Re: 1 Peter 3:6b -- Aorist

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Sep 16 1999 - 12:35:17 EDT

At 11:00 PM -0600 9/15/99, John Barach wrote:
>Here's a "little Greek" question for you. 1 Peter 3:6b reads
>Some commentators (e.g., J. N. D. Kelly, Peter H. Davids) argue that the
>use of the aorist (EGENHQHTE) is significant. Davids, for instance,
>says, "The term 'are' is aorist in Greek, indicating that at a point in
>time they became daughters of Sarah, probably referring to their
>conversion and baptism."
>My question is whether this is a valid inference from the aorist aspect
>of the verb here. To further complicate matters, the two participles
>AGAQOPOIOUSAI and FOBOUMENAI are generally taken as conditionals: "if
>you are doing good" and "if you are not being frightened." It seems a
>little strange to me, though not impossible, to take the main verb as
>referring to a point in the past when the modifying participles deal
>with ongoing conditions ("you became Sarah's daughters at a point in the
>past if you are continuing to do good now and are not being frightened
>by any terror/intimidation now").

Interesting question, and I'm interested to see what others think. I offer
what I confess is a gut reaction after looking at the context carefully and
also after checking out forms of GINOMAI in the aorist middle and aorist

I was frankly more interested to see if there's any distinction in meaning
between aorist middle and aorist passive for this verb, and I can't find a
whit of difference; I think that EGENHQHN is in the process in Hellenistic
Greek of replacing the older EGENOMHN, but that the process of substitution
is slow because this verb is so much in everyday use.

The question at hand, however, is whether the selection of the aorist tense
of EGENHQHTE is significant and why it is quite regularly translated into
the present tense in English versions. I rather think that the primary
reason it is translated as a present tense is that those participles,
AGAQOPOIOUSAI and MH FOBOUMENAI are present tense--and it's awkward English
to say "you have become her children, while/so long as you do good and fear
no ..." That is to say, I think that the tense of EGENHQHTE has been
accommodated in translation to the tense of the participles.

BUT: is the tense of EGENHQHTE really important? Is the status of the wives
being addressed here as "having become" daughters of Sarah DEPENDENT upon
their continuing to do well and not be afraid?

The alternatives seem to me to be: (a) these wives demonstrate that they
really HAVE become Sarah's children by behaving properly; OR, (b) they have
become Sarah's children, IF and ONLY IF they behave properly.

There's another element here that I find fascinating: this looks to me very
much like an instance of the aorist taking over the once distinct function
of the perfect tense--as if we might just as well have had GEGONATE. I
can't prove that this is the case, but by running some searches in
AcCordance this morning (I almost missed a class while doing this, because
I got carried away!), I discovered the following:

GINOMAI occurs 492x altogether in the aorist in the GNT, 264x in the
indicative, 62x in the subjunctive, 17x in the optative (all MH GENOITO!),
9x in imperative, 102x in participle, and 38x in the infinitive.

In the perfect tense, GINOMAI occurs 67x altogether in the GNT, 5x in the
infinitive, 15x in the participle, all the rest (47x) in the indicative, of
which 31x in the 3d singular form GEGONE(N). One particular instance of a
3d plural glared out at me: in Romans 16:7 (the "Junia distinguished among
the apostles" passage, Paul has a 3d plural form GEGONAN! -- I assume this
really is a perfect, but isn't it amazing that he uses an -AN ending for
it? Here's the text:


The upshot of this is that EGENHQHTE in 1 Peter 3:6 may be used as the
equivalent of a perfect tense, which might better explain the readiness to
use it with present participles. As for what the "aspect geeks" might say
about the aspect of EGENHQHTE, I don't know. But as I indicated earlier, I
really AM interested to see what others think about this question. Upon
checking my mail after my class and a student conference, I find that as
yet nobody has jumped to respond to the query yet. So I'll go ahead and
post my stab in the dark.

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

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