Re: Grammatical Tense, LEGW,

From: Edgar M. Krentz (
Date: Sun Nov 12 1995 - 16:19:34 EST

Sorry that I have not responded to this sooner, but between having problems
with my internet gateway and other pressing items, I just did not get to
it. I do not have Karen's full text, so am responding to Kenneth Litwak's
posting of October 25.

> Following up Karen's comment,
>> 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.

>I have noticed in reading Mark that he seems to very readily mix tense
>forms (whatever significance they have).

It is not clear to me from what Ken and Karen say about Mark just what
troubles them. I read Mark 8:22-10:1 rapidly and found little problem with
tenses, provided one recognizes the colloquial character of Mark's Greek.

>Porter says in his _Idioms_
>book that the present is used in narrative for dramatic effect and to
>emphasize changes in story-line.

I think he is right on target. The use of historical presents of verbs of
speech is not frequent in literary Greek, that's true; but then Mark shows
other non-literary aspects as well, e.g. his use of EIPAN (1st or weak
aorist) rather than EIPON 2nd or strong aorist) in 8:28, or his consistent
use of primarily paratactic rather than hypotactic constructions, or his
use of terms that are not literary (e.g. KRABBATON in 2:4 (KLINH in Matt
9:2, the term Phrynichos says should be used in literary writing), or his
use of EIS for EN, as is frequent in non-lit erary papyri (1:9, 21, 39,
etc,), or his use of diminutives in a non-diminutive sense (WTARION for
"ear," without meaning a little ear).

>My reading of Mark, such as 8:22-0:1, has
>not given me that impression. I'm not criticizing Mark's Greek per se, but I
>don't see a rhyme or reason to his mixing of tense forms. This seems so
>evident to me that I am questioning exegetical decisions based on the choice
>of tense.

I looked for what might trouble Karen in Mark's use of imperfects and
aorists and was a bit mystified. And I think I would like Ken to describe
his puzzlements with tenses in, say, Mark 8:27-9:13. Then I could react to
what he writes.

>I am also wondering, while I'm writing this, if those more
>knowledgeable than I in Greek lit. in general would attach significance to
>1. the use of de. In 7:24-30, Gundry, in his (may I say "masterful", at
>least impressive) commentary on Mark makes much of the occurences of
>adversative de in this passage. I'm not sure I'd put that much weight on
>this particle. It seems to me to just be how Greek sentences are linked
>together, and is of little or no significance. I would grant that to alla,
>but not to de.

First of all, DE is not a particle, but a conjunction. Particles and
conjunctions are the most difficult terms in Greek to master--which is why
so many beginning Greek students omit them when they translate. The
question is not whether you agree with Gundry; rather, do you understand
the many variations in sense possible in the term DE. Often it is simply
resumptive, picking up the story line, like "well" or "so" in English. One
should disregard no term in another language, e.g. in German, where "so"
has as many different senses as DE, or German "also".

>2. Since Greek work order is not fixed in any significant way that I have
>seen (though my sample size may be too limited, as I've not ventured much
>outside the NT heretofore), I question Gundry's comments on the significance
>of word order. I would accept that in Hebrew SOV is an emphatic word order,
>but in Greek, that could be business as usual. Can we really draw significance
>in Greek from word order?
> I'm not trying to take a strong stand here, as I admit to having a limited
>database of experience from which to draw (the NT and a tiny bit of the LXX).

No general rule will do here. You have to consider each individual NT
writer on his of her own. Much depends upon whetner the writer is capable
of writing more literary Greek. One can question whether Mark could--or
did. It would be much more difficult to question in Acts, especially after
chapter 12. The Greek of the Apocalypse is a problem that is unique.

We discussed word order on b-greek some time back. I will not repeat
anything that I posted them [I didn't save it!] I will simply say that word
order is significant in any language, more significant in poetry than in
prose, more significant in literary prose than in everyday street
language--though even there it is not irrelevant.

There is the famous story about the opening of Plato's _Republic_. The
first four words are KATEBHN XQES EIS PEIRAION ("I went down yesterday to
Peiraios"). After his death a fragment of writing was discovered in which
Plato wrote these three words [or better two words and one phrase] in every
conceivable order to test out the sense they gave. Word order is
significant; that one cannot discover or opine the significance in a given
case does not disprove the statement. Analyze the significance of the word
order in Luke 1:1-4 and Hebrews 1:1-4, to take two examples of "literary "
prose in the NT, or the sentence in Hebrews 2:10. Ask what difference of
emphasis or stress a change in word order would make in these periodic

Peace, Ed Krentz

Edgar Krentz, New Testament
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Tel.: 312-256-0752; (H) 312-947-8105

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