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The Greek text of Heb. 11:17 according to Textus Receptus states,

ΙΖʹ Πίστει προσενήνοχεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν Ἰσαὰκ πειραζόμενος καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ τὰς ἐπαγγελίας ἀναδεξάμενος TR, 1550

The English translation according to the King James Version (1769) states,

11 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, KJV, 1769

“Offered up” is written twice in the English translation, once as a translation of προσενήνοχεν, which is conjugated in the perfect tense, and the other as a translation of προσέφερεν, which is conjugated in the imperfect tense. Why did the author of the epistle to the Hebrews write προσενήνοχεν and then shortly thereafter προσέφερεν? Why didn’t he use the same tense for both verbs? What does the difference in tenses suggest in this verse, if anything?

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The first instance, being in the perfect tense, indicates a completed past action with present results. The second instance, being in the imperfect, indicates a progressive or continuous past action.

If the author of Hebrews was writing a translation of the KJV, then he should have used the same tense, possibly the aorist, but that's not the situation. The KJV seems to have not known quite how to handle the two tenses here. What do other translations do?

  • NIV - offered, was about to sacrifice
  • NLT - offered as a sacrifice, was ready to sacrifice
  • ESV - offered up, was in the act of offering up
  • NASB - offered up, was offering up
  • ISV - offered up, was about to offer up
  • NRSV - offered up, was ready to offer up

Of those, the NASB and ESV use the usual meaning of the imperfect and the others assume some more subtle meaning.

In essence, I think the first instance (perfect tense) is introducing and calling to mind the whole episode of Abraham and Isaac, while the second instance (imperfect) finds us already in the story and so is progressive.

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We can divide this verse into (i) a faith statement and (ii) a historical statement.

Reading the verse in this interlinear with morphology, we see the verb προσφέρω first being used in the perfect tense, in the faith statement, then later on in the imperfect tense in the historical statement.

This Greek verb tense usage; hence, verb aspect usage, seems to present (i) the kind of faith at work in Abraham, as well as (ii) the kind of attitude that came out from that faith—one sentence talks about the faith, and the next about the works prompted by that (living) faith.

Presentation (i) is the faith statement with προσφέρω in the perfect tense, προσενήνοχεν, which presents Isaac in a state of having been offered, which resulted from a completed action of offering—Abraham absolutely determined in his heart to offer his promised son, and regarding him as a fully consummated offer. This very inspired Hebrews text reveals us the point of view of Him who reads the hearts and sees faith: Isaac had been actually offered.

Presentation (ii) completes the scene revealing us that Abraham did not back down from his faithful obedience of offering up his son. During the length of time it took for the offering preparations, from the beginning until the last moment, when the angel held Abraham's hand, the whole time Abraham was offering up his son—the continued, not completed kind of action communicated by the imperfect Greek tense, προσέφερεν.

Now, as far as translations go, while the KJV renders προσενήνοχεν and προσέφερεν the same, "offered up", not all translations do that. The CLNT, for instance, brings:

By faith Abraham, when undergoing trial, has offered Isaac, and he who receives the promises offered the only-begotten, (Heb.11:17, CLNT)

Not quite there as the interlinear with full morphology, especially in the historical statement, but at least distinguishing between the two forms.

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It is possible it is simply stylistic. The writer choose to vary the tense not to convey a nuance of meaning but simply for the elegance of the writing

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