Re: Aspect Specifics

From: S. M. Baugh (
Date: Mon Apr 14 1997 - 10:14:20 EDT

Hi Jonathan and all,

(Now this is really, really the last time I post anything this week; I
have deadlines!)

Jonathan Robie wrote (much deleted):
> 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. (deleted)

Well, your explanation is very helpful and convinces me that we are both
on the same wavelength. Sorry if I didn't see that at first. You are
defining "aspect" discretely and simply and recognizing it's complex
interaction with other elements in the statement. I am approaching it
much the same way. I think the simple "aspects" themselves were
sometimes irregularly adapted to various situations for historical
reasons. An author sometimes chose forms merely because his nurse told
him "That's the way we say it, Chrysostomy dear." Again these are the
"unmarked" "zero" forms. But Jonathan is not denying any of this, so we
are merging our brain waves into one all-encompasing linguistic entity.
(Sorry, it's early a.m. here in California.)

P.S. I remember my linguistics teacher in college STRESSING that
linguistics was a "science"--it seems that humanities are supposed to
have an inferiority complex these days. Well, I equate language to a
painting. One can analyze the pigments and canvas "scientifically" all
you want, and learn quite a bit, but it does not necessarily lead to
understanding of what the painting itself means. That is an *art* as
well as a science.

>Hence prayers conventionally in the aorist . . .
> 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

Again, on the same wavelength.

>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.

You always hear this because in the Practical Theology departments you
are told not to let the congregation stand too long or someone will fall
over and ruin the whole service. Seriously, a good point. (Though I was
told what exactly to say in such cases in PT courses.)

>>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 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.

I think this point is worth more thought. I would say that "realize" or
"get in your head that" are simple alternate translations of GINWSKW's
inceptive meaning. "Realize" means "begin to understand" and "get in
your head" means "begin to understand" but is simply more colloquial. In
other words this meaning for GINWSKW is indicated by the author/speaker
and drawn out from the lexeme GINWSKW by the reader/hearer not from
general contextual features *but from the aorist* itself. At this point
"aspect" and one of the lexeme's meanings coalesce into one linguistic
entity. The evidence is that you will never see GINWSKW have this
inceptive meaning in present or perfect forms. (That's a prediction, but
a safe one.) Whereas in the aorist forms, GINWSKW *normally* has this
meaning (there may be exceptions, but they would be rare). I don't think
you exactly contradicted this, but it's worth noting.
> 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.

Well, I finally have to offer my "simple" definition of the aorist. The
"completed" or "perfective" notion is too specific in my opinion. I
perfer the definition that it is a "simple" aspect, meaning that the
aorist presents the event (=state, action, whatever) as simple and
undifferentiated without further qualification. The Greeks felt this
when they named it A-hORISTOS "undifferentiated" "undefined." This is
particularly clear in aorist purposes clauses (whether hINA+aor.
subjunctive, or aor. infinitives, or whatever): "We came *to see*
Jesus." "To see" has no necessary idea of completion, and it may be seen
to present the event as a whole, but I prefer to read it as presenting
the event *simply* i.e., with no additional ideas other than that
"seeing" was the reason for coming.
> 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

My own division is a simplification of Fanning's (I think I posted it in
my 12 Theses: "states" [=atelic states of being, conditions, relations]
"activities" [=atelic actions going on without inherent termination];
"performances" [=telic actions which end after a certain commonly
recognized period of time]; and "punctuals" [=telic actions with no
significant time duration] are modifications of Fanning--who, by the
way, is on our list; it would be interesting to get his input from time
to time).

> 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.

Let me tell you at last why I have pled so long for more nuance in our
understanding (which you, Jonathan have, but others listening in have
not yet perceived). A whole generation of NT commentators were
influenced by the notion that the present is "linear" and the aorist is
"punctilliar" and have used this simple notion as the "key" to unlock
ALL (yes, I shouted that) presents and aorists (I hesitate to mention in
this gentle company what they do to the perfect). For example:

KAI TA PRWTA ERGA POIHSON (aor. impv.) "Recall, then, whence you have
fallen and repent and do your earlier deeds" (Rev. 2:5). We read in a
famous commentator: "The Greek imperative is present, with a meaning
like 'keep on remembering,' 'hold in memory'. They had enjoyed a close
walk with God. Let their minds dwell on that. The second step is
*repent* (the aorist points to a sharp break with evil). Christians can
never dally with wrong. There must be a sharp break with it. But
Christianity is not basically negative and the third step is *do the
things you did at first. . . .*

Problem: If the aorist imperative commands "a sharp break" with
METANOHSON, why does it not command a "sharp doing" of previous deeds?
What would this "sharpness" business say to the fact that MNHMONEUE only
occurs as a present imperative in the NT (because it is an atelic verb;
whereas the others are telic). Anyway, this is overdone.

Thanks for the chat. Now I *really* must go!



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

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