On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn. 1:29 NET)
What is the proper verb tense?
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This is a present participle. Because it is a participle, the time, past, present, or future must be determined by the context. Thus, we would understand this to relate to His future crucifixion even if translated as present tense.
Which taketh away the sin of the world (ὁ αἰρων την ἁμαρτιαν του κοσμου [ho airōn tēn hamartian tou kosmou]). Note singular ἁμαρτιαν [hamartian] not plural ἁμαρτιας [hamartias] (1 John 3:5) where same verb αἰρω [airō], to bear away, is used. The future work of the Lamb of God here described in present tense as in 1 John 1:7 about the blood of Christ. He is the Lamb of God for the world, not just for Jews. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 1:29). Broadman Press.
In Greek, the wording is somewhat different from the translation. The word translated to English as "taketh away" (KJV) is actually a present-participle active, like "taking." Furthermore, it is joined to the phrase in poetic style, with an article ("the") and without another verb.
So we might translate this portion as:
"Behold, the Lamb of God--taking the sin away from the world."
"Behold, the Lamb of God--the taking away of the sin of the world."
Strictly speaking, the sense of the word can be applied to future, present, or even the past, even as the present participle can be found in any of those tenses in English. Consider "taking" in the various "tenses": "had been taking" (past perfect continuous), "was taking" (past simple continuous), "is taking" (present continuous), "has been taking" (present perfect continuous), "will be taking" (future continuous), "will have been taking" (future perfect continuous), etc.
Greek and English grammar do not perfectly align, and it is an ordinary matter for translators to sometimes need to change a word form from a noun to a verb, an adverb to an adjective, etc. during the translation process as they wrestle with the differing grammars of the two languages. In this case, the translators felt the need to adjust the grammar in English to make it more natural and understandable for those who would not know the Greek idiom.
There is no debate or doubt about this being a present (active) participle. Context shows who said this, and when, and why. John the Baptist had just been quizzed a day earlier by the religious authorities, who directly asked him if he was the promised Messiah, the Christ of prophecy. He emphatically denied that he was, saying that that one was in their midst but they did not know him. (John 1:19-27) The next day, John saw Jesus approaching him and declared him to be "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."
John could not speak in the past tense because Jesus' ministry was just about to start and would have to run its course until it was time for him to be sacrificed like a lamb. Of interest, and significant, is how the last book of the Bible speaks of this same one, resurrected and seen in vision as "in the midst of the throne" (of God, in heaven.) This one "in the midst of the throne... stood a Lamb as it had been slain..." yet goes on to show that this one was very much alive.
This one stood. A dead lamb cannot stand. This one took hold of a scroll and began to open its seven seals. This one was very much alive, therefore the past tense of the appearance (looking like) a lamb that previously had been slain is the point being conveyed, to establish clearly that this one had once been slain but now was alive. The appearance is to be noted, for until the slaying of that one took place, he could not be called the Lamb of God that had taken away any sin at all.
This point applies to the question, to clarify that the one tense that could never apply to John the Baptist's words about Christ at the start of his ministry, was past tense. The other possibility raised (present tense) - "is taking away" - can fit. So can the second possibility (future tense) - "will take away". That both senses apply is not a problem. The Greek allows for that.
What cannot be allowed is the start of the question re. Jn. 1:29: "Jesus took away the sin of the world..." for that could only be stated after Christ had been slain, then resurrected. That is why the point in Revelation 5:5-7 needed to be considered. As explained here, regarding Revelation 5:5-7:
"...the Lamb is in a posture of readiness to bring in the redemption which he had already accomplished, not only for God's people, but for all God's thoughts in Creation. This is not the posture of rest: it is the stance of impending action...
'As it had been slain'. That is, as having made atonement; expiated sin; propitiated wrath;..." The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 126-7, John Metcalfe
There had to come a point in time, in history, when the only-begotten Son of God would be manifest on Earth in humanity to fulfil the Father's will (Jn. 3:16) that he become the ultimate Passover Lamb so that no more would any sacrifice for sin be required by the Father. John the Baptist identified Jesus of Nazareth as the one to do that, which is what his words in ch. 1 vs. 29 mean.
I would translate John the Baptist's statement (John 1:29) as follows, assuming the article is acting as a pronoun (as it often does):
Behold the Lamb of God; the One taking away the sin of the world.
Thus, the main sense of this statement is Jesus is the One who is in the process of taking away the sin of the world. [This would presumably be concluded at His crucifixion and resurrection.]
The verb tense of αἴρων (= "taking away") is a present participle whose subject is the article as mentioned above and then by proxy, "the Lamb".
At the Cross or Later
John 1:29 does not specifically address the question about whether Jesus provided atonement at the cross or later. That question is clearly answered elsewhere - Jesus provided fully atonement for sin at the cross: