Re: Porter on the present

From: David Moore (
Date: Sat Oct 21 1995 - 16:45:41 EDT

"Philip L. Graber" <> wrote:

>Mari's position (and I would tend to agree with her) is that the present
>encodes imperfective aspect but NOT tense. (BTW, imperfective aspect does
>not necessarily mean "continuous action.") In the case of the "historical
>present" the question for your position is why the present, which you say
>encodes present tense, is used in ways which clearly do NOT indicate
>present tense? Isn't it better to say (as Mari does) that the present
>>form is unmarked for tense? The same goes for the aorist. If they are
>unmarked for tense, this goes some way toward explaining the widespread
>use of the present and aorist for participles in a way that does not
>indicate time.

        I recongnize that the system that Mari and others; following - and
developing - ideas suggested by Porter, Fanning, _et al._ ; are suggesting
a new paradigm for understanding Hellenistic Greek. For a new paradigm to
be useful, it should show advantages over the older system both
theoretically and practically.

        Denying the grammaticallization of tense in NT Greek in moods
previously considered marked for tense certainly does simplify the
grammatical structure, if one takes that structure as a closed system; and
such a simplification would be a theoretical advantage (viz the Copernican
revolution). Nevertheless, in a practical sense, we approach the
Hellenistic Greek language, not simply as a closed system, but as a means
of extracting information from Hellenistic Greek texts (which, for most of
us, means the NT). It is also a means of translating those texts into the
languages of contemporary Western culture with its fairly sharply
delineated categories of time and anteriority.

        It is, then, the practical usefulness of this new paradigm in the
task of exegesis that should concern us. When, for instance, we find that
no absolute statements can be made about the encoding of time in certain
grammatical forms of the verb, is it better to pronounce them unmarked for
tense, or are we better off, in a practical sense, to note the usual tense
content of the form and then explain those special cases which constitute
exceptions. IMHO, the latter calls on the exegete to come up with
objective reasons for his or her interpretations, but the former leaves
the door open for a substantial subjective factor.

        There seem to be quite a few on the list that have adopted the new
paradigm, at least theoretically. Are these concerns about the new
paradigm's practical application, as expressed above, somehow addressed in
this system in some way that is not immediately apparent?


David L. Moore Southeastern Spanish District
Miami, Florida of the Assemblies of God Department of Education

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