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

From: Wes Williams (
Date: Mon Apr 07 1997 - 05:05:57 EDT

>>At 9:49 PM 4/2/97, Wes Williams wrote:
>>>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:

>>>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)

> > Don Wilkins responded:
> >> ... and his
> >>interpretation of 1 Cor 7:28 suggests that he has taken a wrong turn.
> >>others who have similar view points, he is ignoring the fact that the
> >>aorist in question is in the indicative and has the augment.

> Jonathan Robie responded:
> >Well, he may not be interpreting it the same way you would, but that
> >necessarily ignoring it.

Don Wilkins responded:
> I admit I really don't know if he is ignoring it. However, if he is
> the same approach as Mari Broman Olsen and others, he *is* ignoring it
> I understand the approach correctly). The standard wisdom is that the
> aorist augment in the indicative is a sign of past time. That is where we
> should start in interpreting this construction, and the evidence for this
> view of the augment is voluminous and has been around for a very long
> When McKay (?) suggests that the apodosis in 1 Cor 7:28 can be translated
> as future, he is confusing this contruction with a future more
> vivid/probable. We could take the aorist as gnomic and then explore the
> possibility that the construction is similar to a present general, but in
> the process we need to get more deeply into the concept of the gnomic
> aorist itself. Above all, we need to try to find other instances of this
> conditional formation that might be clearer, and that calls for an
> extensive search beyond the NT.

I appreciate Don's conservatism as a moderating influence so that Verbal
Aspect theories do not rage uncontrolled. I am perplexed but not surprised
at the multitude of differing theories being proposed and Carl's statement
that it is confusing is ever true. However, after having read Porter/
Fanning/ McKay, I must admit that when a question of Verbal Aspect arises,
I turn to McKay - Fanning - Porter in that order. I would like to hear some
comments from list members on McKay's article "Time and Aspect in New
Testament Greek," Novum Testamentum, which I thought was outstanding in
addressing the issue of inherent verbal time vs. aspect.

As for the augment and past time vs. the perfective aspect in 1 Cor 7:28, I
personally have always understood it in harmony with McKay's explanation as
an example of timeless aspect over past time (i.e. "does not commit a sin"
vs. "did not sin") . Don's comments made me do further research. Here are
Porter's thoughts in "Idioms of the GNT," (1994), p. 35:

2.2 The Aorist Tense-Form
The aorist tense-form is consistently the most widely used of the verb
tenses in Greek. The aorist tense-form occurs in contexts where the user of
Greek wishes to depict an action as a complete and undifferentiated process
[my note: McKay agrees but states that it usually refers to past time in
narrative]. Because of its augment, which is often thought of as a
past-time indicator (it probably began as an adverb restricting its use to
certain narrative contexts), 1 the aorist tense-form is often equated with
past action. 2 The numerous examples in which this scheme is not true
demand explanation.

Ftn 1 McKay, Greek Grammar, p. 223
Ftn 2 That the augment cannot be seen as a past time indicator is proved by
examination of the Homeric writings, in which the so-called gnomic use
virtually always has the augment, whereas the augment is often lacking in
narrative contexts-- cf. Porter, Verbal aspect, pp. 208-209.

(I realize that this view is debatable but the references to Homeric use
are pertinent.)

McKay agrees with Porter in the above statement. But McKay departs from
both Porter (and Fanning) in his insistence that context governs when
determining verbal aspect over time. I think in this regard he is correct.
Those who look for "rules" based on statistical usage (frequently out of
their context) of course would disagree (probably more privately than
publicly) with McKay's insistence on context. Statistics are fine, but they
are limited in that do not prove anything for a differing context.

Is not context a/ the determining factor of why we would choose the aorist
perfective emphasis in John 15:6 and 1 Cor 7:28 rather than past time?

Wes Williams

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