Re: Test of The "Timeless" Aorist

Date: Mon May 04 1998 - 12:11:01 EDT

Edgar Foster wrote:
> Dear George,
> I am in the slow (for me) process of testing your thesis vis-a'-vis
> the aorist. I would like to present a Scripture for your
> consideration: John 3:13.

Edgar ~

This passage transliterates effortlessy as follows.

"If not who out of heaven descends, the Son of man."

Another way is:

"If not the Son of man who descends out of heaven."

Notice that "is descending" is NOT to be used, and that translators
are often very sloppy in their rendering of the Greek present as both
'descends' and 'is descending'. The first should be reserved for the
aorist, the second for the present tense.
> Notice the employment of the aorist participle active (KATABAS) =
> "having descended" or "has ascended."
> Surely we have an historical use of the aorist in this passage. How
> could we timelessly render the "descent" of the Son of man? The aorist
> seems to strengthen the force of the historical Christ event.

The question is not the historicity of the event, as a single, one
time event, or otherwise. The aorist is unconcerned with that issue.
We can say, in truth, from our reading of the whole text, that it was
indeed a one time historical event. That is a theological matter.

The point of the aorist usage here to give the accounting of that
event a timeless scope of envisionment. It simultaneously places the
reader/listener at the scene of the event, much like the historical
vivid present, while evoking the vast range of meanings in the
reader's understanding and memory of just what "descending" means,
thereby lifting upon its wings one's vision of that particular event
to a horizonless perspective. [I know, I know... I wax poetic!!]

 This could not have been expressed in the Greek had the Perfect tense
[historical] been used. The aorist gives the account depth and
fullness and vision, which is perhaps why it is the narrative verb
form of choice among the ANDROI of Greek authorship. I have this
feeling that to them, usage of the Perfect would have been seen as
little more than gossip, best left to smaller minds who are endeared
to such gossip.
> Gerald Borchert adds:
> "The aorist tense [in John 3:13] is intended to enumerate an event in
> history quite unlike any concept of the Son of Man in Enoch (68:2-6)
> or Daniel (7:14)" (Borchert 181 [1996]).

No question about that!

> The LOGOS becoming flesh is a one time event--a unique event with
> eternal ramifications.

Which is exactly why the aorist is used to describe it.

A.T. Robertson says that we do not know which developed first, the
present or the aorist, but that the aorist logically comes first.
'Tis a thorny issue, because by the time an action is repeated enough
and deemed important enough to be named, it is already a concept or
idea, you see. And it derives from ongoing experience in the
present. So the present ongoingness provides the mental material that
our NOUS uses to create the idea, which is then given a term ~ A verb
~ That expresses the idea itself [aorist], which can then be used to
talk about events whenever they might be, using prepositions etc.
[context]. The tense 'add ons' [incorporation into verb forms] would
then seem to be a later development in verb structure building, first
differentiating the present tense, then the past [perfect], then,
later, the future tense.

So the aorist was most likely grammatically first, though factually
derived from the ongoing present in reality. And as an idea,
obviously, it is timeless, regardless of which time it may be
currently used to talk about.

Is this helpful?

George Blaisdell

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