RE: Aspect Theses

From: S. M. Baugh (
Date: Thu Mar 27 1997 - 12:42:57 EST


I prepared the following theses for a few friends to clarify some
unpublished material I have on tense form choice in the non-indicative
moods and I thought I would inflict it on you too. If some theses are
unclear or controversial, I would be glad to hear about it and listen to
constructive criticism. They are theses I think I can defend with
examples, but they are not set in stone (12 theses not 10
commandments(\*_*/). For instance, from what Dale Wheeler has said
lately, he may want me to include "prefixed bounded" as an Aktionsart
(Fanning's "climax"). I realize this idea can be discerned in actions,
but since they function in tense form selection as "punctuals" I have
smooged the two categories together. My interests are unabashedly
exegetical not theoretical. Thanks in advance.


                        S. M. Baugh, Ph.D.
                Associate Professor of New Testament
        Westminster Theological Seminary in California


DEFAULT FORMS: The tense form endorsed by either the conventions of
Greek grammar for a verb formÔs construction or by that verbÔs lexical

EVENT: Any referent for a verb form. Events can be sub-divided as
1. Statives (states and relationships)¸State
2. Activities (actions with no inherent termination)¸Action

3. Performances (bounded actions with some perceived duration)¸Action
4. Punctuals (bounded actions with little or no perceivable

LEXICAL DETERMINATION: When a verb is missing particular tense forms,
its realizations in the only form possible are said to be lexically
determined. For instance, EINAI is lexically determined because no
aorist or perfect forms exist in the NT for the infinitive of EIMI
(though it may appropriate GENESQAI, of course).

LEXICAL FACTOR: The inherent character of the event referenced by a verb
form. The older term Aktionsart approximated this idea but is different
enough that I no longer use it.

MOOD: (I include infinitives and participles as "moods," even though
this is technically not correct.)

REALIZATION: The expression of a verb form with all its attendant parts
in a context. For instance, hEURHKENAI is the realization of HEURISKW in
Rom. 4:1.

STATEMENT: Any utterance either oral or written which forms a
self-contained unit of discourse. This includes one word ejaculations to
complete paragraphs (and beyond in some cases). Usually, a statement is
formed by a sentence or two which has close control over the choice of a
verb form.

TENSE FORM: The form of any verb which communicates tense or aspect
(present, aorist, etc.). I do not mean to imply that these forms
necessarily communicate "tense" in every case. "Aspect form" could also
be used with the same meaning (although this term seems to exclude
"tense" from forms which do normally relate to time; e.g., the future

1. Any theory of Greek verbal aspect must treat its function in the
different moods separately. Failures to follow the dictates of this
thesis have lead to descriptions of verbal aspect which are misleading
for various moods and in various situations. Furthermore, this thesis
particularly relates to the important differences between verbal aspect
in the indicative (where tense enters more into play) and in the
non-indicative moods.

2. The different moods may (and do) appropriate the overarching use of
verbal aspect differently in accordance with each moodÔs special role in
the Greek verb system. An example is the Greek participle which usually
uses the tense forms to communicate relative tense rather than aspect as
one might expect (though specialized features of aspect are not excluded
in participle forms, and some of the nuances of aspect are found). One
implication is that the reasons an author chose, for instance, an aorist
form in one mood does not necessarily relate to why he chose an aorist
form in another mood even with the same verb.

3. Previous work on Greek verbal aspect has not adequately addressed the
factors influencing an authorÔs choice of tense forms. Only when these
factors have been thoroughly investigated will we be able to adequately
use verbal aspect in exegesis of the GNT text.

4. Default tense forms may or may not hold exegetical interest. The
researcher must feel confident from analysis of the form in its various
contexts that the biblical author consciously (even though intuitively)
meant to communicate a nuance through the default tense form. Any other
implications drawn from such default forms is a description of
historical (diachronic) linguistics, and therefore subject to the kind
of criticisms raised by F. de Saussure.

5. Forms which are lexically determined should not be used as examples
of aspect semantics except at the theoretical level. This thesis is
motivated by the recognition that a particular author chose a lexically
determined form not because he understood the theory of aspect, but
because it was the only "proper" choice available.

6. As is the case with most fluency language use, the NT authors
probably had an intuitive grasp of verbal aspect. This leads to the
conclusion that grammatical convention played a larger role in tense
form usage than did theoretical understanding. For example, the NT
authors would probably be as much at a loss as we are to explain why
certain verbs of motion occur almost exclusively in their present
imperative forms (e.g., EGEIRW which seems telic and would normally
occur its aorist forms).

7. Historical influences in the development of Koine Greek probably led
to inconsistencies in verbal aspect usage and its "rules." Any general
theory of Greek verbal aspect must account for and accommodate such

8. Greek verbal aspect is normally communicated by a combination of the
tense form with various broad contextual features. Contextual features
influencing the semantics of verbal aspect include: the lexical factor,
supplementary ideas expressed or implied in the statement, grammatical
conventions relating to tense form usage which were common to the Greek
language users of the first century, an individual writerÔs grasp of
>Greek grammatical conventions, literary intertextual factors¸especially
LXX influence, and a writerÔs style (shaped by the last two points as
well as idiosyncrasies and regionalisms).

9. A lexeme may reference more than one kind of event (i.e., express
different "lexical factors"). An example is ECW which has stative
meanings (KAKWS ECW) and activity meanings ("I am holding onto

10. The inherent event character of a lexeme may change through
additional words in the statement in combination with the meaning of the
tense form. Witness ECW again: adding KAKWS to ECW expresses a stative
meaning. In the aorist, SCEIN would indicate that an inceptive idea was
being expressed for the activity meaning: "to get" or "grab."

11. Because of the complex nature of Greek verbal aspect, sometimes
authors and speakers were uncertain of the "correct" form to use in a
particular situation, particularly with uncommon verbs. Perhaps, this
explains some of the data which flow against the broad theoretical
explanations of tense form selection. (However we must not make this a
"rabbit in a hat" to explain away contradictory data.) Any general
theory of Greek verbal aspect must take into account such vagarities
arising in actual Greek usage.

12. These theses are only a beginning point for further research,
particularly in the data outside the NT. My own reading from Xenophon to
Athenasius, however, has been encouraging that these theses are on the
right track.

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