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

From: Mark B. O'Brien (
Date: Mon Apr 07 1997 - 09:22:35 EDT

On Mon, 07 Apr 1997 07:13:07 -0400 Jonathan Robie
<> writes:
>I think of Smyth and Robertson as two great, traditional grammars.
>BDF, they don't seem to say that the aorist always refers to past

Interestingly, though, it seems to me that the older grammars deal with
the aorist as generally referring to past time in the indicative, and
they deal with situations where this is not the case as special usage.
However, in some of the more contemporary theories being proposed for
verbal aspect, some appear to be taking these special cases to build a
general theory of the aorist as a non-past referring tense [as well as a
generally non-temporal view of all the tenses], and I think the following
comments from Fanning are instructive (at least to me they were!):

"Are these instances [of forms which don't seem to fit our normal sense
of the temporal meaning for the tenses] normative or exceptional? Is
there anything going on in these examples which causes departures from
otherwise consistent patterns of temporal meaning? While they cannot be
discussed in detail here, I argue that his [Porter's] examples are
exceptional and that hard cases make bad law. A theory of Greek present
and aorist which centers its evidence on things like historical presents,
gnomic aorists and dramatic aorists has the wrong end of the stick.
Porter has shown me that I have more to learn about these exceptional
uses, but I'm not convinced that our whole approach to the tense-aspect
system should be molded to these." -- Fanning, "Approaches to Verbal
Aspect in New Testament Greek: Issues in Definition and Method" in
*Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics*, Ed. Porter and Carson
(Sheffield, 1993), 58. [This was Fanning's reply to Porter at the SBL in
Kansas City in 1991.]

In a way, I think this is consistent with what Don Wilkins was saying...
older grammarians have often hammered through these issues with a lot
more blood sweat and tears (no Gramcord <G>), and arrived at conclusions
that are, for the most part, very sound, and we should approach
substantial revisions of their work with a great deal of caution.

Is a theory based on exceptional usage really the way we want to go here,
or to try and better understand why the aorist (for example) is being
used this way in a place where we wouldn't expect to find it?

Just some thoughts...



Mark O'Brien
Grad. Student, Dallas Theological Seminary
Adj. Prof., Dallas Christian College

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