Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Thu May 15 1997 - 04:00:06 EDT

At 2:14 AM 5/15/97, roland milanese wrote:
>So it seems that in English there is a tendency for lexical "inceptive"
>aspect to neutralize grammatical "incompletive" aspect; this tendency
>appears to derive from the logic that a beginning necessarily implies
>that the thing begun is viewed as incomplete, and it is incomplete
>whether we put -ing on an aspectual verb or not. But the presence or
>absence of the -ing form does make a difference, and for this reason I
>would object to using the -ing form in the translation of, say, Mt
>"and angels came and were beginning to minister ..."

I should say first that in my comments on Fanning's interpretation I was
not defending him and in fact would not take his approach; I was just
explaining what I thought he meant. As to your examples with "began" and
"beginning," I would agree with you about what is or is not acceptable, but
I don't think that the distinction you draw has much to do with the problem
we encounter in Matt 4:11 and similar passages. The phrase "was/were
beginning" would only result from the Greek word's (ARXOMAI) being used in
the imperfect tense; there would be no reason to use the Eng. "was/were
beginning" to translate another verb in the imperfect. This is clear in the
hypothetical translation of Matt 4:11 you give above: the point of using
"began" is to avoid the logical contradiction of the angels' being in the
process of ministering before they arrive. If we were to use the Eng. impft
"were beginning," we throw ourselves back into the fire because now the
angels are in the process of *beginning* their work before they arrive. I
think it is quite possible that Matt is merely using the imperfect aspect
to describe the action and does not really mean for us to infer a
"beginning" of action. But as I said before, we are rather limited in our
options in English, and most likely the only other option that could be
used here is a simple past tense in Eng. That in itself would not be bad,
but again the goal of the NASB is to bring out distinctions in tense as
much as possible.

Don Wilkins

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