A Refutation of a Common Hyperpreterist Argument from 1 Corinthians 15 and the Present Tense Verbs

I have recently been reading through Yan Huang’s fine textbook on Pragmatics. In it, I have rediscovered something that interested me the first time I heard Greg Bahnsen’s lectures on the Philosophy of Christianity, and that is indexical reference, or, as Huang calls it, deixis. I am now able to much more understand and appreciate just how brilliant and yet innovative Héctor-Neri Castañeda’s work on quasi-indicators or quasi-indexicals was.

However, it also got me thinking about a common argument from hyperpreterists that you can find on a variety of their websites. An example of the argument can be found here:

It should be noted that the phrase, “so will it be with the resurrection of the dead” is better translated, “so also the resurrection of the dead.” There are no future tense verbs in this passage. Phrases such as “is sown,” and “is raised,” in the Greek, are in the present tense and mean, “are being sown” and “are being raised.” This all shows how this change was a present process at the time Paul was addressing this issue.

Likewise, we have the same argument more explicitly made here:

Paul had used the present tense in verses 15, 16, 29, and 32. It seems that he anticipates that his audience will pick up on this fact.

However, your view must change the present tense to a future; “will be raised.”

Indeed, Don Preston even used this argument against Brian Schwertley in their debate. It is a very popular argument that Hyperpreterists like to make. The problem, as I see it, is that it makes a gross error in Pragmatics, and specifically, a gross error in deixis.

What specifically is deixis? Huang defines it as, “The phenomenon whereby features of context of utterance or speech event are encoded by lexical and/or grammatical means in a language1.” Related to this are deictic expressions or deictics. Huang defines these as, “Expressions that have a deictic usage as basic or central2.”

An example of a deictic expression is the second person singular pronoun “you.” When this pronoun is used, its referent is speaker relative. It is the same thing with the first person personal pronoun “I.” For example, if I am talking to George, and I say, “George, you can’t do it this way,” the “you,” in this sentence refers to “George.” However, if George says to me, “You can’t do it that way,” now the referent for the “you” is me.

This is why, when we are dealing with quotations in Hebrew, the referent for the pronouns in the quotation is going to depend upon who the speaker and the addressee is. Let’s take the following example:

Genesis 7:1 Then the LORDi said to Noahj, “Enter the ark, youj and all yourj household; for youj alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.

Here, in this passage, the word “you” refers to Noah, because Noah is the one being addressed [Then the Lord said to Noah]. However, the “I” refers back to “the Lord,” as he is the one who is speaking [Then The Lord said]. However, look at this text:

Exodus 4:10 Then Mosesi said to the LORDj, “Please, Lord, Ii have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Youj have spoken to Yourj servant; for Ii am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

Now, the “I” refers back to the speaker Moses, and the “you” refers back to the addressee, namely the Lord! Hence, we have a complete reversal, simply because we have a different quotative fame setting up who the speaker and the addressee is. This is why “I” and “you” are considered “deictic expressions,” because their referent is dependent upon context.

What is interesting however, is that time also has deixis. One of the examples that I read where this must be recognized is in the discussion of paradoxes of omniscience. Castañeda cites the following argument from Kretzmann which will demonstrate this point:

…if the object of my knowledge is the height of the Chrysler Building, then of course a change in the object of my knowledge does necessitate a change in me. If a 40-foot television antenna is extended from the present tip of the tower, either I will cease to know the [present] height of the Chrysler Building or I will give up believing that its height is 1,046 feet and begin believing that it is 1,086 feet3.

The problem with this argument is, as Castañeda points out, that this argument relies upon a particular deictic expression, namely, the present tense. Deictic expressions can only be presented from the point of view of the speaker. For example, a person who is witnessing first hand the angel of the Lord delivering Jerusalem from the invading army of Sennacherib will say, “An angel of the Lord is delivering Jerusalem from the invading armies of Sennacherib.” However, we today may not use the present tense. We would say something like, “An angel of the Lord delivered Jerusalem from the invading army of Sennacherib. Notice how the only difference between these two sentences is the tense of the verb. The reason the tenses are different, is because the perspective of the speaker is different. Thus, it is possible that God can express the height of the Chrysler building at different points in time that do not include the self-referential deictic expressions4.

However, Huang points out a distinction that must be made regarding tense. This distinction is between metalinguistic tense [M-tense] and linguistic tense [L-tense]5. By M-tense, Huang, following Lyons and Levinson, means to refer to “the theoretical category of tense,” and, by L-tense, he means to refer to “the linguistic realization of M-tense, typically through verbal inflection but also in the form of other periphrastic constructions in a particular language6.” Huang points to a contrast between these two by giving one example in English and one example in Chinese:

a. The giant panda lives on bamboo shoots.

b. Xiaoming qunian jielehun
Xiaoming last year get married
Translation: Xiaoming got married last year7.

