Re: hEURISKEI in Acts 10:27 - Present Tense?

From: Ronald Ross (
Date: Sat Apr 11 1998 - 01:49:39 EDT

Dear Rolf,

I think your query may have a much simpler answer. It is my definite
impression that in biblical Greek it is not in the least uncommon to use what
has often been called the "historical present". This is a present tense verb
used with a past tense meaning, and is often used to lend vividness to a
narration once the past tense has been established in the discourse. When this
happens, the present is "freed" from its imperfective aspect. Punctilliar
situations are in no way at odds with present tense forms whose meaning is not
present. Consider, for example:

"Last Saturday I *go* into a restaurant and this guy *walks* up and *hits* me
once right in the nose."

None of these verbs is used imperfectively, despite their being in the present
tense FORM. In the Greek text of Acts 10.27, the past time is established
before the historical present is used. My English example sounds extremely
colloquial, but that is no reason to assume that the historical present in
Greek sounded the same way. I cannot cite you references right now, but I am
sure that I have come across historical presents in Greek on numerous

Ron Ross
Department of Linguistics
University of Costa Rica
UBS Translations Consultant

Rolf Furuli wrote:

> writes:
> <I would like to try to reformulate your question in very plain
> <language in the hopes that I might discover if I am understanding it
> <correctly ~ Please bear with me, as if you were explaining this to a
> <slightly below average 9 year old student...
> Dear George,
> Your explanation of hEURISKEI correctly addresses my questions. It is
> coherent and logical, and I see nothing in the context definitely
> contradicting it, although I do not see why the author should want to
> convey to the reader that Peter "found" one member after another in the
> crowd. When I teach my students something, usually they believe what I say,
> and they have little time left for for personal research. This is a
> weakness of the teaching institutions, because the danger is that these
> students, when they themselves become teachers, teach their students what
> they have been taught and so we have an endless circle of traditions. Greek
> is no exception according to Fanning (p 5): "The standard
> reference-grammars of NT Greek reflect the state of aspect studies as they
> stood in approximately 1920". I therefore think that we time and again
> ought to ask radical questions regarding our premises and axioms. (I will
> add that I highly appreciate all the competent and knowledgeable teachers
> on this list; my complaints relates to the teaching systems and their
> inducement to take things for granted.)
> You are right when you say that we both have to take the Hebrew and the
> Greek mind into consideration, and Clay«s original question led me to ask
> whether the Greeks (and Jews) viewed punctiliarity in the same way as we
> do. A very good Hebrew example is Deuteronomy 32:10 : "He found (MATSA) him
> in a desert". Both subject and object are singular and definite. The time
> is past and the Hebrew verb is imperfective. Given that the imperfective
> aspect represents "ongoing action" (the traditional definition) or "a
> closeup view of a small part of an event" (my definition), it is very
> difficult to escape the conclusion that MATSA (to find) in this case is
> non-punctiliar, i.e. it has an inner constituency. The only alternative is
> a frequentative interpretation, "he" was found several times, but this
> seems to be excluded by the context. The LXX has "He sustained him (aorist
> of AUTARKEW) in the desert" and this is clearly a durative situation.
> Another example is Joshua 7:6 KAI EPESEN IHSOUS EPI THN GHN EPI PROSWPON
> ENANTION KURIOU hEOS hESPERAS. We view PIPTW as instantaneous and
> punctiliar. The adverbial "until evening" demands that "the fall" lasted
> several hours. I see two possible explanations: (1) (not likely) Joshua
> fell down and rose up all day, (2) The concept PIPTW consists of an action
> (a quick downward movement) and a result (the state of lieing on the
> ground. The Germanic mind would view the action and the state as two
> distinct events, the Hebrew mind viewed them as one. The LXX is a
> translation from Hebrew, and the NT is to som extent dependent upon the
> LXX, so what about the Greek mind? I do not suggest that we discard the
> concept "punctiliar", and I believe that many Greek verbs deserve this
> designation, but we should be much more critical, not taking for granted
> that the Greek mind was similar to the English one. Particularly do I think
> that the resultative side of telic and semelfactive verbs are very much
> neglected in studies of Greek verbs. I view a resuiltative explanation of
> hEURISKEI in Acts 10:27 as the most likely one, but I appreciate your clear
> comments and would like to hear other explanations as well.
> Regards
> Rolf
> Rolf Furuli
> Lecturer in Semitic languages
> University of Oslo.

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