That Pugnacious Participle (Part 1)

The New Testament Greek participle can be a difficult concept to understand. As in English, the participle is a mixture of both verb and noun. As such, the participle has qualities of each. For example, the participle will have tense and voice of a verb, but then it will also have the case of a noun as well. For this reason, participles can be difficult to translate into English. Sometimes the participle may be translated by a simple English gerund./1 Other times, however, it is best to use a relative pronoun such as “who,” “which,” or “that” and sometimes even by an adverb of time such as “when,” “after,” or “while.”
In the verbal aspects of the Greek participle, it has both tense and voice. The Greek participle only takes the present, aorist, future, and perfect tenses./2 As in verbs, the aorist tense indicates punctilliar or point action whereas the present tense indicates ongoing or continual action, a familiar dichotomy to the Greek student. The function of voice in the participle is essentially the same as in the verb as well.
One of the main things that one needs to remember in relationship to the Greek participle is that a participle has no time of its own./3 The participle always takes its time from its relationship to the main verb of the sentence. In that regard, the time of the participle is relative to the main verb. That relationship may be prior to the action in the main verb, contemporaneous to the action in the main verb, or subsequent, depending upon what tense is used in the Greek participle. Beginning grammars will generally lead one to believe that the aorist tense is associated with prior action, the present tense with contemporaneous action, and the future tense with subsequent action,/4 but that is not always a hard and fast rule./5 It depends not only upon the tense of the participle, but also upon the tense of the main verb. Let’s look at a few examples.
Perhaps one of the most common participles is found in direct discourse. The Greek word for “say” is LEGW. If one initiates a simple computer search on the English word “saying” more often than not, one will encounter in the Greek the present active participle LEGWN or LEGONTOS (depending upon the case). Consider Matthew 5:2, “And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying …” The main verb is “taught,” an imperfect active indicative verb; the participle “saying” follows that verb closely to indicate what exactly it was that Jesus taught. The action of the participle occurs at the same time as the action of the verb; in other words, while Jesus was teaching, he was saying such things as follows. In this case, the action of the participle is the same as the action of the verb; it was what Matthew records Jesus as saying that Jesus was, in fact, teaching.
A more controversial (yet instructive) example in the religious world is found in Matthew 28:19,20. Here Jesus is instructing the apostles on what to do after His ascension. They were to go into all the world and “make disciples” (MAQHTEUSATE, aorist active imperative). What follows after the verb “make disciples” are two participles: one for “baptizing” (BAPTIZONTES, present active genitive) and one for “teaching” (DIDASKONTES, present active genitive). Roy Deaver has made the point that these are modal participles and that the time of the action in these participles occurs at the same time as the time of the action of the lead verb./6 This implies that both the baptizing and the teaching occur at the same time as one is made a disciple, indicating that one cannot become a disciple without both being taught and baptized. It is a convincing argument from Greek that baptism is necessary to become a Christian since being a disciple and being a Christian are the same thing according to Acts 11:26.
In our next study we’ll continue to look at some examples of the participle in relationship to its verbal qualities.
/1 A word ending in ?ing.
/2 R. Summers, “Essentials of New Testament Greek” (Nashville, 1950), p. 89.
/3 F. Blass and A. DeBrunner, trans. by R.W. Funk, “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature” (Chicago, 1961) pp.174-175. “Participles originally had no temporal function …; their temporal relation to the finite verb was derived from their context. …the idea of relative past time became associated to a certain degree with the aorist participle …”
/4 R. Summers (supra. n.2) pp. 89-90.
/5 Blass (supra. n.3) p.175 “The element of past time is absent from the aorist participle especially if its action is identical with that of an aorist finite verb?. The present particple can also denote a relatively future action with various nuances … Furthermore, the present participle is occasionally used, as in classical, for something which happened previously (representing the imperfect) …” See also
/6 J.D. Bales, “Bales-Deaver Debate” (Pensacola, 1988) pp.123-125.

4 Replies to “That Pugnacious Participle (Part 1)”

  1. Hi, thanks for your comments. It would indeed be a dilemma IF Jesus had said to teach everything that he commanded before one became a disciple, but that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said, “teaching them to OBSERVE all things” that he has commanded. A commitment to observe everything that Jesus has commanded is all that is required for a person to become a disciple of Christ. You may be interested in reading this article:
    The passage does indeed teach that baptism is required to become saved/a Christian/a disciple as do many others such as Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:1-11, Colossians 2:11-13 and 1 Peter 3:21.

  2. concerning the words ginosko and eidotes in Romans 6: 6 and 6: 9 respectively, how do these relate what an individual should understand concerning the effects of baptism at the time he/she submits. I know that eidotes is perfect passive…not sure about ginosko.

  3. GINOSKW is often used with knowledge that comes from learning. EIDW is often used with knowledge that comes from experience (see TDNT on hORAW).
    The object of GINOSKW in verse 6 is the teaching of the crucifixion of the old man along with Christ. That would be something that the candidate for baptism would need to be taught happens in baptism as a matter of rote instruction.
    The object of EIDW in verse 9 is the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. That was something that was known through personal experience by Paul and the apostles. This is also something that is taught, but Paul seems to be reflecting upon how that piece of knowledge came to be known with the use of EIDW here, i.e. through personal sense experience, as opposed to rote instruction.
    The significance of the present tense participle in verse 6 seems to be to draw the reader back to thinking about his current situation after he has experienced baptism and what his present condition is as a result of that baptism.
    The significance of the perfect tense in verse 9 indicates that the resurrection of Christ is a past event with lasting effects. It is a natural use of the perfect tense.
    One must, however, be careful with EIDW, given its etymology, and not try to read too much into it. It’s one of those Greek words that has some special roles in the language.

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