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I'm in discussion with a friend of mine and we can't seem to come to an agreement. We're specifically discussing a passage in the King James Bible in Revelation 1:4,

John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;

The specific phrase, "which is to come". I've understood the words, "to come" to be an infinitive, but what is the aspect of it? I thought it would be a present tense infinitive and my friend is saying that it has to be a future tense infinitive because every time you see, "to <word>" it's referring to the future.

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    I don't think there's such a thing as "future tense infinitive" in English. Regardless of whether it includes the marker to, the infinitive isn't a tense in itself, but it can be incorporated into constructions that do have a tensed verb representing past or present (or an auxiliary verb representing "future tense"). Thus I wanted to comment, I want to comment, I will want to comment. The cited text uses present tense is to indicate future, which is normal in English (but it could equally well have been which will be to come). – FumbleFingers Jul 1 '16 at 17:06
  • @FumbleFingers That was along the line of my thoughts, because I had checked several grammars that mentioned nothing about "future tense infinitive". And I appreciate your examples, because it seemed to me that in order to communicate the future tense using an infinitive we need to add the helper "will". Thanks for commenting! – Jeremy Menicucci Jul 1 '16 at 17:12
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    English only really has two tenses (present, and "not-present", which doesn't always mean "past"). There's no way to inflect the base form of any verb to indicate "future" - you can only do it by inflecting an auxiliary verb, as in I will answer. Note that we can also indicate future in other ways, such as I am going to answer, but in both those examples answer is an infinitive (the first one is "bare", in that it doesn't include the infinitive marker to). – FumbleFingers Jul 1 '16 at 17:24
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    Related: Language Log: The Lord which was and is – Damkerng T. Jul 1 '16 at 18:56
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    The play is to open off-Broadway ~= The play will open off-Broadway. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 1 '16 at 20:57
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You're right, it refers to the future. In short, that passage refers to God as existing currently (is), existing in the past (was), and coming into existence in the future (to come). That last bit is a little tricky, because "to come" in this sort of context usually means "not now, but later" which is contradictory to the previous two statements (is/was). Given the source material, you might presume this is poetic, intended to create the sense of mystery that goes along with an omnipresent deity.

EDIT: I'd like to note that the phrase "to come" in this instance isn't the infinitive form, but just a phrase that means "in the future."

  • How are you determining that "to come" is not the infinitive form? – Jeremy Menicucci Jul 1 '16 at 18:56
  • @JeremyMenicucci Usage, mostly. "To come" shows up as an infinitive: "I am to come home." You might even say, "I am to come," which looks the same as the above usage but still may mean something close to "I am to join you when you go." But you might also say something very odd like: "I am, I was, and I am to come." It's a little grandiose, but in that context means "I am" (I exist), "I was" (I existed previously), and "I am to come" (I (will) exist in the future). In that context it acts more like the prepositional phrase "in the future" even though it looks like an infinitive. – Epicedion Jul 1 '16 at 20:10
  • @JeremyMenicucci Additionally, these are the strong forms of the verb "to be" -- I am. I was. They are not helping/auxillary verbs in this sense, they are explicitly describing the act of existing. – Epicedion Jul 1 '16 at 20:32
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Your friend is correct that it frees to the future

which is, and which was, and which is to come (KJV)

can also be understood to be

who is, and who was, and who is coming (ERV)

From context, what is being said is

then, now, will be

meaning always.

Various versions of the Bible can be found here using the dropdown box in the upper left corner.

  • "who is, and who was, and who is to coming (ERV)" It's "who is coming" in the ERV based on the link you provided – eques Jul 1 '16 at 17:18
  • I'm not sure I'm following this answer. If the ERV translates as "who is coming", isn't the word "coming" a present tense? – Jeremy Menicucci Jul 1 '16 at 17:21
  • "Who is coming to the party tomorrow?" asks about the future. – Peter Jul 1 '16 at 17:30
  • @JeremyMenicucci "Coming" isn't a verb in that sentence. – Epicedion Jul 1 '16 at 17:32
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    @Peter I'm following what you're saying, but certainly, "Who is coming into my room right now?" Asks about the present, right? So it seems like there needs to be some kind of indication from the context that points to the future? – Jeremy Menicucci Jul 1 '16 at 17:32

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