Huang points out that, in a., you have a sentence that is M-tenseless, but L-tensed. That is, although there is a present tense marker [lives], the sentence is not referring to anything that is happening right now; it is speaking of a general truth. However, in the Chinese example, we have a sentence that is L-tenseless, but M-tensed! The problem is, as Huang points out, the only tense that can be given a purely deictic interpretation is M-tense. He points to major problems with taking L-tense as purely deictic8.

Now, we can return to the hyperpreterist argument. The argument from the hyperpreterists assumes a deictic function to the present tense in 1 Corinthians 15 verses 15, 16, 29, and 32. However, the question we must ask is whether they mean, by calling these verbs “present tense” to refer to the M-tense or the L-tense. The easiest way to do this would be to say that they are referring to the M-tense, since the M-tense is purely deictic. However, as we have seen, this must be argued, since it is not a matter of word form. The second option seems to be where most of the hyperpreterists want to go, and that is to assume that the present tense here in the sense of an L-tense. That is, Paul is using verbs that are morphological realized as present tenses. The problem is, as we have seen, there are major problems with marking the L-tense in a purely deictic way.

Let us take the above English example that we used earlier:

a. The giant panda lives on bamboo shoots.

As we have seen, this sentence is M-tenseless because it is describing a general, timeless fact, and yet, it is L-tensed because it is in the English present tense. The question naturally becomes whether New Testament Greek has a particular usage of the present tense that is L-tensed, but M-tenseless. As it turns out, it does. Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, a New Testament Greek grammarian describes what he calls the “Gnomic Present:”

1. Definition

The present tense may be used to make a statement of a general, timeless fact. “It does not say that something is happening, but that something does happen.” The action or state continues without time limits. The verb is used “in proverbial statements or general maxims about what occurs at all times.” This usage is common.

2. Semantics and Semantic Situations

The gnomic present is distinct from the customary present in that the customary present refers to a regularly recurring action while the gnomic present refers to a general, timeless fact. It is distinct from the stative present (a subcategory of the customary) in that the stative present involves a temporal restriction while the gnomic present is generally atemporal9.

Notice how Wallace says that this usage is “timeless” and that it refers to a “general timeless fact.” He also refers to it as “proverbial.” One of the clear examples he gives of this usage is:

Hebrews 3:4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.

Now, obviously, it would be foolish to translate this text as “For every house is being built by someone.” Obviously, it would be utterly false, as every house, even back in the first century wasn’t being built that the time the author of the book of Hebrews wrote this. Instead, it is stating a general, timeless fact, and thus, κατασκευαζεται in Hebrews 3:4 has L-tense but is M-tenseless. Because of this, it simply cannot be deictic.

Let us now look to see if this is possible in the text of 1 Corinthians 15. Here are the verses in question, with the present tenses highlighted:

1 Corinthians 15:42-44 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

The suggestion that our hyperpreterist friends are making is that these present tenses are deictic expressions. The question I have raised is whether these present tenses could be L-tensed but is M-tenseless in the form of what Wallace calls a “Gnomic Present.” The question is whether the context points to this text as indicating a general, timeless fact, or whether the context indicates that we are dealing here with something explicitly temporal, and thus having M-tense, and thus, being deictic. The passage is in the context of an analogy:

1 Corinthians 15:35-44 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

The point of the analogy is to describe the relationship between the body that dies, and the body that is raised. It is like a seed, which first dies, and then comes to life [vrs. 36-38]. Paul then goes on to argue that God gives all kinds of bodies to whomever he wants [vrs. 39-41]. Thus, up until this point, we have not been dealing with temporal expressions, but we have been dealing with general, timeless facts. How do I know this? Simply because this analogy is meant to describe the *nature* of the resurrection, namely, that it is like a seed that dies, and comes back to life. Since we are dealing with the nature of the resurrection, it fits the context much better to take these Greek present tenses to be L-tensed but is M-tenseless, and thus, I would say these present tenses are not deictic.

I think that the main problem with this argument is, as my professor Dr. John Feinberg said, that it was way too atomistic from the beginning. Tense needs to be taken into account, and yes, deixis is very important in language meaning, but we must understand the various complexities that exist in tense itself, and how those complexities relate to temporal deixis. At this point, it becomes a matter of examining the context, and understanding the flow of the author’s argument, in order to be able to understand how the author is using his language.

1Huang, Yan. Pragmatics, Oxford Textbooks on Linguistics. Oxford University Press. New York, New York. 2007 p.132

2ibid. p.133

3Castañeda, Héctor-Neri. Omniscience and Indexical Reference. Found in: Brody, Baruch A. Readings in Philosophy of Religion, An Analytical Approach. Prentice Hall Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. 1974. p.382.

