a perfect argument?

I’d like to take up an argument my friend Kent makes in support of his view of Bible preservation. I do so with some trepidation as I am not wanting to get into a wide-ranging debate on the whole topic, it is just this particular argument that I want to address with a few comments.

It comes up by way of a guest post on Kent’s blog by David Sutton, but the subject is one Kent himself has written about as well. The most recent blog is called, “Perfect Tense Preservation”.

First, I’ll try to state the argument succinctly. Kent (or others) can correct me if I am wrong in my understanding of the argument:

it is written

The argument uses the words of the Lord Jesus in responding to Satan as an argument for the perfect preservation of the Scriptures.

The argument is based on the Lord’s use of the perfect tense in the phrase, ‘it is written’. The perfect tense, we are told, refers to past action with ongoing results in the present (to the person speaking).

Since the Lord referred to God’s Word by using the Greek word gegraptai, ‘it is written’ or ‘it hath been written’ (YLT), the argument goes that this proves the words initially written by Moses and quoted by Jesus were continually in existence from the time of Moses to the time of Christ in a perfectly preserved written form. Further, the word assumes, according to the argument, that the words will be preserved into the future since the ongoing effect of the perfect tense is such that when the future becomes the present, the effect is maintained.

In TSKT, I made the point that what Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy was written down by Moses and continued written down some 1400 years later when Jesus referred to those passages. Thus, if Jesus claimed those words were still written down in His day, then we should understand that we still have them written down in our day.

Well, I have some questions about this.

Question 1

Is it the implication of every perfect tense verb that a condition that began in the past and continued to the present (from the speaker’s perspective) must always continue into the future as each moment of the future becomes a ‘new present’?

For example, we have Mt 8.6:

KJV  Matthew 8:6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.

The word ‘lieth’ is in the perfect tense. We could translate ‘hath been lying’. Does the word imply that the servant yet lies at home sick of the palsy in our today’s present time? One would hardly think so since the Lord healed him (and he has since, presumably, died).

Another example, Mt 12.47:

KJV  Matthew 12:47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

Are Mary and the Lord’s brothers still standing outside that house in Capernaum, waiting to speak to him?

On the face of it, it seems to me that this argument is attempting to make the perfect tense mean something it does not mean.

Question 2

The word gegraptai in the NT is used in every instance (I think) as a citation of scripture. It parallels an OT word, kathab in its Qal Passive Participle form. As I understand it, the QPP has essentially the same force as the perfect tense in Greek (out of my depth here, someone correct me if I am wrong!). In any case, the word is used in this form many times as a formula for citing scripture (see Josh 8.31 or 1 Ki 2.3, for example). But…

What about 2 Sam 1.18, where it says “behold, it is written in the book of Jasher”. Is this citation meant to say that the book of Jasher will be preserved to this day? (Could someone send me the link on Amazon?)

Or how about Neh 6.5-6?

KJV  Nehemiah 6:5 Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand; 6 Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words.

The QPP of kathab isn’t translated ‘it is written’ here, but it is exactly the same form as is used in Josh 8.31 or 1 Ki 2.3. No one would suggest that Nehemiah would expect us to find Sanballat’s letter today, would they?

It seems to me that these examples suggest a different use for the term, ‘it is written’, than the ‘perfect argument’ above proposes.

A citation of an authority

It seems to me that the phrase ‘it is written’ as used by the Lord in Mt 4 and Lk 4 is intended simply to cite the Scriptures as the Lord’s authority for rejecting Satan’s temptations. It is not intended to make any comment about the preservation of the Scriptures at all.


Please note, I don’t want to get into a discussion of every aspect of the King James Version argument. All discussion that might ensue in this post must be limited strictly to the ‘perfect argument’ as outlined above. Please correct my understanding of the argument if I have misunderstood it or show me how my questions fail to dismiss the argument.

Any comments that fall outside these parameters will not be posted.



  1. I’m not sure we should always draw an exact correspondence between the temporal aspect of a Greek perfect passive and the Qal passive participle. Verbal force in Hebrew depends as much on position within the clause as it does on verb form.

    That said, there’s definitely some parallel between the uses of gegraptai and the QPP of ktb, since Jesus is using gegraptai as a way of introducing a quote.

    This “Perfect Tense argument” for preservation makes no sense.

    • It reads too much into Jesus’ choice of tense. I sincerely doubt any of Jesus’ hearers thought that His use of the perfect meant that the quotation would continue to exist in its quoted form ad infinitum. In fact, I sincerely doubt that Christ’s hearers thought about his use of the perfect at all.
    • The real history of texts is still a big problem for a preservationist view. Surely Jesus and His hearers (Satan, in the passages Sutton cites) were aware of the existence of scribal errors and emendations in the extant scrolls of the time. Scribes still make mistakes.

