The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Stephen Carlson
Posts: 2722
Joined: May 11th, 2011, 10:51 am
Location: Melbourne
Contact:

The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by Stephen Carlson » April 5th, 2012, 6:44 am

Dan Wallace's Exegetical Syntax (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) mentions this notion of an instantaneous or aoristic imperfect:
Dan Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 541-542 wrote:A. Instantaneous Imperfect (a.k.a. Aoristic or Punctiliar Imperfect)

1. Definition

The imperfect tense is rarely used just like an aorist indicative, to indicate sim­ple past. This usage is virtually restricted to ἔλεγεν (n.5) in narrative literature. (n.6) Even with this verb, however, the imperfect usually bears a different nuance.

Chart 61 - The Force of the Instantaneous Imperfect

2. Illustrations

...

Mark 4:9
καὶ ἔλεγεν· ὃς ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
And he said, “Let the one who has ears to hear [with] listen!”

This pronouncement is at the end of a discourse on parables by Jesus. Thus, it is difficult to see the imperfect as ingressive (“he began saying”), progressive (“he was saying”), or iterative/customary (“he would say”).

...

(n.6) 6 Contra BDF, 170 (§329): “The aorist serves for a simple reference to an utterance previously made (especially for a specific pronouncement of an individual); the imperfect for the delineation of the content of a speech.” Many examples of the imperfect fit this description (cf., e.g, Mark 4:21, 26; 6:10; 7:9; 12:38; Luke 5:36; 6:20; 9:23; 10:2; 21:10), but not all (e.g., Matt 9:11; Mark 4:9; 8:21, 24). Further, the imperfects that seem to be used aoristically also frequently have the aorist indicative (εἶπεν) as a textual variant. This use of the imperfect is akin to the instantaneous present in that it usually involves a verb of saying as well.
This analysis, if valid, seems to put a lot of pressure on a categorical, pure-aspect approach to the Greek verbal system generally and the imperfect specifically. If its imperfective aspect can be cancelled like this, then it would mean that aspect is not essential to the category, just like tense. That being said, Mark's use of the imperfect ἔλεγεν in narrative has always intrigued me but I have an almost reflexive aversion to the idea that a given imperfect is really an aorist, so I'd like some other ideas about how to analyze this apparent usage.
0 x


Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

David Lim
Posts: 901
Joined: June 6th, 2011, 6:55 am

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by David Lim » April 5th, 2012, 12:13 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:Dan Wallace's Exegetical Syntax (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) mentions this notion of an instantaneous or aoristic imperfect:
Dan Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 541-542 wrote:A. Instantaneous Imperfect (a.k.a. Aoristic or Punctiliar Imperfect)

1. Definition

The imperfect tense is rarely used just like an aorist indicative, to indicate sim­ple past. This usage is virtually restricted to ἔλεγεν (n.5) in narrative literature. (n.6) Even with this verb, however, the imperfect usually bears a different nuance.

Chart 61 - The Force of the Instantaneous Imperfect

2. Illustrations

...

Mark 4:9
καὶ ἔλεγεν· ὃς ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
And he said, “Let the one who has ears to hear [with] listen!”

This pronouncement is at the end of a discourse on parables by Jesus. Thus, it is difficult to see the imperfect as ingressive (“he began saying”), progressive (“he was saying”), or iterative/customary (“he would say”).

...

(n.6) 6 Contra BDF, 170 (§329): “The aorist serves for a simple reference to an utterance previously made (especially for a specific pronouncement of an individual); the imperfect for the delineation of the content of a speech.” Many examples of the imperfect fit this description (cf., e.g, Mark 4:21, 26; 6:10; 7:9; 12:38; Luke 5:36; 6:20; 9:23; 10:2; 21:10), but not all (e.g., Matt 9:11; Mark 4:9; 8:21, 24). Further, the imperfects that seem to be used aoristically also frequently have the aorist indicative (εἶπεν) as a textual variant. This use of the imperfect is akin to the instantaneous present in that it usually involves a verb of saying as well.
This analysis, if valid, seems to put a lot of pressure on a categorical, pure-aspect approach to the Greek verbal system generally and the imperfect specifically. If its imperfective aspect can be cancelled like this, then it would mean that aspect is not essential to the category, just like tense. That being said, Mark's use of the imperfect ἔλεγεν in narrative has always intrigued me but I have an almost reflexive aversion to the idea that a given imperfect is really an aorist, so I'd like some other ideas about how to analyze this apparent usage.
Just my opinion.. I read an imperfect to specify an ongoing event at the time of the point in focus. Thus I do not think it is "instantaneous". When it is something said by someone that is in view, the aorist simply states that it was said whereas the imperfect seems to me to place the reader at that point in time when it was being said. Both imply the same thing but one is focused on the words spoken while the other is focused on the speaking of the words. In the second it is not at a single point in time.
0 x
δαυιδ λιμ

Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 1284
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by Barry Hofstetter » April 6th, 2012, 6:50 am

I must admit, in the years that I've been reading the NT, it never occurred to me to create a new grammatical category to explain this usage. "He was saying..." I saw, and still see this, as a feature of Marcan style, and nothing all too remarkable about it.

