In John 9:25, the Greek text according to Robert Estienne's 1550 Textus Receptus is:

ἀπεκρίθη οὖν ἐκεῖνος καὶ εἶπεν, Εἰ ἁμαρτωλός ἐστιν οὐκ οἶδα ἓν οἶδα ὅτι τυφλὸς ὢν ἄρτι βλέπω

The King James Version translated the Greek text as,

He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.

In this instance, I would expect the participle ὢν to be translated into English as the same tense as the main verb, βλέπω, which is conjugated in the present tense. Is there something about the assumption that it's concessive (which seems appropriate) that allows us to break this rule? (Although we could say that logically it must be past tense, if it's grammatically unlikely, then the paradox of at once being blind and seeing doesn't seem to me out of character for the gospels.)

1 Answer 1


Henry Alford commented,

The man shrewdly evades the inference and states again the simple fact. Bear in mind, that ὤν must here be strictly kept to its present sense, as being joined with a present verb βλέπω: the rule for the construction of a pres. part. being, that it is contemporaneous with the verb which rules the time of the sentence. So that we must render, not ‘whereas I WAS blind, now I see,’ as E. V.: but as A.V.R., being a blind man [or, though a blind man], now I see. The shrewd and naïve disposition of the man furnishes the key to the ænigmatical expression. He puts it to them as the problem, the fact of which he knows for certain but the reason of which it was for them to solve, that he, whom they all knew as a blind man, now saw. So that the ὤν carries not so much present matter of fact, as common designation and title.

As to the rule that Alford mentioned, Funk wrote,

849 Present and aorist participles: 'tense.' The tenses of the participle do not, strictly speaking, represent time. The temporal element is derived from the relation of the participle to the main verb (§846.2).

849 (3) The present participle usually represents action in progress at the same time as the action of the main verb. The simultaneous participial action may thus be in the past, present, or future, depending on the tense of the main verb.

In other words, if the participle is in the present tense and the main verb is in the present tense, we should expect to translate the participle into English as a present tense with the action being contemporaneous with the action of the finite (main) verb. The KJV translated it as though participle ὢν was conjugated in the aorist (rather than present) tense.

  • a key point to consider here is that the participle ὤν precedes the main verb βλέπω, for which Funk appears to have no allowance. more recent scholarship (e.g. David Allen Black) has concluded (for now, at least), that a participle of any type the precedes the main verb of the clause will have action prior to that of the main verb.
    – swasheck
    Feb 16, 2015 at 20:04
  • @swasheck: Interesting! Can you provide some examples that he cites? I'd like to take a look and investigate. Thanks!
    – user862
    Sep 20, 2015 at 3:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.