Re: Test of The "Timeless" Aorist

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon May 04 1998 - 13:18:41 EDT

At 11:11 AM -0500 5/4/98, wrote:
>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.

Strictly speaking, "transliteration" is reproducing the text from an alien
language in another alphabet: it'w what the "EI MH hO EK TOU OURANOU ..."
citation above is, an ASCII transliteration of a text which we would
actually reproduce in the Greek alphabet if we could do so directly.

>"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."

This is certainly appropriate for an aorist PARTICIPLE--to translate it as
a relative clause, but of course, it would be no less accurate to translate
it as most versions do: "if not the Son of man who descended out of
heaven"--the reason being that the participle here seems pretty clearly to
be a participial representation, as Edgar notes, of an aorist indicative
which would be KATEBH.

>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.

There's really nothing wrong or "sloppy" with translating a Greek PRESENT
tense, KATABAINEI, as EITHER "descends" OR "is descending." I think that
you're endeavoring, George, to impose a distinction of aspect that is
present in the GREEK upon English, where it is NOT present.

>> 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!!]

Not only that, but you verge on writing nonsense. There's every reason to
believe that the KATABAS here refers to a past event, ALTHOUGH in the right
context it could refer to present or even future time, as in:

        "When he comes down off the mountain, our friend falls on his head."

        "If he comes down from the mountain, our friend will fall on his head."

In the first of these sentences, the aorist participle represents a finite
(indicative) aorist and indicates that the falling on his head begins at
the point of time when our friend has succeeded in getting to the bottom of
the mountain. In the second the aorist participle represents an aorist
subjunctive in a future-less-vivid conditional construction.

> 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.

ANDRES? The Perfect tense in Greek is NOT the historical tense: in point of
fact, the perfect IS the tense that will give an account depth, fulness,
and vision--precisely because it expresses the NOW fully-developed reality
that is consequent upon completion of the action. KATABEBHKEN means: "his
descent is complete and efficacious: he is really here on earth right now."
I have added the "on earth" because it is what is implied in the Johannine

>> 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.

The aorist is used to describe it as a distinct event of the past; but use
of the aorist doesn't preclude the logical possibility of its being
. . .
>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.

Do you mean to say, "In the Beginning was the Aorist"? Or do you mean to
say, "In the Beginning was the Present"? I think that what Robertson is
saying is that the Aorist is LOGICALLY prior to the present, whether or not
it is HISTORICALLY prior. In fact, I think that historical linguists would
say that the aorist is "unmarked," while the present is a "marked" tense.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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