Part of it is the translationese we tend to use in learning and teaching the language, "was/were + the -ing form of the English verb" is a handy little formula to help beginning students get it. But in fact Greek doesn't always use the imperfect quite the way English would use that construction, and English context sometimes uses a simple past where Greek uses the imperfect. When students start noticing that, and that there is more than one way correctly to render the imperfect into English, then they are starting to get it...
0 x
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε

RDecker
Posts: 46
Joined: May 31st, 2011, 7:10 pm
Location: Clarks Summit, PA
Contact:

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by RDecker » April 6th, 2012, 7:11 am

I think there is some confusion of aspect and Aktionsart here. Yes, the aspect of the imperfect is imperfective, but to assume that this refers, therefore to a punctiliar, past event is to mix in pragmatic, Aktionsart categories. I know, all (or at least most of) the grammars, especially first year ones, insist that the imperfect must be translated along the lines of "I was loosing." I'm not persuaded that is wise. Ask what the Greek texts says, then as how English would say it in the same context. I think that often imperfects in narrative, esp. of λεγω, should be translated using what has too often been viewed as the default for an aorist: "he said." Doing so, however, says nothing about the aspect of the imperfect form in question--it's still imperfective. To therefore create a category called "aoristic imperfect" seems, IMHO, rather foolish, esp. when it's based on how we'd say it in English. Now Dan would not like me to say that is his basis for the category, but even if he thinks he can defend it on other grounds, his readers (esp. students) will never (OK, "rarely") draw that conclusion.

In a paper that I presented at SBL in 2009, "The Function(s) of the Imperfect Tense in Mark’s Gospel" (http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=684) I suggested that the imperfect functions in two ways: to introduce direct discourse and to introduce offline or summary information. In the first instance, there appears to be a general pattern when λέγω is involved, though with some exceptions. In most of the instances in which direct discourse is introduced with an imperfect of λέγω, the content of the statement cited is of a general nature. It is rarely a specific statement by a single individual. In this situation it is most commonly the case that the imperfect verb is plural, referencing the “statement” of the group. Another common situation is the use of the imperfect in explanatory statements, direct discourse that is typically introduced with γάρ (or sometimes ὅτι) plus λέγω. These statements are offline, not part of the events that form the narrative storyline. Some such imperfects may reflect the nature of the statement or the generalized context of the statement. This could include reference to parabolic teaching, either a single parable (e.g., 3:21, ἐν παραβολαῖς ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς) or an entire series as in chapter 4 (all 4 parables are introduced with an imperfect, 4:2, 21, 26, 30). The imperfect verb may also refer to a general teaching session to a large group in which a general summary of Jesus’ teaching is recorded (e.g., 7:14, προσκαλεσάμενος πάλιν τὸν ὄχλον ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς).

Other times imperfect verbs are used in explanations of various events. These statements do not tell the reader what happens next; they do not advance the storyline in the narrative. They serve rather to explain what has just been recorded. Some, but not all, of these are explicitly introduced with γάρ or ὄτι, but most are linked only with καί. Other imperfects serve to set the scene for events which follow. Another grouping includes uses which provide miscellaneous background details. This is similar to the preceding one except that these do not function to set the scene at the beginning of a pericope, but may occur anywhere within it. Other imperfects serve as summary statements and are often found in summary sections which include a string of imperfect verb forms.

I also suggested two implications of approaching the imperfect this way. Though some of it repeats my first paragraph above, here’s what I said:
We have traditionally taught our students to translate imperfect verbs as past progressives in English: “ἔλυον, I was loosing.” I am not so sure that is helpful. Although there is a pedagogical advantage of simplicity, it may well start the student off on the wrong foot, assuming that this is what the imperfect means. What ought to be asked, however, is if the imperfect functions the same way in Greek as the past progressive does in English. Is the primary significance of a Greek imperfect tense-form past time with progressive Aktionsart? Although it may well be appropriate to use our default translation in some, perhaps even many instances, if the imperfect functions different from the English past progressive, we should be more sensitive to how the receptor language expresses similar functions. In many cases a “simple” rather than progressive translation is more suitable. The use of the –ing forms may well suggest the wrong point to an English-only reader. If Mark, e.g., is using the imperfect because he is introducing a background explanation or to report a simple statement in the past, then “he said” may be preferable to “he was saying.”