    Anyway, I’ve probably already said more than is worth saying.

    • Thanks for the comment re the Hebrew, Duncan. Let’s not go to the transmission issues! I don’t want to open that can of worms! But I do appreciate the correction somewhat on the Hebrew grammar question.

      I think my second example of ktb is probably suspect in that regard, but would you say that the one referring to the book of Jasher is essentially the same use as the Lord’s use in Mt 4?


      For those who don’t know, Duncan is my genius first-born who has the fortune to have had more Hebrew than me. Plus he is smarter than me.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. This is an excellent example of the type of grammatical error that Carson points out in his Exegetial Fallacies book (which I am currently reading for class right now).

  3. Brian Ernsberger says:

    Don, I would [add] this to the mix of things in regards to Greek verb tenses by way of A. T. Robertson’s, The Minister and His Greek NT. “The Greek tense, as I have shown in the ninety pages devoted to the subject in my Grammar of the Greek NT in the Light of Historical Research (PP 821-910), seizes upon the three kinds of action (punctiliar, linear, and state of completion) present in some verb stems and preserves them in a wonderful way. One must drop the idea of time in connection with the Greek tense and think only of the kind of action. Then one will see the beauty of the Greek tense. The time element does occur in the indicative mode, but it is a secondary matter.” (p.90) Dana and Mantey say as much in their Greek Grammar on pp. 176ff concerning verb tenses. It seems as though Kent is trying to stress the time element of the Greek tense, when that is not to be the case with Greek verb tenses.

  4. Well, see, now that you’ve gone and bragged about my alleged Hebrew skills, I’m not sure I’m really strong enough with it to evaluate these examples conclusively! :)

    Here are some thoughts on your examples. I’ll try to be brief, which means I’ll likely sound more certain than I should be:

    • You’re right that Neh 6:6 probably isn’t the best example, grammatically speaking. The Heb form of ktb is a QPP, but it’s in the initial position as the first word in the verse. The clause begins with it, lit. (following word order) “was written in it”. The LXX renders it using a pluperfect periphrastic, not a simple perfect.
    • 2 Sam 1:18 is a better example grammatically. The Hebrew form is a non-initial QPP, and translates as a simple perfect in the LXX.

    I think there is some merit in making a comparison with the OT on this. Jesus was a Jew who read the OT. We should expect to see OT idiom in His speech. I think the supposed “Perfect Preservation” passages are merely examples of Christ using the OT idiom to introduce his OT citations.

  5. The whole discussion here is a tad simplistic. Without expanding the discussion beyond permitted limits, let me generalise.

    This grammatical argument cannot be discussed in isolation without regard to the following:

    (1) The Bible’s explicit promises on perfect preservation in every generation.

    (2) Bibliology of the essential quality of Scripture i.e. its sufficiency, perfection, regeneration power.

    (3) Chronology of Scripture – bearing in mind Duncan’s argument that Christ was running around with imperfect apographs (something he cannot prove) then we are left with the anomaly that no generation of saints had a perfect copy of the inspired inerrant words. Our Lord preached from the existing scrolls and we are explicitly told they were “Scripture” (Luke 4:21). Jesus also explicitly said the “Scripture” that they were reading was “spoken unto you by God” (Matt. 22:31 cf. Mark 12:24-26). Jesus even placed the writings of Moses in the apographs available to the people of His day on a par with His own Words in John 5:47. Indeed, Christ said to His audience that when they read the Scripture they would see that which was written by Daniel the prophet himself (Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14). Stephen makes clear that Moses had handed down to the Jews of his day the pure words as, “the lively oracles to give unto us” (Acts 7:38).

    (4) Canonisation – can imperfect men be led by a Perfect God to recognise perfect books? Do we adopt the same methodology for canonisation of the books as we do the words? If not, why not?

    Bearing in mind these things, then the whole force of the gegraphtai perfect tense argument becomes focused and poignant. What Don is doing is equivalent to arguing for 6 Day Creationism from the Hebrew grammatical argument of Gen 1:1-2 without taking into account the Theology of the Fall and passages like Exodus 20 and Romans 5.

    Enough from me…but I hope I have made my point without opening the debate to a wider TR/KJV discussion.

    • Paul,

      1. We are not discussing the promises of preservation.

      2. Bibliology has nothing to do with this argument.

      3. The chronology of Scripture has nothing to do with the argument.

      4. Canonization has nothing to do with this argument.

      Further posts making those arguments will not be approved.

      The point is that the argument from the perfect tense of gegraptai is incorrect. It is one thing to make all of your other arguments. There may be some legitimacy to certain points in the argument. I have read a good deal of the literature on the pro-KJV side (or pro-TR) and find that some of the arguments carry weight. This particular argument does not.

