Re: The aorist!

Date: Tue Nov 24 1998 - 12:16:55 EST

Dear Dave,

I will attempt to provide an example of how the tenses are used to convey
things such as emphasis (pluperfect, perfect and sometimes present), setting
(imperfect) and and "background" (aorist) in that it carries the narrative
forward and supports the emphatic material. I think that it will also have
some relevance to some of Paul's concerns.

I think that it is easiest to see the tenses operating this way in the

Somewhat at random, I looked at John 9:13-34 (the story of the man born blind)
and found some interesting patterns.

As far as the setting in vv. 13-15, the use of HN in v. 14 emphasises that the
setting is the Sabbath. The use of the imperfect in v. 15 (HRWTWN) and v. 16
(ELEGON 2x) indicates that the setting is an interrogation and the Pharisees
had settled into two camps indicated by what they were saying (of course we
could say that this just shows the questioning and the statements were
repeated, but that concept could be conveyed by an aorist verb if it simply
carries the narrative forward).

Historic presents are used in v. 13 and v. 17 which seem to highlight the the
initial summons of the man born blind, and the final question of the first
interrogation. The other presents are presented as direct conversation.

The aorists carry the narrative forward.

Of most interest are the pluperfect (v. 22), the perfect (v. 29) and the
particularly the perfect participle (v. 32). If these verses are viewed as
emphatic/thematic/main points, then the author (1) emphasizes the Jews'
agreement (SUNEQEINTO) to put anyone out of they synagogue who acknowledged
Jesus, (2) possibly the emphasis that God spoke through Moses (LELALHKEN), and
that was basically complete, implying Jesus could add nothing more, and (3)
the man born blind's emphasis: "No one ever heard of opening the eyes of a man
born (GEGENNHMENOU) blind." This perfect participle is particularly of
interest, because the other participial references to being born blind (9:2,
19, 20) are aorist. The best explanation of a perfect participle being used
in v. 29 is that it is intended for emphasis. Of course, the process of the
man's birth hasn't all of a sudden changed.

My conclusion is that the author highlights the general rejecting attitude of
the Pharisees against the evidence, and contrasts it with the man born blind's

You can also see Mark 11:1-11, which has been similarly analyzed. But really,
you can probably start with any narrative.

As I think about what Paul Evans wrote, I totally agree with him (and Carl)
that when the aorist is used, one must make decisions about the nature of the
action from the context--the other indicators in the text or the nature of the
verb. On the other hand, one reason that the author uses the aorist might be
because he really doesn't want to highlight or refine on the nature of the
action (unless, of course, the deictic indicators show otherwise). So if we
are working on a passage, if we spend a lot of time fussing about the nature
of the action of the aorist verbs, we might be in danger of missing the point
that the author is trying to make--and won't see the forrest for the trees.

Cindy Westfall
PhD Student, Roehampton

In a message dated 11/23/98 1:30:00 PM Mountain Standard Time, writes:

> I am interested in this question, for I have often encountered texts where
> the "standard"
> ways of looking at the aorist don't seem to fit. I am particularly
> interested in this statement by Cindy
> Westfall:
> "While this may seem as though the perfect and the aorist have little
> distinction between them, the significance of the use of each becomes
> apparent
> above the sentence level. If there are three consecutive finite verbs, for
> instance, and one is imperfect, one is aorist, and one is perfect, the
> perfect
> is generally connected with the main point or action, the imperfect
> describes
> setting, and the aorist provides the 'background' or support for the main
> point."
> To me this is new way of thinking about tenses. Would Cindy or anyone else
> be kind
> enough to provide some examples for me to examine. I want to think more
> about this.

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