re: Aorist Imperative form of Mark 1:3

Carl W. Conrad (
Wed, 4 Sep 1996 23:11:34 -0500

At 5:43 PM -0500 9/4/96, wrote:
>A good discussion is always made better by Carl's entrance, and in this case
>he all but illustrates the point I was making. His teacher Mr. McMinn should
>indeed have used the aorist imperative (I'm reluctantly reminded of the slogan
>"Just do it!" which unintentionally expresses the right idea).

Just to clarify or get things straight--if I may be pemitted to expand the
personal reminiscence a bit--: it was not Billy McMinn's own experience,
and it's pretty clearly a made-up anecdote created for no other purpose
than to illustrate the tense differences in the imperative. And there was,
perhaps, no particular reason for me to mention him by name--it's just that
he was a wonderful teacher, one whom Carlton Winbery also knew, who
vanished from my horizon completely. He taught lower-level Greek at Tulane
in the mid-1950's while he was working on a Ph.D. there (dissertation on
KOSMOKRATWR in the NT), then went on to teach at New Orleans Baptist
Seminary (where Carlton knew him), left there in one of those doctrinal
purges that occasionally plague such institutions and went and taught
religion in a secular university. It's been one of my frustrations that I
never knew what became of him. I always hope that mentioning him might
bring some word of his whereabouts by some chance. The internet has renewed
a number of old acquaintances for me as I'm sure it must have for others as
well, although most of them have been with friends from grad school days
and students at W.U. 20 and even 30 years ago (two instances of that this
summer by e-mail!).

The notion that
>the aorist imperative means "once for all time" is an error (if the form is
>supposed to mean this inherently) found in several grammars. Taken to its
>extreme, this would mean that Mr. McMinn's shoes would never again have to be
>polished, and I would love to get some shoe polish that would make that possi-
>ble (especially since my shoes get polished once in their lifetime, if they
>are lucky). In my view, the aorist imper. just says to do something, with no
>implications for the future after the act is done. In Mark 8:34 we have no
>reason to suspect that a true disciple would have to recommit himself, and so
>this is one deed that we would hope and expect to be for all time; but that's
>not implied by the aorist. Compare "Marry me!": no need to do it every day,
>obviously a lifetime commitment (we hope), but we infer that from what we know
>of marriage, not from the English imperative. In contrast to the aor. imper.,
>the AKOULOUQEITW in Mark 8:34 is continuous just as Carl said, and appropri-
>ately so. As I commented before, the present imperative is the unusual form,
>and more difficult to translate because we may have to add something like
>"continually" to clarify the right idea.

Again, I must note that the "once for all time" was indicated to be what
Will Wagers calls a "hypertranslation." I do agree with you that the aorist
imperatives do not imply in themselves that ultimacy of commitment. Rather
it is the context of this pericope as a whole, the key and central pivot of
Mark's entire gospel, that IMPLIES a critical decision to be made by the
potential disciple, one that is a conscious and deliberate decision to
accept the certainty of one's own execution for the sake of the
gospel--there's the single impulse that is to be followed by the unwavering
continuance in discipleship. So I agree that the fundamental sense of the
aorist imperatives here in Mk 8 is "NOW is the time for him to say farewell
to a life of self-satisfaction; NOW is the time for him to pick up the
cross; from NOW ON he will have to keep on going in the same direction that
I am headed."

I guess the point I'd want to underscore here is the more or less obvious
one that CONTEXT has an overwhelming bearing upon how a form is to be
understood in any particular instance.

>BTW Carl, I send you another copy of Prometheus; the original had a bug that
>needed immediate fixing.

Yes, I booted it up this morning with hopes of browsing the TLG disk and it
crashed immediately. I look forward to trying the repaired version tomorrow.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR