Verbal aspect

Thanks, David, for your detailed response to my summary of verbal 
aspect. I won't try to touch every item you mentioned, but let me 
suggest several things.

"Lexis" refers to the meaning conveyed by the word itself apart 
from the grammatical form in which it appears. (Don't make that 
too specific in the old sense of "root meaning"--semantic 
field/range is probably closer.) There will be varying degrees of 
semantic contribution to verbal aspect at this point. A good 
example of a word whose lexis clearly affects the verbal idea is 
hHkw ("have come").

In my original post I was distinguishing between Aktionsart and 
aspect. That has not always been done in the grammars. The current 
study of aspect is the culmination of the past two centuries of 
work on the verb and is surveyed by both Fanning and (in 
considerably greater detail) by Porter. Perhaps "culmination" is 
not the best description since it may imply that we now have the 
final answer--which is probably not the case.

It is quite interesting that both Fanning and Porter completed 
their dissertations (Oxford and Sheffield respectively) within a 
year of each other, yet both worked independently and were not 
aware (so far as I know) of the other's work. Although there are 
some significant differences between them, the degree of agreement 
is rather amazing. Both have concluded that verbal aspect is the 
primary thrust of the Greek verb and is the primary significance 
of the grammatical forms. Porter would also include finiteness, 
attitude, and remoteness in his systemic analysis, but rejects any 
grammaticalization of time reference. Fanning's system is somewhat 
different in that he allows some degree of temporal reference and 
develops Aktionsart (he prefers to call it procedural 
characteristic) in much greater detail, incorporating Vendler & 
Kenny's taxonomies of verbs at this point.

In any event, Aktionsart is used (in my post and in these two 
books) to refer to the objective character of the action to which 
the verb refers. This judgment must come from lexis and context, 
not tense form. (Note that Robertson frequently mentions this in 
his discussion of tense usage; e.g., his disc. of the effective 
aorist [an Aktionsart category] on p. 835: "this is done (if done) 
by the verb itself (Aktionsart)." [i.e., it is based on lexis] 
Aspect, on the other hand, refers to the subjective manner in 
which the speaker chooses to portray the action: perfective, 
imperfective, and stative (Porter's categories), or internal and 
external (Fanning's).

I won't respond to every specific challenge to the translation of 
individual verses. Any sample text might be challenged in some 
way. They are Porter's examples, at any rate, and that is why I 
used them. (I might suggest a number of others, but I didn't write 
the book!) The overall point of the various sets of texts is this: 

     >> What is the significance of tense if the same tense forms 
     can all refer to the same range of temporality and if three 
     different tenses can have the same range? << 

The traditional explanations have not had a very graceful answer 
to that question (IMHO). Most explain that, when used in the 
indicative mood, the tenses are temporal forms, the augmented 
forms being past time. But then they have to list all the 
exceptions and create special categories to handle the problems. 
What Porter is suggesting (that's prob. to mild a word given his 
propensities!) is that we jettison the formal temporal baggage and 
create our explanations of the forms on the basis of aspect, 
leaving time to be determined on the basis of deixis and context. 
Fanning's proposal also argues for the primacy of aspect, though 
with some differences in relation to the temporal question.

One last note in re. to your comment that
> Rodney seems very convinced of the non-temporal position

Please don't take my statements as unbending dogmatism. To be very 
honest, I've been testing Porter's theory and trying to poke holes 
in it. My conclusion thus far is that it is a more consistent and 
simpler approach than the traditional explanation. At this point I 
have worked my way through the first half of Porter's "Verbal 
Aspect" (all the material that deals with the indicative--which is 
where the greatest questions lie) and have the oblique moods yet 
to examine (the second half of the book). I have about the same 
portion of Fanning in hand. So as I proceed, I may well modify 
bits and pieces, but to be persuaded I think I need to do more 
than find ways to get around individual examples (Porter cites 
thousands from the NT [the Scripture index runs 25 triple-col. 
pages @ avg. 52 refs./col = 3,900!] and from extra-biblical Greek 
[only 15 pgs. in that index :) ].

I realize that accepting either Porter or Fanning's proposals 
constitutes a paradigm shift in Greek grammar--perhaps comparable 
to the shift that came with the work of Deissmann, Moulton, etc. 
on the papyri. (Maybe I'm overestimating the significance, but I 
don't think so.)

If you want to see some of the practical fruits of this approach, 
check D. A. Carson's recent commentary on John (Eerdmans, 1991). 
There are 14 refs. to Porter's vol. in the index (+ at least one 
they missed: p. 655). Look at how Carson applies Porter's theory 
in the exegesis of those passages.

Reviews, etc. of both Porter and Fanning may be found in "Biblical 
Greek Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current 
Research," ed. D. A. Carson and Stanley Porter, JSNT Suppl Series, 
#80 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993). It contains an overview of the 
issue by Carson, the presentations made by Fanning and Porter at 
the Kansas City SBL meeting in 1991 (which includes a summary of 
their position and their critique of the other's work), and then 
the response papers presented at SBL by Moises Silva and Daryl 
Schmidt. (That's a fairly substantial line up in my opinion!)

I have a 30-page (sg. sp.) critical summary of chs. 1, 2, 4, 5 of 
Porter (covers about 240 of the 500 pgs. including all the 
sections related to general theory and the indicative mood) 
including several of his key diagrams/charts (plus a few of my 
own) that illustrate several issues. If it is of interest to 
anyone (who has read this far!), I'll be happy to mail them a copy 
for $2.00 to cover costs. (If interested, send me a check at 302 N 
8th, River Falls, WI  54022). One of my fellow doctoral students 
is working on the second half. I may be able to get copies of his 
material as well, but I haven't seen his work yet, so no promises.

So much for a brief reply!  :)


Rodney J. Decker
Assistant Professor of Greek and Theology
Calvary Theological Seminary, Kansas City
(94-95 sabbatical explains the Univ. of Wisc. address!)