In our last post, we noted the fact that the present tense in Greek usually shows continued action. That might mean
that we're watching an action as it happens, catching it in midstream. It might be describing an action that happens
at regular intervals. Or it might be describing something that simply a fact of life: it doesn't happen on
a schedule, but it's something that you are likely to observe at any time.
Those are the usual meanings for the
present tense. However, present tense can do more exotic tricks, particularly in the indicative mood, where it bears
the double burden of indicating the time of an action as well as the type of action.
Here are some
special uses of the present tense:
1. Aoristic present
Sometimes a New Testament writer may
simply want to say that an event is happening right now, with no concept of continued action. Just as the aorist tense
describes simple action in the past, the present tense occasionally shows simple action in the present. After all, Greek
does not have a separate tense to convey this idea.
Example: Acts 9:34 -- When Peter encounters a
man who had been bedridden for eight years, he announced, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you."
The verse goes on: "And immediately he arose." Obviously, this healing took place in a moment, not over
an extended period. As Peter says the words, it happens.
2. Futuristic present
the present tense is used to describe a future event. The future event is so certain to happen that the writer speaks
of it as if it is already coming to pass.
Example: Matthew 26:2 -- Two days before his final Passover,
Jesus tells his disciples, "The Son of man is delivered up for crucifixion." The event will
not happen until later that week, but Christ uses the present tense to announce it.
There are times when the present tense is used where English would use a past tense verb. In the New American
Standard Bible, historical presents are marked with an asterisk. The editors explain:
[I]n some contexts
the present tense seems more unexpected and unjustified to the English reader than a past tense would have been. But
Greek authors frequently used the present tense for the sake of heightened vividness, thereby transporting their readers in
imagination to the actual scene at the time of occurrence. [The translators] felt that it would be wise to change these
historical presents into English past tenses. (New American Standard Bible, Reference Edition. La Habra,
CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1973, p. x.)
Example: Mark 14:17 -- "And when it was evening He *came [lit.,
comes] with the twelve."
4. Tendential (or conative) present
passages, the present tense is used to express an action that is being attempted, but may not actually be happening.
John 10:32 -- Facing an angry crowd, Jesus asks, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are
you stoning me?" A glance at the context makes it clear that no stones are flying; the people picked up
stones in verse 31, and they intend to use them, but they have not yet begun.
5. Static (or
The present tense can also be used to state a general truth which can always be taken for granted as
Example: 2 Peter 3:4 -- "Ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues
just as it was from the beginning of creation."
You may find some of these usages surprising, but
there are times when grammar must stretch to convey the incredible variety of subtleties that a person may want to communicate.