Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Acts 1:20; when is a perfect a present?

Γέγραπται γὰρ ἐν βίβλῳ Ψαλμῶν, Γενηθήτω ἡ ἔπαυλις αὐτοῦ ἔρημος, καὶ μὴ ἔστω ὁ κατοικῶν ἐν αὐτῇ· καί, Tὴν ἐπισκοπὴν αὐτοῦ λαβέτω / λάβοι ἕτερος.

“For it is written in the book of Psalms: ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ‘May another take his position.’

There are several phrases in this verse which are conventionally introduced with a capital letter, indicating direct speech.  Who is speaking?  Presumably (1) Peter, from Acts 1:15.  A few English translations include his name ('Peter said . . . ') to make this clear, but it isn't in the Greek.

But also (2) the Psalmist, who is being quoted by Peter in the phrases beginning 'Γενηθήτω . . . ', and 'Τὴν ἐπισκοπὴν . . . '.

Γέγραπται - parsed as 3-S, perfect middle/passive indicative, γράφω, 'I write' - is used about 65 times in the New Testament.  It is the most common form of this

rather common verb, and is translated in English either as 'it has been written' (perfect) or 'it is written' (present).

Why the variation?  The sense of the verb - something being written down - corresponds well to the meaning of the perfect, which indicates that an action in the past has ongoing effects in the present.

Something which has been written in a letter by the sender, for example, is still written when the recipient reads the letter.  As another example, note the difference between

I walked to the store and forgot what I wanted to buy.   (This morning?  Yesterday?  When I was a child?)


I have walked to the store and have forgotten what I wanted to buy.  (I'm still, presently, in the store.)

The first sentence would be expressed in the aorist in Greek; the second by the perfect.

In the New Testament γέγραπται is often used without a source referent, but the context makes it clear that the place in which 'it has been written' is the Scriptures.  Sometimes a specific scriptural source is named, e.g., 'in Isaiah', 'by the prophet', 'in the law', and so on.

In the next post we'll look at the third-person imperatives in this verse.

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