Re: 'default' aorist

Don Wilkins (
Mon, 4 Nov 1996 17:39:15 -0800

Micheal Palmer wrote:

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.

I can't speak for other translators, but as an NASB translator I can say
that we do not agree that the aorist indicative in itself does not indicate
past action (sorry for the double negative). By "nature" I gather Michael
means the nature of the lexical action of the verb, and I would not deny
that the meaning and the context have major effects on how we interpret the
meaning of the verb (hence the various categories of meaning of the aorist
and so forth). The problem I see here is still the degree to which we allow
context and lexical meaning to affect our understanding of tense per se.

>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.

This is merely something that we assume from intuition and the context; on
the other hand, the reference to "an earlier action" hints at the past
event which can be the essential meaning of this aorist verb.

>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.

I would agree with Michael's assessment of the (hypothetical) use of the
present tense. But why should it be inferred as less probable that the
aorist itself referred to the past event, while the writer means for us to
assume from the contextual/lexical factors that the person is still seated?
Moreover, if for the sake of argument we were to allow the aorist
indicative to be timeless (as we do for the other moods), do we not then
have to depend solely upon contextual factors for the timing? (I take it
that this is what is being proposed.)

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside