Re: Aspect/Description

From: S. M. Baugh (
Date: Fri Apr 11 1997 - 15:17:27 EDT


Well, it serves me right to ask a question then both get sick and go out
of town for a couple of days. Sorry! I also trust that you all perceived
that I was having fun with my question. I certainly do appreciate
theoretical as well as specific textual questions. I even read
linguistics from time to time (I once read a whole book entitled
"Imperatives" [I think--it was just for fun so I didn't record the title
or author, Comrie maybe??]). So if my silly humor was misplaced, forgive
me. My "Desired Outcome" is just to blunder about and continue enjoying
these wonderful, informative chats.

The two passages using KRINW (Luke 6:37 [Matt. is parallel, but he
doen't use OU MH interestingly] and John 18:31) brought out some
interesting helpful thoughts by our intrepid Jonathan Robie (who, by the
way, deserves our sincere admiration for learning Greek on his
own--that's no easy task for any reading language, but especially for
ancient Greek) and by Tom Launder (no one escapes the far-feared Greek
placement exam, Tom!). Rolf Furuli promised to comment later; I look
forward to his thoughts. Untill then, lest this issue become too cold,
here are my thoughts.

First, some brief comments to Jonathan and Tom's earlier remarks:

Both of our commentators (Jonathan and Tom) reflect on a possible nuance
for the present negative infinitive MH KRINETE assuming that the event
is already in process; the impv. would be rendered: "Stop judging."
Happily, both reject this option because it does not fit the situation
in Luke 6. Not all commentators and grammarians (Nigel Turner) resist
this temptation often enough! Our astute commentators follow the
procedure I prefer. Treat the "tense forms" of Greek as having a range
of possible meanings much like the semantic range of a lexeme. The
original readers fluent in Greek intuitively knew which meaning of the
present or aorist imperative was intended from a variety of contextual
factors. Any simple definition of the present or aorist even within one
mood, must make important qualifications.

Let me illustrate the last point with English. How does one describe the
English "present tense"? Let's take the simple verbal phrase: "I am
going." We could abstractly understand this to imply that "the action of
movement from one location to another is presented as in process without
reference to an end point [telos]." But there are manifold problems with
this kind of definition. Although this may be the most common use, the
exceptions are important enough to require inclusion in any complete
definition. (We won't even consider here the lexical problems derived
from phrases like "*I am going* to college in my hometown" or "*I am
going* to come tomorrow" [where "going" does not denote movement but
intention or conviction].)

There are many different temporal references this simple phrase can
        "Then as *I am going* into the pawnshop, what do I see
        but my old baseball glove!" = PAST.

        "*I am going* to Turkey. Where are you bound?" = PRESENT.

        "*I am going* to Turkey next year" = FUTURE.

        "*I am going* into all the stores I can this month to beat
        the Christmas rush" = CUSTOMARY (iterative) action extending
        possibly from the past into the future.

Now this is plain enough, but what makes English (and correspondingly
Greek) interesting is that not all verbal phrases can be put to the same
range of uses. While we may use "I am going next year" or "I am speaking
tomorrow" or "I am seeing the doctor next week" with future references,
we would not say "*I am shaving* tomorrow" or "*I am sitting* in the
left field bleachers tomorrow" or "*I am taking* my medicine next week."
In the latter three statements, the simple future ("I will shave" etc.)
is required for "proper" English (i.e., one that follows conventional
patterns) even though the future reference in these "improper"
statements is clear enough to be understood.

My point here is simply that language is a complicated affair and there
is similar complexity to Greek usage of tense forms which are informed
by grammatical conventions, regionalisms, idiolect, etc. These can
rarely be satisfactorially comprehended by a simple description.
Jonathan wants a simple definition of the Greek aorist indicative (don't
we all!), but I think we should settle for one which covers the most
common aorist uses while leaving room for the special cases.

It's not that we despair of understanding ancient Greek--we know a lot,
due as much to modern linguistics as the giants upon whose shoulders we
should gratefully stand, as Don Wilkins reminded us. (How many of us
were forced to speak only Greek, Hebrew, or Latin during the day in
college as were all the students of Cambridge in John Milton's time; or
how many of us, when the sermon becomes a little slow will translate it
on the fly into Greek as Gildersleeve used to do?)

Now that I've run on and on, my room for my own interpretation of Luke
6:37 and John 18:31 has run out. Very briefly:

        "MH KRINETE" (Luke 6:37//Matt. 7:1). The grammars are helpful here. The
"customary" idea is in the background with this verb here, so that "the
practice of judging" is what is being prohibited (cf. the same verb in
John 7:24; Rom. 14:3; 1 Cor. 4:5; and Col. 2:16). The aorist might occur
with the general notion of prohibiting the practice of some action, but
that is with specific kinds of verb meanings.

        Aorist "KRINATE" in John 18:31 refers to a discrete event (whether one
occurrence of the action or not is not necessary). "Here, you render a
verdict" rather than: "make it your practice to judge." Cf. Acts 4:19;
Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 10:15 and 1 Cor. 11:13. (In prayers the aorist form
of the imperative is expected [with a few notable exceptions], but this
is not a prayer.)

        OU MH KRIQHTE back in Luke 6:37 is important because it follows the
conventions of a different mood, the dependent subjunctive (prohibitory
and hortatory subjunctives, however, must be analyzed alongside
imperatives). In imperatival constructions, there are no construction
demands--they are independent uses--but in the case of OU MH, the aorist
subjunctive was *required* by grammatical convention (rarely the present
subjunctive, but not in the NT; or the rare future indicative) was
*required* (OU MH is followed by the aorist subjunctive 85 times in the
NT; never by the present subjunctive). Hence, the tense form of KRIQHTE
is the "default" form (the one every Greek speaker at the time expected
as right and proper--linguists call this the "unmarked" form). The
aorist in KRIQHTE carries minimal to no semantic information, so that
the lexical idea is communicated "simply" (Tom--if I haven't bored you
away already!--the "ingressive" notion would be rare in this
construction, and impossible with this verb, requiring a stative
notion). This means that it is "aoristos"--a simple statement that
judgment will not occur with no further elaboration.

Well, I went too long here. Let me just thank all for patience and
continued discussion and mutual learning.


S. M. Baugh
New Testament
Westminster Theological Seminary
1725 Bear Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA 92027

P. S. I like Don Wilkin's term "description" for "aspect"; but it will
never fly. You can't have "descriptology" as we do "aspectology"!

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