Re: tense and aspect / action and states of being

From: Richard Lindeman (
Date: Mon Sep 09 1996 - 09:14:32 EDT

> At last someone said what I have wanted to say, but was reluctant to jump
> into this string again. Noone emphasizes contextual interpretation more
> than I, but when you look at Hellenistic Greek, the writers generally
> preferred to use the aorist when narrating events from the past. They
> generally preferred the present when stating what was happening in the
> present. In fact of the hundred and fifty times when Mark uses the present
> in past narrative, (for those who think Matt & Luke used Mark) Matthew
> eliminated half of them in the places where he is parallel to Mark and Luke
> eliminated all of them. I would think that Luke at least preferred to
> espress past events in other ways. That is not to say that aorist is
> always past (note gnomics, etc) or that present tense always means that the
> action is going on in the present (it is also used in places where no time
> of action is intended).Any category we come up with to try and help in
> understanding is descriptive, i.e. an observation of tendencies. If we
> remember that such efforts at description can help, but they must not be
> allowed to put Paul & others in a strait jacket.
> Carlton L. Winbery
> Prof. NT & Greek La College

This sounds quite reasonable to me... in fact, it is extreemly close to
just what I stated early on... that I normally look for augmented
verbs to refer to the past time but that I *always* look to the context
to get my true bearings.

From a historical perspective I can fully support what you are
saying. There are two here problems though. One problem is the
modern student's understanding of the English language. In English
students understand that past is alway past, present is always present,
and future is always future. So it is somewhat problematic to teach an
English student that there exists a present which is usually present but
sometimes past and sometimes future.

A second problem is that *many* Greek students today
are only studying Greek for the single purpose of better understanding
*Biblical Greek only*. They are not interested in reading Plato or
other ancient authors. Therefore, although I agree with Carlton that
Biblical Greek is not an entirely *different* language. And I also
agree that A.T. Robertson "had it right" when he did a study
of the language within a historical perspective of its development.
Yet at the same time I must say that for many NT Greek students
it makes some sense to teach New Testament Greek as if it were
a different language by itself.

Therefore I do not think that Young is really so far off the mark when he
offers for New Testament students a grammar which focuses on the
actual "usage" of the language rather than its historical
development. Nor am I entirely dismayed that he treats the NT as if
it were a language unto itself. Perhaps that is what is needed for
students who for whatever reason will only be working in the NT.
However, I do appreciate the insights that you and others have shared
on this subject. It is obvious that I still have a lot to learn!

Rich Lindeman

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:51 EDT