RE: Attention aspect geeks

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Fri Apr 11 1997 - 19:29:51 EDT

Dear Jonathan,

In my last post I tried to test a certain view of the
imperfective aspect. I believe that most persons reading
McKay 3.2 will conclude hat he defines the imperfective
aspect as `an activity as going on, in process, without
reference to its completeion`. His way of writing here is
rather cryptic but I believe he only means that this is what
the imperfective aspect `presents` and not what it is. Be
that as it may, but many persons believe in this definition
and I tried to test it. Two arguments were used: (1) There
are imperfective situations where this definition does not
fit, and (2) It can be used for aorists as well.

You wrote about one of my examples:

<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".

This is an excellent explanation! But regarding your next
explanation I have some reservations.

>> 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.

This comment is both tehological and linguistic, and we
should deal with the two both separately and together.
Linguistically this situation illuminates the very essence
of aspect. We agree that while the imperfective aspect
focuses on a small part of the action/state not including
the end, the focus of aorist is much bigger, for the most
part including beginning and end. Let us apply this to a
state, which by definition is something continuing without
any input of energy. The crucial point here - AND THIS IS
REALLY CRUCIAL - is: Must we conclude that a state realized
as an aorist objectively is terminated, or is it possible
that the state objectively continues, but the aorist covers
just a part of the state before it objectively ends? To use
the example with the rule of death: When Paul said that
`death reigned from Adam until Moses`, can we on linguistic
grounds (because an aorist is used) say that the only
possible conclusion is that death stopped to reign at the
time of Moses? Or is it on linguistic grounds possible to
say that the aorist just covers a part of the state `the
reign of death` and that the reign also continued after

The answers to these questions are extremely important
because they reveal whether we view aspects as objective or
subjective entities. If aorists only are used for
actions/states which objectively are completed, aspect is
objective and the old Aktionsart-definition of it is in
reality lurking in the background. Then it also is true that
the imperfective aspect should be defined as Aktionsart, as
`an activity as going on, in process, without reference to
its completion`. If aspect is subjective, a viewpoint of the
referent, every `objective` definition must be discarded,
and there is no problem to apply an aorist to a state still
holding and continuing.

This subjective view of aspect excludes the definition
ascertained from McKay for two reasons: (1) The definition
is an objective Aktionsart-definition, and (2) The
definition can equally well include the aorist of Rom 5:14
which also portrays a state as going on without reference to
its completion (the reference being just to a completion of
a part of the state as it is viewed by the referent). Let me
give a few examples of aorists covering situations that
continued after the space covered by the aorist: (active
aorist; Josh 6:25; Judg 1:21), passive aorist: 1 Sam 27:6;
Deut 2:22 (Cf imperfect 2 Sam 4:3 and present Jos 4:9).

In Romans 5 and 6 there is a dramatic personification of
Sin, Death and Grace as kings. Different people serve in the
armies of the different kings and using the weapons of the
kings. The conclusion is found in 6:23 where the Greek word
signifying a soldier`s pay is used. This wage is either
death or everlasting life. Even though king Sin and King
death did not reign over Christians, they did so over
mankind genrally. So the reign of king Sin and king Death
still continues. When Paul therefore referred to the reign
from Adam to Moses this could not be the conclusion of the
reign of king Death. Therefore this example accords with the
LXX examples, showing that an aorist can cover a part of a

I appreciate that you defend your view of aorist, Jonathan,
I am also very interested to see how it can account for the
different passages, and find great pleasure in exchanging
opinion with you. However, two questions to be considered in
relation to aorist is whether we should think of it as
completed or complete and if this completion is objective or

Greetings Rolf

Rold Furuli
Ph.D candidate in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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