Re: Aspect Specifics

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Sat Apr 12 1997 - 20:53:58 EDT

At 04:34 PM 4/12/97 -0700, S. M. Baugh wrote:

I'm really glad that someone with your experience and depth has contributed
so much to this discussion!
>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!)

How could it be simpler? There is a time element implied by the future, an
aspect associated with the aorist, and the Aktionsart of the verb. All three
of these time elements must be there. I *do* agree with Fanning's approach
to lexical aspect.

>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!

For heavens sake, that's not what I'm claiming at all, and if I did, I would
hope you would all have a good laugh - on me, I don't take myself that
seriously anyways. I don't think that I've consciously chosen any of the
tense forms in anything that I've written in the last week or so, yet there
are time elements in the verbs and forms that I am using. I'm claiming that
the same is true for John.

>(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:

Not all of this complexity has to be in the aorist; we could have a number
of simple factors, e.g. the time factor in some prepositions, the time and
aspect of the tenses, the lexical aspect of individual verbs, the time
elements implied by some moods.

In general, science tries to see complex behavior as an interaction if
individual principles which can be describe individually. For instance, in
looking at planetary movement, we could continue to claim that the earth is
the center of the universe, and that planetary movement is simply quite
complicated, and does not operate the same way in all regions of the sky or
at all points in the revolution of a body, but we prefer to search for
simple principles of gravity, momentum, etc., then see how each body is
affected by the others. The movement can still be quite complex as one
planet and its moon revolve around each other, they revolve around the sun,
the solar system is moving within the milky way, etc., but each part of the
system has a simple definition. We know what gravity means, and it can be
described with a simple equation. Now one could argue that language is too
complex to be described scientifically, but one could just as easily argue
that nature is too complex to be described scientifically. So I continue to
look for simple definitions.

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

But until we examine why, it is certainly possible that some element of
meaning associated with prayer causes the speaker to choose aorist. Of
course, it could have become ritualized, but originally, the aorist had a
meaning which was appropriate to prayer. That doesn't necessarily mean that
it is easy to analyze. In fact, highly ritualized forms of speech are not
always the best data for understanding everyday language. I always wonder
how to analyze the statements "let us be seated", "let us be inclined to
prayer", and "let us stand" in worship settings, but this wouldn't be a good
argument that the fundamental meaning of "let us" in English is active or
that we are waiting for some foreign agent to raise us from our seats.
>(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)."

This depends on how we interpret the meaning of the word GINWSKW; suppose I
give it the meaning "realize" or "get in your head that", then the aorist
does in fact look back from after the time of completion. And in this usage,
I think that *is* what it means.

Alternatively, one could remove the time element associated with my "looks
backward" definition the aorist and use the modified simple definition that
Micheal Palmer provided, which says that the aorist views from the outside.
Still, for now I continue to say "looks backward" for now, though I'm not
sure if it is correct.

>(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.

Yes, although my Fanning is second hand, I have an appendix which contains
his categorization of the lexical aspect of specific verbs, and I really
think it is great. Fanning, unlike Porter, has testable theory.

>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.

My simple definition gives the syntactic aspect of the aorist, but that is
only one part of the picture. Simple definitions are not at odds with an
appreciation of the nuances, no more than a recognition that there all hues
can be mixed from three colors is at odds with an appreciation of fine painting.


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