Re: Common-sense aorist

From: Carlton Winbery (
Date: Tue Apr 07 1998 - 00:40:43 EDT

George wrote;

>There are only three 'times' known to us ~ The Past, The Present, and
>the Future. These are indicated in the Greek by the use of the
>Augment [E] (or its equivalent) for the Past, the Root [____-] plus
>person endings for the present, and the sigma [S], popularly called
>the punctiliar morph, following the root, for the future.

As Carl pointed out, the S is not necessarily a punctiliar morph in ancient
Greek. Many futures have other than punctiliar action (Rom 6:2, II Thess.
3:4, etc.)

>Thus we have:
>E____- ____- ____S- E____SA-
>Past Present Future Aorist
>The elements of the Aorist comprise of ALL 3 TENSES, followed by -A-
>Privative, which removes the time element from the verb. It's that
>dirt simple.

This analogy does not fit the uses of the tenses that I have observed in
the NT or Apostolic Fathers. The A here is definitely not "privitive."

>So the aorist is indeed timeless, but not in some hairy-fairy New Age
>sense of 'eternal timelessness', but in the direct, simple and
>practical ABSENCE of specifying any particular time. So it is not
>really a tense at all, in terms of time specificity. When I tell you
>I eat banannas, as the simple statement of what I do, I MUST do so, as
>a GNT Greek, in the aorist, or go banannas trying to otherwise say
>what I mean!! Could I say, as a Greek, that I used to eat banannas??
>Perhaps the 2nd aorist might work ~ I really don't know...

If the aorist is completely timeless, why the augment? The tense may be
used as "gnomic" - what always happens, but that is indicated in the
context, hence, the time element of the aorist (1st or 2nd) may be
deemphasized by the context in favor of its unlimited aspect. Certain
writers in the Helenistic period clearly favor the aorist as the "default"
(I think Carl used that term) form for narrative that tells a story. Luke
clearly favors the aorist (rarely the imperfect or perfect) in the
approximately 65 places where his narrative parallels Marks so-called
"historic" present. He only allows one such present and then in a
quotation. Matthew changes (for us two-source types) a little more than
half of the presents in narrative where he parallels Mark. Thucydides, in
narrative, clearly favors the aorist as the default morph. I am far from
convinced by my reading of the NT that the aorist in the indicative is
timeless. Its tendency to show past time can be pushed into the background
by the context, but I cannot see that any form with the augment would ever
be seen as completely without time.

Carlton L. Winbery
Fogleman Professor of Religion
Louisiana College
Pineville, LA 71359

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