RE: Aspect Specifics

From: S. M. Baugh (
Date: Tue Apr 15 1997 - 11:35:34 EDT

Lynn Kauppi wrote (in her miscellaneous thoughts):
>Jonathan, when you say prayers use the aorist, what do you mean?
>The address, the specific invocation for help? Whose prayers?
>Biblical prayers? I have several Greek prayers in front of me cited
>by H. S. Versnel, "Religious Mentality in Ancient Prayer," in Faith,
>Hope, Worship: Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World,
>ed. H. S. Versnel (Studies in Greek and Roman Religion 2; Leiden:
>Brill, 1981) 1-64. Many do not use the aorist. The aorist imperative
>appears to be used in the direct petition for help but not in every
>case. Ritual language does take on a life of its own. The
>Assyro-Babylonias continued to use Sumerian religious texts long after
>Sumerian was a dead language. The outlines of the Western liturgy have
>remained essentially intact among liturgical churchs after some 1800
>years if not longer. The Romans used Etruscan prayers in their rituals
>long after neither the priests nor the Roman populace
>understood Etruscan.

I told Jonathan and everyone that I was not going to post anything this
week, but I had to clear Jonathan's good name here and confess that I
brought up the predominence of aorists in Greek prayers. It was a point
in passing to show how conventional factors sometimes influenced tense
form choice in Greek authors. I think the idea is *predominence* of the
aorist (probably because most prayers are references to immediate,
discrete requests rather than commands to set God's pattern of

My source for aorist in Greek prayers is the brief discussion by B.
Fanning _Verbal Aspect in NT Greek_ (OUP, 1990): 380-82 in which he
cites studies documenting this trend from Homer to the Patristic era.
(Fanning's count is 35 aorists and 2 presents in NT prayers.) One
interesting source he cites is: Willem F. Bakker, _The Greek Imperative:
An Investigation into the Aspecctual Differences between the Present and
Aorist Imperatives in Greek Prayer from Homer up to the Present Day_
(Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1966). I haven't seen this work (and Fanning
differs with Bakker's "aspect" analysis) but this would be a good survey
to look up for those who have easy access to a university library.

It would be interesting, Lynn, if you could give us some of the verbs
which occur in the present in the prayers you cite. I would bet that
many (even most) of them are words which regularly occur in the present
"tense" form anyway for whatever reason (atelic verbs or certain verbs
of motion). There are exceptions to *everything* in Greek (one of the
few rules of Greek grammar without exceptions--I call it "Baugh's Law
#1"). But let me illustrate:

CAIRWMEN (pres. subj.) KAI AGALLIWMEN (pres. subj.) KAI DWSWMEN (aor.
subj.) THN DOXAN AUTWi, "*Let us rejoice* and *let us be glad* and let
us *give* glory to him" (Rev. 19:7). This is not a prayer, of course,
but it illustrates how *parallel* imperativals employ the "tense forms"
sometimes. (These are hortatory subjunctives [along with prohibitory
subjunctives] which follow the rules of *imperative* usage in my
opinion--I think S. Porter discusses this perhaps.) The first two verbs
are "atelic" in meaning refering to a state or disposition of mind.
These kind of verbs often occur in their present tense forms in the NT
(compare CAIRETE KAI AGALLIASQE in Matt. 5:12; CAIRW occurs 17 times as
present imperatival and 1 time as aorist [Luke 6:23]; AGALLIASQE occurs
only in Matt. 5:12 and Rev. 19:7 as imperatival, though often in the LXX
Psalms particularly). On the other hand, DIDWMI (in its simple,
uncompounded form) is "telic performance" verb: its meanings imply a
natural, inherent termination of the action of "giving" (here "rendering
glory"). DIDWMI occurs 35 times as *aorist* imperatival and 4 times as
presents (e.g. Luke 11:3 qualified by "day by day," the customary or
iterative notion in Lord's Prayer!). Hence, in Rev. 19:7, the
alternaltion in tense forms was brought about by the inherent nature of
the events denoted by the verbs (they "fit" one form or another to the

But this is merely a factor to consider until we see the present forms
of the imperatives you mentioned (some aorists too if you have the
time). Yet it has been my purpose the past few years to think along this
lines so that we can *predict* the tense form "defaults." Knowing these
patterns (with their acknowledged exceptions) helps us to know when to
pay particular attention to the "tense form" in exegesis.

On your point about custom in "rituals" one also thinks of the
insistence on the Latin liturgy in the Roman church (even to this day by



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

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