Perfect/Stative - PEPISTEUKA JOHN 11:27

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sat Aug 16 1997 - 13:55:03 EDT

Clayton Bartholomew wrote:

<I was reading the account of Lazarus resurrection in John 11 and
<Martha's reply in verse 27 started me thinking about the meaning
<of the perfect. So I grabbed whatever was close at hand which
<happened to be Richard Young's grammar (a good book, well
<worth owning) and read what he had to say about the perfect and
<the stative aspect. This left me confused. I get confused rather

<On page 106 Young defines the stative aspect
<(perfect/pluperfect) as *a condition or a state of affairs.* On
<pages 126 -128 Young gives about six meanings (uses?) of the
<perfect, one of which is to define the present *state of affairs.*

<Now I sense that there is some sort of confusion here if we have
<*state of affairs* showing up both as a definition of the aspect
<*stative* and also one of the meanings (uses?) of the perfect.

<This raises a number of thorny questions which I will not pursue
<now. If you are in the habit of thinking about high level language
<architecture models then the thorny questions will be almost
<self evident. If not the push *delete* and move on.

Dear Clayton,

I have noticed your keen interest in a sound methodology, and I like your
critical questions suggesting a new appraisal of old viewpoints. I have
taken to heart your indirect suggestion in an earlier post that we always
should strive to define our principal terms. I don`t have access to Young«s
grammar but I have seen similar problems elswhere, also in the works of
Fanning, Porter and McKay. I would like to make some observations.

PORTER (257) says perfect is an aspect, and evidently means that it has
exactly the same nature as the perfective and imperfective one:"The Perfect
grammaticalizes the speaker`s conception of the verbal process as a state
or condition." (perfect is subjective and time-indifferent)
MCKAY (31) says "The perfect aspect expresses the state or condition of the
subject of the verb." KcKay seems to use "aspect" in a more hybrid sense
(Perfect is objective, including past time)
FANNING (118) defines perfect as "a state which results from a prior
occurrence.Thus, it combines three elements within its invariant meaning:
the Aktionsart-feature of stative situation, the tense-feature of
anteriority and the aspect of summary /my note: aoristic/viewpoint
concerning the occurrence." (Aspect is objective with an element of

I see great problems with Porter`s view because a state is not a viewpoint,
but may rather be compared with Aktionsart (though having no "Aktion"). I
also see problems with Fanning`s view which exclusively links perfect to
aorist. He himself (299) shows examples of "Perfect with purely present
meaning." I cannot present any detailed analysis of perfect but would like
to make some suggestions, based on my own binary aspect model which at
least should be considered (I leave the question of time alone).

B= beginning, E= end, xxx = area of focus


-xxxB----------E--- = conative
----Bxxx-------E--- = inceptive
----B--xxx-----E--- = progressive (there are more alternatives between B and E)
----B------xxxxE--- = egressive
----B-------xxxEx-- = resultative


--xBxxxxxxxxxxEx-- = seen as a whole


--xBxxxxxxxxxxEx-- = seen as a whole
---xBxx-------E--- = ingressive
-xxxBxxxxxx---E--- = a part is viewed

 If we look at the model, we see that PERFECT covers the same area as the
area of the imperfective aspect called "resultative" and the last part of
the area of the perfective aspect (event) called "seen as a whole". In
both instances the end of the event is included, so what is the difference?
The resultative imperfective aspect normally stresses the resulting state
while the perfective aspect views the event as a whole, sometimes stressing
the end and implying a following atate. However, the end is crucial for the
distinction between the imperfective and the perfective aspect, so it is
somewhat problematic that it may be included in both aspects.

I therefore ask if PERFECT was an innovation to relieve some of the stress
which might occur in a binary aspectual system where the end was the
principal distinguishing factor, but where there were some situations where
it could be included in both aspects. We may turn this question into a
hypothesis: Greek perfect is a conjugation which combines imperfective
resultative events and perfective events where a resulting state is
implied. It is not an aspect, because it refers to real situations and not
just to viewpoints ("lense openings" which may be turned in many
directions). Thus Greek has three conjugations which are aspects
(imperfective: present and imperfect), (perfective: aorist),one
conjugations which (probably) is a tense (future) and two conjugations
which are resultative (perfect and pluperfect)

The hypothesis can explain all or most characteristics of PERFECT, but it
also raises several questions, particularly about the role of the notion of
resultativity in Greek from the earliest days until the first century CE
and about why particular stems are used in the PERFECT conjugation.
According to the hypothesis, PEPISTEUKA in John 11:27 may be compatible
with the imperfective origin of PERFECT, signifying an "event" where
Martha`s faith has grown stronger with the result that she believes.The
question in the preceding verse suggests that the stress is on the present.
Another possibility is that the reason for the Greek perfect is Hebrew (or
Aramaic) idiom. Psalm 119:66 is an example where Hebrew perfect (=
perfective) stresses a present state. Delitsch` Hebrew New Testament has a
perfect in John 11:27.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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