Marvellous Perfects

Background knowledge about the perfect tense in Greek

 

There is debate among Greek scholars about the exact meaning of the perfect tense of verbs or action words used in the New Testament. Below are some of the definitions which various New Testament scholars give to the perfect tense:

 

a)         Daniel B. Wallis states[1]: “The force of the perfect tense is simply that it describes an event that, completed in the past (we are speaking of the perfect indicative [2] here) has results existing in the present time (i.e. in relation to the time of the speaker).”

b)         David Alan Black writes: “The perfect tense describes an action as completed at the time of writing or speaking. While dealing with the past to some extent, the perfect tense is primarily concerned with present time. An action has occurred in the past whose results are still apparent.” [3]

c)         Curtis Vaughan and Virtus E. Gideon state: “The perfect tense…represents a completed state or condition from the standpoint of present time. Thus there is a double emphasis in the perfect tense: present state resulting from past action.” [4]

d)         Zerwick says that the perfect tense is used for “indicating not the past action as such but the present ‘state of affairs’ resulting from the past action.” [5]

e)         William Mounce states: “The Greek perfect describes an action that was brought to completion and whose effects are felt in the present…the time of the verb is from the standpoint of the speaker/writer, not the reader.” [6]

 

Some of the above Greek scholars also state that in the New Testament, the emphasis of the perfect tense can in different verses vary among the following three alternatives:

 

a)        a focus on the completed state of condition from the viewpoint of the present time. [7]

b)        a focus on the completed past action from which the present state results. [8]

c)        a focus on the present results or state produced by a completed action. [9]

 

Gnomic perfects – timeless eternal actions

In the New Testament, there are also examples of what are called gnomic perfects. These relate to timeless eternal truths or timeless actions. [10] Examples are “It is written” in Matthew 4:4, 4:7 and 4:10 and “is condemned” (second usage) in John 3:18. John 3:18 states: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

 

The usages of the perfect tense of “know” or “oida” in Greek

It is possible that in some New Testament verses, the perfect tense of the verb “know” or “oida” in Greek may refer to the present completed action of knowing  with continuing results (see Matthew 21:27, John 6:6, 6:64, 8:14, 11:42, 16:30, 20:2, Colossians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 1:5, 2:1, 2 Peter 2:9, 1 John 3:14, 5:13 and 5:15 (twice)). But then again, it is also possible to argue these usages of “oida” refer to a present state of knowing resulting from a completed past action of knowing something.

The perfect tense usage of “oida” in Matthew 6:8 either refers to God eternally knowing or Him knowing as a completed action in the past: “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”

 

Exceptional rare usages of the perfect tense in the Greek New Testament

In Greek in the New Testament, there also are some exceptional rare usages of the perfect tense. They are:

 

a)        the futuristic perfect which refers to a state resulting from a previous action which is future from the time of speaking. [11] The verb “be full” in 2 John 12 is an example. [12]

b)        a completed past event which has no concern for any present results of such an action. [13] An example of this is the phrase “I have been” in 2 Corinthians 11:25 in the expression: “…a night and a day I have been in the deep.”.

 

In the following examples, I do not believe there are any which can be categorised under the two exceptions described above.

We can debate, however, about whether the primary but not sole focus in each of the following examples is on the results of the completed actions or on the completed action itself.

 

More on futuristic perfects

To argue that a usage of an action word in the perfect tense in Greek refers to the future, requires other words in the same or surrounding sentence(s) to have meanings which reveal a future time for the perfect tense action word(s) in question. 2 John 12 has other words which indicate John is referring to the possibility of him coming to his readers in future and speaking to them face to face so that their joy may be full in a completed sense with continuing results. In 2 John 12, John writes: “Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.”

Similarly, the perfect tense verbs “bound” and “loosed” in Matthew 16:19 are futuristic because they both are used together with the future tense verb “will be”: “…and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Also the perfect tense verbs “are corrupted” and “are” in James 5:2 and “are corroded” in James 5:3 are probably futuristic because of their usage together with the future tense verbs “will be” and “will eat” in James 5:3.

But note many suggested examples of the futuristic perfect are dubious. For example, Wallace claims “has fulfilled” in Romans 13:8, “has become” in James 2:10 and “is perfected” in 1 John 2:5 are futuristic perfects. [14] But this is highly questionable because in Romans 13:8, James 2:10 and 1 John 2:5:

 

a)         the other verbs and other words in the relevant sentences are not in the future tense and have no other futuristic indications.

b)         each of these verses can more easily be taken to refer to the following:

 

 

(i)            The present tense of the word “loves” in Romans 13:8 refers to someone continuously loving others in the past and/or present and/or future and this resulting in them fulfilling the Law in the past and/or present and/or future as a completed act with continuing results. In Greek, the present tense nearly always refers to continuous or repeated actions in the past and/or present and/or future.

