Re: Perfects

Kenneth Litwak (
Fri, 06 Sep 1996 22:25:09 -0700

Jonathan Robie wrote:
> I'm feeling a little slow today...but working through this should be good
> practice for me. I'll try to work out the implications of your examples.
> Please feel free to correct me bluntly -- I only learn by making mistakes.
> Warning: this message contains much speculation by a "little Greek", who takes
> no responsibility for any heresies or confusion spawned by taking it too
> seriously ;->
> > hESTHKA is exactly what the Risen Christ says in Rev. 3:20.
> "I am standing", meaning that he has reached the state of standing, or being
> risen, with the emphasis on the state which has been reached. Am I understanding
> this correctly?
> > (1John 1:1,3)
> Thanks for choosing this passage, which I love, but I've clearly missed out on
> some of its richness...let's try digging into this...
> > "That which was (impf) from beginning,
> In discussing imperfect, BDR #327 gives the example of Acts 21:20:
> EDOXAZON TON QEON, EIPAN TE, translating it, "they praised over a
> longer period of time and in various ways, until they finally said".
> My goodness, that seems like an awful lot to hang onto one poor verb!
> Is all of this really implied? (I notice that the translations are much
> sparser, e.g. NIV says: "they praised God. Then they said...")
> But if we *can* attribute that much significance to the imperfect, then
> I assume "That which was (impf) from beginning" stresses that it has been
> there ever since the beginning, and we see it there before us, waiting to
> be discovered, giving us a feeling of suspense...
> Jonathan, my only comment is that I think that (and I do presume we're
calling BDF BDR, are we not) tha ttoo much is being hung on a simple
verb. The grammatical significance of a given tense is a subject of
debate, with a range from what I read years ago in Wuest's word studies,
which give great weight to such thigns as verb tenses, to the notion of
verbal aspect as presented by Porter which seems to me to pretty much
eviscerate tense of much significance at all (an oversimplication
perhaps, but that is somewhat how it seems to me, though I haven't
tacked his big book, just his Idioms book and an article by Fanning that
responded to Porter's views). In preparing intensely right now for my
doctoral French exam, it is being emphasized to me anew that even
understanding the possible senses a given tense may have, let alone how
best to express them in English can be challenging, and it's possible to
ask a Frenchwoman or man what a past indefinite meant when they used it.
How much less an imperfect with its seeming wide range of grammatical
possiblities. You might look at Porter's Idioms book just to get an
alternate opinion -- this isn't an endorsement, just offering another

This is wandering a little bit away from Greek grammar as such, but I
think that before we could "see" a lot in a given tense, we would need to
know what the author intended, did he deliberatley pick the verb tense
with great forethought, or was it simply the customeary way to say that?
Unfortunately, there's no way to recover authorial intent at that level,
so I have no solution to the problem, just more questions (I think that's
supposed to be part of the purpose of a PhD program -- you don't learn
information, you learn what to ask).

Ken Litwak
Berserkley, CA