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The Ezra Project 
For the Serious Starter in New Testament Greek

Welcome to the Ezra Project!  Whether you're gearing up to take a seminary Greek course or looking for ways to go deeper in your personal Bible study, this site is your personal resource.  Our goal is simple:  to help you take your first steps in New Testament Greek - and do it right!
    I have been introducing students to New Testament Greek since 1972, and it's my delight to take the mystery out of the language for men and women who want to become serious students of Scripture.
                             -- Dr. John Bechtle 

The Ezra Project:  First Stop for Greek Beginners.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

A Closer Look at the Present Tense II

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

Sometimes 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.

3.   Historical present

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

In certain passages, the present tense is used to express an action that is being attempted, but may not actually be happening.  

Example:  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 gnomic) present

The present tense can also be used to state a general truth which can always be taken for granted as a fact.

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.

2:28 pm est

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Multilevel Greek - How deep do you want to go?

When people say they want to study New Testament Greek, they don't all have the same picture in mind.  You can investigate Greek at several levels.  Some are relatively simple; others require a larger investment of time and effort.  Here are the most common choices:

Level 1 – Exploring Word Meanings

           Goal:  To understand the meaning of a Greek word.

Guidelines for Word Study" - Basic steps in Greek word study

              "Word Study Resources" - Links to online word study tools [in development]

Level 2 – Understanding Grammar Concepts

          Goal:  To learn how Greek grammar works, so you know what aorist or subjunctive really means.

Grammar Basics" – an overview of Greek grammar

   "Glossary of Grammar Terms" [in development]

Level 3 – Translating the Greek Text 

         Goal:  To sit down with a Greek New Testament and lexicon and translate a New Testament verse for yourself

Greek Behind the Prof’s Back – a self-instructional workbook

Level 4+ - Mastery and Beyond                   
You can continue to grow in your grasp of Greek for the rest of your life, going deeper and deeper into the Word of God.  Once you have mastered the basic content of the language, you can delve into the endless list of books and electronic resources available to you.  The Ezra Project provides you with a launching pad for a lifetime of study.


When you decide to dig a little deeper into the meaning of a Bible word, you should know that there are:

        Two facts about words

        Two stages to word study

        Two methods for doing each stage

Two facts about words

First, words have more than one meaning.  Take a simple English word such as run.  It can be a verb that means "to get from one place to another by moving your legs quickly."  Or it can mean "to keep the engine of your car operating" (even if it's just idling in the driveway).  When your watch runs, the hands go around.  When the lawnmower runs, it cuts grass.  When a stream runs, water flows over rocks.  When your nose runs, you grab a tissue.  Run can also be a noun, whether it refers to a point scored in a baseball game or a torn place in a stocking. 


Please get in touch to offer comments and ask questions about New Testament Greek!  You can e-mail us at:

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