting him."
What of the contrast between the Word being in the beginning with God and those things that "came to be," that is, created? Is this only a contrast between that which was already existing at the time of the beginning of the creating of these things and not necessarily between something that was always in existence with those that had a beginning? We cannot go beyond what John was saying. To do so would be eisegesis and beyond what an exegete should do. We have to accept as Furuli oberves that we can only see from the opening statement about the Word or "Logos" in John's Gospel that this one existed prior to the things that came into existence "in the beginning."
Now let us look in on a converstion to further substantiate that John was not employing the imperfect form of EIMI to indicate the timelessness of the Word:
(A)"Another trick of the trinitarians is to use the imperfect indicative active verb HN ("was") in John 1:1 to ascribe equal eternity for the Logos with Jehovah. For example, "He [the Logos] was in the beginning. Since He himself was in the beginning, it follows that He is without beginning." (The Complete Biblical Library, vol. 5) However, my old grammar books state that the imperfect indicative, while representing an action going on in past time, whether simultaneous, prolonged, interrupted or begun, is still bound by context. So, even if the Logos (already) "was" in the beginning, the context of John 1:1 itself does not demand that it was eternally so. This seems like a flimsy reed on which to build a doctrine of co-eternality with God, to me. "
(B)"Yes, the sentence you write is the
crux. You wrote:
"However, my old grammar books state that the imperfect indicative, while representing an action going on in past time, whether simultaneous, prolonged, interrupted or begun, is still bound by context."
And we may argue that the context is about a beginning of the physical cosmos, when time began to be marked as respects whatever could be "timed" after the creation of the physical heavens and earth. When God was ready to make such a beginning of "things" (in the physical universe), why, the Logos was already in existence! Exactly how long he was in existence before the beginning (as we have it defined here) is not revealed in the prologue. However, that the Logos had a temporal beginning is stated in the prologue when we read that the Logos-become-flesh Son of God was "an only-begotten god" (John 1:18), which Scripturally means that he was temporally generated by the Father, and that such a generation was unique: The Logos is and will always remain the only Son whom the Father ever directly generated (created)."
(C)"Excellent points, ........ Also, it's funny to read the acrobatics of those trying to wiggle around the literal meanings of prototokos [firstborn] and monogenes [only-begotten] by denying the obvious: the Logos was born/begotten. Though both words also have figurative meanings -- some would read "firstborn of all creation" at Colossians 1:15 as "existing before all creation" or "superior to all creation," and "only-begotten" as simply "unique" or "only," -- the base of the matter is still "generation," not eternal existence, or non-created existence, such as only Jehovah possesses.I wonder if the LXX translators rendered Jehovah's name at Exodus 3:14 as ho On ("the Being") for that reason? Incidentally, in Hebrew, "the Being" has the same letters as Jehovah (yhwh), only arranged differently: hwyh, pronounced Hawayah."
(D)"Ah yes, our old friend the present
"tense" form of EIMI. ..... let me add a note from the
perspective of the language itself. Lexical Semantics: EIMI is a
stative verb. This implies by its lexical nature that time
inherently flows forward. PERIOD! The verb form says nothing
about when the subject entered the state or leaves the state.
Context: So, time boundaries of the state must be gathered from context. The time for the beginning of the state and the end of the state.
Example: We have the same grammatical construction in John 2:1, a subject noun, a verb form of EIMI with a present "tense" form ("was", or HN), and an adverbial modifier.
John 2:1 Now on the third day a marriage feast took place in Ca'na of Gal'i·lee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
[Greek: (H = theta) KAI HN (same as 1:1) hH MHTHR TOU IESOU EKEI]. Was Jesus' mother there from all eternity and to all eternity? I think this is clear enough to refute the doctrine of unbounded EIMI. Time bounds come from context. This is why John 8:58 "before A. came into existence" is so clearly a time boundary marking the stative verb EIMI.
Therefore, in John 1:1, it is a lack of knowledge that declares that Jesus is eternal simply because of the verb form of EIMI. The more careful commentators contrast it with GINOMAI ("come into existence"). We agree but this changes nothing. The Word was in a state of existence prior to the creation of heavens and earth (implied from _en arche_). But that is as far as an exegete can go.
Des Cartes said "I think. Therefore I am." This is an example of an unbounded "to be" verb in English. It is unbounded in the sentence structure but not unbounded in our minds. Simply because I think does not in itself imply I am eternal and therefore outside time....!"
Are these ones right? Let us see. Despite what some commentaries say,eg:
"When referring to the Word he[John] uses the imperfect tense, signifying continuous existence without reference to beginning or end: the Word has the timelessness of God himself"-Bruce Vator, The Four Gospels An Introduction, p.38
"[en in John 1:1]...It is a timeless word- that is, it simply points to existence before the present time without reference to a point of origin. One can push back the "beginning" as far as you can imagine, and,according to John, the Word still is. Hence, the Word is eternal, timeless.The Word is not a creation that came into existence at "the beginning," for He antedates that beginning."-from Alpha and Omega Ministries, webpage - John 1:1- It's Meaning and Translation.
However, note this:
According to the Concordance To The Greek New Testament, by W.F.Moulton, A.S.Geden and H.K.Moulton, 5th edition, 1978, p110 "en arche"-"in beginning"(with the dative)occurs 3 times. Here in John 1:1 and at Acts 11:15 and Philippians 4:15.When we read these two latter scriptures we can see that the outpouring of the holy spirit(Acts 11:15) and the preaching(Phil.4:15)both had a beginning, they were not events from the eternal past which were still continuing.We can see then from the N.T. that "en arche" has the significance of that which had a starting point in the past.
A.T.Robertson has pointed out:
"Hence we need not insist that [en](John 1:1)is strictly durative always(imperfect). It may be aorist also."-A Grammar of the N.T. in the Light of Historical Research, p.883.
The aorist tense according to A Manual Grammar of the New Testament by Dana and Mantey says:
"The fundamental significance of the aorist is to denote action simply as occuring...It states the fact of the action;or event without regard to it's duration." p.193.
"A past tense of Greek verbs,denoting an action without indicating whether completed,continued or repeated."-Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that for these grammatical reasons and to be in harmony with Proverbs 8:22ff; Micah 5:2; John 6:57; 10:17; Revelation 3:14, "was" at John 1:1, is in the aorist tense and shows that the Word's life, as the Son of God, had a beginning.
John 1:1 pages
Index to NWT pages