Tenses & Clause Position in the Psalms – Section 1: Imperfect Consecutive after Perfect (part 2)

I thought it might be interesting to survey how our modern English versions handle the passages we discussed in yesterday’s post. As a reminder, Michel’s point was that the perfect (qatal) relates to the imperfect consecutive (wayyiqtol) in a cause-effect or reason-result manner.

Psalm 30:3 [English v. 2]

For the most part, in relationship to how the verb forms are treated, the English versions are in agreement.

O Lord my God, I called to you [qatal] for help and you healed me [wayyiqtol]. (NIV)

Both tenses are translated in the past and simply connected with “and.” This seems reasonable, since it can be implied from the sense of the verse that the healing comes as a result of the help.

Psalm 28:7

Comparing the versions on this verse shows how they do not follow Michel’s thinking on the relationship of the imperfect consecutive following the perfect. First consider the NRSV:

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts [qatal]; so I am helped [qatal], and my heart exults [wayyiqtol] …

According to this translation, the help is portrayed as a consequence of the heart’s trusting, and the exulting is stringed together with the being helped. As a result, it gives the impression that the perfect and imperfect consecutive are merely interchangeable. I suppose the argument could be made that these two actions have a natural cause-effect relationship, but according to Michel’s work, the second would have been in the imperfect consecutive as in Ps 30:3. Other translations, while not making the second perfect a consequence of the first, simply translate all three verbs with the same English tense and no expressed relationship. Consider the ESV:

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults …

In contrast, the NKJV and NASB show a cause-effect relationship when the text moves from the perfect to the imperfect consecutive.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults … (NASB)

The conclusion that can be drawn from this analysis is that the author has deliberately presented the trusting and helping as general facts while at the same time bringing the heart’s exulting into focus. In other words, the author’s purpose was not to show how the helping was a result of the trusting but how the heart’s exultation was a consequence of both the trusting and helping. The progress of action is the exulting. If Michel is correct, this gives a subtle distinction that the reader must note.

Psalm 66:10–12

These three verses consist of a series of actions described with the perfect (tested, purified, brought, etc.) concluded with a turn to the imperfect consecutive in v. 12b (“and you brought”). The point made by Michel was that the perfects presented the actions generally with no linking together and no progression. Progress is only made when the tense shifts to the wayyiqtol. The English versions all treat this shift similarly by emphasizing the contrast (“yet/but you brought…”). The ESV is representative:

10 For you, O God, have tested [qatal] us; you have tried [qatal] us as silver is tried.
11 You brought [qatal] us into the net; you laid [qatal] a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride [qatal] over our heads; we went [qatal] through fire and through water; yet you have brought [wayyiqtol] us out to a place of abundance.

As a result, the relationship between these is simply one of contrast, not cause-effect. Thus, the English versions cloud the idea that the testing, trying, bringing, etc., were presented by the author as purifying acts of Yhwh that had as their goal the “place of abundance” to which they were brought.

Psalm 41:13 [English 12]

Although they translate the tenses with different English tenses, the English versions treat the qatal/wayyiqtol relationship similarly. The NIV is a good representation of this:

In my integrity you uphold me [qatal] and set me [wayyiqtol] in your presence forever.

Again, a cause-effect relationship could be implied, but the English translation gives only the impression that the two actions proceed in the same way. In contrast, if Michel is correct, the relationship that the author implies is that the setting is a result of the upholding. From a general fact, the writer describes an expected result.


Author: Randy McKinion

Besides being a husband and father, I teach at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.

2 thoughts on “Tenses & Clause Position in the Psalms – Section 1: Imperfect Consecutive after Perfect (part 2)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s