Re: (longish) hEURISKEI in Acts 10:27 - Present Tense?

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Mon Apr 13 1998 - 16:20:11 EDT

 Ron Ross writes:

>I guess I don't think my suggested explanation is as ad hoc as you do.
>tenses (at least in many languages) seem to have different aspectual
>possibilities. The past tense seems to have more possibilities than does the
>present. This is a little difficult to illustrate convincingly in
>English because
>our simple morphological past tense is ambiguous as to aspect, which is
>one reason
>that English speakers have so much difficulty with the use of morphological
>perfectives and imperfectives in languages like Spanish.
>In the past tense it is clearly very possible to use either the perfective or
>imperfective aspect. We can say things like "John was coughing" and "John
>coughed". In the present tense we can say "John coughs" but this cannot,
>as far
>as I can see, be viewed as perfective. Sentences like "John broke his
>arm" seem to
>have no present tense equivalent. If we say "John breaks his arm" it
>sounds habitual or is meaningless. Some linguists have said that if you
>perfectness and present, what you wind up with is a future. And indeed,
>if John's
>breaking his arm were predictable it would be possible to say something like,
>"Well, tomorrow John breaks his arm."
>In this way, even though tense and aspect are different things, it seems
>to me that
>there are constraints on their interaction. Now, in very many languages,
>the FORM
>of a verb is rather loosely tied to its function. Besides the purely
>systemic uses
>of verb forms, there can be numerous non systemic ones. So in English we
>can say
>things like, "Tomorrow I leave for Jamaica", where the present form
>functions as a
>future. We can say, "This guy walks up and punches me in the nose" where it
>functions as a past. And we can say, "Gregory works at Firestone" where
>the action
>coincides with a time span including the present. It doesn't seem ad hoc
>to me to
>assume that when we use verb forms non systemically (i.e. referring to
>some other
>time than the strictly systemic one), we should expect some adjustments in the
>aspectual capabilities. At least in very many languages, the present
>seems to be
>incompatible with the perfective (*John breaks his arm" with a strictly
>tense meaning). But if we use that same form with a past tense meaning,
>it seems
>logical that the form should now enjoy all of the aspectual possibilities of
>systemic past tense forms.
>This is what seems to me to be happening in the case hEURISKEI in Acts
>10.27. What
>matters here, in my view, is not simply the form for the verb, but the way
>being used in this context. If it's being used with reference to the
>past, then it
>ought to have past tense aspectual options.

Dear Ron,

We are all groping in the dark when we study dead languages - informants
are lacking! It was because the Greek "tenses" could not be harmonized with
Germanic tenses that Curtius and others looked to the Slavic languages as a
pattern for the Greek verbs, and on this basis did we get the Greek verbal
system as it is presented in today`s reference grammars. As a basis for
further work, two questions become acute: (1) In the light of which
language system are we going to study Greek? The Germanic, the Slavic, the
Semitic or another system?, and (2) How systematic and "mathematic" do we
expect the Greek language to be, i.e. how strictly or loosely do we expect
the writers to use the rules governing the "tenses"?

What you have written above illustrates in a very fine way your comments on
hEURISKEI in Acts 10:27, provided that English or Spanish ( I am not
aquainted with Spanish but with French) are the languages of comparison.
But if we use Hebrew for comparison we are in a completely different world,
because on the basis of the Hebrew aspects I claim that neither English nor
French have grammaticalized aspects at all, and it seems to me that the
Greek aspects are much closer to the Hebrew ones than to what is called
imperfective and perfective in English or French. I will not pursue this,
just give an example of how different the Hebrew aspects are.

Below are 16 verses from Proverbs 31 about the good wife. The advantage of
this chapter for verb studies, is that it, from v 10 onward is acrostic,
each verse begins with a letter in the alphabeth in the correct order; and
this means that normal discourse conventions which tend to camouflage
verbal meaning are not necessarily followed. The first capital letter in
each parenthesis shows the Hebrew cunjugation and the small letter the
Greek "tense" (conjugation).

The following symbols are used:
P = perfect (perfective),
IC = imperfect consecutive (I view these form as imperfective)
I = imperfect (imperfective)
PASS.P = passive participle
ACT.P = active participle
INF.C = infinitive constructus,
0= nominal clause,no verb

a = aorist
pr = present
part = participle
sub= subjunctive
pass = passive

(13) She seeks (P-pr.part) wool and flax, and works (IC-a) with willing hands.
(14) She is (P-a) like the ships of the merchant, she brings (I-pr) her
food from afar.
(15) She rises (IC-pr) while it is yet night, and provides (IC-a) food for
her household.
(16) She considers (P-a.part) a field and buys (IC-a) it, with the fruit of
her hands she plants (P-a) a wineyard.
(17) She girds (P-a.part) her loins with strength and makes (IC-a) her arms
(18) She perceives (P-a) that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does
not go out (I - pr) at night.
(19) She puts (P- pr) her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold (P- pr)
the spindle.
(20) She opens (P-a) her hands for the poor, and reaches out (P-a) her
hands to the needy.
(21) She is not afraid (I - pr) of snow for her household, for all her
household are clothed (PASS.P-pr) in scarlet.
(22) She makes (P-a) herself coverings, her clothing is fine linen and purple.
(23) Her husband is known (PASS.P-pr) in the gates, when he sits (INF.C-
a.subj) among the elders of the land.
(24) She makes (P-a) linen garments and sells (IC-a) them; she delivers
(P-0) girdles to the merchant.
(25) Strength and dignity are (0-a)her clothing, and she laughs (IC- a
pass) at the time to come.
(26) She opens (P-a) her mouth with wisdom, and teaching of kindness is
(0-a) on her tongue.
(27) She looks well (ACT.P-0) to the ways of her household, and does not
eat (I-a) the bread of idleness.
(28) Her children rise up (P-a) and call her blessed (IC-a), her husband
also, and he praises (IC-a) her.

The present meaning of the 16 verses is in Hebrew expressed by 15 perfects
(perfective), 4 imperfects (imperfective), 9 imperfect consecutives
(imperfective), 2 passive participles, 1 active participle and 1
infinitive? In Greek we find aorist indicative: 19, aorist part: 2, aorist
sub:1, present 8, and present part:1. The choice of Greek "tenses" is
probably influenced by the Hebrew, but there is no one to one
correspondence. I hope that the use of aspects in these 16 verses will
illustrate that it is possible to think of aspect as being on a completely
different semantic plane than what is called perfective and imperfective in


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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