Re: Aorists inthe Magnificat

From: Rod Decker (
Date: Mon Apr 22 1996 - 21:35:06 EDT

Ken Litwak wrote:

>I have a question about the overall use of verb tenses in the Magnificat,
>Luke 1:46-5 ...
>The Magnificat starts with a present tense verb and then switches to a
>string of aorist tense verbs ... Since surely Jesus in the womb has not
>accomplished these things during gestation, the aorist verbs raise a

>I'm personally undecided between the "prophetic" aorist in which the speaker
>sees these events as so certain that they can be spoken of as accomplished
>and and ingressive aorist in which they have started but their completion
>is certain.

Re. "the aorist verbs raise a difficulty" -- There is only a problem if a
temporal view of the verb is followed. _If_* Greek does not grammaticalize
temporal reference by means of morphological tense, then a different set of
questions must be asked. This text is a good example of the problems with a
temporally-based system. It contains not just isolated or sporadic
instances of "exceptions," but an entire pericope doesn't fit a temporal

[*I realize that this is not a "given" in many approaches, but the point of
Ken's question, at least in part, is asking how other approaches handle

1. At the most basic level, if aorist is the 'default' tense that expresses
perfective aspect (Porter's term; = 'external' in Fanning's), then there is
nothing unusual about the Magnificat. It simply refers to the specific
events as occuring (time unspecified) without making any particular point
as to describe the events as a process (imperfective aspect; Fanning =
'internal') or an existing state (stative aspect). The temporal
implicature/pragmatics of the context would suggest either future time
reference or perhaps gnomic (tech., 'omnitemporal').

2. At the discourse level, it is not unusual to find an introductory
statement phrased in one aspect followed by the development/explanation of
that thematic statement in the contrasting aspect. In other words, aspect
shift can be one indicator of discourse seams in narrative material (though
the direct discourse in this section marks the pericope quite clearly by

As to a LXX explanation, there are some conceptual parallels with 1 Sam.
2:1-10 and a few isolated verbal affinities, but unless the LXX text is
quite different than the Heb. (I realize that's possible, but I don't have
a LXX at the house to check; there may be something I'm missing here), I
don't see how that will help. If the passage in question were a quotation
from the LXX, that might be a different story.


Rodney J. Decker, Asst. Prof./NT Calvary Theological Seminary Kansas City, MO
As of 7/96: Baptist Bible Seminary (PA)

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