Re: NUN+Aorist, NUN+imperfect

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Tue Oct 28 1997 - 17:14:54 EST

At 02:13 PM 10/28/97 -0500, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>At 09:50 AM 10/28/97 -0800, Don Wilkins wrote:
>>I should have been more exact; I have found one passage that jumps out at
>>me, and vaguely remember having seen similar passages before but I do not
>>know where. However, the passage I am speaking of is John 21:10, and the key
>>(relative) clause is: hWN EPIASATE NUN. This is one of those passages where
>>we *might* have a sufficiently unambiguous view of what happened to be able
>>to analyze the exact meaning of the Greek. It is clear from what precedes
>>and follows that Jesus is speaking of a past, though very recent, event.
>The question here is whether the focus is on the current state that results
>from the past event, or on the past event itself. If the focus is on the
>current state, then hWN EPIASETE NUN has a meaning very similar to the
>perfect (hWN PEPIAKATE? My morphology is lousy, and the form does not occur
>in the GNT).
>I like the translation "bring some of the fish which you have (now) caught"
>for hWN EPIASETE NUN; the focus is on the current state. If the focus were
>on the past action, then the translation "bring some of those fish you
>caught (just now)" would be better, but I do not think that the Aorist+NUN
>really translates this way.

Well done, Jonathan, but this is just the kind of trap about which I have
been speaking. *Either* focus is possible--that might be a difficult fact to
grasp--and since we can't read John's mind, we have only the context to help
us decide. I can make a very strong case for the past-action focus, in fact
a stronger case than I could for current state, and the only thing that
hinders my doing so is the NUN. You yourself have, I think, mentally linked
the aorist indicative here with the past event (if, by contrast, the present
had been used, we would probably think that disciples are still fishing),
and you are attempting to reconcile NUN and the tense. The question is
whether Jesus is telling them simply to bring what they just caught (pulling
the NUN a little into the past) or whether He means to make a point of the
fish *now* being in their possession. The latter is certainly plausible and
it is quite possible that in some contexts the aorist is used like a
perfect, but why do so in this passage? The simpler solution is to stretch
NUN a little into the past.

>>If we take the approach of assuming that the augment is meaningless and that
>>only the punctiliar (an unhappy term, but perhaps as good as anything else
>>for the time being) aspect is implied, then we might assume that the NUN
>>puts the event in the present (borrowing Mari Broman Olsen's view of the
>>"cancellation" effect of adverbs etc., which I find very interesting and
>>fairly persuasive).
>No, I do not think that this is an accurate portrayal of Mari's theory. She
>says that the past reference of the aorist is a "pragmatic implicature",
>which means that the aorist implies a past reference, but other factors in
>the statement can cancel this implication.

I thought I said that, and if not, I meant to and simply had an
all-too-common attack clumsy writing.

>So her theory predicts that
>NUN+Aorist portrays the current result of a past action, but NUN+Imperfect
>portrays the past action - because the past reference of the imperfect can
>not be cancelled by the rest of the sentence, the view of the imperfect is
>*always* to the past. (Rolf and Micheal would rather abstract time out of
>aspect altogether, as would Stan Porter. I am aware of this, but I am
>attempting to depict Mari's approach.)

I was only speaking in general terms, so your clarification is most helpful.
Mari and I have discussed some of these issues at length, and I won't
attempt to repeat any of that here. It is interesting, though, that if you
are right about what her theory predicts, there is apparently a situation
even within her system where the NUN is pulled into the past.

>Compare these two phrases:
>some of the fish which you have (now) caught"
>"Rabbi, just now the Jews were trying to stone you"
>Mari states, in both her book and her thesis, that John 11:8 portrays an
>event in the recent past, and "just now" is a good translation for that
>reason. I infer from her theory that Aorist+NUN portrays the current state
>resulting from a past event, much like the perfect.

This would confirm what I suggested above. As to the force of the aorist,
she is compelled to separate it from the other past-time indicatives. This
is probably what led her to the necessity of invalidating the augment; I
hasten to add that she believes she has good linguistic evidence for the
obsolescence of the augment through comparison with other languages.

 Incidentally, the New
>American Standard Version seems to agree with this in its translation of
>John 21:10.

Touche, Jonathan! Actually your comment is a little on the ad hominem side
(in a perfectly friendly way) because I do not attempt to incorporate all my
ideas into the NASB. the demands of Bible translation limit what one can or
would like to do.

>By the way, punctiliar aspect is an especially unhappy term, since
>"punctiliar" refers to Aktionsart ("kind of action"), not to aspect ("the
>view of the state or event"). The two are not synonymous. Of course,
>A.T.Robertson earlier argued that the primary meaning of the Greek tenses
>was Aktionsart, not time, and that the time element was very secondary even
>in the indicative. Today's aspect geeks are arguing the same for aspect, and
>see "kind of action" as something that is more a part of the verb's meaning
>than the meaning of the tenses.

Well, again you have put meat onto my brittle bones. I have not looked at
Robertson lately, but I suspect that he used "punctiliar" more loosely than
we do today. I was using it in the looser sense myself. Whether Aktionsart
can be limited to lexical meaning and "aspect" is itself an accurate term (I
think not), are questions I promised to refrain from.

>>Again, taking the
>>aspect/no time approach, the construction suggests that we interpret the
>>event as a punctiliar present, which would be very handy since there is no
>>formal way of specifying a punctiliar present.
>Who says this? Punctiliar does not refer to aspect in the writings of
>Porter, Fanning, or Olsen. Porter is the only person I know of who seems to
>think that there is no element of time in the Greek indicative tenses, but
>in past discussion here on B-Greek, nobody has yet defended this view - the
>aspect Geeks here tend to be closer to Fanning or Olsen's views.

I probably should just use my own preferred term, that of "simple,
non-continuous action or event". As to analyzing what has been said in the
aspect debate, I will keep my promise and refrain, unless others want to
discuss it, and then perhaps it should be discussed off-list.

>>it seemed more likely
>>that the aorist is pulling NUN, normally a "here and now" kind of idea, into
>>the recent past.
>Or rather that the view of the event (which is what "aspect" quite literally
>means) is a view of the current state which results from the past action.

(Already discussed above)

>>No doubt the other side would argue that the clause is
>>defined as present,
>Strawman alert! Is there anybody here who would argue that? Stand up and be
>counted! I certainly wouldn't argue that.

No, you wouldn't, unless you advocated the aorist indicative has no inherent
time element. You actually are adhering to the more conventional view of
taking the aorist as perfective in light of NUN. I accept this as the
default approach (which is why I wouldn't argue for a change in the NASB),
and I am just exploring a different way to look at it.

>>I have probably said too much, since this is implicity bringing up the
>>aspect debate again, so I apologize for that and reiterate that I have no
>>desire to reopen the debate.
>This is about the third message in which you have delineated various reasons
>that people who believe in aspect are wrong and ended by saying that you
>don't want to reopen the debate!

Well then, since I have obviously done it again in this post, it is past
time for me to shut up!

Don Wilkins

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