Re: Tense and mood about John 20:27

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Sep 20 1996 - 08:52:12 EDT

At 6:31 AM -0500 9/19/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>"A man without a watch does not know what time it is.
>A man with two watches does not know what time it is. But he does know
>about the epistemology of time."
>This little Greek has heard contradicting opinions from two big Greeks about
>interpretation of tense and mood for verb forms that do not exist. One big
>tells me that some verb forms don't exist for certain roots, so other verb
>are substituted. Apparently, some lexicons tell you which forms exist and
>don't. For instance, because FERW does not exist in aorist, you shouldn't
>overinterpret the use of present where aorist might be expected.

Sorry to say this, but IMHO this is nonsense. FERW _does_ exist in the
aorist; that root is not used, of course, but HNEGKON/HNEGKA was already
used for the aorist of FERW in Homer (yes, alpha endings appear on two
second aorist stems even in Homer). Chantraine, I think it was, argued that
originally there were different roots for the same fundamental verbal
notion in each of the three tense systems--present, aorist, & perfect, but
that over the course of time new present tenses, etc. came to be
constructed based on aorist stems, etc.

>For instance, in John 20:27, there is a series of imperatives, where FERW is
>always present imperative, and the other verbs are all aorist imperative:
>John 20:27 (NASU) Then He said to Thomas, "Reach (present imperative) here
>your finger, and see (aorist imperative) My hands; and reach (present
>imperative) here your hand and put it (aorist imperative) into My side; and do
>not be unbelieving, but believing."
>John 20:27 (GNT) eita legei tw Qwma Fere ton daktulon sou wde kai ide ta ceira
>mou kai fere thn ceira sou kai bale ei thn pleuran mou kai mh ginou apisto
>To the one big Greek, one possible explanation for the present imperative in
>FERW is that aorist simply does not exist for the verb, so present is
>substituted. This explanation bothered me, since it involves circular
>in the use of the data: if this verse *had* used an aorist imperative for
>then our lexica would tell us that the aorist imperative *does* exist for
>which would affect our interpretation elsewhere.

No, it's not as if the imperative form ENEGKE for the aorist of FERW were
not available. And note that this verb is not in the same category as EIMI,
for which I've argued that GINOMAI supplies an aorist, although the forms
of EIMI themselves are, I still insist, basically in the present aspect:
continuous, durative, repeated existence.

>So I asked another big Greek, who said "you can express pretty much
>anything in
>the Greek" (I've heard that before, somewhere), but some forms are used
>with different roots. He gives this example: in English, "go" changes to
>"went" to express past tense. "Goed" does not exist, but that doesn't mean
>that we can't express the thought "He goed to the store", it merely means
>that we express it with a different root.

I would agree with this. It is consistent with the Chantraine hypothesis
which I mentioned above.

>This seems to be reflected in the structure of BAGD. For instance, for FERW,
>BAGD says:
>> FERW (Hom. + inscr., pap., LXX, En., Ep. Arist., Philo, Joseph.,
>> Test. 12 Patr., Sib. Or.) impf. eferon; fut. oisw J 21:18;
>> Rv 21:26; 1 aor. hnegka, ptc enegkas; 2 aor inf. enegkein
>> (Bl-D. #81.2); 1 aor. pass hnexqhn 2 Pt 1:18, 21a.
>This seems to list the other roots that are used to express specific forms.
>HNEGKA would be used to express the aorist. Incidtentally, the second big
>says that the use of present imperative in John 20:27 reflects aspect,
>depicting the motion of the hand through the air.

I'd buy this explanation; motion is involved in putting the hand into or
onto the wound in Jesus' side. Incidentally, this passage never does tell
us that Thomas actually DID put his hand into/onto the wound; rather, it
emphasizes that Thomas SAW and BELIEVED. I think this is fundamental to the
curious Johannine blend of epistemology and soteriology/eschatology: it is
the VISION of the crucified/risen Lord that saves and redeems the believer.
So yes, I think there IS a difference between FERE and IDE, a difference of

>So here is my question: if a verb form does not exist for a root, are
>other verb
>forms substituted, or does this just mean that another root would be used to
>express the same thing?

Personally I'd say it depends upon the particular verb. I'm inclined to
agree with Whitehead in thinking that one can conceive notions without
having an adequate language to express them in. I know that's nonsense to
some people, but I have never escaped the weird feeling when reading
Aristotle's _Ethics_ that his assertion that there are virtuous states in
ordinary Greek aristocrats that are demonstrably present although there is
no word for them is really quite true.

>P.S.: My brother says that I'm working too hard at tense and mood, which
>can be
>understand easily by examining the following examples:
>Indicative mood: I'm in the mood
>Subjunctive mood: I could be in the mood
>Present tense: I am tense
>Future tense: I will be tense
>Past tense: I was tense
>His use of the term past tense, of course, shows that he doesn't know a thing
>about Greek...

I think I would have said rather that he approaches these questions in a
mood of high tension.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:52 EDT