Re: Verbal Aspect and Imperatives

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Wed Sep 30 1998 - 13:53:43 EDT

Ed Gorham wrote:

>The concept of verbal aspect is a new one to me (as someone who was raised
>on "temporal significance", then Aktionsart) so please bear with me.
>I'm trying to get a handle on how aspect plays into moods such as the
>imperative, especially when you have a tense shift. For example, in
>Colossians 3:8-9, there is a shift from the aorist imperative ("put to
>death these things") to the present ("don't lie against one another").
>Why the shift? Is Paul using the aorist imperative of "apotithemi" as a
>backdrop against which he wants to single out lying, using the present
>imperative of "pseudomai"? Or does he want to emphasize that the not-lying
>is to be durative?
>Or am i just thinking about this too much?
>Porter's "Idioms" is a good book for showing how the tenses are not
>necessarily temporal...he catalogs many instances, for example, where the
>aorist is used in a present sense. But I wish he'd explain a little more
>on the positive side of the argument for aspect, rather than simply de-bunk
>the older paradigms.
>Your thoughts would be welcome, on or off list.


Let me suggest that the model presented by Fanning (Verbal Aspect) and BDF
is very sound for understanding the Imp'v in the NT; following is the
section from my syntax notes contained in Bible Companion/GRAMCORD for
Windows on the Imp'v. Hope this helps. Also remember that when Greek
ignores the "rules" of the Imp'v listed below, there is a tendency to
choose tenses based on the inherent lexical meaning of the verb; "to kill"
is a punctual and thus the aorist is appropriate; "to lie" is a linear
concept and could be either an "activity" (ie., an unbounded action) or an
"accomplishment" (ie., an action that has a terminus), but in either case
the present is appropriate to the verb's lexical meaning. The following is
HEAVILY dependant on Fanning (my philosophy is, "if it ain't broke; don't
fix it !"; which goes hand in hand with that great universal principle, "I
wish I could go back to the beginning of the season and put some money on
the Cubbies !"...after all, I was born and raised in Chicago).


I. Command: Simple, Straightforward Command to Another; Direct Attempt to
Impose the Speaker's Will upon the Hearer(s)"; Blass-Debrunner-Funk #335
state it: "The result of this distinction [between present and aorist
aspects] is that in general precepts (also to an individual) concerning
attitudes and conduct there is a preference for the present, in commands
related to conduct in specific cases (much less frequent in the NT) for the
aorist." :

   A. General Precept: Present Tense NORMALLY: Translate: "Make it your
habit to...", or "Respond by doing ... whenever it is called for":
# Luke 6:27 (NASB)

   B. Specific Command: Aorist Tense NORMALLY: Translate: "Perform this
entire or single act now [or at some specifically designated future point
in time]"
# 1Co 5:13 (NASB)

II. Prohibition:
   A. Specific Prohibitions:
      1) "Do not do... (this imminent act)!"
         a) Normal Construction: mh/ + Aorist Subjunctive
# Matt 1:20 (NASB)
         b) Alternate Construction: mh/ + Aorist Imperative (in 7 of the 8
"Specific" occurrences of construction in NT; only #Matt 6:3 is "General" )
# Matt 24:17; 24:18; Mark 13:15 (2x); 13:16; Luke 17:31 (2x)

      2) "Stop doing... (this action presently occurring)!"
         a) Normal Construction: mh/ + Present Imperative:
# John 6:43 (NIV)
         b) Alternate Construction: mh/ + Aorist Subjunctive:
# John 3:7

   B. General Prohibitions:
      1) "Never do...!": mh/ + Aorist Subjunctive:
# 1Tim 5:1 (TLB)

      2) "Make it your habit not to do...!":
         a) Normal Construction: mh/ + Present Imperative:
# Mark 13:21 (NASB)
         b) Alternate Construction: mh/ + Aorist Imperative (in 1 of its 8
occurrences in NT):
# Matt 6:3
Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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