Philippians 3:7-8 and Aspect Theory

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu May 01 1997 - 18:02:10 EDT


Reading my previous posting in this thread I discovered that
I had copied and sent an unfinished draft which stated the
opposite of what was intended (I sometimes write two
onesided drafts and afterwards weave them together). I did
not intend to suggest that all Greek perfects are
imperfective, which of course is impossible; but that
some/many are. Below is the correct text. Please discard my
previous posting!

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 NT Greek has only two aspects and not three and that
perfect both may be perfective and imperfective. Perfect has
to do both with action and state. However, states are
objective, durative situations which continues without any
input of energy, and are better classified with (objective)
Aktionsart rather than with (subjective) aspects.

In different languages a perfective aspect applied to a
state may give the phrase an inceptive force, and stress the
entrance into the state.
In Chinese, however, there is the imperfective ZHE-aspect,
which indicates that the objective end of an action is
reached and the resultatnt state is stressed
Thus it is unbounded even though the end is included. Such
aspects are an important part of many of the Asian
languages. It seems to me that not only OIDA and similar
verbs but also many other perfects, including your example
may be viewed as imperfective.I have neither made a
diachronic nor an extensive synchronic study of Greek
perfect so I have no statistics.

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 past tense would describe a situation which was contrary
to fact . 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 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

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