A second implication of this study relates more directly to exegesis. My introductory illustration related to the use of what has been called the inceptive imperfect. What I would suggest briefly is that although such Aktionsart statements are valid considerations (though of the statement rather than of the tense-form), these are at times over-emphasized. Rather than thinking first or primarily of such categories in exegesis, we ought to look at a broader picture.
0 x
Rodney J. Decker
Prof/NT
Baptist Bible Seminary
Clarks Summit, PA
(See profile for my NTResources blog address.)

serunge
Posts: 29
Joined: May 23rd, 2011, 11:07 am
Location: Bellingham, WA
Contact:

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by serunge » April 6th, 2012, 12:56 pm

Hi Stephen,

I mentioned Wallace's discussion in the instantaneous imperfect in the discourse grammar. All of the examples he cites occur in the same discourse context: a mid-speech re-introduction of a speaker, what I called a redundant quotative frame. It is commonly used technique in Mark to segment what would have otherwise been a long speech into smaller chunks. Here is the discussion:
Note that aside from the historical present in v. 13 [Example 99:: Mark 4:9, 13, 21, 24, 26, 30, SER], the verb form used in each redundant frame is imperfect (ἔλεγεν), not aorist. Wallace refers to this usage as the “instantaneous imperfect,” where the imperfect is used “just like the aorist indicative, to indicate simple past.”31 He notes that the usage “is virtually restricted to ἔλεγεν in narrative literature.”32 In contrast, Levinsohn remarks that the imperfect is used “to portray events as incomplete.”33 Note that the primary reason for placing the frame here is to segment an ongoing speech, not to indicate that the speech is completed.
Imperfect forms of λέγω characteristically are used either to introduce an initial speech that is more of a monologue than a dialogue34 or to record the responses of multiple groups to one thing.35 They can also be used in the expected imperfective sense of ongoing or repeated events.36
Note that when one comes across an aorist verb of speaking without a full noun phrase (e.g., εἶπεν or ὁ εἶπεν), the default expectation is that there has been a change of speaker and hearer. Since underspecified aorist quotative frames are most often associated with changes in speakers, using such a frame might create the impression that there was a switch of speakers.37 Alternatively, the use of a present-tense quotative frame would have created an HP, adding extra prominence in addition to the redundant frame itself.38
If a writer is going to insert an underspecified redundant frame with the goal of continuing the speech, the imperfect is the most natural choice. Although it segments the speech, it does not signal closure or switch. The aspect of the imperfect itself is used for ongoing or incomplete action. This discourse-based explanation of the instantaneous imperfect provides a reasonable account of the data without needing to postulate another sense. The fact that Wallace’s data is “virtually restricted to ἔλεγεν in narrative literature” makes this explanation even more compelling.39
The imperfect quotative frame ἔλεγεν is used redundantly four more times in Mark 4. The frame in v. 21 separates the explanation of the parable of the sower from the parable of the light under a bushel. The frame in v. 26 segments the light under the bushel from the parable of the growing seed. The frame in v. 30 segments the text again just before the parable of the mustard seed.
There is a comparable chaining together of parables in Matt 13. Rather than using an imperfect verb of speaking to segment the text, Matthew inserts a redundant narrative comment to accomplish the very same effect.
Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 159-160.

I wonder how many of the λέγω imperfects in Mark that Rod mentioned fit into the mid-speech QFs. Another use of the imperfect with verbs of speaking to keep consider is the inchoative use, where a monologue speech follows rather than a dialogue. One might argue that the mid-speech instances are better construed as that kind of usage, since as Rod pointed out the speech is longer, not a simply reply.

I agree with Rod that it is better to explain this usage by means other than a new category. I spoke with Wallace about the instantaneous imperfect a few years ago, describing the specific context all his examples fell into. He was simply trying to be thorough, and this group of data behaved similarly, hence coining the category.
0 x
Steve Runge

Stephen Carlson
Posts: 2722
Joined: May 11th, 2011, 10:51 am
Location: Melbourne
Contact:

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by Stephen Carlson » April 7th, 2012, 10:48 am

I was hoping to hear from Rod and Steve about this, and I'm so happy that they have responded. There is a lot to think about, and I especially like the appeal to pragmatic considerations in their explanations.

