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

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Mon Apr 07 1997 - 19:34:00 EDT

This is covering old ground, so I'll try to be brief:

At 7:13 AM 4/7/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>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.

The aorist is timeless outside the indicative; apparently this is still a
matter of confusion. My differences with Mari have to do with the aorist

>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".

This is all routine stuff. Again, one has to distinguish the indicative
from the other moods. Smyth's comments are fairly self-explanatory;
representation of a future event by the aor. ind. is consistent with the
past-referring aorist, where the reference to future is inferred from
context and style. In fact, if anyone wants to argue that the *grammar* and
morphology of the aor. ind. is past-referring but that the contextual
interpretation may refer to the future (in Smyth's sense of a sure thing),
I'll happily join the club. The gnomic aorist is a problem, as I've already
said/admitted, and the question is how it really gets its meaning, provided
that we are understanding the implication correctly.

>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)."

Again, one has to focus on ATR's "vivid transference," plus take into
account that Robertson is writing almost an apology of NT grammar.

>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.

I agree with your appraisal, but obviously think the question of what they
say is more complicated.

Don Wilkins

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