Re: Grammatical Tense, LEGW,

From: Karen Pitts (
Date: Tue Oct 24 1995 - 23:20:26 EDT

RE>Grammatical Tense, LEGW, & Mark 10/25/95 11:12 AM

On Tue, 24 Oct 1995, Stephen Carlson wrote:

> This discussion on grammatical tense is very interesting, so I am wondering
> if it could shed any light on why Mark, during one of Jesus's discourses
> on the Sabbath, switches from the historical present [LEGEI 2:25] to the
> imperfect [ELEGEN v27] for the pronouncement. The Lukan parallel is similar
> but the switch is from the aorist [EIPEN 6:3] to the imperfect [ELEGEN v5].
> (Matthew lacks a parallel to Mark's KAI ELEGEN AUTOIS of Mk2:27.)
> Is there something about the imperfect that could suggest a punchline
> here?

On Wed, 25 Oct 1995, Philip Graber responded:

>It has always seemed to me that, in general, aorist finite verbs
>carry the story line in gospel narratives. It also seems that present
>finite verbs ("historical present" verbs) are also on the story line, but
>closely tie the events they encode with what precedes, as in a response
>to something that happens or is said. (It is interesting to note how many
>of these "historical presents" are verbs of speech, esp. LEGW.)
>Nevertheless, they still do seem to me to push the story line forward.
>Imperfects, on the other hand, generally do not seem to push the story
>line forward, but typically provide background information necessary to
>understand the story development, but not strictly part of it. So whereas
>Matthew has merged the speech of Jesus into one utterance in Mt 12:3-8,
>Mk and Lk have an intervening utterance formula (KAI ELEGEN AUTOIS) prior
>to the "punchline," but the imperfect verb indicates that this is not a
>separate utterance as event in the story, but part of the same utterance
>as in Mt. The utterance formula highlights the saying at the end, but
>does not make it a separate event in the story.

>It is interesting to note that, according to my understanding of the
>tense forms here, the Pharisees' question in Mk 2:24 is not an event
>(since it is introduced with ELEGON), but background which sets up Jesus'
>utterance; LEGEI in v. 25 is then a response not so much to the
>Pharisees, but to the actions of the disciples. This seems a little
>awkward. Perhaps this is why Mt and Lk both use the aorist (EIPAN) for
>the Pharisees' speech (and Jesus' reply as well). In Lk the actions of
>the disciples are presented as background, and the story becomes one
>about the Pharisees' challenge and Jesus' response. In Mt both the
>disciples' action and the Pharisees' response are in the aorist, all part
>of the storyline to which Jesus responds.

>Have I made too much of something small?

Philip and Stephen:

I find all of this very interesting, especially as I am currently reading Mark
with my Greek group. I think what Philip says has merit for Luke, but Mark's
Greek is so sloppy, that I don't know that I'd place any importance on the
tenses he uses, especially imperfect vs. aorist. He commonly uses imperfect
where the other writers use aorist.

Karen Pitts
Hopewell Presbyterian Church, Hopewell, NJ, teacher of NT Greek
David Sarnoff Research Center, Princeton, NJ, statistician

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