Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why Good Greek Grammar Matters: An Exegetical Response to Tim Warner's Preterit Interpretation of the Golden Chain - Part 1

“(28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (29) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
– Rom 8:28–30.

You can find Tim Warner’s article here.

He immediately begins with a caricature of Calvinism. He asserts:
According to Calvinists, from “predestination” to “glorification,” everything related to our salvation is determined and performed by God. Nothing man does can in any way affect his eternal destiny.
I ask: how does an individual become justified? It is by faith. Who "performs" the faith? The individual or God? Answer: faith is expressed by the will of the individual, which is enabled by our gracious God. And can someone who does not love God be glorified? No.

He writes:
The verb [οἶδα, oida in v. 28], rendered “we know” in the NKJV and “we have observed” in our translation, is a perfect active indicative form of the verb meaning “to observe and therefore perceive [he cites Thayer’s Lexicon].
He inaccurately cites Thayer’s lexicon. This is not the definition that Thayer provides. What is omitted in Warner’s discussion of this term is Thayer’s important note: “The tenses coming from eido; and retained by usage form two families, of which one signifies to see, the other to know.” Thayer continues to show that when the term is in the aorist tense it means “to see, observe, perceive." But when it is in the perfect tense, which it is in this case, it means “to know, understand." Warner acknowledges that the term is in the perfect tense. So why does he blunder and choose the aorist meaning of this term?

The reason why Warner translates it himself as “we have observed” rather than “we know” is because it supports his thesis that all of the events in the golden chain, including glorification, are a past event. In other words, for him, the salvific acts in the golden chain do not represent timeless truths, but rather what has happened to individuals in the past. To put it in his own words, which he states later: "Paul was describing what has always occurred in the past based on his observation. Therefore, even the 'glorification' must be something that has been observed previously."

He writes:
The perfect tense indicates past completed action with continuous results. Literally, “we have observed” (and therefore we know). The knowledge claimed is based solely on past observation. This is a requirement of this term.
He continues to predicate his thesis on his flawed lexical assertion that oida, "we know," means "we observe as a past action." As demonstrated above, he misread Thayer's lexicon.

In addition, Warner is not familiar with current Greek linguistics or he would be qualifying this absolute statement about verb tense. Traditional Greek has taught that this is what the perfect tense means, but recent scholarship has qualified this substantially, or jettisoned it all together. The perfect tense-form can be found in various temporal contexts, not just past time. Moreover, οἶδα, oida in verse 28 would be a "Perfect with a Present Force." In fact, oida is the most common verb for this Greek category given its stative lexical meaning. In other words, the present temporal reference of this word is due to the stative lexeme and context, not the tense-form.

Greek verbal aspect theory emphasizes the distinction of form and function; semantics and pragmatics; spatial quality and temporal reference; aspect (i.e., author’s subjective portrayal of the action) and Aktionsart (i.e., objective “kind of action”).

Traditionally, grammarians confused the latter elements with the former. For example, it was (and still is among many New Testament interpreters) thought that the verb tense grammaticalized (or encoded) time. But verbal aspect has argued often persuasively that temporal reference is not an inherent (semantic) value of the verb-tense (the future “tense” is an exception, but even then there are qualifications). It is the context that provides us clues to the temporal reference. Further, the perfect tense-form serves to highlight the action of the verb (contrasted with the aorist tense-form, which is the least significant tense-form and only serves to move the storyline or argument along without depicting how the action exactly unfolds).

Continuing, Warner writes:
Remember, Paul was encouraging them in persecution to place their hope in the future resurrection and inheritance, and that God was at work in them even in their present situation. So, it is natural that he would offer some demonstration from history to support the observation of this fact.
Warner is setting up the reader for his thesis, which again he thinks that Paul is only describing what has happened in the past; i.e., the golden chain is not providing timeless truths of God's acts of salvation.

He writes:
Verses 29-30 do not offer a theological argument, or insight into God’s secret purposes. Rather, they offer historical demonstration of what Paul and his readers had indeed observed, that God works for the good of those who love Him.
Again, he utilizes the erroneous "observed" definition. And one truly has to wonder how Warner can miss the explicit revealing of God’s purpose! Paul uses the infinitive of purpose: εἰς τὸ εἶναι (eis to einai)…"so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." That is, we are predestined to be conformed to Christ so that Christ may be preeminent over a new humanity.