(ii)          In James 2:10, the associated action words “keeps” and “stumbles” are in the aorist tense and subjunctive mood. In Greek, the aorist tense does not relate to time. The subjunctive mood refers to the possibility of an action occurring. So James 2:10 is saying if a person keeps the Law but disobeys just one of its commands in any time period, the person is guilty of disobeying the whole Law as a completed action with continuing results.

(iii)         In 1 John 2:5, the verb “keeps” is in the present tense, this referring to keeping God’s Word in a continuous or repeated sense in the past and/or present and/or future. 1 John 2:5 teaches that God’s love is perfected in whoever keeps His Word in the above sense and this perfecting is a completed action with continuing results.

 

Richard Young [15] argues that the perfect tenses of “it is prepared” in Matthew 20:23 and “has passed” in John 5:24 may refer to future events. But this is wrong. The verb “it is prepared” in Matthew 20:23 refers to the fact that outside the realm of time God has prepared as a completed action who will sit at Jesus’ right and left sides in His future heavenly rule. God will not decide this in future. This is similar to the perfect tense of “is condemned” in John 3:18 which is used together with the word “already”. This refers to the fact that according to God’s timeless judgement, unbelievers are condemned already as a completed action.

The expression “has passed” in John 5:24 refers to us moving from a state of spiritual death to one of eternal life at the time that we began to believe in God and His Word. In New Testament times, believers do not receive eternal life at the point of death.

Earlier in John 5:24, John said Jesus stated, “He who hears my Word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life.” In Greek, the word “has” here is in the present tense, meaning that New Covenant believers have eternal life now in an ongoing sense. As stated earlier, in Greek the present tense mostly refers to continuous or repeated actions. These ongoing actions will be in the present unless there are other time words in the sentence which reveal the action relates to the past or future or the past and present combined or to all time periods. Refer to Chapter “John’s Fantastic Revelations” for more details.

 

Points to note about the following examples

 

In the following lists, you will find many examples of New Testament usages of the Greek perfect tense which mean that the actions are completed events. But note:

 

a)            the perfect tense does not automatically grammatically teach that the results of the actions are always eternal. [16] The results of the completed action may be eternal, but the perfect tense by itself cannot grammatically prove this.

b)            the perfect tense very rarely refers to a completed action in the future. These exceptional examples can only be known by other related words in the same sentence or surrounding sentences which reveal this future aspect. It is wrong to assume a perfect tense verb in Greek in the New Testament relates to the future just because that suits your theological assumptions.

c)            just because these usages of the perfect tense reveal the relevant actions are completed, this does not cancel out the fact that in some cases there are also ongoing continuous or future occurrences of the action. For example, we are saved, justified and sanctified as completed acts at the point of conversion. But as you will see in my Chapters “Salvation”, “Justified By Grace Through Faith And Evidenced By…” and “Sanctification”, there are also ongoing continuous and future aspects of God’s work in each of these matters.

 

The lists of these wonderful perfect tenses

 

In the following, I am going to list many of those usages of the perfect tense in the original Greek New Testament which apply to believers in Jesus Christ. Some of these relate to our legal standing in Christ. Others refer to aspects of our identification with Christ. Others relate to features of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ which are outside the realms of our legal standing and identification with Him. In the following lists, the relevant action words which are in the perfect tense in Greek will be put in Italics.

Here is the list of perfect tense actions in our lives as believers which are in the passive voice in Greek. The passive voice means that we as believers have the action done to us by another, in this case God. Believers have experienced the completed actions of:

 

         having been called by God (see Hebrews 9:15).

         having been saved by God (see Ephesians 2:5 and 2:8).

         having been born of God (see 1 John 2:29, 3:9 (twice), 4:7, 5:4 and 5:18).

         having been regenerated by God (see 1 Peter 1:23).

         having their life hidden with Christ in God (see Colossians 3:3).

         having been rooted in Jesus Christ by God (see Colossians 2:7).

         having been made complete in Christ by God (see Colossians 2:10).

         having been sanctified by God (see Acts 20:32, 26:18, Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 1:2 and Hebrews 10:10).