I agree that one difficulty is the tendency of first-year primers to gloss the imperfect as an English past progressive and reinforce this with their exercises. This makes any non past progressive translation something unusual and needing to be accounted for, hence the category of the seemingly self-contradictory aoristic imperfect where first-year Greek gloss for the past progressive just does not work.

As for the specific examples of instantaneous aorists in Wallace's syntax, I am beginning to suspect that different things are going on with them aspectually, despite their commonality that they are best translated with an English simple preterite. Some appear to be what Rijksbaron now terms "immediative" (not "inceptive"); others appear to be summarizing.
0 x
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

Alan Patterson
Posts: 158
Joined: September 3rd, 2011, 7:21 pm
Location: Emory University

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by Alan Patterson » April 8th, 2012, 10:08 am

Mark 4:9
καὶ ἔλεγεν· ὃς ἔχει ὦτα ἀκούειν ἀκουέτω.
And he said, “Let the one who has ears to hear [with] listen!”
First, I see no reason for the [with] embedded into this statement. It makes perfect since in both Greek and English if left out. However, I would embed a word at the beginning. I would offer this translation:

And he was [heard] saying, "Let the one..."

This is a strong warning. He doesn't just utter it one time. Note in verse 4:2 the imperfects; he was teaching many parables, and this warning was said over and over again, probably at the end of each parable.
0 x
χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη,
Alan Patterson

George F Somsel
Posts: 172
Joined: May 9th, 2011, 10:11 am

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by George F Somsel » April 8th, 2012, 1:15 pm

If one wishes to be pedantically literal, he would use a verb of saying here; however, considering the fact that this is within an ongoing speech, I would think that simply rendering it as "He continued …" might be quite proper.
0 x
george
gfsomsel



… search for truth, hear truth,
learn truth, love truth, speak the truth, hold the truth,
defend the truth till death.



- Jan Hus

David Lim
Posts: 901
Joined: June 6th, 2011, 6:55 am

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by David Lim » April 9th, 2012, 11:31 am

David Lim wrote:Just my opinion.. I read an imperfect to specify an ongoing event at the time of the point in focus. Thus I do not think it is "instantaneous". When it is something said by someone that is in view, the aorist simply states that it was said whereas the imperfect seems to me to place the reader at that point in time when it was being said. Both imply the same thing but one is focused on the words spoken while the other is focused on the speaking of the words. In the second it is not at a single point in time.
I just came across one example when reading the LXX:
[Exo 5] [6] συνεταξεν δε φαραω τοις εργοδιωκταις του λαου και τοις γραμματευσιν λεγων [7] ουκετι προστεθησεται διδοναι αχυρον τω λαω εις την πλινθουργιαν καθαπερ εχθες και τριτην ημεραν αυτοι πορευεσθωσαν και συναγαγετωσαν εαυτοις αχυρα [8] και την συνταξιν της πλινθειας ης αυτοι ποιουσιν καθ εκαστην ημεραν επιβαλεις αυτοις ουκ αφελεις ουδεν σχολαζουσιν γαρ δια τουτο κεκραγασιν λεγοντες πορευθωμεν και θυσωμεν τω θεω ημων [9] βαρυνεσθω τα εργα των ανθρωπων τουτων και μεριμνατωσαν ταυτα και μη μεριμνατωσαν εν λογοις κενοις [10] κατεσπευδον δε αυτους οι εργοδιωκται και οι γραμματεις και ελεγον προς τον λαον λεγοντες ταδε λεγει φαραω ουκετι διδωμι υμιν αχυρα [11] αυτοι υμεις πορευομενοι συλλεγετε εαυτοις αχυρα οθεν εαν ευρητε ου γαρ αφαιρειται απο της συνταξεως υμων ουθεν
It is to me a perfect use of the imperfect to denote an ongoing event, and I do not see why we would need to see "ελεγον" as a means to segment discourse. Clearly there is no discourse here, and in fact both imperfects are essentially referring to the same event: "the taskmasters and scribes themselves were hastening and were saying to the people, saying, this says [the] Pharaoh, no longer do I give to you chaff. you yourselves, going, collect for yourselves chaff from wherever you shall find. for nothing is taken away from your [work] arrangement." In other words, in somewhat informal English we might say: "they were going around and were saying to the people, ..." emphasising the continuous nature of the action over that period of time, though it is hardly different in meaning from the somewhat more formal statement "they went around and said to the people, ..." There are also more examples in the same text, both of which convey continuous action, though "they were beholding" will be unnatural English for "εωρων":
[Exo 5] [13] οι δε εργοδιωκται κατεσπευδον αυτους λεγοντες συντελειτε τα εργα τα καθηκοντα καθ ημεραν καθαπερ και οτε το αχυρον εδιδοτο υμιν ... [19] εωρων δε οι γραμματεις των υιων ισραηλ εαυτους εν κακοις λεγοντες ουκ απολειψετε της πλινθειας το καθηκον τη ημερα ...
0 x
δαυιδ λιμ