      The only point of this discussion is that you can’t make the perfect tense of gegraptai say what you want it to say. Otherwise Mary and the Lord’s brothers are still hanging around that house in Capernaum.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Maybe I am not coming across fully here. It was Winston Churchill who quipped of Britain and America that we are “Two countries divided by a single language.” (I know you are Canadian but humour me a bit here Don!)

    Don – Actually I agree with you that it is generally dangerous to try and build a doctrine simply on a Greek tense in isolation. That is why I do not regard the perfect tense argument as particularly significant to either side. However, in combination with the other points (which I know you do not want to discuss) it has some corollary merit.

    It is not legitimate to simply state that Kent’s argument is incorrect – he has one – just that I think he is overstating it. Bit like the “baptizo” one but lets not go there!!

    • Hi Paul

      Fair enough. I just don’t think the argument is an argument. It is just plain wrong and actually diminishes the force of other arguments that are stronger. When you sort of cling to every possible argument you can make because right or wrong it comes to the right conclusion (in your view), then it is much easier for opponents to dismiss the entire argument.

      It would be better to concede that on the perfect tense a poor argument has been made and withdraw it.

      There are other arguments for the TR view that are not so easily dismissed. It would be better for the TR side to use them and not use specious ones.

      Don Johnson
      Jeremiah 33.3

  7. Don,

    I’ve been at a conference between early Mon AM and then Thurs afternoon before I get back to California, but I’ll come back to discuss this.

    Just a few points, however. First, I do think that sometimes when we make arguments, we are not saying that each argument is as strong as others. In that, I agree with Paul, because sometimes the arguments are like legs on a chair and you are simply providing as much support as possible. For some reason, the perfect tense clicks in the eternal security passages, but is dismissed here, making it seem like maybe it’s all a matter of what we want the perfect to say to us. I don’t think we’re trying to do that with that argument. I think we’re looking at something obvious and saying that when we hear hoofbeats, we think horses and not zebras. Second, I know Dan Wallace doesn’t take our view of preservation, but he does use the perfect for “it is written” in agreement with how we are using. I’m no near his grammar, but I’ll look when I get back. Third, Dave did answer your first point here in the comment section of that post. Perhaps you missed that. He answered it before you wrote this post. We know that the perfect is not 100% the same in its usage. We have various usages. That’s it for now. More later.

    Except for one comment to Andy. Andy, I read Don Carson’s book on Exegetical Fallacies a long time ago. I wonder how Don Carson has missed the doctrine of separation in scripture? Exegetical fallacies exist, but Don Carson doesn’t have a corner on pointing them out. You’ll have to weigh his relationship with Mark Driscoll with his authority over exegetical fallacies. I know I attempt not to participate in exegetical fallacies. I’d rather have the exact parallel that you’re talking about rather than the equivalent of name-calling.

    • Hi Kent

      If this is a leg on a chair, it is one that doesn’t reach to the floor.

      The perfect tense in the eternal security passages does not convey anything about the permanence of salvation. Salvation is permanent, but the perfect tense doesn’t prove it.

      I’d like to see your citation from Wallace, because he says this:

      Chamberlain goes too far when he suggests that the perfect sometimes is used to “describe an act that has abiding results.”6 The implication that “the perfect tells you that the event occurred and still has significant results”7 goes beyond grammar and is therefore misleading. Even more misleading is the notion, frequently found in commentaries, that the perfect tense denotes permanent or eternal results. Such a statement is akin to saying the aorist tense means “once-for-all.” Implications of this sort are to be drawn from considerations that are other than grammatical in nature. One must be careful not to read his or her theology into the syntax whenever it is convenient.
      Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 1:574 (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999; 2002).

      He has a little chart in his grammar that shows the action of the perfect occurring in the past with ongoing results into the present, but not extending to the future. I can’t reproduce that here, but you can look it up.

      As for Dave’s answer to my first point, he attempts to answer but says “the theology of preservation” allows him to make the implications he is making. That is assuming your point in order to prove it. The grammar absolutely does not allow for this implication. What do you call it when someone reads their theology into an interpretative point?

      The question isn’t a question of usage. This isn’t a word study. The perfect is not the future, it expresses a precise idea about the action expressed by the verb.

      In this case, the action of the verb is the actual writing in the past. The past writing has an ongoing effect into the present, but the perfect tense doesn’t tell us anything about what that ongoing effect is. The context of the passage informs us about the meaning, which in this case has to do with authority, not preservation.

      A few side comments:

      Carson’s error with Driscoll isn’t an exegetical error, it is just plain disobedience.

      Duncan’s post did start to head off in a direction I didn’t want him to go as you will note in my reply to him. But Duncan has completely unfettered access to my blog since he is my genius first-born and I rely heavily on him for coding expertise.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  8. One more comment. I think that Duncan’s second bullet point of his first comment goes off topic in a way that you warned against. We don’t think scribal errors are evidence that God did not preserve His Word any more than my sin is evidence that God is not preserving my soul.

