Fun with Verb Tenses [No Really!]

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I’ve taken a screenshot of the ESV with the verb tenses colorized because John really reveals the character of Judas Iscariot (betrayer of Jesus) for us here, but if we don’t pay attention to—you guessed it—verb tenses, then we will completely miss what John tells us.

In Greek when you want to refer to an ongoing act in the past, you use the imperfect tense.  When you want to take a snapshot of the past—a single point in time—you use the aorist tense.  The imperfect tense is continuous action in the past, not a one time event, something that was ongoing.

In my colorization system, the red color highlights where John uses the imperfect tense.

So in light of all that, look at verse six.  John tells us that Judas did not complain that Mary used so much perfume on Jesus “because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Do you see how John shapes our understanding of the character of Judas Iscariot here?  Judas’ lack of care for the poor was not a one time event in the past, it was an ongoing character trait.  The fact that he was a thief?  Ongoing character trait.  His penchant to steal money?  Ongoing behavior in the past.  In other words, Judas didn’t just succumb to temptation to steal once and that was the end of it, he was a habitual thief, and he habitually did not care about the poor.  He was out for himself.

Which all brings to mind Emily Dickinson’s poem that captures the nature of failing so brilliantly well.  Judas did not go in one fell swoop from upright citizen to knave and thief, he did it by inches, or, as Emily Dickinson puts it:

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays.

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust—

Ruin is formal—Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow—
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping—is Crash’s law.

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2 Responses to Fun with Verb Tenses [No Really!]

  1. Matthew Ashmore says:

    The Dickinson poem reminds me of a line from the Screwtape letters:

    “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…”

  2. murfmonkey says:

    Such a great truism from C. S. Lewis. The man had insight into the human condition, that’s for sure! Matthew!! Hey, I sent you a twitter follow request (leblaireau). I went incognito to foil the odious NSA.

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