Aorist + NUN = past (was Voice and Morphology...)

From: Rod Decker (
Date: Tue Oct 28 1997 - 14:22:30 EST

I am going to take the liberty to post a few excerpts that illustrate the
point that Don made re. Aorist + NUN = past rather than present. I wouldn't
explain it quite the way he does, but the ff. includes 2 other NT examples
of this and several from classical lit. The excerpts come from my article
"The Semantic Range of NUN in the Gospels as Related to Temporal Deixis,"
*Trinity Journal* n.s., 16.2 (1995): 187-217 (excerpts from pp. 201-3,
208-9, et passim). I've upper cased the Greek, but it still have all the
accents, etc. from the Graeca font.


Evidence for the Use of NU'N in Reference to Past Time

More controversial is the use of NU'N in reference to past time. Several of
the lexicons and grammars note this use, most suggesting that it may refer
to time just past (i.e., immediate past). Although Porter seems to avoid
such a category, the evidence from the Gospels points to the fact that this
is a valid use of NU'N, despite its infrequency (only three examples have
been noted).

An aorist form is modified by NU'N in Matthew 26:65-66 NU'N HJKOUVSATE
(Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, "He blasphemes! Why do we
still have need of [more] witnesses? Look, *you have just heard* the
blasphemy. What do you think?" And they answered, "He is worthy of death").
Although it might be possible to classify this as a present time reference,
the use here seems to carry a different tone. It is used as a summary
statement that refers to a conversation now completed. There is no further
conversation or interrogation between the Jewish leaders and Jesus. All
that remains is mockery. The high priest's statement, I[DE NU'N HJKOUVSATE,
is the prosecution's closing statement to the jury. As such it is best to
view it as an immediate past reference to what has just been completed.

The second example occurs with an imperfect form and is a disputed passage:
John 11:8, NU'N EJZHVTOUN (The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews
*were just now seeking* to stone you, and you are going there again?!"). It
is in this text that Porter argues, "the NU'N is to be taken seriously." In
light of his translation ("the Jews are now seeking to stone you"), he is
clearly arguing that the time reference in this text must be taken as
present. This appears to be unjustified in the context, however...

Olsen uses this passage as one of her key arguments that the imperfect
tense is indeed a true tense that refers to past time: "That the imperfect
encodes past time is supported by its non-cancellability. Even with the
adverbial NU'N 'now' in [John 11:8] the imperfect asserts a past
situation." That the reference is to past time appears to be the proper
conclusion. She suggests that NU'N "reinforces the implicature of present
relevance, namely that the Jews might still be thinking of stoning him."
This is certainly the intention of the disciples' statement and it may
explain one of the functions of using nu'n in reference to contexts other
than the present. The use of NU'N in relation to past (or future) time
points to the close relationship between the event described by the main
verb and the events of the present (as viewed by the speaker).

A third example, and one that is quite clear, is John 21:10, W|N
EJPIAVSATE NU'N (Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have
just caught). The context makes it clear that the fish were not being
caught at that moment (they had already been brought to shore at this
point). Jesus is referring to an immediately preceding event-in this
instance, less than an hour earlier.
The examples given above would suggest that NU'N need not always refer to
present time, but may also refer to the recent past. This use has parallels
in classical usage.

[from a later section]
The use of The use of NU'N to refer to the immediate past can be found as
far back as Homer. In the Iliad, Alexander refers to having been recently
defeated in battle by Menelaus.


Don't fault my heart, woman, with hard words.
This time Menelaus won with Athene's help,
but I'll defeat him another time. The gods are on our side too.

The battle to which Alexander refers has just been fought (cf. 3.347-85);
he has survived only because of Aphrodite's intervention, following which
she spirits him back home where he now faces the derision of Helen. The use
of NU'N with the aorist form may be reflected by translating: "For
Menelaus has just now conquered with Athene['s help]."

A similar use of NU'N can be seen in Xenophon's Cyropaedia.

And I have good reasons for asking; for just now when you rode on into
danger without us, you filled us with apprehension lest something should
happen to you and make us very much ashamed because we were not at your
side. But if we get the horses, we shall follow you next time.

Here NU'N is used with an imperfect (EJKINDUNEUVETE > KINDUNEUVW) and
clearly refers to a recent military encounter. "Just now" is a valid
translation in this context. This conversation occurs in the course of
dividing the spoils of war after that battle, in which Cyrus asks that his
men be given the captured horses as their share so that his footmen can
accompany the mounted group into battle. A similar use of NU'N is evident
in Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 5.2.27; Homer, Iliad, 13.772; and Odyssey, 1.43.

The above is in re. to:

>At 07:06 PM 10/27/97 -0500, Rod Decker wrote:
>>>From: Don Wilkins <>
>>>I would agree. It turns out that I have recently become aware of the
>>>*opposite* situation, i.e. where the "tense" (as defined by morphology)
>>>appears to pull adverbs or other time indicators toward the verb and away
>>>from their conventional meanings.

 Rodney J. Decker Baptist Bible Seminary
 Asst. Prof./NT P O Box 800 Clarks Summit PA 18411 USA

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:35 EDT