Re: Is TEMPUS A Part of Greek Grammar?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Sep 25 1999 - 17:05:44 EDT

At 4:17 PM -0400 9/25/99, Jim West wrote:
>At 03:13 PM 9/25/99 -0400, you wrote:
>>It seems to me that any explanation of "why" or "how" has to involve
>>theory. Should we not ask "why" or "how"?
>We should if we can find an answer that is itself not airy speculation.
>Tell me, please, what signs point in the direction of finding an answer to
>theories of language that lie outside the realm of practice?

I don't think we're endeavoring to prove theories of language in our
discussions on B-Greek. We ARE, however, endeavoring to explain HOW and WHY
a given text means what it means, when questions are raised about precisely
that: HOW and WHY one arrives at a given understanding of a text. It
doesn't really help very much if a question arises, "Does this text mean
<XYZ>" if one responds with a "Yup" or a "Nope." Even if there's some
justification for a "Yup" or a "Nope," one wants to know what that
justification is and one may want to see that justification defended. The
justifications we offer are grammatical theories, most of them backed up
with lots of data, and most of them theories that have stood the test of
years, decades, even centuries. Occasionally, however, one of these
theories can be improved upon, can be shown to be less cogent than a fresh
theory that better explains the data.

>If the pursuit of a theory results in merely other theories than what is the
>usefulness? Do we not then merely set up a chain of ad infinitum theories
>which resolve into pure nothingness?
>Thus, theories of language mey in themselves be useful- but beyond
>themselves they are mere "theory"- a seeing what may or may not be there-
>and in that sense simple fantasy.

The validity of new theories is always subject to testing; a theory that is
simple fantasy may go up like a balloon and even float for awhile, but if
it doesn't have something in it, it isn't going to last. It is also true
that in the case of a significant transformation of human understanding of
a phenomenon, the new perspective does not get adopted overnight. The
heliocentric conception of our planetary system faced considerable
opposition from people who thought it was "airy" nonsense.

>Finally, here we are asked to abstain from theolgical discussions insofar as
>we can, becuase such discussions are ultimately based on personal theories
>or statements of faith. In short, because such theories have nothing to do
>with the actual use of Greek by writers of the New Testament. Likewise
>linguistic theories are at best statements of faith BECAUSE they have no
>basis in actual practice. Thus, what's good for the goose of theological
>speculation should also be good for the gander of linguistic speculation.

There's apparently a great gap in perspectives on this matter, Jim. You're
the one who is convinced that "such theories have nothing to do with the
actual use of Greek by writers of the New Testament." There are probably
several who agree with you but I think a significant number of scholars in
the field of NT Greek are satisfied that the investigation of tense and
aspect in the Greek verb is useful and worth pursuing, even if the dust has
not yet settled upon a consensus perspective. It's not going to go away and
it really isn't analogous to questions of hermeneutics and theology where
personal faith-perspectives are involved. As I see it, it is a legitimate
item for discussion on this list precisely because discussion of the HOW
and WHY of Biblical Greek language is our central focus. If you're
uncomfortable with that, then you can do what other B-Greekers do when they
confront a subject-header--or a sender-header--which they know they don't
want to read: hit the delete button.

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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