Re: Philippians 3:7-8 and Aspect Theory

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu May 01 1997 - 11:45:10 EDT

At 9:21 AM -0500 5/1/97, Dan Deckard wrote:
>Carl Conrad wrote:
>>I think that the contrasting perfect and presents in this passage are
>quite deliberate and forceful. In 3:7 hATINA HN MOI KERDH TAUTA hHGHMAI DIA
>TON CRISTON ZHMIAN, the perfect has the full traditional force of the
>perfect: yes, it is stative: it is the present condition resultant from an
>absolute determination of worth; it's like OIDA which is regularly perfect
>but which might (and actually is, in some grammars) listed as a present
>tense, but which signals the inner vision of the root meaning as absolute.
>think we have a durative or even iterative force: "I continue to account/I
>repeatedly account ..."
>I appreciate your answer as it pertains to traditional aspect/aktionsart
>(these terms seem to be somewhat slippery). I came to a similar
>conclusion. However, what is of interest to me is not so much how to
>understand the tense switch from the traditional theory of the Gk. verb as
>much as from the aspect theory advocated by Stan Porter and others. On a
>pragmatic level, if the new aspect theory doesn't provide any new insights
>to the exegetical process AND is not easily accessible to the exegete, then
>of what practical value is it? Hence, my question, "what is the
>significance of the switch in tense in Phil. 3:7 & 8?" (I must confess
>that I'm only familiar with Porters' strain of the new Aspect Theory and am
>only vaguely familiar with Fanning and McKay).

Well, I have to say that what I understand of Porter and Fanning is all
second-hand. I have to say that I am not yet altogether convinced that the
"new" aspect theory adds that much to the exegetical process, although I
think that it MIGHT do so, once the dust has settled and some consensus has
finally been arrived at over the more controversial questions. At any rate,
I personally think tradition is quite enough to account for the striking
difference in tenses in these adjacent verses.

>Also, I'm not sure I understand the your comments on the similarities
>between HGEOMAI and OIDA. As you said, OIDA is the regular or default form
>of this particular verb. For HGEOMAI, however, the perfect only appears
>here in the NT (I believe). ??

We can go further than that and say that the perfect tense of this verb
appears to be pretty rare even in classical Greek. There's no question that
it is very emphatic in verse 7 above.

>In Porter's aspectual scheme (and I may be wrong), the stative aspect is
>the most heavily marked of the tenses (with the exception of PluP), and as
>you noted indicates a deliberate emphasis in Paul's thought. The switch to
>the present in v. 8 (the less heavily marked tense) seems odd in that the
>context seems to indicate that the present has greater emphasis than the
>perfect. In this instance, is the present (the less marked) building on
>the perfect - bringing the action out even further in the mind of the
>author? As you can tell I'm grappling with several things: Porter's
>concept of markedness as it relates to switches in verb tense; and the
>practical significance of this type of aspect theory all together. At
>least I can understand the old system. I'm struggling to understand, so
>pardon any ignorance on my part.

My ignorance of Porter's views is certainly infinitely greater than yours,
but in the last few months I have come to a much fuller appreciation of the
present tense in Greek than ever before; I don't think that the present
hHGOUMAI is any less emphatic than the perfect hHGHMAI. I feel less
confident in speaking about "markedness" here (I am not nor have I ever
been a card-carrying linguist), but one of the things I learned only
recently is that our notion of primary and secondary endings is precisely
reversed: it is the imperfect and the aorist that are the standard tenses
for the aspects represented by the present and aorist stems respectively,
while the present tense is the most elaborately characterized "tense" of
all with its rich variation of stem-formative elements. So I think the
present tense in this sequence is as forceful as is the perfect. I might
venture, as an "exegetical" translation:

TOU KURIOU MOU ... "It is my considered judgment that whatever used to be
an asset to me is a liability--and Christ makes it so; in point of fact,
however, I go on deeming everything to be a liability, so utterly priceless
is the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord ..." Now I realize that this is a
paraphrase, but exegesis is where those become most useful, isn't it. The
point I'm trying to emphasize, however, is that, however forceful that
perfect hHGHMAI may be, the internal perspective of the present-tense
hHGOUMAI in the next clause is even more forceful, and it seems obvious to
me that Paul intends verse 8 to be the more forceful statement. At any
rate, I wouldn't not have come to this way of reading this passage without
what have seemed to me to be virtual revelations about the Greek verb in
recent months.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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