Re: Proffessor [sic] Blackwelder and participles

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Mon Mar 16 1998 - 07:18:02 EST

Paul Dixon wrote:
>On Sat, 14 Mar 1998 10:55:06 -0800 "Dale M. Wheeler"
>>The "tense" is chosen because
>>its appropriate to the type of action (Aktionsart) of the verb in
>>question. "Hit" is a punctual and will normally take an Aorist
>>(unless the writer is trying to communicate repeated hitting);
>>"Believe" is normally a Climax (action leading to a conclusion) for
>>which either the Pres or Perf are natural.
>Dale, I read your post with great interest. You seem to be saying that
>the tense of a verb is determined by the type of action communicated by
>the verb itself. In other words, the Aktionsart comes from the meaning
>of the verb, rather than from the tense. If this is so, could you refer
>me to some reading on it? How would this account for the fact that the
>same verb can be and is used is in almost all of the various tenses?

I'd suggest reading Buist Fanning's _Verbal Aspect..._, which in general
is the model I follow, though I think you'll find that there are several
other recent writers on Greek verbs who are saying in essence the same

Yes, I've come to the conclusion that *in general* the Aktionsart of the
verb has, in Greek, the primary importance, which then *may* be influenced
by the tense/Aspect chosen by the writer. Thus I try to teach my syntax
students to first identify the type of verb they are dealing with and
THEN ask how the tense is effecting it, if at all. As to the uses of
the verbs in the various tenses; some of it has simply to do with the
time of the event being described (yes, I think that the tenses
grammaticalize "time" in Greek verbs...for the opposite view you can
read Porter's works and decide for yourself). At other times its because
the writer wants to portray a certain type of the example
I gave with "hit" above..."to hit" in the impf generally means to do it
repeatedly, customarily, habitually.

>As I understand it, the Aktionsart of the present tense is linear versus
>punctiliar. That is, the kind of action being communicated by the use of
>the present tense is viewed as on-going. This can be reflected in 8-10
>different nuances (progressive, customary, historical, futuristic,
>aoristic, conative, iterative, etc.), all of which retain the idea of
>continued activity.

Just to be clear, I've started using (as I have seen in the most recent
literature) the terms "Aktionsart" to refer to the type of action of the
verb exclusively and the term "Aspect" to refer to the nuance brought to
the verb by the tense. Thus "to hit" is a punctual by Aktionsart, but
can, in the imperfect, be used with the Aspect of iterative.

As to the Aspect of the present; the problem with saying that the present
always communicates linearity is certain uses like the aoristic and
historical, both of which tend to simple portrayal of action without
reference to ongoingness. The problem for me with saying that the
present tense is always "imperfective" is that there is only ONE present
tense; as I see (read) it, Greek is like German, not English. Thus
the present tense has to cover all Aspects, not just the linear ones.
And so in the present there is even more of a tendency for the Aktionsart
to be of primary importance...and when it needs to be overridden, then
the writer uses auxillary words (adverbs, etc.) to make that clear.

>I was taught (at DTS; as you) that this Aktionsart holds throughout the
>various moods (e.g., a present imperative = either continue doing
>something, or do something continually). In an adverbial participle, of
>course, the Aktionsart of the participle is taken more in line with the
>action of the main verb. In substantival pariticiples, however, the
>Aktionart seems to stand on its own.
>hO PISTEUWN, for example, does seem to denote one who believes
>customarily, habitually versus hO PISTEUSAS which does not denote the
>same. It is interesting to note that the present participle is normally
>what is used for salvation statements.

Interestingly enough, the first person to suggest to me that Subst Ptcs
were in the main simple noun substitutes and that the present isn't
always linear and the aorist always punctiliar was a DTS Greek Prof.
I think that we all have evolved in our thinking on this issue over
the past 20 years (has it really been that long...(-; ), as evidenced
by Fanning's dissertation/book, which you will see reflected to some
degree in Wallace's syntax.

The problem with this whole discussion is that we have crossed over
from grammar to theological discussion and its hard to keep our own
perspective out of the discussion...all we can do is try the best we
can to let the text give us our theology. Thus, while I feel what
I've said about Greek grammar is accurate, the next paragraph
begins to you can draw your own conclusions.

On the difference between the Pres and Aor Subst Ptc in John, I'm
not so sure that the difference is habitual versus punctiliar, or that
the Aorist can't indicate "salvation". John 7:39; 20:29 use the Aor
Subst Ptc to refer to real believers, but whose "act of belief" is
a past act. The Perf Subs Ptc in John 8:31 is used, in my view, pretty
much the same way. I'd suggest that if we are to impute an Aspect to
the 23x Pres Subst Ptc it would be generic/gnomic or would refer to
people being portrayed as believing at the time of speaking. That,
to my mind, is just what one would expect of the Aktionsart of PISTEUW
used as a noun and that is why the present is normally used. Here are
the verse references I pulled from can decide for yourself.

John 1:12
John 3:15, 16
John 3:18
John 3:36
John 5:24
John 6:35
John 6:40
John 6:47
John 6:64
John 7:38
John 11:25, 26
John 12:44
John 12:46
John 14:12
John 17:20
1Joh 5:1
1Joh 5:5
1Joh 5:10
1Joh 5:13


Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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