Re: Romans 3:23

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Sun Apr 05 1998 - 01:45:40 EST

At 22:44 98/04/03 -0800, George Blaisdell replied to Charles Stevens
concerning the interpretation of Romans 3:23, and put forward a viewpoint
in relation to what he described as the "markers" in the verb forms. I wish
to comment on his views, as background to not only this verse in Romans but
the interpretation of NT verbs more generally. It is my judgement that
George's analysis is linguistically invalid. George is of course entitled
to present such an analysis of the situation. I intend to present a case
against his viewpoint.

Many of these issues have been discussed on b-greek before (as the archives
will show), but as new members have joined b-greek since then it is a good
idea to revisit some of what has been said at an earlier time.

George wrote:
>Such a perspective is not only defensible, it is required ~ By the
>aorist 'tense' ~ Which is NOT a past tense at all,

It is misleading to write that the aorist tense is not a past tense at all.
There is a sense in which this is true, but it misses the point. There is
not really any such thing as a "past tense" at all in Greek. Greek
indicates "past" in another way than an exclusive tense form.

There are four subsystems for each Greek verb, into one or another of which
all Greek verb forms will fall: one differentiated by time (the future),
and three by aspect (using the terms employed by BDF, e.g. page 166, the
durative, the punctiliar, and the perfective). In the indicative mood (or
mode, to use the term preferred by A T Robertson), each aspect can take an
augment and in this way indicate past time (the imperfect, aorist, and
pluperfect tenses). The imperfect and pluperfect tenses only exist in the
indicative; the aorist has the augment, and thus has past time
significance, only in the indicative.

It is true that occasionally an indicative aorist may not have past MEANING
even though it has past FORM (e.g., a gnomic aorist), but this is not the
issue at the moment. Special context-determined situations do not define
the normal role and function of a grammatical form.

George continues:

>but a past-future
>abstract, whose time includes past, present and future, without
>selecting any particular instance of the action. 'I eat every day' is
>the idiomatic English equivalent of the Greek aorist. It includes
>yesterday, last week, today, and tomorrow, God willing!

I most certainly do not agree that "I eat every day" is the idiomatic
English equivalent of the Greek aorist. This is not the way the aorist is

As for the remainder of what George says: insofar as this can be taken to
mean that the indicative aorist is in itself timeless, this is contrary to
the significance of the augment and to the meaning of these forms in the
vast majority of their uses (i.e., their normal time significance is past
time). Insofar as what George says can be taken to mean that the
non-indicative aorist is timeless, this is true. But not for the reasons he

>I really
>do not understand why everyone seems to think that it is a past, or
>completed, or 'snapshot' form of verb tense. When the past marker, E,
>or its equivalent precedes the root, which is followed by the future
>marker, the S, with an A marker often found in the ending
>[anstractive], then it is NOT a past or historical or other some such

George calls the sigma "the future marker". And he separates this sigma
from the alpha which follows it, simply calling this a "marker often found
in the ending (anstractive)". The linguistic term for a unit of meaning in
a word is "morph" [note, not "morpheme", which, correctly, is the
designation for a category of morphs with identical meaning]. Thus, "In
morphological analysis ... one divides or 'cuts' forms of actual utterances
into minimal segments, or sequences of phonemes, to which it is possible to
assign meanings. ... Such phoneme sequences or form-segments are known in
current usage as 'morphs'." [F G Lounsbury p.379, "The Method of
Descriptive Morphology", in M Joos (Ed), "Readings in Linguistics I",
University of Chicago Press.] I will refer to such minimal meaning units as

George's description of the sigma as a "future marker" [or "future morph"]
is confusing, misleading, and linguistically invalid. In all the forms in
which it occurs, the future sigma is clearly differentiated from the aorist
sigma. The future sigma is always followed by epsilon or omicron (or the
lengthened equivalents eta or omega, in three specific forms only, where
lengthening has occurred: LUSW, LUSWN, AND LUSHi). The future sigma is
never followed by alpha.

In contrast, in aorist forms sigma is always followed by alpha except in
one specific situation: the situation where added to the SA is a
recognizable ending or subjunctive marker consisting of or commencing with
a vowel. By "recognizable ending" I refer to an ending which can be
identified as occurring with identical meaning in other similar forms. Thus
there never is an aorist sigma followed by a consonant.

In terms of linguistic analysis, this situation can be described thus:

1. The "aorist marker" (what, in linguistic terminology, can be described
as the "punctiliar morph") is SA, and not S alone.

2. The sigma in the punctiliar morph is not the future morph, and is not in
any way to be interpreted as conveying future meaning.

3. The punctiliar morph remains SA unchanged in all verb forms in which
this morph is form final or is followed by a morph which consists of or
commences with a consonant.

4. The punctiliar morph is S in all verb forms in which this morph is
followed by a morph which consists of or commences with a vowel; that is to
say, the SA morph elides its vowel in front of any following vowel [in the
same way as do prepositions ending with a vowel, other than PRO or PERI].
This same feature of the language can be observed with the perfective
active morph, which is KA when form final or when followed by a morph which
consists of or commences with a consonant, and K (with the A elided) when
followed by a morph wich consists of or commences with a vowel.

>This is driving me a tad farther toward whackorooniville!!
>George Blaisdell

Oh dear! I am not sure what effect my contribution will have.



Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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