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John 11:27

Stephen Carlson » February 20th, 2013, 5:12 pm

John 11:25-27 (SBL) wrote:25 εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή· ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ κἂν ἀποθάνῃ ζήσεται, 26 καὶ πᾶς ὁ ζῶν καὶ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ οὐ μὴ ἀποθάνῃ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα· πιστεύεις τοῦτο; 27 λέγει αὐτῷ· Ναί, κύριε· ἐγὼπεπίστευκα ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἐρχόμενος.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes πιστεύεις, using the present tense, but Martha’s answer switches to the perfect πεπίστευκα. Why? Or more precisely, what is the function of the perfect here?

(Also, any thoughts on Martha’s use of ἐγώ?)

MAubrey » February 20th, 2013, 5:29 pm

Oh man. That’s a difficult contrast. I’m working through how predicates that default to states function in the perfect, but I don’t have an answer for this…perhaps I will by the end of the week. So far in my own data, there are state predicates that disallow perfects entirely and state predicates that do allow them, but only with a resultative reading rather than a target state reading (in Dag Haug’s terminology). This appearance of πεπίστευκα complicates that, however.As for the use of ἐγώ, well, I would expect that this is simply a topic comment structure, where the assertive nature of the clause within the discourse functions better with the explicit pronoun instead of pro-drop. Steve Runge marks it as a topic.

MAubrey » February 20th, 2013, 5:43 pm

Okay, so after a bit of thought, here’s a guess (one that will likely make it into my thesis now…):

Terminology clash:
Bybee’s Resultative = Haug’s Target State (e.g. the alternation between ἵστημι and ἕστηκα).
Bybee’s Anterior = Haug’s Resultative = Traditional English Perfect

If the view of Bybee et al. (1994) of target state perfects (=resultative in Bybee’s terminology) is correct, the propositional content of this perfect might convey the idea that Martha still believes Jesus is the Messiah despite her brother’s death. Bybee argues that (her category of) resultatives collocate semantically with adverbs like still, while (her category) of anteriors do not. This might suggest that even with atetic predicates like πιστεύω, the perfect retains some of its historical/original function/meaning. But that’s just a guess.

Works cited: Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Haug, Dag. 2004. Aristotle’s kinesis/energeia-test and the semantics of the Greek perfect. Linguistics 42, 387-418.