We will continue in part two…


  1. Thanks Alan,

    Some really tough concepts there. But really worth thinking about. Wondering if you got that from Campbell's book on Verbal Aspect.

    I used a similar argument from it on a You Tube discussion about a month ago.


    Was being kinda facetious, but was pointing out that a different aspect MAY be the proper aspect (and MacArthur MAY be wrong).

    Thank You for drawing the grammar of this verse to my attention as well.

  2. Tim performs the same kind of twisting of the Greek here (below) regarding the perfect participle “beloved” in Ephesians 1:6.


    “Oidamen” does mean that we have seen and thus we know. The seeing, however, does not have to be physical sight. It can be insight. It can be a perception regarding things that have not yet happened. As a result of the indwelling Spirit giving the believer revelation, the believer has seen (insight) and thus knows.

    The word “oidamen” (we have seen and thus we know) is used by Paul in the following passages.

    Romans 2:2, 3:19, 7:14, 8:22, 8:26 and 8:28, 1 Corinthians 8:1 and 8:4, 2 Corinthians 5:1 and 5:16 and 1 Timothy 1:8.

    (ASV) Romans 2:2 ... WE KNOW that the judgment of God is according to truth ... 5 ... [thou] treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God ... 16 in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.

    (ASV) Romans 3:19 Now, WE KNOW that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law ...

    (ASV) Romans 7:14 For WE KNOW that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.

    (ASV) Romans 8:18 ... THE GLORY WHICH SHALL BE REVEALED TO US-WARD. ... 22 ... WE KNOW ... 23 ... ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit ... groan within ourselves, WAITING FOR ADOPTION, THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BODY. ... 25 But IF WE HOPE FOR THAT WHICH WE SEE NOT, [THEN] DO WE WITH PATIENCE WAIT FOR IT. 26 ... WE KNOW NOT how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself maketh intercession ... 28 And WE KNOW that ... TO THEM THAT ARE CALLED ... 29 ... whom he foreknew, HE ALSO FOREORDAINED CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 ... whom HE FOREORDAINED ... HE ALSO CALLED ... HE ALSO JUSTIFIED ... HE ALSO GLORIFIED.

    (ASV) 1 Corinthians 8:1 ... concerning things sacrificed to idols, WE KNOW that we all have knowledge ... 4 ... WE KNOW that no idol is in the world and that there is no God but one.

    (ASV) 2 Corinthians 4:18 while WE LOOK NOT AT THE THINGS WHICH ARE SEEN, BUT AT THE THINGS WHICH ARE NOT SEEN ... THE THINGS WHICH ARE NOT SEEN ARE ETERNAL. 5:1 ... WE KNOW that ... WE HAVE A BUILDING FROM GOD ... ETERNAL, IN THE HEAVENS. 2 ... groaning ... longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven ... 4 ... that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life. ... 6 ... KNOWING [having seen and thus knowing] that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord—7 for we walk by faith, NOT BY SIGHT—8 ... and are willing rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. ... 16 Wherefore WE HENCEFORTH KNOW NO MAN after the flesh ...

    (ASV) 1 Timothy 1:8 8 But WE KNOW that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.

    (ASV) 1 Corinthians 1:12 But WE RECEIVED, not the spirit of the world, but THE SPIRIT WHICH IS FROM GOD, THAT WE MIGHT KNOW [would have seen and thus would know] THE THINGS THAT WERE FREELY GIVEN TO US OF GOD.

    As these passages show, what is being discussed is usually something which cannot be physically perceived, but which must be revealed by the Spirit, and which often has not yet occurred. Contextually, the glory of which Paul speaks in Romans 8 is the glory of the physical resurrection that the called ones await. Paul is discussing the same thing in Romans 8:18-30 (above) that he is discussing in 2 Corinthians 4:17 – 5:16 (above). These are things which we have not seen physically, but which we have seen through revelation by the indwelling Spirit, and which thus we know, even though these things that have not yet occurred.