Re: Tense in non-indicative moods

From: Carlton Winbery (
Date: Fri Dec 01 1995 - 09:13:57 EST

Ken Litwak wrote;
> Porter in his Idioms book makes the case that tense is irrelevant
>to the meaning of the non-indicative moods. Present negated imperatives
>do not mean "Stop doing x" and aorist negated imperatives don't mean
>"don't do x". They have no clear distinction that I can tell from
>what I've read so far. This both trashes everything I learned about
>the non-indicative moods and much that I have read in commentaries,
>leaving me wondering if I understand Greek at all if he's right and
>wondering what to make of tenses and moods since he seems to be
>reducing them all into one pot of "verbs" with no meaningful
>distinctions that I can see in understanding them, execept
>whether something is complete or not. Is this understanding of the
>non-indicative moods generally accepted by modern grammarians and if so,
>what of all the works that revolve around such distinctions? Does that
>mean that there aren't any rules left for distingushing tenses or moods
>in verbs, such that futures and pluperfects are the same? I'm not
>trying to use hyperbole. Poerter argued against any tense having any
>time relation, so that leaves one wondering what good six tenses
I quickly checked the negated imperatives in Matthew and Mark. First,
there are few negated aorists (only 7 in Mt. & Mk and four of those are in
parallels). In every case the negated aorist from the context must mean
don't ever do something. It is clear that the beginning of the action is
your right hand know what your left hand is doing.
Matt. 6:8 MH hOMOIWQH AUTOI. Don't be like them.
Check also Matt. 7:6; 24:17; 24:18 Mark 13:15; and 13:16.

There are in Matt. & Mark dozens of negated present imperatives. In most
of the contexts some thought about not continuing to do or go on not doing
is suitable. Though in some context the distinctive function of linear
action is very weak.
Matt. 19:14 Jesus said allow the children and do not forbid them (MH
KWLUETE AUTA). It is clear in the context that they were already forbiding
them. Several of the negated present imperatives concern commands not to
fear where it is in fearful context. Surely these have a context where the
effort is to stop something already in progress. An exception to this is
Mark 13:21 where the disciples are told not to believe those who say the
Messiah is here or there (MH PISTEUETE). There is not present the hint
that they were already believing. From my study of the negated imperatives
(and I have looked at every one in the NT, I would say that negated aorists
imperatives forbid the beginning of an action and that most of the time
negated present imperatives seek to stop an action in process.

Calton L. Winbery
Prof. Religion
LA College, Pineville, La

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