Re: Test of The "Timeless" Aorist

Date: Tue May 05 1998 - 11:10:40 EDT

Richard Lindeman wrote:
> George wrote:
> >The present, in Greek time, is always the beginning, imo. The aorist
> >simply states the action as a KIND of action ~ the IDEA of it. From
> >that, perhaps, will come the tense markers, or perhaps the alteration
> >of the root, to distinguish the present ongoing time of an action from
> >the idea of the action itself, the abstract idea, the aorist. ATR
> >seems to think the early roots differentiat them, but even this could
> >be viewed as a 'marking' of the root. Grammatically, the aorist is
> >first ~ No question in my mind at this point.
> George, by defining the aorist in terms of its supposed "timelessness"...
> or by defining the aorist as above in terms of "the action itself" I
> believe you are missing out on the true flavor of the tense. If the
> emphasis is upon verbal action then it emphasizes the "Complete Action" of
> the verb... not just the action itself. I sometimes view the present tense
> as a movie camera operating in slow motion with the action going on. Then I
> view the aorist tense as a movie camera operating in extreme fast motion.
> The aorist verb records the complete action of the verb but in fast
> motion... sometimes in what we might think of as an instant of time.
> Hence... this is what some grammarians describe as the punctiliar aorist.
> Hence also the constative aorist (the complete action) where the complete
> rule of a king from its beginning to end can be stated with a single aorist
> verb "he ruled". Hence also the ingressive aorist which still looks at the
> complete action of the verb but from the vantage point of its inception.
> Does your definition above adequately address these outstanding features of
> the aorist tense?

Hello Rich ~

Thank-you for being interested in this issue.

The aorist as the "idea of an action" that has no time designation
will usually be derived from observations of instances of that
action. We see various objects thrown some number of times, for
instance, and decide to name that observed action "throw", and that
becomes the idea of that action. The instances of it are complete
actions, and when we say 'throw' we are referring to ANY action that
is that KIND of action. This is our conception, or idea, of 'throw',
and is inherently aoristic because it has no time to it ~ Just the
idea... That is designated by a word... Which is originally a sound...
Designating the cinceptual idea...

Now... To what does this 'idea' refer? It refers to ANY instance of
this kind of action, past, present or future, and for any particular
individual it will recall to mind any number of 'throw' events that
s/he has observed in the past, hence its evocative power, and perhaps
the first 'time designation' was to differentiate all these past
designations from the one going on right now ~ the Present. So in
English we differentiate 'I throw' from 'I am throwing'. The Greek
does it differently, but the principle is the same. Time designations
are added on to the idea of an action, hence the 'tenses' ~ and the
idea of the action itself has no such tense assignment. Thus the term
'aorist tense' is something of an oxymoron. The Greeks preserved this
original idea form of the verb as a verbal unit of discourse, so great
was their love of ideas. For them, to talk about an event was to talk
about the IDEA of the event, and the aorist was their verb of choice
in narrative, and from that love of ideas, we have concluded that
because the narratives are about past events, the aorist has past
meaning. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our struggle to 'nail down' with myriad 'rules of syntax' the various
'tense values' of the aorist entirely misses their gift, you see. The
aorist does not mean anything like some 'timeless presence' or other
mystical and esoteric 'ongoing timelessness'. Not at all. It simply
means the IDEA of the action. The tenses are used to place an action
verbally in time, as well as prepositions etc.

So to answer your question, Rich, this understanding addresses ANY AND
ALL matters that pertain to the IDEA of an action ~ Its inception, its
ongoingness, its completion, its gnomic quality [if there is one], ALL
the things that grammarians try to make rules for INHERE in this
'timeless' or 'time privative' idea quality of this understanding of
the aorist. We have simply missed the boat.
> As for the time of the aorist... the very fact that this tense describes
> "Complete Action" tends in itself to be enough to place the verb in past
> time... depending upon context. But when the aorist is formed with the
> augment then past time is clearly indicated.

See the 'above'. Also, some actions do not complete, and are fully
expressible aoristically... The one that immediately comes to mind is
the TV soap "As the World TURNS". Some other off the cuff examples ~
Beginnings endure, The sun shines, Apples nourish... Ben Franklin's
almanac is a humn to the aorist ~ A stitch in time saves nine, and on
and on.

I can only offer you this nderstanding for your consideration. If you
try this in textual readings, carefully separating in translation the
simple [aorist] English present from the ongoing English present, and
do it consistently, you will only benefit in God's Word, and you will
then begin to see the power and grace of the Greek verbal usages,
their complexity and subtlety, and their simplicity in composition.
You know that I am not a good enough scholar to do what needs to be
done to illustrate this in the detail that it merits. I can only
share with you the vision that I have been graced to receive...

Blessings to you ~

George Blaisdell

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