RE: Attention aspect geeks

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Thu Apr 10 1997 - 20:10:03 EDT

Rolf Furuli (
Fri, 11 Apr 1997 00:06:18 +0000

> (2) But what about Rom 5:14 `death reigned (aorist) from
> Adam to Moses` versus Matt 2:22 `when he heard that Arkelaus
> reigned (present) over Judea`? A state is by definition
> going on (or continuing). Is the state described by the
> aorist in Rom 5:14 less continuing than the state described
> in Matt 5:14? There is a difference as to time, because the
> aorist refers to the past, while Arkelaus reigned at speech
> time. But this distinction has little significance because
> death did not stop reigning at the time of Moses but still
> reigned in the time of Arkelaus (cf 5:17,21). The aorist of
> 5:14 refers to a part of the state of reigning while the
> aorists of v 17,21 are not limited.

The aspect does not determine whether the activity was continuing, but
whether it is portrayed from within the continuing action. If a continuing
action is portrayed from the time of completion, the aorist will be used,
because the completed action is being portrayed. Sure the action continued,
and it also came to completion - the writer can choose to focus on either,
and this choice is the choice of aspect. But there are other factors that
constrain the choice.

Let's look at Matt 2:22 first:

Matt 2:22 (NASU) But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning
over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.

First, remember that the verb "reign" is in a dependent clause,
and should be interpreted in relation to "was afraid". When
he was afraid, Archelaus was reigning - the present is used
to portray the his reign in process; the imperfect is not
used because it would have put the time of his reign in
the past with respect to the time that Joseph "was afraid".

> Is the state described by the
> aorist in Rom 5:14 less continuing than the state described
> in Matt 5:14?

Yes, certainly. Compare Romans 5:14 with Romans 5:21:

Roma 5:14 (NASU) Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over
those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a
type of Him who was to come.
Roma 5:21 (NASU) so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign
through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Death reigned until the time of Christ, when grace began to reign. The reign
of death is over! That doesn't mean we don't die, but we are no longer
slaves to death. All 3 aorists for "reigned" in 14, 17, and 21 view the
reign of death from after this reign has been broken.

So the use of the aorist and the present seem pretty straightforward in
these two passages.


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
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