MAubrey
Posts: 916
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 8:52 pm
Location: Washington
Contact:

Re: The Instantaneous Imperfect???

Post by MAubrey » April 9th, 2012, 12:31 pm

David Lim wrote:I just came across one example when reading the LXX:
[Exo 5] [6] συνεταξεν δε φαραω τοις εργοδιωκταις του λαου και τοις γραμματευσιν λεγων [7] ουκετι προστεθησεται διδοναι αχυρον τω λαω εις την πλινθουργιαν καθαπερ εχθες και τριτην ημεραν αυτοι πορευεσθωσαν και συναγαγετωσαν εαυτοις αχυρα [8] και την συνταξιν της πλινθειας ης αυτοι ποιουσιν καθ εκαστην ημεραν επιβαλεις αυτοις ουκ αφελεις ουδεν σχολαζουσιν γαρ δια τουτο κεκραγασιν λεγοντες πορευθωμεν και θυσωμεν τω θεω ημων [9] βαρυνεσθω τα εργα των ανθρωπων τουτων και μεριμνατωσαν ταυτα και μη μεριμνατωσαν εν λογοις κενοις [10] κατεσπευδον δε αυτους οι εργοδιωκται και οι γραμματεις και ελεγον προς τον λαον λεγοντες ταδε λεγει φαραω ουκετι διδωμι υμιν αχυρα [11] αυτοι υμεις πορευομενοι συλλεγετε εαυτοις αχυρα οθεν εαν ευρητε ου γαρ αφαιρειται απο της συνταξεως υμων ουθεν
It is to me a perfect use of the imperfect to denote an ongoing event, and I do not see why we would need to see "ελεγον" as a means to segment discourse.
David, its perfectly fine that you're not convinced. The problem is that in not being convinced you've introduced a category into the language that is superfluous. Steve's explanation maintains the purely imperfective semantics of the verb, while yours rejects it completely. At face value, there is absolutely no reason why one should prefer an explanation (yours) that so dramatically violates the basic semantic structure of the language as realized in its own morphological patterns, especially when there is another explanation (Steve's) that maintains that structure, i.e. for Steve, ἔλεγον is still imperfective in nature.

But that's at face value. Drawing a final conclusion is dependent upon your counter evidence:
David Lim wrote:learly there is no discourse here, and in fact both imperfects are essentially referring to the same event: "the taskmasters and scribes themselves were hastening and were saying to the people, saying, this says [the] Pharaoh, no longer do I give to you chaff. you yourselves, going, collect for yourselves chaff from wherever you shall find. for nothing is taken away from your [work] arrangement." In other words, in somewhat informal English we might say: "they were going around and were saying to the people, ..." emphasising the continuous nature of the action over that period of time, though it is hardly different in meaning from the somewhat more formal statement "they went around and said to the people, ..." There are also more examples in the same text, both of which convey continuous action, though "they were beholding" will be unnatural English for "εωρων":
The problem with this argument is that the example isn't relevant. Steve isn't making a claim about all instances of ἔλεγον. He's making a claim about some instances of ἔλεγον and only in a specific syntactic environment: instances of ἔλεγον where it is hedged in on both sides by direct discourse. He's also technically not making a claim specifically about the verb λέγω, but about a larger class: verbs of speaking, in the imperfect, in narrative. In principle just about any verb of speaking that has an imperfect form could be used in this way. How does your counter example size up? Let's check:

Verb of Speaking: Pass
Imperfect: Pass
Narrative: Pass
Hedged in on both sides by direct discourse: Fail

And since your example doesn't meet the criteria, it isn't relevant. And since it isn't relevant your argument fails. To demonstrate that Steve is wrong, you must only work with the data that satisfies his criteria before you can demonstrate that the explanation doesn't work.
0 x
Mike Aubrey, Linguist
Koine-Greek.com

Post Reply