Re: Aorist Imperative form of Mark 1:3

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Wed Sep 04 1996 - 12:28:04 EDT

Mike Phillips wrote:

> I have attempted to understand the import of an Aorist Imperative form,
>i.e., Mark 1:3, ETOIMASATE (Prepare ye). Having read Dana and Mantey, and
>Zurwick, I think I have an idea (a glimmer, at least) of the difference between
>an aorist imperative and a present imperative, however, I want to know if there
>are nuances to the Aorist Imperative as their are nuances to the Aorist -- by
>which I mean, can an Aorist Imperative express Constative, Ingressive, or
>Culminative Aorist nuance? Gnomic, Epistolary or Dramatic? (Using D&M's
>categories). If so, which would Mark 1:3's ETOIMASATE most likely be (I
>suppose I should say I'm parsing this as an Active Aorist Imperative 2nd Plural
>in case my attempt here is a complete waste of time based upon a prior error).

The answer to your question is mostly no, but a little yes... all the
categories which can be applied to the use of the present or the aorist do
not apply outside of the indicative mood; however, there is a distinction
between the two tenses when used with the non-indicative moods, esp., the

The best discussion of the imperative I've run into is to be found in Buist
Fanning's book _Verbal Aspect..._; in it his convincingly argues (I believe)
that the present tense is used for "General Precepts" and the Aorist is used for
"Specific Commands". Here are his definitions:

GENERAL PRECEPT: a moral regulation which is broadly applicable; a rule for
conduct to be applied in multiple situations; a command or prohibition to be
followed by an individual or a group not only in the immediate situation in
which it is given, but also in subsequent(repeated or continuing) circumstances
in which the precept is appropriate. A general precept...has multiple
and pictures the action in its multiplicity rather than totality, and so the
'internal' focus of the present comes into play. (A)...guideline is that
present aspect should normally be understood as customary or multiple in sense,
rather than progressive or descriptive in a narrow scope: it does not mean
'keep on doing,' 'be constantly doing', but 'make it your habit to do',
or 'respond in this way whenever it is called for'.


LUK 6:27 "But I say to you who hear, _love_ your enemies, _do good_ to those
who hate you, _bless_ those who curse you, _pray_ for those who mistreat
you. (NASB)

LUK 6:31 "And just as you want people to treat you, _treat_ them in the
same way. (NASB)

MAT 6:9 "_Pray_, then, in this way: 'Our Father...(NASB)

GAL 6:1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are
_restore_ such a one in a spirit of gentleness... (NASB)

SPECIFIC COMMAND: an order or request for action to be done in a particular
instance. The speaker commands or prohibits some attitude or action, but
does so only in reference to the immediate circumstances and hearers involved:
he does not intend to regulate conduct in broader terms. A specific command
normally calls for action viewed as a single whole, for action to be done in
its entirety on that occasion, and the aorist is natural for this.
aorist command is normally used to call for a single specific action
in a particular situation, without regard for the other combinatory distinctions
between the aspects (e.g. momentary vs. durative, consummative vs. conative,
ingressive vs. stative, etc.). The force of the aorist is to command the
whole occurrence on that specific occasion (or at the future occasion
indicated), and that command is not intended to govern behaviour more broadly.


LUK 5:4 And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "_Put_out_ into
the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." (NASB)

LUK 6:8 But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with
the withered hand, "_Rise_ and _come_ forward!" And he rose and came

LUK 6:10 And after looking around at them all, He said to him, "_Stretch_
out your hand!" And he did so; and his hand was restored.(NASB)

MAT 13:30 'Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time
of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind
them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn."'" (NASB)

1CO 5:13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from
among yourselves. (NASB)

Fanning also points out with respect to prohibitions:

In specific commands, prohibitions appear to follow the traditional rule fairly
well, with the present almost always bearing the sense of 'stop doing [this
action presently occurring]'...and the aorist meaning 'do not do [this
imminent act]'.

MAT 1:20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord
to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take
Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy

JOH 6:43 Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not grumble among

...general precepts do not fit this pattern: the present prohibition usually
means 'make it your practice not to do', and the aorist usually adds an
urgency to the prohibition and forbids the whole act ever to occur: 'never

MAR 13:21 "And then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ'; or,
'Behold, He is there'; do not believe him; (NASB)

ACT 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid
any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; (NASB)

You'll notice, especially with the prohibitions, that you should ask yourself
the question, is this command/prohibition for this specific situation or is
is a command/prohibition intended to govern general behavior (this, btw,
parallels Fanning's approach with all verb forms, namely that you must first
ask the meaning of the verb and it nuance before determining how the tense
is being used to "display" that nuance).

Applied to Mark 1:3, the point is that the Aorist is giving a specific command
to be followed in a specific situation, that's all.

> Different Question: Would Zerwick's categories, aligned with D&M's look
>(D&M) Constative = Global (Z)
>(D&M) Ingressive = Inceptive (Z)
>(D&M) Culminative = Effective (Z)
>Gnomic is the same in both...
>I am aware that (D&M) Dramatic = Proleptic (Z) since Z says as much...
>Z does not address the Epistolary Aorist or seem to have a counterpart. Any
>explanation for this?

The answer to this is yes; these are the terms used in different grammars
(not just Zerwick and D&M) for the same thing; a nice feature of Wallace's
new Syntax (which I highly recommend, btw) is to list all the terms used by
various grammarians for each category.

Dale M. Wheeler, Th.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:50 EDT