RE: tense & aspect / action & states of being

From: Carlton L. Winbery (
Date: Sat Sep 07 1996 - 08:52:34 EDT

Don Wilkins wrote;
>Typically, I'm a little behind on my e-mail so my apologies for any redun-
>dancy. I've seen these kinds of arguments about eliminating the time ele-
>ment, ignoring the aorist augment etc. before and I think they are well-
>meaning but misguided attempts to balance out the misleading emphasis on
>time implied by the word "tense" itself. To put it another way, the baby
>(legitimate ideas of time and other factors in the Greek verb system) is
>being thrown out with the wash water (the idea that "tense" always includes
>time). I'm afraid what we wind up with is a kind of voodoo grammar that is
>fun because it allows new and exciting (but incorrect) interpretations based
>almost entirely on context. To use one more analogy, we may be worried aoubt
>(about) not seeing the forest for the trees, but we end up not being able to
>see the forest at all because there are no more trees. I would plead for the
>golden mean, acknowledging the truth of aspect where it is true and that of
>time and all the other details of the verb system where they are true.
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

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