Tag Archives: Gospels

The Mythology of the “Historical Present”

by David Bentley Hart

I should not take exception, I suppose, if critics occasionally question my choice to render all Greek present tense verbs as English present tense verbs in my recent translation of the New Testament. The same choice was made, as it happens, by Tyndale and by his successors on the committee of scholars who produced the King James Version, but most modern readers are so distracted by the older, non-sibilant form of third person singular constructions that they generally fail to notice that when “Jesus saith” something or “goeth” somewhere he is doing so in a kind of temporally abstract narrative now. As far as I am concerned, this is the only way in which the texts should be rendered. Even so, while I am convinced that those who think otherwise are quite mistaken, I have to admit that they have at least come by their prejudice honestly, since they have been systematically misinformed on the issue all through the years of their theological education. For better than half a century, seminarians and divinity school students and teachers of the New Testament, all of whom typically began their study of Greek some time in their twenties (and then only the Greek of the New Testament texts, as filtered through defective traditions of translation and interpretation), have been indoctrinated with a remarkable quantity of nonsense regarding the use of tenses in Greek historical narratives from late antiquity. Continue reading