Re: Tense and Aspect / Action and States of Being

From: Paul Zellmer (
Date: Sat Sep 07 1996 - 00:59:35 EDT

> >Richard Lindeman wrote:
> > >Ok, here is my perspective on the whole matter. In English we think
> > >of verbs as *action* words.Therefore we always think of linear actions
> > >and are obsessed with time as our predominant focus when it comes
> > >to verbs.
> > >
> > >On the other hand, I believe that the ancient Greek normally thought of
> > >verbs not as action words, but rather as words expressing *states of
> > >being*. Therefore the Greek is much more concerned about aspect
> > >and time becomes something normally determined by context.
> > >
> > >We try to describe the perfect tense as being a "past action with
> > >present significance." But actually that is a wrong way to look at
> > >it. That is our Western prejudice showing. To the Greek I believe
> > >that the perfect tense expresses a "Complete" state of being which
> > >can be past or present or future... depending upon the context.
> > >
> > >Similarly, the present tense in Greek is *not* expressing an action
> > >of present time. But rather it expresses an "In process" state of being which
> > >can be past or present or future... depending upon the context.
> > >
> > >Similarly, the future tense in Greek to me does *not* seem to
> > >express an action of future time, but rather it expresses an
> > >"surely expected" state of being.
> > >
> > >This is all probably as clear as mud to our western mindset.
> > >Just some thoughts...
> > >
> > >Blessings,
> > >
> > >Rich Lindeman
> Paul Zellmer wrote:
> >
> >
> >Rich,
> >
> >I do not disagree that we English speakers probably read more "time"
> >into the Greek verbs than the Greeks intended, but, as I read your
> >posting, it seemed like you were more closely describing the function of
> >verbs in the Semitic language family (such as Hebrew). On what are you
> >basing your strong segregation of time from the Koine Greek verb? I.e.,
> >can you give a bit of support for your thesis? I just see too many
> >forms of the verb to quickly accept that time is not part of the
> >picture.
> >
> >Paul Zellmer
> >Southern Methodist Missions
> >
> I probably have overstated the case in my posting. I actually do not
> entirely dismiss "time" from the koine verb. However, I feel that there
> is quite a lot of semitic influence in koine Greek generally. In
> recent postings there has also been some discussion of Youngs Intermediate
> grammar and his description of the tenses. As I read this grammar
> I found that this is essentially what Young was suggesting in his
> description of koine Greek. He sees time as being entirely a contextual
> matter and not found in the verb forms at all. He furthermore suggests
> that the difference between uses of the present and imperfect forinstance
> are not at all a matter of time considerations but rather a matter
> of discourse types.
> Here is rather what I probably should say. I look for "time" first
> from the context and secondly from the verb form. I normally expect
> the augmented tenses to be past time... but even there I pay close
> attention to the context first.
> Rich Lindeman

General question to the list: Is it Koine in general that is exhibiting
this characteristic of time being more a function of context than of
verb form, or is it the biblical form of Koine only? If it is most
frequently found in biblical Greek, I would see it as support for an
underlying Aramaic or Hebrew form of the GNT. Also, if it is not a
general characteristic of Koine Greek, then it would not be a general
principle to be used throughout our examination of the Greek NT. To
properly exegete texts, we should seek to determine which books might
have been based on a Semitic language and which ones might have been
Greek originally. Comments and help?

Paul Zellmer
Southern Methodist Missions

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