Re: Prohibitions

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Tue Mar 25 1997 - 18:06:48 EST

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, submitted for your evaluation is the
following summary (and I *do* mean summary) of:


(Summary from, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, Buist Fanning)


5.1.1. ". . . the basic meaning of the present and the aorist in commands
and prohibitions is not temporal but aspectual." The primary tense values
(i.e., temporal nature) of "commands and prohibitions refer to occurrences
which are future (or present and future), relative to the time of speaking.
The meanings of the present and aorist in these forms center instead on the
basic aspectual distinction developed in Chapter 2 (Fanning, Verbal Aspect
in New Testament Greek): in their invariant meanings they are 'viewpoint
aspects' which picture the occurrence either from an internal perspective,
focusing on the course or internal details of the occurrence but with no
focus on the end-points (present), or from an external perspective, seeing
the occurrence as a whole from beginning to end without focus on the
internal details which may be involved (aorist)."

5.1.2. "Just as it does in the indicative, this basic aspectual distinction
combines with other linguistic features to produce secondary functions of
the aspects in commands and prohibitions as well."". . . one secondary
distinction appears to have assumed a greater frequency of usage than in
the indicative forms--the difference between general and specific
occurrence (or, as a rough equivalent, the distinction of multiple vs.
single occurrence)."


5.2.1. Blass-Debrunner-Funk #335 state it: "The result of this distinction
[between present and aorist aspects] is that in general precepts (also to
an individual) concerning attitudes and conduct there is a preference for
the present, in commands related to conduct in specific cases (much less
frequent in the NT) for the aorist."

5.2.2. EXPLANATION AND GENERAL VALIDATION OF THIS DISTINCTION 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." 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. A general precept, on the other hand, has
multiple applications and pictures the action in its multiplicity rather
than totality, and so the "internal" focus of the present comes into play.
In bare summary, this guideline focuses the distinction of aspects on to
that of "single vs. multiple": the aorist is used of action to be done once
and the present is used of action to be done more than once or which is to
be characteristic of the hearer.

5.2.3. ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS DISTINCTION IN POSITIVE COMMANDS PRESENT TENSE: In regard to positive commands, the point of this
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". The following examples should be noted: MAT 6:9; MAT 7:12; MAR 9:7 AORIST TENSE: "On the other hand, an aorist command is normally
used to call for single specific action in a particular situation, . . . to
command the whole occurrence on that specific occasion (or at the future
occasion indicated). . ." Some illustrations of specific commands using the aorist are:
MAT 13:30; MAR 4:35

5.2.4. ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS DISTINCTION IN PROHIBITIONS ". . .the general vs. specific pattern is applicable to
prohibitions (negative commands) as well as to positive commands. This is
important to emphasize, since it runs counter to the commonly cited rule
for the present and aorist in prohibitions. What is usually said is that
the present aspect is used to forbid action which is already under-way
(e.g. "Stop doing"), whereas the aorist warns against action which has not
begun ("Do not start to do"). J.P. Louw has investigated, among other issues, the validity of
the traditional rule for present and aorist prohibitions (the 'stop vs.
don't start' distinction) and concluded that it is not a reliable guide to
actual usage. See J.P. Louw, 'On Greek Prohibitions', Acta Classica, 2
(1959), 57. ". . .when studying prohibitions it seems important to examine
the nature of the command in each instance, to discover from contextual
features whether the prohibition is general or specific in scope." "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 occuring]'. . . and the aorist
meaning 'do not do [this imminent act]'." "However, 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 do'. . ." Some
illustrations of this follow: PROHIBITORY SPECIFIC COMMANDS: MH + Aorist Subjunctive Examples: MAT 1:20; MAT 5:17; MAR 8:26;
Also Aorist Imperative in 5 of its 6 uses in NT: Matt 24:17, 18; Mark
13:15,16; Luke 17:31(2x)]) ("Do not do [this imminent act].") The speakers in each of the above examples seem to be saying,
'do not do [this imminent act]. An example where the action was clearly
already going on and the aorist was used anyway is the following: JOH 3:7
(Aor Subj; clearly not 'do not start to marvel') This example runs counter to the traditional rule that the
present is used to bear the sense of 'stop doing [this action presently
occurring]'. Present Examples: Some further examples of prohibitory specific
commands but using the present tense are the following: LUK 2:9; JOH 6:43 (NOTE: The action can be seen as clearly going on from the
context. The speaker is plainly saying 'stop doing such and such' as
opposed to 'don't start doing such and such'. These examples follow the
traditional rule well) PROHIBITORY GENERAL PRECEPTS Present Examples: MAT 19:6; MAR 13:21; LUK 12:29 In each of these cases although the present is used the
speaker is clearly not saying 'stop doing such and such' as the traditional
rule states but is rather saying 'make it your habit not to do such and such`. Some examples of the aorist in prohibitory general precepts are
as follows: LUK 3:14; 1CO 16:11; 1TI 5:1

5.3. CONCLUSION: "To summarize the argument, . . . study of commands and
prohibitions in the NT shows that the basic distinction between present and
aorist is the aspectual one traced earlier in this book. However, the most
frequent secondary function of these aspects involves the general or
specific scope of the command. Thus, general precepts usually occur in the
present and specific commands usually occur in the aorist. Conversely, the
present is most commonly used because the occurrence is intended to be done
customarily or as a normal practice, and the aorist is often used because
the desired response is a single act to be done at once or at a future time
specified by the speaker."



I. Positive Command: Simple, Straightforward Command to Another; Direct
Attempt to Impose the Speaker's Will upon the Hearer(s):

   A. General Precept: Present Tense NORMALLY: Translate: "Make it your
habit to...", or "Respond by doing ... whenever it is called for":
# Luke 6:27 (NASB)

   B. Specific Command: Aorist Tense NORMALLY: Translate: "Perform this
entire or single act now [or at some specifically designated future point
in time]"
# 1Co 5:13 (NASB)

II. Prohibition:
   A. Specific Prohibitions:
      1) "Do not do... (this imminent act)!"
         a) Normal Construction: MH + Aorist Subjunctive
# Matt 1:20 (NASB)

         b) Alternate Construction: MH + Aorist Imperative (in 7 of the 8
"Specific" occurrences of construction in NT; only Matt 6:3 is "General" )
# Matt 24:17; 24:18; Mark 13:15 (2x); 13:16; Luke 17:31 (2x)

      2) "Stop doing... (this action presently occurring)!"
         a) Normal Construction: MH + Present Imperative:
# John 6:43 (NIV)

         b) Alternate Construction: MH + Aorist Subjunctive:
# John 3:7

   B. General Prohibitions:
      1) "Never do...!": MH + Aorist Subjunctive:
# 1Tim 5:1 (TLB)

      2) "Make it your habit not to do...!":
         a) Normal Construction: MH + Present Imperative:
# Mark 13:21 (NASB)

         b) Alternate Construction: MH + Aorist Imperative (in 1 of its 8
occurrences in NT):
# Matt 6:3

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:

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