Grammar and the Bondage of the Will

 

Here’s an instance where a small and sometimes difficult point of grammar can show the source of some doctrinal truths we (Reformed Christians) confess.  In this case, it is the bondage of the will prior to conversion/regeneration as shown from Titus 3.3 (see Canons of Dort III/IV.3).

In this verse, Paul uses an imperfect “being” verb (ESV “were”) plus four present participles (ESV “led astray,” “slaves to/serving,” “passing our days,” and “hating”).  In the Greek, an imperfect “being” verb plus a present participle equals the imperfect tense (technical jargon: a periphrastic participle).  That is, even though the participles are present, the imperfect being verb in this case renders the participles as imperfect.  In summary, the above four participles must be treated as imperfects (See Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 647-8).

So what?  The imperfect tense in Greek is usually past time and displays the past as “a motion picture, portraying the action as it unfolds” (Ibid., 541).  The imperfect can be translated as “he began doing ____” (inceptive), or “from time to time he did ____” (iterative), or “he habitually did ____” (customary) or a few other ways.  I would submit that in Titus 3.3 Paul used the imperfect being verb plus the present participles to describe something that customarily, contiunally, or habitually happened. 

In other words, in Titus 3.3 Paul says, “You were habitually…wondering astray…slaves to various lusts and pleasures…living life in evil and envy… and hating one another.

Wallace agrees, though discussing a different verse; for Rom. 6.17 Wallace translates the imperfect being verb as, “you were continually slaves of sin” (Ibid., 548).

shane

sunnyside wa

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