Re: Philippians 3:7-8 and Aspect Theory

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Apr 30 1997 - 10:06:04 EDT

Dan Deckard wrote

<One of the challenges of Aspect Theory (for me at least) is
<how to bridge the gap between theory and exegesis. The
<verb HGEOMAI in Philippians 3:7 and 8 seems to provide a
<good test case. The verb is used frequently in this book
<(relatively) and appears mostly in the Present and Aorist
<tenses. Here however, in verse 7, Paul switches to the
<perfect tense (stative) followed by a present in verse 8.
<What is the significance of the perfect in verse 7?
<According to aspect theory, the perfect (& PluP)
<grammaticalizes the stative aspect. How does one
<understand the stative aspect of Paul's "reckoning" or
<"considering" especially in light of the present (i.e.
<imperfective) occurrence of the same verb in verse 8? In
<short, what is the significance of Paul's use of the
<stative and the switch to the imperfective??

Dear Dan,

I venture a suggestion which is off the main road, namely
that Greek has two imperfective aspects and one perfective
and not three different aspects. Perfect is viewed as a
separate aspect, being a state with som relation to aorist.
However, states are objective, durative situations which
continues without any input of energy, and are better
classified with (objective) Aktionsart rather than
(subjective) aspects.

In Chinese there is the imperfective ZHE-aspect, indicating
that the objective end of an action is reached and stressing
the resulting state. Thus it is unbounded even though the
end is included. Such aspects are an important part of many
of the Asian languages. I wonder if Greek perfect is similar
to this, namely being an application of the imperfective
aspect in situations where the end is included. If this is
the case the meaning would be nearer to German than to
English perfect. I have neither made a diachronic nor an
extensive synchronic study of Greek perfect, so it is just a

Let me quote one passage which may give some support to my
suggestion, and which also has a bearing on your question,
namely Hebrews 11:17. Here we find the word PROSFERW (offer
up) two times. The last occurrence is an imperfect. We know
that Abraham did not actually offer up Isaac, and the
meaning is probably conative (attempted/tried to offer), but
what about the perfect? Many translations use past tense
(offered up). The writer could hardly use it as a hyperbole,
and such translations seem to be contrafactual. Applying the
imperfective viewpoint to the perfect, it may give the
meaning "as good as offered up Isaac". This phrase is
unbounded but at the same time it is stronger than the
imperfect, ALMOST portrayting the situation as an
accomplished fact.

By the same kind of reasoning, both occurrences of hHGEOMAI
in Phil 3:7,8 (the word has an intrinsic stative meaning
lexically speaking) represent the imperfective aspect and
thus `collocates`. In v 7 Paul uses the perfect to show that
he both in the past and in the present has considered
particular things a loss (The stress is on the present). In
v 8 he, for the sake of emphasis, enlarges the reference to
include `all things`, and also, for the sake of emphasis,
reduces the time span to include only the present.


Rolf Furuli
Ph.D candidate in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:14 EDT