Aspect Specifics

From: S. M. Baugh (
Date: Sat Apr 12 1997 - 19:34:39 EDT

Dear Friends,

To review: I have asked us to reflect on the complexity of the Greek
verb system, and particularly to consider that in the different moods,
there may be a variety of different factors which led a Greek author to
choose one "tense form" over another. This leads to the conclusion that
any definition of the "present" or "aorist" in Greek must be pretty
flexible. In light of this I invited interpretation of the tense forms
of two verses where one verb (KRINW) occurs three times. In thoughtful
response, Jonathan Robie writes:

>Aorist imperatives are pretty common in the GNT (Gramcord shows 618
>verses containing them). Smyth says (1864) that the imperative always
>implies future time, that the present portrays continuance, and the
>aorist portrays simple occurence. To translate this into aspect
>terminology, I would say that the present portrays a future act from
>within the action, and the aorist looks back on a future act from the
>time of its completion.
>So I would say that the focus here is on the end result of judging,
>not on the process of judging.

There is much good here: (1) He quotes Smyth which is a standard Greek
grammar (though not as helpful for Hellenistic or Koine idiosyncracies
as one would wish; we may also find Wallace's new grammar a helpful
correction at times.) (2) He contrasts the aorist KRINATE in this text
with the other option, KRINETE which would "portray the future act from
within the action." It often helps to understand what someone says by
contrasting with what he *could* have said. (3) He talks about the
"focus" here. That's so much better than saying the "emphasis" here
(there is no emphasis).

Here are my thoughts for further reflection: (1) Jonathan (and we all)
wants a simple, universal definition of the present/aorist "aspects." He
has accurately apprehended a common definition in our literature and is
trying to employ it consistently here. (To be fair: he really wanted to
stay with the indicative, but my "gauntlet" forced us to consider two
imperatives and a subjunctive.) He writes:
>"The present portrays a future act from within the
>action, and the aorist looks back on a future act from
>the time of its completion."
The description of present and aorist aspects here has been adjusted to
fit the imperative since all imperatives are necessarily future. (Don't
try to ask someone to perform a past event, they might hurt themselves!)

The description, however, is too complicated to be persuasive. My own
understanding of KRINATE in John 18 and "tense form" function in the
imperatives is more complex. Let me tell you why in shorthand fashion:
(1) To say particularly "the aorist looks back on a future act from the
time of its completion" is very awkward. Jonathan cannot really mean to
say that *John,* when he wrote KRINATE (or Pilate when he said such) was
really projecting himself past the time of KRINWing then imagining
himself as looking back on it, can he? Certainly the reader cannot do
this mental projection and retain sanity for long!

(2) This simple definition does not take into account the variety of
conventions at work influencing tense form choice by Greek writers and
speakers. For instance:

(a) When uttering a prayer in Greek, one normally uses the aorist. (Why
that is is a separate question deserving of separate treatment.)

(b) The situation in John 18:31 calls for a command of a "simple
occurrence" of the event (Smyth sec. 1864; cf. 1841). Now this does not
mean it is a "one time act" necessarily, or that one may not deduce a
principle of further action from the simple command. But it is a command
in a specific setting: "You judge him" (here and now--not as a pattern
of judgment as we found in KRINETE in Luke 6).

(c) There are a range of nuances possible with the imperative depending
upon the inherent nature of the event. (=the verb's referent; some call
this Aktionsart but I don't for specific reasons). For instance, if we
find GINWSKW in the aorist, the entrance into knowledge would be
communicated, "come to know" "learn": TOTE GNWTE hOTI HGGIKEN hH
ERHMWSIS AUTHS, "*Learn* then that her desolation is at hand" (Luke
21:20). This means that aorist GNWTE does not look back upon the
completed "knowledge," but rather looks at the beginning of this event
(which is not completed). "Come into the knowledge of this fact (and
continue knowing it is assumed)."

(d) Buist Fanning's book (and others subsequently) had a profound
influence on my thinking and occasional research into all this.
Particularly that there are some verbs which, because of their inherent
meaning, are normally found in one tense form or another in the
imperative and other non-indicative moods. Let us consider an example
(an angel tells Joseph): PARALABE TO PAIDION . . . KAI FEUGE EIS
AIGUPTON, "Take the child . . . and flee into Egypt" (Matt. 2:13). Here
we have PARALABE (2 Aorist imperative) as expected: Taking up the child
is a "simple occurrence," this is not necessarily commanding a pattern
of Joseph's behavior. Yet in the same statement we find present
imperative FEUGE! Why? Is this "presenting the action from inside"?
"Take up the child . . . and *be in the midst of fleeing* to Egypt"??
Hardly! When we research, we find that FEUGW occurs nine times as a
present imperative and no times as an aorist regardless of the setting.
This is not much data, but it is something, particularly when we add 9
other verbs of the same type we find they occur 109 times as presents
and only 10 times as aorists. (We can also add, for instance, Plutarch
where Julius Caesar is told to "avoid" Marc Anthony with the same
present form: FEUG' AUTON, *De Fortuna Romanorum* [Moralia 320A].) More
research along these lines is needed, but the data I've uncovered so far
has been interesting and promising.

Well, I've gone pretty long so far. Again, all I'm asking is that we
don't oversimplify Greek aspect to the point that we don't appreciate
its nuances, particularly since the factors influencing "tense" form
selection seems pretty complex at this stage in our research.

Enjoyed the chat,


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

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