Re: Grammatical Tense, LEGW, & Mark

From: Rod Decker (
Date: Wed Oct 25 1995 - 21:46:26 EDT

After sketching the use of the tenses in the Synoptics, Phil Graber asked:
>Have I made too much of something small?

I'd say no. I think this is a good illus. of the narrative function of
tenses--something usually overlooked in the effort to find the significance
or time of specific forms in the narrative (missing the forest for the

And if I can piggyback a related msg./comment,

Karen, I think your statement that:

>Mark's Greek is so sloppy, that I don't know that I'd place any importance on
>the tenses he uses

is probably an overstatement. Mark may be a bit more rustic/colloquial, but
that doesn't mean that tenses were meaningless to him. He still used them
as a native speaker. A 'twang' doesn't restructure the language and the
narrative flow of thought.

Let me suggest an analysis of another passage in Mark that illustrates
similar narrative features. (I posted the following last winter, but in
light of the current discussion and a number of new participants, I think
it is worth a repeat.) It will also address Ken comment that:

>I don't see a rhyme or reason to his mixing of tense forms

[Am I allowd to respond to 3 msg. at once? :) ]

Mark 2:1-12

1. The aorist carries the narrative flow of events (background):
     he returned
     it was reported
     many gathered
     they removed the roof
     Jesus saw their faith
     Jesus perceived
     he stood up
     took the mat
     and went out

2. All the conversation is recorded with the present form
(foreground) (exceptions are noted with [ ] ):

     he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

     "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who
          can forgive sins but God alone?"

     he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your

     Which is easier, [to say: A] to the paralytic, 'Your sins are
          forgiven,' or [to say: A], 'Stand up and [take your mat:
          A] and walk'?

     But so that [you may know: R] that the Son of Man has
          authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the

     "I say to you, stand up, [take your mat: A] and go to your

3. The focal point of the entire passage is expressed with the
most heavily marked form: perfect (frontground)

     so that you may know (hina de eidHte), v. 10

4. The clear and distinct function of the perfective and
imperfective aspects in this passage suggest that further
explanation is unnecessary. (That does not mean that more couldn't
be said other than what I've summarized here [e.g., I didn't
comment on the imperfect form in v. 4], but that the reason for
the use of the verb forms is adequately explained by the discourse
function of aspect.)


Rodney J. Decker Calvary Theological Seminary
Asst. Prof./NT 15800 Calvary Rd. Kansas City, Missouri 64147

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