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

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Sun Apr 06 1997 - 07:16:28 EDT

At 02:24 PM 4/5/97 -0500, Don Wilkins wrote:

>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.

Hi, Don!

It seems to me that any set of rules that we propose to describe a language
is always speculative, and may need to be adapted or discarded based on the
data. By definition, those passages which don't seem to fit our current
working set of rules are "difficult passages". The scientific method is to
examine data, look for patterns, speculate about general principles, propose
a theorem, and see if the theorem explains further data.

Right now, I don't think that the scholarly community has established clear,
agreed-upon principles for understanding aspect in Greek, and this is often
reflected in the discussion here. Naturally, *I'm* struggling with aspect -
I'm struggling with the rest of the language too - but even people who have
been working with Greek for a very long time seem to be struggling with it.
The grammars I use disagree on many issues, and since I can't find an
ultimate source of authority, I need to look at passages and tentatively
make up my own mind. I reserve the right to change it at any time during the
next 60 years.

"Every good theory comes after a good guess" - Georg Polya. B-Greek seems to
be a good place for speculation, since there are so many experienced people
here who can comment, and they are quite familiar with the literature. But I
rather suspect that people like McKay and Fanning have gone beyond the
initial guessing stage, and have gathered a lot of evidence for their views.
That doesn't mean we need to accept them - and we can't accept them all,
because they disagree.

>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

Ah, but *is* this an English point of view only, or one that is also found
in the Greek? That is the question! And don't forget that languages may
share quirks - when I was living in Germany, I often found it disconcerting
how many English idioms and quirks of grammar were also in German, since I
would recognize them from English, and I wouldn't know for sure if they
really were appropriate in German. Naturally, Greek and English are not as
closely related, but they do share some features.

>"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.

Please be concrete - in what way do you feel that he has taken a wrong turn?
How would you interpret this? Do you have some evidence for your view?

>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.

Well, he may not be interpreting it the same way you would, but that isn't
necessarily ignoring it.

>As to the condition in John 15:6, please, gentlemen, let's do our homework
>before we attempt to dicipher what is going on.

Doing our homework certainly includes asking questions here, quoting from
published sources, comparing to other passages we know, etc.

>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'll keep doing searches, and I'll keep asking questions, but I really think
that tentative conclusions are very helpful. I can read the grammars on my
now-sagging bookshelves, see where more experienced people disagree, and
look at their examples to see who seems to have evidence on their side.
Wherever there is disagreement, somebody is wrong, but if they state their
opinions clearly, I can figure out who I think is right.

Besides, without some working hypotheses, I can't read Greek.


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
email:, <--- shockwave enabled!

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:11 EDT