In John 1:15, why is μαρτυρεῖ present tense while ἦν in οὗτος ἦν ὃν εἶπον is imperfect? The tenses seem backwards.

The present tense on past events is common in the Gospel of John, "Historical (dramatic) present indicative of this characteristic word in John (cf. 1:17f.)."* The confusing tense is the ἦν. κέκραγεν is perfect tense with the results of John's cry still ringing in John's memory. But, the imperfect ἦν is as if John the Baptist were still crying out in the present about a past event.

*Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 1:15). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

  • κέκραγεν is perfect, not present. The question about ἦν is interesting, though.
    – Susan
    Feb 6, 2018 at 2:28

1 Answer 1


John is, in fact, speaking in the present of a past event; namely, the occasion when he said, "He that cometh after me is preferred before me."

In other words, "Jesus was the one I was talking about when I said, ..."

This saying of John the Baptist is repeated in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:7-8, and Luke 3:16. But whereas the other Evangelists recorded the actual event of John the Baptist saying "He that cometh after me ...", in John's Gospel, the Baptist is recollecting the event. Augustine, in his Harmony of the Gospels, explained:

The statements made by these three are attested by the evangelist John, when he says: “John bears witness of Him, and cries, saying, This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me; for He was before me.” For thus he indicates that the thing was spoken by John at the time at which those other evangelists record him to have uttered the words. Thus, too, he gives us to understand that John was repeating and calling into notice again something which he had already spoken, when he said, “This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me.” (Book II, Ch. XII.26)

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