  9. Kent:

    First, you’re right that my mention of the textual history question is beyond the parameters that were set for this discussion. Mea culpa. I still think that those facts are a real problem for your view, but that is all that we need to say about that here.

    Second, a chair leg that is sawed off provides no support, even if the chair has other legs that work. A fallacious argument is a fallacious argument, and contributes nothing to another set of arguments marshaled for a position. There is no “corollary merit” for a fallacious argument jumbled in with other arguments (regardless of their value). The cumulative effect of such an approach is that your position is weakened. How can you argue for a position with a known bogus argument and expect it to convince people? At best that’s dishonest. It suggests that there are no truly good reasons to hold the position.

    Carson’s associations render him incompetent as an exegete? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_pleading

    But this is all beside the point. Is there any substance to this “perfect tense argument”? Unless I missed it nobody has shown any here yet.

  10. OK, I’m back home. I read this post at about 2:30 in the morning last night for the first time, through very bleary eyes.

    In the illustrations of the usage of the perfect tense in Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, he writes for “it is written” on p. 576, under Romans 3:10 and in the outline under Intensive Perfect, which is defined: “The perfect may be used to emphasize the results or present state produced by a past action.” Here is what he said:

    “This common introductory formula to OT quotations seems to be used to emphasize that the written word still exists.”

    So there we go Don and Duncan. I’m a little peeved about being accused of being dishonest. I’m even more peeved, knowing your policies Don, that you published that accusation. I’ve taken 8 years of Greek, taught advanced several years, and have had two years of Hebrew. You shouldn’t assume that someone who takes a different position than you is being dishonest. I’m sure I can find a logical fallacy for that too. I don’t think I started anything here that was too personal. Let me know if I have. Again, Dan Wallace here isn’t in a frame of mind for attempting to prove the preservation of scripture, so it makes it more powerful because of that. He’s approaching it in a grammar book. So is this an exegetical fallacy, Andy, on Wallace’s part? Wallace sees this, as do I, as an intensive perfect, which is emphasizing the present results. In the context, it makes sense. It’s the Word of God, written a long time before, and is being used in a quotation in the present, so it must have stuck around all that time. Of course, I think it is “bogus” not to see it.

    I don’t think Dave Sutton assumes a point in order to make it. If you read his article in TSKT, you would see that he studies the usages of the perfect passive in the NT. It’s very thorough. You get your doctrine from the common usages and he’s saying that this is a doctrinal usage and when we see it used in a doctrinal sense (rather than your non doctrinal examples, “lieth” and “stand”), the consistency of the samples say that it is making a theological point. It’s not good work to look for different usages of the perfect and think that somehow that’s enough to make a conclusion about other usages of the perfect. All it says is that the perfect isn’t always used the same way. So then you start looking at the samples. That’s how grammars are written.

    The Hebrew is MUCH different than the Greek in time.

    Regarding D. A. Carson, Don and Duncan, I’m starting with the “special pleading” of Andy. No mention of that though. Understandable unfortunately. We are using an exegetical fallacy like in the book by Carson. Why? Andy says so. No parallel given. No evidence given. And no chiding from Don and Duncan. Hmmmm. And so I come back at Andy. The burden of proof is upon him, well, except in this instance because he’s supporting you. I don’t just accept Don Carson’s examples of exegetical fallacies. And I guess I’m to assume Don that Carson is not exegetically fallacious on separation, just disobedient. And from Duncan, I get a wikipedia link. I didn’t mention that his associations rendered him incompetent as an exegete. I know there is a logical fallacy there, something like a hasty generalization or jumping to conclusion.

    As far as the perfect doing nothing for the doctrine of eternal security, you’re just wrong on that one, Don. I’ll just give you one point, but there are many. Look at when you have “sins are forgiven” or “sins be forgiven.” Why are they perfect tense every time? What does that say about God’s forgiveness, do you think?

    • Kent,

      First, I want you to know that I hesitate to write anything about Preservation because it is so hotly contested and I don’t want to contend with you in particular. However, this particular point is, I think, the weakest one you advance. I don’t think it really helps your cause. You published on it recently and I wanted to point out some weaknesses in a more comprehensive form than the comments of your blog.

      With respect to Duncan’s terms, I’ll let him answer for himself. He has full authority to post what he likes here, however.

      With respect to Wallace, with all due respect, you need to include the entire quotation:

      This common introductory formula to OT quotations seems to be used to emphasize that the written word still exists. Although just beyond the reach of grammar, the exegetical and theological significance of this seems to be (in light of how it is used in the NT) that of present and binding authority. In other words, [gegraptai] could often be paraphrased thus: “Although this scripture was written long ago, its authority is still binding on us” (a very loose paraphrase!).

      Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 1:576 (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999; 2002).

      Please note that the exegetical significance of this is authority, not preservation. If questioned on this point, I am sure Wallace would deny that he thinks it means anything with respect to preservation, especially in light of the whole context of his statement under Rm 3.10.

      Now, we do have to grant that the idea of the tense is that the Scripture quoted still exists at the time gegraptai is uttered. Of course. But it isn’t the reason the word is being used. It is being used to make the statement authoritative and binding on the hearer. That was exactly what Satan was doing with his ‘it is written’ in Mt 4.6. He wasn’t trying to say, see these words are preserved, he was saying, ‘these words have authority’. Of course, he was twisting the authority.

      The only use of the perfect that has any reference to the future is, according to Wallace, the Proleptic Perfect, which says a potential action will have ongoing results into the future. It is used in conditional clauses:

      The perfect can be used to refer to a state resulting from an antecedent action that is future from the time of speaking.

      Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 1:580 (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999; 2002).

      But that is not what you are arguing for here, and certainly wouldn’t help your case since we are talking about a past action. The Intensive Perfect as cited by Wallace does not refer to the future at all. Dave Sutton may have looked at every passage with respect to the perfect in the New Testament, but if he thinks any of them has some kind of future force (other than the proleptic) he is just wrong.

      For you to dismiss the book of Jasher example you will have to do more than say the Hebrew is much different from the Greek. The construction is the regular one used when citing Scripture in the OT and is translated with gegraptai in the LXX.

      I am not sure how Andy’s comment is special pleading.

      With respect to ‘sins be forgiven’, perhaps you can provide some references. I find the phrase only in Mt 9.2, 5, Mk 2.5, 9, and Lk 5.23. In Mt and Mk the verbs are Present Passive Indicative. In Lk it is Perfect Passive Indicative. So… it isn’t ‘every time’.

      With respect to ‘sins are forgiven’, the three instances do use the perfect, Lk 5.20, 7.48, and 1 Jn 2.12.

      So what does that prove? It doesn’t teach eternal security, it teaches assurance. We teach eternal security from other passages.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  11. Kent, I did not mean to say that you were personally dishonest, and did not realize that what I said would appear that way. Truly sorry about that.

    I think I now understand how you get to this argument from the perfect tense, and I don’t think in the end that I’ll be convinced. I don’t have anything else to add from my own perspective, but I’ll drop by later to see if you have anything else to say.

    Most likely I won’t post unless someone asks about something else I have said.

  12. I wasn’t upset because of the King James Version issue, at all. I already know your position Don. I’m happy to know that you think about the preservation arguments. I was fine until Andy’s drive-by and then Duncan’s “dishonest.” But I repeat, it had nothing to do with anything else. But Duncan has apologized and it’s fine.

    Let me deal with the eternal security. Yes, I meant in Luke, as I’m preaching in Luke right now. In Luke it is always the perfect tense. But you are correct that it is either present tense or perfect. Both of them make a different point, however, about forgiveness, wouldn’t you agree? That is a doctrinal point? Ephesians 2:8-9 uses the perfect, “For by grace are ye saved through faith.” Again perfect tense. From the point of view of the reader, his salvation is complete with ongoing results. In 1 John 5:1, he is born of God, born in the past at one point in time with ongoing results. In Hebrews 10:14, he says that he has forever perfected them that are sanctified, the perfection is complete with ongoing results. In 1 Peter 1:4, I think, when it says that our inheritance is reserved in heaven, reserved is complete with the results ongoing. Romans 5:2, the grace wherein we stand, stand a completed action with ongoing results. There are many, many more like that. You say it’s assurance, but I don’t know how you don’t see security of the believer in the perfect tense.

    I didn’t include the whole quote, you are correct, but it wasn’t an attempt to hide anything. I included the page number and it was obvious you had Wallace. If the scripture was written long ago and is still binding upon us, then it still exists. What is binding is something that we know exists. What was completed in the past, the writings, presently exist and, therefore, still have authority in our lives. It doesn’t diminish the point of the perfect at all.

    Andy’s comment is saying that we are making an exegetical fallacy like D. A. Carson evinces. With that claim, he has the responsibility of substantiating the claim, providing a relevant basis for the charge. He doesn’t do that. Hence, special pleading. The burden of proof is upon him to show exegetical fallacy, not for me to defend a baseless accusation. So I gave an example of how that Carson could be fallacious himself. He’s the one who invoked the name of Carson to make his point.

    Dave said nothing about a future force of the perfect, either in the chapter or the article. Action complete, results ongoing. The people hearing in that day would think that what was written was preserved. And you are saying that with the use of the perfect, they would not have thought the product of the writing still existed?

