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

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Mon Apr 07 1997 - 07:13:07 EDT

At 07:03 PM 4/6/97 -0400, Don Wilkins wrote:

>I admit I really don't know if he is ignoring it. However, if he is taking
>the same approach as Mari Broman Olsen and others, he *is* ignoring it (if
>I understand the approach correctly). The standard wisdom is that the
>aorist augment in the indicative is a sign of past time.

I think that the older grammars sometimes describe the same phenomena that
people like Mari Broman Olsen are trying to account for, but it is not
always clear to me what the older grammars mean by the word "tense". Let's
take Mari Olsen's claim that the aorist may be used to refer to events in
the past, present, or future. Both you and she indicate that traditional
approaches say the aorist refers to events in the past, but I'm not sure
that this is really true.

Mari cites Blass-Debrunner-Funk, which does seem to say that aorist always
refers to events in the past, but there are other good traditional grammars
that disagree.

Let's look at Smyth, a traditional classical grammar which was recommended
highly to me by many people I respect here on B-Greek. Smyth says: "(1923)
The aorist expresses the mere occurence of an action in the past. The action
is regarded as an event or single fact without reference to the length of
time it occupied." But he also says "(1934) Aorist for Future -- The aorist
may be substituted for the future when a future event is vividly represented
as having actually occured" APWLOMHN AR, EI ME DH LEYEIS I am undone if thou
dost leave me E. Alc 386.", and "(1936) Aorist for Present -- The aorist is
used in questions with TI OUN OU and TI OU to express surprise that
something has not been done...the (less lively) present, and the future, may
also be used." In another place, Smyth says "(1858) The primary tenses refer
to present and future time (present, future, perfect, and future perfect),
the secondary or historical tenses refer to past time (imperfect, aorist,
pluperfect). The gnomic aorist is regarded as a primary tense, as is the
aorist when used for the perfect, and the imperfect indicative referring to
present time; the historical present, as a secondary tense. The subjunctive,
optative, and imperative moods in their independent uses point to the
future, and all their tenses therefore count as primary".

Robertson's Big Yellow Tome also describes these phenomena, e.g. with
respect to the future use of the aorist: "(p. 846) The future was probably a
late development in the language, and other devices were at first used, like
the present indicative, the perfect indicative, the aorist subjunctive. The
aorist indicative was also one of the expedients that never quite
disappeared. It is not exactly, like the epistolary aorist, a change of
standpoint. It is a vivid transference of the action to the future (lie the
present ERXOMAI, Jo 14:3) by the timeless aorist. The augmented form is
still used, but the time is hardly felt to be past." Robertson says that the
aorist in John 15:6 may be the timeless aorist (p. 837)."

I think of Smyth and Robertson as two great, traditional grammars. Unlike
BDF, they don't seem to say that the aorist always refers to past time.


Jonathan Robie
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Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
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