Re: 'default' aorist

Micheal Palmer (
Sun, 3 Nov 1996 20:25:46 -0600

Carl Conrad wrote:

> . . . but I myself will be very
>interested to hear what real linguists such as Mari Olsen and Rod Decker
>and Phil Graber (is Mikeal Palmer still on the list?) have to say about it.

Yes, Micheal Palmer is still on the list, but I've become quite a lurker.
With a six-month-old daughter priorities seem to change. I sometimes go
several days without checking my email only to find that I have 100
messages in my inbox!

May I suggest that we redirect the discussion about default aorist with one
more real-world example? How about Matthew 23:2?


The KJV, RSV, NRSV, and the Spanish Versio'n Popular (revisions of 1994 as
well as the earlier ones), and the Reina Valera all translate EKAQISAN as
*present* tense. The translators have recognized that the aorist form
EKAQISAN does not in itself indicate past action. The nature of the verb
itself as well as the larger context have to be taken into consideration to
determine time reference. Even the translators of the NASB have recognized
this implicitly. They translate the sentence as "The scibes and the
Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses." This use of the
English *perfect* to translate a Greek aorist gives something of a
quasi-past flavor (their action of changing from a standing position to a
sitting position is in the past) while maintaining the present reference
(they are still sitting in Moses' seat).

What contextual clue has caused most translators to opt for a present tense
translation here? Well, Jesus goes on to tell his listeners to OBEY the
teaching of the Pharisees. His point is clearly that they still sit
(present) in Moses' seat (i.e. carry Moses' authority). The fact that he
then tells them not to immitate the Pharisees' behavior does not change
this implication.

Why, then, did the author use the aorist rather than the present? This is
somewhat more difficult to answer, but an answer may be found.

The verb KAQIZW, at least in one of its meanings, may have a LEXICAL ASPECT
which implies that one is in a seated position as a result of an earlier
action of deliberately sitting down. For this reason, the use of the
present tense in this context could have created the awkward impression of
either (1) the scribes and Pharisees repeatedly sitting down in the seat of
Moses and standing up only to sit down again, or (2) the scribes and
Pharisees bending on their way to a sitting position.

The aorist, as the default tense, may be used here simply to avoid these
MARKED implications of the present, without any intentional reference to
the past whatsoever.

Micheal Palmer

Micheal W. Palmer