    I think the Septuagint is useful, but it is one reason we study original languages, to get original intent. I get the point of your Jasher example. Since Jasher doesn’t exist today, then we can’t conclude from the perfect tense that what was written in Scripture still exists today. It would be hard to add the Nehemiah usage to our study on the perfect tense, since it is in the Hebrew.

    I’ve never thought it to be the strongest argument. It supplements because it fits nicely with the other teaching. I think that the statements about preservation are the strongest arguments.
    And for P.S., I don’t believe we’re overstating it.

    Look at this argument by E. W. Bullinger.

    See the same point made here.

    Read the long time Greek teacher Kenneth Wuest.

    Here is another grammar.

    F. F. Bruce in his commentary on Hebrews says of gegraptai that what the speaker [wrote] stands on permanent record (p. 243).

  13. Hi Kent,

    Thanks for the links and quotes. I appreciate the spade work you have done here.

    What I meant by “overstating” is that I am always sceptical of arguing from lexicons or Greek grammar definitions a doctrinal point. It is the same problem I have with the “baptizo” argument and the entire sanctification people when they try to argue for their doctrine based upon a few aorist tense references.

    I think the other ways to study this issue that I listed in my first post are far more convincing and significant i.e. explicit promises of Scripture, sufficiency of Scripture etc.

    Your point about DA Carson is well taken – these men who are wilfully disobedient or blind to basic Scriptural principles are not exactly reliable guides. You would think 2 Peter 1:8-9 was not in the Bible for those trusting these broken sticks to support their beliefs! People who have a long history of being wrong in their understanding of their native English do not inspire confidence when they try to interpret another language – thought that point would be obvious to Andy.

    • A few points in response to Kent.

      1. I think, Kent, you are being too sensitive in reacting to the comments of others, specifically Andy’s comment. He made his observation before you made any comments, it wasn’t particularly directed at you and was merely his opinion of the whole issue. I don’t think he is particularly obligated to satisfy you with an answer on his observation. He wasn’t engaging you, and he may not be avidly reading every comment in this thread. So I would suggest that you relax a bit in being offended on this point.

      Further, I really wish we all would leave off terms like ‘special pleading’. I read wikipedia on it and am no further enlightened as to what it means. Let’s leave off technical terms as much as possible.

      2. Kent said that Dave Sutton said nothing about the future force of the perfect. Here is Kent’s assertion:

      Dave said nothing about a future force of the perfect, either in the chapter or the article.

      Here is Dave in the article on Ken’ts blog:

      First, if we say technically that the perfect tense only reaches to the present, then when the future becomes the present, the results also apply. So by implication, the ramifications of the perfect tense can extend into the future.

      We have repeatedly said that this is wrong. The perfect tense communicates that a past action has effects that remain in the present. There is no future implication. That is what Bullinger says in the link provided by Kent, Kent’s cited grammar says it refers to a “present state”, and the harmony states “the focus is on the present result”. Wuest also emphasizes the present state, but (as usual) he overstates his case and makes ‘have been saved’ in Eph 2.8 mean ‘saved forever’. That isn’t what the verse is communicating, but more on that in a minute.

      The point is that there is no future implication with respect to the perfect tense. The tense refers to present state, the future is not in view. These additional books from Kent’s search terms in Google books say the same thing:

      Memory, tradition, and text: uses of the past in early Christianity By Alan K. Kirk, Tom Thatcher

      Greek to Me By J. Lyle Story, Cullen I. K. Story, Peter Allen Miller says “An action takes place in the past with results that extend up to, and even include, the present.” Kent keeps using the term: “Action complete, results ongoing.” That is not really the case. Present state, present effects, present results. NOT ongoing results.

      The elements of New Testament Greek By Jeremy Duff, David Wenham, “past action, present effect”.

      We can keep on citing different authorities here, but we need to read what they are actually saying, not think they say what we want them to say. The perfect tense says something about present state, nothing more.

      3. With respect to the “eternal security” passages, Wuest makes an error here in going beyond the meaning of the words. Wuest is popular among some, but he tends to be notorious in overstating the case in many of his comments.

      The passages cited above by both Kent and me are not intended to teach anything beyond the present state of the saved believer, with perhaps the exception of Heb 10.14, but notice that the text adds the words “for ever” (lit., ‘into the continuous’) to communicate the future truth of salvation.

      This does not deny that for a believer, every time he reads Eph 2.8 “for you have been saved” that he is truly saved. Every present moment of his saved life, that verse is true of him. But the verse doesn’t teach eternal salvation by itself, the perfect tense isn’t meant to communicate that idea.

      How do we know this? Mary has been standing outside the door of Capernaum, in the present ‘point of view’ of Matthew in Mt 12.47. The man sick of the palsy has been lying on his bed, again in Matthew’s point of view at the time. These are instances where clearly the only continuing effect was the state of the person at the time, not their state since.

      That is all the perfect tense communicates.

      4. And finally, Kent, I will simply reiterate that when Jesus and others use gegraptai to cite Scripture, they are not merely saying the writing continues to this day, but they are citing the books as authoritative. This is a regular formula or idiom used throughout the Old and New Testaments. To make these statements a matter of support for the notion of perfect preservation is missing the whole point of the passages and reading something into them that just isn’t there.

      5. One more point, but to Paul Ferguson. You said:

      Your point about DA Carson is well taken – these men who are wilfully disobedient or blind to basic Scriptural principles are not exactly reliable guides.

      Not so. The men Kent cited in his links are not likely what we would call rock-ribbed fundamentalists. I don’t know all of them, of course, but notice that Kent cited F. F. Bruce as an authority in his commentary on Hebrews. Bruce, for all his learning and value as a faithful Bible believer, yet had many questionable associations, at least as many as D. A. Carson does. Does that invalidate Bruce as an authority for Kent? No. Neither do Carson’s errors of association invalidate his observations concerning exegesis, etc.

      Well, that is all for now. I am getting the feeling that we are starting to repeat ourselves. Not sure what else can be said.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  14. I haven’t commented further because nothing else needed to be said. Don’s done all the heavy lifting. I just gave it the label Carson would have. But if you don’t agree, I’d like to make a special plea, please continue to make this argument a centerpiece of your position.

  15. Don

    I know I am being pedantic but I did not endorse Kent’s authorities either (for the record I would probably put Carson above FF Bruce in terms of biblical consistency).

    Andy – Kent tagged you because you swept in and threw in a Evangelical “star” name hoping that would seal the deal on the issue. Frankly, your new comment hasn’t given you any more credibility.

    Don has not done all the heavy lifting – to my mind he has merely refined Kent’s thesis. Kent/Sutton demonstrated that Christ has perfect copies of the originals at that present moment of speaking by use of the perfect tense. That alone creates problems for the dispersed/no preservationists as it demonstrates (at the very least) that God perfectly preserved all His Words in available copies till the time of Christ over a period of 3,000 years. To do so for another 2,000 seems more than probable if we consider all the other evidence that I listed in my first post. Duncan just swept in here with all kinds of assumptions about what Christ had and talked about “real history” of the texts when he did not have a scintilla of evidence of what Christ had.

    Now, bearing in mind the perfect tense usage (we all seem to agree) made a statement as to the immediate present when used – surely it is quite possible that those grammarians who argue that it implies a future usage have a decent case.

    I tend to agree with RPittman in his reply to Adam Blummer on SI. Dealing with the same issue, he stated of Sutton, “his statement, along with the preceding statements, seemingly indicates acceptance of the premise that the writers accepted Scriptural preservation from the past to the present time of the writing. Your sole point appears to be that nothing is indicated of the future preservation. If so, it is an inane argument from silence. In fact, it is more reasonable to assume that if preservation was active from the past into the presence, then there is no reason to suppose that it would not continue into the future.”

    • Paul,

      The perfect tense doesn’t say anything about the quality of copies or preservation. The perfect tense says the original act (writing) has a state in the present time (from the speaker’s perspective).

      And I submit that no one who used gegraptai meant to communicate anything about preservation. The term became an idiomatic expression that means ‘the citation is authoritative’.

      Last night we were at a performance of our local symphony. The conductor, messing around with the crowd, cited a passage from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. He didn’t say ‘it is written’. That would have been ludicrous.

      But if we want to emphasize the authority of a passage we can say, with the Hebrews, ‘it is written’ and quote a Bible passage. The phrase means ‘this is authoritative’, it is the same as saying, ‘thus saith the Lord.’

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  16. First, Andy. What evidence is there that this is a “centerpiece of my position”? That’s a ridiculous statement. If you pull out this argument, it doesn’t change what scripture says on preservation. At most it enhances the preservation position. At most. And that’s how we are arguing it. To make it more than that is of your own choosing, not ours. Hopefully, Don, my answer there isn’t overly sensitive.


    We differ here on the perfect. You are saying that it makes no point about the preservation of what was written. A ton of people believe that it does. Wallace said that it did. You seem to be digging your heels in here. Just because the perfect doesn’t speak of the future, doesn’t mean that it has NO implications to the future. If it exists after 1500 years, I think it shows preservation. Just like from the viewpoint of the saved person, God is going to keep saving me. If I’m saved up to this present moment, why would I not think that I would continue to be saved.

    The idea of “it stands written,” showing permanence, is found in the perfect tense. That has implications for the future. I’m not missing the relations to authority. As much as anyone, I think the preservation of the text relates to authority. It’s a permanent record. It stands though the hills tumble through the raging storms of time. The Bible stands. I’m not denying the relations to authority. Show me where I have done that, Don.

