RE: Aspect Specifics

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Apr 09 1997 - 15:44:18 EDT

S. M. Baugh (
Wed, 09 Apr 1997 09:21:08 -0700

> Well, the recent exchange inspired by the "gnomic" aorist in John 15:6
> has trailed around to some sometimes interesting questions.
> HOWEVER! Where are we now? Jonathan's definition of the aorist? Well, if
> so, my (sigh) neglected 12 Theses may be of interest. Jonathan gallantly
> and boldly wrote:
> >"The aorist views an action from the time of its completion. In most
> >cases, the action is in the past, but it can also depict a future
> >action, a present action, or an action not fixed in time, always
> >viewing it from the time of its completion."
> YET! Here's my gauntlet: No simple definition of the aorist is really
> possible. It means different things in different situations and in the
> different moods. Attempts to MAKE it mean one thing are analogous to
> fallacious lexical semantics which seek one "basic" meaning for a lexeme
> from which all other meanings flow.

An interesting gauntlet! Since I've *already* said that I think there
is such a definition, I can't get in any more trouble than I'm in
already. And I have two advantages that make it easier for me to
make bold, clear statements: (1) I have no reputation to uphold,
and (2) I'm far too naive to know how far I'm in over my head.

> NOW! May I suggest that this abstract discussion of Greek verbal aspect
> include AT LEAST one example from the GNT to illustrate one's point. The
> beginners on our list are probably dazed and confused.

Well, I posted at least 8 examples yesterday, but I obviously missed
a few ;->

> SO! Here are my merely two examples for the day. Anyone please explain
> the aspect semantics of KRINW in the following two statements (the 3
> target forms are marked by asterisks):
> MH *KRINETE* KAI OU MH *KRIQHTE* (Matt. 7:1//Luke 6:37.

First off, let me point out that Don and I have been limiting our
argument to independent clauses in the indicative, and not one
of your three examples qualifies. I'm parsing them as follows:

KRINETE Present Active Imperative
KRIQHTE Aorist Passive Subjunctive
KRINATE Aorist Active Imperative

I haven't done any an-depth work on aspect in imperatives and
subjunctives, and I'm not sure to what extent I will be able
to support my statements across the moods. When I asked Mari
about this last November, she said that her work was limited
to the indicative, so I know I'm on my own here...yet I'm
just stupid enough to give it a try!

But first, just exactly what are the stakes?

> Yours in all good humor and learning,

OK, I'll give it a try after all!

> MH *KRINETE* KAI OU MH *KRIQHTE* (Matt. 7:1//Luke 6:37.

KRINETE Present Active Imperative
KRIQHTE Aorist Passive Subjunctive

The first thing a good linguist would want to do is ask
a native informant. I'm not a linguist, neither a good
one nor a bad one, and the native informants have all
died off, so I'll have to rely on the best sources I
have, which are the grammars and the translations. So
I am starting not only with data, but with the best
expert opinions I can find on the meaning of the data.

First off, I like the standard translation on this:
"Do not judge so that you will not be judged".

I believe that the traditional simplistic view is:

        MH+ Aorist Imperative = stop doing X
        MH+ Present Imperative = don't do X (habitually)

Smyth says of the present imperative:

1841.a. MH GRAFE, like "don't write", is ambiguous and
may mean, according to the situation, either cease
writing or abstain from writing. Commonly MH GRAFE
means "do not go on writing", "write no more", and
is an order to stop an action already begun. In many
cases, however, MH with the present imperative does
not refer to the interruption of an action already
begun, but to an action still in the more or less
distant future against which the speaker urges

Of the difference between the aorist and the present,
Smyth says:

1841.e. The difference between MH GRAFE and MH GRAPSHiS
is virtually a difference of tenses, the present denoting
an action continuing, in process; the aorist, an action
concluded, summarized...the distinction is often immaterial,
often a difference of tone rather than of meaning; sometimes
too subtle for dogmatic statement.

Robertson agrees (p. 851), with examples also from modern

Now we have some data; let's see how our theory intersects
with the data. If the aspect of the present is continuous,
it is viewed from the time of the action, during the process.
This agrees with Smyth's phrase "in process" for the present
imperative. If the aspect of the aorist, then it is viewed
from the time of completion. This agrees with Smyth's phrase
"an action concluded, summarized" for the aorist imperative.

Imperative, like subjunctive or optative, inherently projects
absolute time (relative to the speaker) into the future. The
action can then be viewed (aspect) during the process or at
the end of a completed process from this point in the future.

>From an aspect perspective (excuse the pun), the present
imperative views an action in process, and says "don't do
that". The aorist imperative views the end state that would
result from doing an action, and says "don't do that, for
heaven sakes!"

Let's see now, what was the verse we were discussing? Ah,
here it is:

> MH *KRINETE* KAI OU MH *KRIQHTE* (Matt. 7:1//Luke 6:37.

So KRINETE envisions the hearers in the process of judging,
and says "don't do that". KRIQHTE is aorist passive subjunctive.
Subjunctive also projects absolute time into the future, and
the aorist says to view the action from the time of completion.
The OU MH is a strong prohibition, and the subjunctive expresses
likelihood, not certainty, so I really like this translation:

"Do not judge lest you be judged"

Note: I've made use of a device here that makes sense to me, but
this is not an established method. I am using subjunctive, imperative,
and optative to project absolute time into the future, then using the
aspect to tell me which direction to look from there. I'd be glad for
any feedback telling me whether this holds H20! Using this device,
I continue to describe the aorist like this:

> >"The aorist views an action from the time of its completion. In most
> >cases, the action is in the past, but it can also depict a future
> >action, a present action, or an action not fixed in time, always
> >viewing it from the time of its completion."

I'll probably deal with the second quote some other time; this took
too long for now, and I have to do some work before I care to comment
on the other verse.

> I'll let you know if you get it right. (Just kidding!)



Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
email:, <--- shockwave enabled!

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:12 EDT