         having been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus by God (see Hebrews 10:22).

         having been given by God all things needed for life and godliness (see 2 Peter 1:3).

         having been loved by God (see Jude 1).

         having been rooted in God’s love by Him (see Ephesians 3:17).

         having been grounded in His love by Him (see Ephesians 3:17).

         having God’s love poured out into our hearts by His Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:5).

         having been freed (justified) from sin by God (see Romans 6:7).

         having been forgiven our sins by God (see 1 John 2:12).

         having been crucified to the world by God through Jesus’ death (see Galatians 6:14).

         having an inheritance reserved in heaven for us by God (see 1 Peter 1:4).

         having been appointed to eternal life (see Acts 13:48).

         having been preserved or kept for God (see Jude 1).

         having been given precious promises in God’s Word by Him (See 2 Peter 1:4).

 

The following is a list of actions which are in the perfect tense and active voice in Greek. The active voice means the subject of the action performs the action. For example, in the sentence “David plays soccer”, David is the subject of the action “plays”. Because David performs the action, the action is said to be in the active voice. Believers in Christ:

         have believed (see Acts 15:5, 16:34, 19:18, 21:20 and 21:25).

         have believed through God’s grace (see Acts 18:27).

         have become united together with Christ in the likeness of His death (see Romans 6:5).

         have access to God’s grace through the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:2).

         stand by faith in God’s grace through Christ (see Romans 5:2).

         have been and are in Christ (see Romans 16:7).

         have purified their souls by obeying or submitting to the truth of the Gospel through the Holy Spirit (see 1 Peter 1:22).

         have overcome Satan (see 1 John 2:13).

         have overcome false prophets and the Satanic spirits working behind these false prophets. Believers have overcome because God is in them (see 1 John 4:4).

 

Here is a list of actions which are also in the perfect tense and active voice in Greek, but in these cases God is the One who does the action to believers. God:

 

         has made believers complete forever through Jesus’ death (see Hebrews 10:14).

         has given His Holy Spirit to believers (see 1 John 4:13).

         has lavished His love on believers (see 1 John 3:1).

 

In a non-fatalistic sense, at least some of the above three lists of perfect tense actions probably relate to God’s foreknowledge, eternal purposes and plans. In other words, in eternity past God planned the above actions in relation to foreknown called New Covenant believers. In other words, outside of time, God’s decision to do these actions in relation to those who would believe under the New Covenant, caused these actions to be regarded as completed in this sense. Whatever God has planned to do is a completed action in His mind outside the realm of time. In Acts 10:42, Luke uses the perfect tense verb “was ordained” (N.K.J.V) or “has been appointed” (N.A.S.B.) in the sense of God foreordaining that Jesus Christ would judge the living and the dead.

But note some of the above perfect tense actions were completed at the time of the conversion of each individual believer and/or at the time of Jesus’ death. Hebrews 10:10 and 10:14 are two examples of actions completed at Christ's death.

 


 


[1] Daniel B. Wallis, “Greek Grammar Beyond Basics”, Zodervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996, page 573.

[2] The indicative is one of what is called the moods of verbs in Greek. The indicative is used for making statements and asking questions and is the general mood used when there is no reason to use one of the three other more specialised moods.

[3] David A. Black, “It’s Still Greek To Me”, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998, pages 107-108.

[4] Curtis Vaughan and Virtus E. Gideon, “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament”, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1979, page 149.

[5] M. Zerwick, “Biblical Greek Illustrated by Examples”, Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963, page 96.

[6] William Mounce, “Basics of Biblical Greek”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2003, page 225.

[7] Vaughan and Gideon, page 149.

[8] Wallis, page 577.

[9] Ibid, page 574 and Black, page 108.

[10] Wallace, pages 580-581.

[11] Wallace, page 581.

[12] In his “Basics of Biblical Greek”, William Mounce (page 238) argues that Matthew 16:19, 18:18 and John 20:23 contain futuristic perfects. But note that how we determine what type of perfect tense is used in these three verses is partly done by what theological assumptions we use in interpreting the verses. For example, in John 20:23, we can interpret “they are forgiven” to refer to God’s forgiveness in the eternal past or at the time of Jesus’ death or in the future, depending on our assumptions.

[13] Wallace, pages 578-579, Black, page 108 and Vaughan, pages 150-151.

[14] Wallace, page 581.

[15] Richard Young, “Intermediate New Testament Greek”, Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1994, page 126.

[16] Wallace, page 574.

 

 


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