    I don’t have any problem quoting Carson. Carson wasn’t quoted. Andy said that this is an exegetical fallacy of the kind that Carson would use as an example in his book, but no example given. I can’t believe that you don’t see the difference in this. This is where we have to discuss things in good faith here. We can’t allow either side to get away with this.

    For instance, I made a misspeak about “are forgiven.” It’s just in Luke. The present is used in Matthew. Don is right. I’ve got to admit that, not dig in my heels. Our point is to come to the truth.

    Did Dave Sutton say that the perfect tense has results that moved into the future? No, he didn’t. He said that it has implications for the future, and we’ve explained what we mean by that. I believe other men say the same thing as we do. Don, you say that Wuest, overstates. Many, many other men make this same point. I haven’t read anyone who denies this point about gegraptai. Show me someone who does, Don. Could it be that you understate?

    Can someone become unborn? Can someone lose his reserved inheritance? Can someone lose his standing in Christ? The perfect is used in all these situations.

    You bring up a certain usage of the perfect, in Mt 12:47. I understand that. Someone was someplace for a little amount of time. But when you refer to a verse that is 1500 years old and say that it exists up to the present, that is saying something different, is it or does it not?

    Sometime, Don, I’m going to come on here when you expose a text, and say that what you wrote reminds me of Don Carson’s exegetical fallacies. That’s it. Just say that. No example of how. And what you’re saying is that you’ll be fine with that. OK.

  17. While I was writing this comment, other comments are written. To P.S., I do think that Pittman’s comment there hits it about right. I think when we exegete we get into the mindset of the people hearing it in that day. In that day, Jesus used the perfect to refer to the product of writing. It is written. Notice that I’m saying that the results move to the present. I’ve never denied that. Those people could view what was written as preserved. We read that today and say, “Look at preservation that is implied there.” We do that same thing with lots of doctrine.

    Don, you broke your own rule about the “quality of the writing or the text.” That is a strawman. We don’t make that argument AT ALL. We are saying that the what was written, the letters and Words, were preserved. Paper wasn’t what was written. And what was written, being preserved, does not preclude scribal error. We aren’t saying any of that and have not said it. If we have, Don, show me.

    Don, the perfect tense does not mean “authority” any more than it means “future.” It means action completed, results continue to the present. Scripture written, product of the writing continues to the present. You seem to be making the perfect not mean what the perfect means. Is that the case?

    • Like I said, we are now into the phase of blog comments where we are just repeating ourselves, so I’ll not bother to answer Kent’s two last posts except for a hopefully brief summary below. I’ll leave it up to readers to decide who is presenting the truth on this point.

      The perfect tense communicates a state of being. It doesn’t predict anything about the future. We can assume that a present state will continue into the future by other words in the context or by other passages that inform us about the event. The word of God stands forever, but gegraptai does not communicate this, nor is it intended to do so. If every copy of Scripture were to be somehow wiped off the face of the earth, the Word would still have authority. It would still “stand written”.

      Gegraptai also does not communicate anything about past preservation. That was not the intent of the Lord when citing Scripture in the temptation any more than it was the intent of Satan when he used the exact same word in the same incident. This was not a debate about preservation, it was a debate about authority.

      Those who are using gegraptai to bolster their argument for perfect preservation in the TR or in the KJV are misusing the Scriptures. I believe it demeans their other arguments, some of which have some value. The whole argument becomes a tenacious clinging at straws because someone somewhere said something that sort of sounded like it supported my preconceived position. The advocates of the TR/KJV positions would do much better to drop this one, in my opinion. If they relied on their better arguments, they would likely have more influence.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  18. Thanks for the opportunity for the discussion, Don.

  19. Kent,

    You have a whole chapter in your book given over to the perfect tense argument. I guess I thought that meant it was an important point for you case.

    BTW, I’m not trying to get away with anything. I just happen to agree with Don and I think Carson would, too. Hence my comment. It’s a comment on a blog posting, not a research paper….

  20. FWIW, long after this thread has died out, it appears that Rod Decker lines up against this perfect tense argument and also thinks Carson would.


    Page 3, note 16.

  21. Wow, Decker really gives McCune a hard time in that paper! I don’t have McCune’s second volume, yet, but now I need to get it to see how he treats Is 7:14. Whatever Decker’s criticism may be, I have to say that I find Decker’s approach very, very disappointing:


    • Hi Andy

      Yes, I have often been very very disappointed with Decker. In fact, I am astonished that he was even invited to the recent conference where he presented the paper Duncan cited. I think there is a lot of gutlessness going on in fundamentalist schools.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  22. Duncan,

    I read the article, Biblical Langauges (sic) in Systematic Theology. Decker says in a footnote that the perfect tense of sodzo says nothing about eternal security. And he uses references to Frank Stagg and D. A. Carson to back up that up. I need a little more than that to be convinced. Thanks though.