Re: NUN+Verb.Aorist

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Apr 30 1997 - 07:06:48 EDT

At 09:57 PM 4/29/97 -0400, Paul Zellmer wrote:
>> What precisely do you mean when you say that the augment "was an indicator
>> of past time" in Koine Greek? Frankly, I don't think that anybody has been
>> that precise about what this means. Do you have a model for how this past
>> time indicator interacts with other language features?

>You asked the question, in effect tossing out a challenge, concerning my
>statement of the augment being a marker of past time.

I hope it felt like a friendly challenge. I've been sweating blood over
tense and aspect, and you have many more years experience with the Greek
language. I think that I can learn from people like you and Don, and I want
to draw you out--I would like to hear more of this side of the argument.

Thanks for the summary of the discussion so far...but I still need a more
complete model to be able to extend the "augment as past time indicator"
position into a way to interpret tense and aspect. In response to my above
question, you say that Don expressed himself clearly in this quote:

On Wed, 9 Apr 1997, Don Wilkins wrote:
>I myself see the (aorist ind.) augment as a time indicator, which is why it
does not
>occur in the other moods.

Unfortunately, I really don't know precisely what this means or how to use
it in a model of tense and aspect. Let me try asking some questions:

1. Do you mean to say that the augment itself signals past time? Are you
saying that the augment itself signals past time, or that the use of the
augment in a particular tense form signals past time, or that those tenses
which can use the augment are necessarily past-time tenses? For instance, is
there any difference in time between aorist verbs with the augment and
aorist verbs without the augment?

2. What do you mean by "past time"? Do you mean absolute time as reckoned
from the time of the speaker or writer?

3. When you say that the augment indicates "past time", do you mean only in
independent clauses?

4. Do you see the augment as something which indicated past time when these
verb forms came into being, or as something which also rooted the past time
reference in future usage? In other words, is there a structural reason that
the past time reference must continue into the Koine period and beyond, or
is your position based solely on usage in the NT period in conjunction with
historical indicators?

5. What are your criteria for determining whether the augment indicates past
time? What would someone have to show in order to prove your assertion
false? (This is the good old scientific doctrine of falsifiability - if I
don't know how to prove your statement false, you really haven't said much.)

>I went back and looked again at your posting on "NUN + Indicative Aorist
>= perfect?" (BTW, I only saw two responses to that, one which said,
>"Maybe," (mentioning the first two examples only) and the other stating
>that NUN may be marking an actual condition after describing a
>contrary-to-fact condition.) As for me, I see a difference in
>perspective between your five examples and the perfect. I agree that
>your interpretation is similar to the perfect, but this interpretation
>comes from examing the entire context. It is not simply derived from
>the NUN + Ind. Aor.

In fact, I found these examples because I wanted to see what NUN+Ind.Aor.
means, and hte only way I could do that was to examine the entire context
and see if there seemed to be a consistent meaning for this construction. I
couldn't derive the meaning from NUN+Ind.Aor., because I didn't know what
this combination might mean. (At the time, I wanted to know whether
NUN+Ind.Aor. operates differently from NUN+Ind.Imperf.)

>The NUN + Ind. Aor. describes a current or recent
>activity which is the basis for the contextual "perfect-like" result.
>(I realize how close my description is to your suggestion, but I would
>see the "= perfect" as meaning that we would not need the context to
>complete the aspective interpretation. Instead of a focus on the
>effects of an action, [IMO, what would be "perfect"], the examples seem
>to be stating that something which was lacking before has now been
>fulfilled [which would be the starting point only of the perfect].

What criteria do you use to determine whether it is the context or the
NUN+Ind.Aor. construction which conveys the "perfect-like" result? My
criterion was invariability: if every single known instance conveys this
meaning, then it seems to be the meaning of the construction itself. The
nice thing about my criterion is that it is easily falsifiable.

I've already listed all examples of NUN+Ind.Aor. in the GNT. I don't know
how to do a broader search in Greek literature of the period - the two
Homerian examples listed by Smyth seemed to fit this pattern as well. But
you can prove me wrong just by showing me examples of NUN+Ind.Aor. in the NT
period that don't fit this interpretation.

>Specifically, in Mt 26:65, at first the council had not heard, but NUN
>HKUSATE. In Eph 3:5, the mystery had not been made known before hWS NUN
>APEKALUFQH. In 1 Pet 1:12, the things had not been announced to you,
>but NUN ANHGGELH. In John 13:31, before Jesus was not glorified, but
>NUN EDOXASQH. The only one which does not clearly make a contrast with
>a previous condition is Rom 11:31, but the condition necessary for the
>showing of mercy was fulfilled since NUN HREIQHSAN.
>What I find is interesting is that the activity in each of these
>examples are in consonance with the time aspect of the augment--each of
>the actions have already occurred. I realize that there are other
>possible exceptions to this occurrence, but I like it when even
>secondary points of significance of forms (like the time indication of
>the augment in Greek verbs) are not overruled by the context. :^>

I'm trying to get a feel for the distinction between your interpretation and
mine, which is pretty subtle. According to my interpretation, if you removed
NUN from each of the above examples and changed the aorists to perfects,
there would be one change in meaning: it would no longer be clear, apart
from context, that the activity had taken place in the recent past or
present. Apart from that, I would see no change in meaning, since the
NUN+Ind.Aor., like a perfect, focuses attention on the current state, on the
NUN. According to my interpretation, if you just removed the NUN, retaining
the aorists, then the focus would be clearly on the past action, not on the
present state, in spite of the remaining context. In other words, it is the
NUN which conveys the "perfect-like" meaning - without the NUN, there isn't
enough context to provide this meaning. Without the NUN, these examples do
not indicate a new state in contrast to the previous state, but merely
indicate a past action.

Does this match your interpretation, or do you see this differently?


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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