Re: Attention aspect geeks: John 15:6 EBLHQH, EXHRANQH

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Sat Apr 05 1997 - 14:25:36 EST

At 9:49 PM 4/2/97, Wes Williams wrote:
>I won't speak for myself, but I would like to volunteer Prof. Kenneth
>McKay (I regard him loosely in my mind as "Mr. Aspect") as a Greek Gnome
>along with the the other Scholar-Gnomes on the list.
>He writes in "A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek," p.47
>under the subheading "Timeless (Gnomic) Aorist:"
>The aorist tense is often used to express general truth in contexts with
>no particular time reference. The present is the tense most commonly
>found in timeless statements, as habitual activity is an imperfective
>realization, but when the completeness of an action is to be stressed in
>such a context the aorist is used. This aoristic completeness may in
>some contexts imply suddenness or decisive action, in others
>inevitability, but being a deviation from the norm in such contexts it
>always involves a degree of emphasis. A clause containing AN (including
>EAN, hOTAN, etc.) with a subjunctive depending on an aorist indicative
>is usually a clear indication that the context is timeless: see 20.3.1,
>20.6.3, 21.3.1. The timeless aorist is often called *gnomic* because it
>has been most readily recognized in proverbial sayings and maxims
>(GNWMAI), but is not confined to them. Some examples are:
>anyone does not remain in me he is cast out like a branch and withers
>(the present tenses which follow describe the less urgent tidying up
>KORTON, once the sun rises with its scorching heat it withers the grass;
>woman to the point of desiring her in his heart (has already committed
>... would more naturally represent the perfect in sich a context);
>1Co 7:28 EAN DE GAMHSHS, OUK hHMARTES, but if you do marry you do not
>commit a sin (that is not a sinful act)
>Wes Williams

I've been steering clear of these discussions mostly because I have not had
time to read them all, but also because the aspect question is being
handled at what I consider largely a speculative level, not unlike the
issues in source criticism. The problem is that some seem more than willing
to let their interpretations of difficult passages dictate the guidelines
or rules of Greek grammar. In the case of the gnomic aorist, an English
point of view is something we just can't seem to rid ourselves of (pardon
the dangling prep). I very seriously doubt that this aorist indicative is
really timeless, and we do not make it so by merely translating it this
way, even though a timeless translation sounds so good *in English*.
McKay's statement, "A clause containing AN (including
EAN, hOTAN, etc.) with a subjunctive depending on an aorist indicative is
usually a clear indication that the context is timeless..." indicates to me
that he is just beginning to study conditional sentences, and his
interpretation of 1 Cor 7:28 suggests that he has taken a wrong turn. Like
others who have similar view points, he is ignoring the fact that the
aorist in question is in the indicative and has the augment.
After studying Greek now for what seems many years, I still have many
unanswered questions, included among which is the exact meaning of the
"gnomic" aorist and the various forces of "mixed" conditions like that in
John 15:6. However, in regard to the former I suspect that our own concept
of gnomic situations is flawed. If you think about it, the concept
logically must be based on past experiences, producing the assumption that
what has been true in the past will continue to be true in the future.
Perhaps the Greek has at least two ways of describing "gnomic" events: one
using the present tense (as in the present general condition) as we would,
and another which looks at a past event(s) and leaves it to the
reader/listener to draw some conclusion.
As to the condition in John 15:6, please, gentlemen, let's do our homework
before we attempt to dicipher what is going on. This includes, inter alia,
searching elsewhere for examples of the same thing (using exhaustive
computer searches etc. wherever possible) and refraining from conclusions
until (if ever) we have sufficient evidence to back them up. I realize that
those who have the time and opportunity to write Greek grammars feel
obligated to provide answers to such questions as these, and my hat's off
to them for tackling such a difficult job; but I would personally find it
most refreshing to see a few "ignoramus's" here and there instead of
speculation presented as a fact or viable theory. When my physician tells
me that this or that *seems* to work in dealing with a headache, but that
modern medicine really doesn't understand the causes of headaches
adequately, I respect him for his honesty and am really better prepared to
deal with my headaches than I would be given some supposed "cure" that
isn't. I'm sure most of us feel the same way about Greek, and we need to be
very discerning in our methods of study.

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside

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