Discourse Functions of the Imperfect in Mark 1-8

From: Bruce Terry (terry@bible.acu.edu)
Date: Wed Nov 22 1995 - 22:31:42 EST

The following is from a study of the discourse function of imperfects in the
first eight chapters of the gospel of Mark. The first eight chapters were
chosen to avoid "peak" areas around the climax (assumed to be the crucifixion)
which might change the discourse functions. The imperfect of the copula (i.e.,
HN) was excluded from the study since no aorist of the copula is available.

The imperfect was always used in narrative texttype; the only place where an
imperfect occurred in quoted material was in 4:5-8, which was in a narrative
that Jesus told.

Imperfects are used in the first half of Mark in the following five ways:

1) They are used in episodic setting to perform a background function of
   giving descriptive material. (Examples: 1:5, 7, 21, 22; 6:19)

2) They occur in result statements at the end of episodes. Here they are used
   on a secondary storyline that is thematic in nature. The theme seems to be
   that Jesus is someone more than a man. (Examples: 1:13, 34, 45; 5:13, 20,
   42; 6:5)

3) They occur in summary sections that are also on a secondary storyline.
   (Examples: 3:11-12; 4:33-34; 6:13, 55-56; 7:36-37; 8:32)

4) They occur on the main storyline to introduce quotations. There seems to
   be little difference between the aorist EIPEN and the imperfect ELEGEN,
   except that there are three kinds of quotation material where EIPEN is not
   used and ELEGEN is:
   a) EIPEN is not used to introduce passages that could be taken as sayings
      that were repeated more than once. (Examples: 5:28, 30)
   b) EIPEN is not used to break up long quotations into a series of short
      ones, where the same speaker continues on and the imperfect ELEGEN
      seems to serve some sort of refresh operation to remind the reader that
      a quotation is in progress. (Examples: 2:27; 4:9, 11, 21, 24, 26, 30;
      6:4; 7:20)
   c) EIPEN is not used as frequently in *Mark* as ELEGEN in non-peak areas. In
      the latter half of Mark, as the climax approaches, EIPEN is used more
      frequently. (Mark 1-8: 32 imperfects ELEGEN, 20 aorist EIPEN)

5) Imperfects are used three times in the first half of Mark to indicate
   episodic peak. These are also on the main storyline, although they are
   highlighted as well. (Examples: 5:32; 6:41; 8:6)

This material is excerpted from an unpublished 1990 study at UTA. It is based
on my own original research. Permission to use this is freely granted, as long
as appropriate credit is given.

Bruce Terry E-MAIL: terry@bible.acu.edu
Box 8426, ACU Station Phone: 915/674-3759
Abilene, Texas 79699 Fax: 915/674-3769

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