4This is where Castañeda uses the notion of quasi-indicators. Quasi indicators are defined by Castañeda according to several syntacticosemantical characteristics. 1. It appears in a subordinate clause expressing a propositional attitude. 2. It has an antecedent that is not in the same subordinate clause, and 3. It is not “replaceable by its antecedent with preservation of the proposition or statement formulated with the whole sentence” [ibid, p.380]. The important characteristic of quasi-indicators is that they are transferable. Hence, Castañeda proposes this scenario:

Kretzmann knows at t1 that: the Chrysler Building is 1,046 feet high at t1, and at t3 it will have a 40-foot antenna extended from its tip, and that the man who makes the extension knows at t2 that they Chrysler Building is 1086 feet high then [ibid, p.382].

If all of these things are true, then no change in Kretzmann’s knowledge has taken place.

5Huang, p.148

6ibid.

7ibid.

8ibid. Some of these problems he mentions are that L-tenses may include aspectual or modal overtones. He lists the future tense as nearly always having these overtones. Also, the L-tense may not distinguish past from future. For example, in New Testament Greek, the present tense can refer to things that are past [Mark 6:1] or things that are future [John 4:25]. Also, Huang notes that, in some languages, such as Amahauchan, L-tense makes use of calendrical units [yesterday, etc].

9Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Zondervan Publishing House. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1995. p.523

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8 Responses to “A Refutation of a Common Hyperpreterist Argument from 1 Corinthians 15 and the Present Tense Verbs”

  1. MoGrace2u Says:

    Hi Adam,
    I think you have made a good point that the tense here in 1 Cor 15 is not proving a thing that the dead were being raised as Paul was speaking – other than for Christ. And since the timing for the rest of the dead is established as being at His coming – at the last trump, it seems clear Paul is still looking forward to that event.

    Therefore we are back to square one to find out what would signify the coming of the Lord and the time the dead would be raised according to the prophecy. The futurist has no definitive answer for that as only speculation can be offered once one fails to consider the sign given, was the fall of Jerusalem.

    Robin

  2. RoderickE Says:

    keep it up Adam, though most hyperpreterists are no where near this level of analyzation it is a good article to pull out whenever a hyperprets thinks he is going to pull a “tense” card 🙂

  3. The Preterist Blog ~ 100% Hyperpreterist Free » Blog Archive » A Refutation of a Common Hyperpreterist Argument from 1 Corinthians 15 and the Present Tense Verbs By otrmin Says:

    […] Not to the reader, this article has been posted at the permission of Adam the author.  More of Adam’s work can be seen at, https://otrmin.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/a-refutation-of-a-common-hyperpreterist-argument-from-1-corin… […]

  4. otrmin Says:

    Robin, Roderick,

    Thank you very much for your comments. Also, Robin, I will keep you in mind as a hyperpreterist who agrees with me on the argument presented in this article! You are right that it doesn’t settle the issue between us, as a person could reject the argument I critiqued, and still be a hyperpreterist. I just wanted to deal with this argument because I kept reading it everywhere!

    God Bless,
    Adam

  5. MoGrace2u Says:

    Adam,
    I don’t expect the battle to be won thru semantics (pragmatic or otherwise 😉 Which is one reason I like the LXX since it was written before any NT doctrine had been heard. And though that still doesn’t eliminate bias on the part of the translators, it is at least an honest rendering of Jewish understanding at that time before such biases could have been added. And perhaps the source for the quotes we find from the apostles. Though for some reason, we never find these Hebrew speaking men attempting to explain their choice of Greek words according to that language. Just a thought I felt I should throw in there…If it were only a matter of finding a correct rendering of the Greek into English, I have to wonder why the Lord didn’t pick 12 scholars!

    Robin

  6. otrmin Says:

    Robin,

    Ya, I agree that the semantics of one text isn’t going to solve the issue.

    I have always said that the issue is more foundational than that. This is an issue of hermeneutics, or how our respective positions approach the Bible. If you have different approaches to the Bible, you get different conclusions.

    God Bless,
    Adam

  7. Shawn Mathis Says:

    I’d recommend Bahsen’s course on hermeneutics as well as logic.
    And I’ll have to buy Yan’s book eventually…so many books, so little time!

  8. otrmin Says:

    Shawn,

    Isn’t that the truth. James White said on his podcast that he bought a Kindle, and a computer sound program, and plays the books overnight on his Kindle, and uses the text to speech feature to record it as an mp3 onto his computer. He then stores it on his I-Pod, and listens to the books while he rides his bike. I don’t have a kindle, but it is certainly an idea.

    God Bless,
    Adam

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