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 Vol. 7, No. 7 

July 2005


~ Page 8 ~

The Present Tense in Titus 1:6

By David P. Stevens

Therefore Stand. 21 (2005): 13-14.

The apostle Paul instructed Titus to ordain elders in every city in Crete (Titus 1:5). The selection of the right men for this great work was important. Hence, Paul gives a list of qualifications that these men were to possess at the time of their appointment to this spiritual office in the Lord's church.

A question arises in Titus 1:6 concerning the present tense verb "be." What is the precise nature of the present tense in this verse? How did the Holy Spirit intend it to be understood and applied? These are important questions.

Paul writes, "If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly" (Titus 1:6). The verb translated "be" in the KJV is from the Greek word estin. Estin is third person, singular, present indicative of eimi. It is found within a first class conditional statement (ei with the indicative) which emphasizes actual occurrence--definite time rather than indefinite (McKay, A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek 167). Verse six begins, "ei tis estin" which can be translated, "if anyone is" (Jay Green, The Interlinear New Testament 657). Paul means that if someone (indefinite pronoun tis) can be found who meets the qualifications, then, that person should be appointed as an elder or bishop. The person being considered must possess the qualifications at the time of being appointed. This is indicated by the use of the first class conditional statement and by the meaning of the present tense in the indicative mood.

Many make a mistake with the use of the present tense. I have observed many times that when the present tense is encountered someone would say, "that's continuous action into the future." This is a mistake. While the present tense may indicate that the action continues into the future (depending upon the type of present tense used), it does not always do so. Wesley Perschbacher gives fifteen different uses of the present tense in the Greek New Testament. He writes:

The present tense is inclusive of linear, punctiliar and perfective action and thus some have designated it a zero tense. However, aspect or kind of action is the main emphasis. The present tense is classified according to the following categories: descriptive, aoristic, iterative, customary, gnomic, historical, futuristic, perfective, past action continuing into the present, stative, tendential, impersonal, explanatory, elliptical, and present of indirect discourse. These classifications are based on three contributing factors: the basic idea of the tense, the meaning of the verb, and the significance of the context. All three factors enter into the determination of the specific function of a given verb in speech or writing (New Testament Greek Syntax 279).

Several important observations can be made from this comment by Perschbacher. First, it is not sufficient to identify a verb merely as present tense. We must ask, what kind of present tense is it? Second, the meaning of the verb and context in which it is used is extremely important. Let's look at each of these features as they relate to Titus 1:6.

What kind of present tense is the verb "be" in Titus 1:6? Burton, in his book Moods and Tenses, pages 7-8, states, " results that the Present Indicative is chiefly used to express action in progress in present time. Hence in deciding upon the significance of any given instance of the Present Indicative in the New Testament as well as in classical Greek, the interpreter may consider that there is, at least in the majority of words, a certain presumption in favor of the Progressive Present rather than any of the other uses mentioned below." This statement points the interpreter of Titus 1:6 to the progressive present. The progressive present is the common use of the present tense. In the indicative mood, which we have in Titus 1:6, the action (which is linear--action in progress) is portrayed as occurring in the present time ("right now"), that is at the time of speaking (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics 516). Keep in mind that the progressive present is sometimes called the descriptive present (Wallace 516-518). Wallace gives an illustration of the present tense that is worth noting. The present tense views the action from within without respect to beginning or end (aspect) (Wallace 499-501). "To sit in the stands as a spectator and watch a parade as it is passing by is an internal perspective: one views the parade in its progression, without focusing on the beginning or end" (Wallace 500). Wallace illustrates the "kind of action" that is indicated in the progressive present. In the indicative mood, the progressive present indicates action in progress in present time.

Lexically, can the verb estin function as a descriptive present? Wallace answers this question in a footnote on page 518. He states, "Lexically, the verbs that take progressive presents are often stative." Estin is derived from eimi which is a stative verb. It is apparent to me that some might confuse the progressive present (descriptive present) in Titus 1:6 with the stative present because the verb estin (a stative verb) is used. Don't make this mistake. The stative present is used much less in the Greek New Testament and there is no compelling reason to believe that it is being used by Paul in Titus 1:6. Paul uses the common present tense--the progressive or descriptive present.

The verb "be" in Titus 1:6 functions as a descriptive verb. Verbs of being describe even in English. John Warriner in the book English Grammar and Composition states, "Linking verbs are sometimes called state-of-being verbs because they help describe the condition or state-of-being of a person or thing" (12). The verb "be" serves to describe the person who can serve as an elder. The qualifications must be met at the time he is appointed as an elder. Dana and Mantey write concerning the descriptive present, "that which is now going on" (182). Because this verb is in the indicative mood, we know that it depicts action in progress in present time. Why is this so important? You cannot use the present tense in Titus 1:6 to prove that twenty or thirty years after a man has been appointed as an elder, he must step down if his wife dies. Or, that if his children die in an automobile accident, he must step down because he no longer has children who believe. Or, that if his adult children fall away he is disqualified by that action and must step down from being an elder. An elder may elect to step down under these circumstances, but he is not compelled to do so by the present tense in Titus 1:6.Image

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