Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Sat May 17 1997 - 03:30:01 EDT

At 6:25 PM 5/16/97, roland milanese wrote:
>In response to your post:
>>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.
>Sorry Don, my mistake.

Thanks but no, mea culpa, I did not make myself clear.
>Moreover, you said:
>>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.
>However this was my response to the comment in your previous post:
>>> the grammatical features of "began" itself are insignificant>>
>My point was to clarify that the grammatical features of BEGIN are
>significant: if we are to use it in rendering the inceptive imperfect we
>should choose the completive form "began."

That is true of course, but I think the reason we would use "began" instead
of "begin" etc. is to specify past time; and if I'm not mistaken you are
concerned not with the timing but with the aspect. By contrast, if I were
using the same kind of construction to express an inceptive present, I
would have to use "begin," would I not?

>You suggested that
>>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.
>Well, if the angels came and then were ministering, it is implied that
>they started ministering. But the beginning of this action should
>certainly not be regarded as focal.

I think your second observation is a legitimate point of exegesis. But in
your first, "were ministering" and "started ministering" are mutually
contrary. The first construction is action already in progress, the second
is not.

>You observed that
>>the point of using "began" is to avoid the logical contradiction of the
>>angels' being in the process of ministering before they arrive.
>Some would not understand such a logical contradiction; Samuel Green in
>his Handbook to the Grammar of the GNT gives "angels came and were
>ministering to him" (page 299).

I think anyone would understand such a contradiction. I haven't read Green,
but I assume that he means the angels had long before or perhaps always
been ministering to Jesus before coming to him on this particular occasion.
It's possible that Matt means this, but it forces an extraordinary
interpretation on the simple imperfect in this context and in any case is
too confusing for Bible translation.

>I agree that
>>most likely the only other option that could be used here is a simple
>>past tense in Eng.
>Thus the rendering "angels came and ministered to him," as in NKJV, or
>NIV "angels came and attended him"
>TEV "angels came and helped him"
>Alternatively, I would consider rendering the aorist in Mt 4:11 as an
>English past perfect "... and behold, angels *had come* and were
>ministering to him."

An interesting but unlikely notion, I think. Ordinary Greek would call
either for a (comparatively rare) pluperfect or more likely for an aorist
participle for "came," so I think you would have to establish both that
Matt is not inclined to use either of these constructions, and that he uses
the aorist elsewhere in the way you describe. I don't know about Matt's use
of the plupft off-hand, but I do know that he uses the aorist participle in
conventional ways, even granting that he may be more inclined toward
parataxis than a gentile or hellenist would be.

Don Wilkins

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