Re: Present Tense

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Wed Oct 20 1999 - 14:30:14 EDT

Utterly amazing... I sometimes wonder if email is at all useful in
communicating serious ideas; its great for my daughter telling me to come
and pick her up from college for the weekend, but for serious discourse,
I'm beginning to have my doubts. Perhaps I didn't write carefully enough;
perhaps the readers didn't read carefully enough; perhaps post-modern
hermeneutics are correct; perhaps.... Well, I'll try to be clearer, if
you'all will try to read more carefully... (-:

BTW, in the following I will attempt to maintain the same level of respect
you'all communicated in your responses (which varied from post to post);
when I was 30 or 40, I didn't mind getting talked down to by my elders, but
now that I'm over 50 I find that I don't much like it anymore, especially
from my juniors...unless of course its Carl Conrad or Edward Hobbs, who can
say anything they please to me. I find that if you show respect for others
viewpoints, you will be treated with respect in return; and conversation on
bgreek demands respect, it seems to me.

First of all, I find myself being corrected by Stephen Pegler for not using
*his* favorite term, "imperfective"; I assure you Stephen that there is no
single term that everyone agrees on and I still think that my point was
clear regardless of the term used (in fact, I prefer to avoid the term
"imperfective" because of the problems it creates for Hebrew aspect; but as
a NT Dept. Fellow I wouldn't expect you to necessarily be aware of that
problem). But to his main point; with respect to Porter's view of Greek
verbs, suffice it to say that its quite irrelevant to what I'm suggesting.
The time frame of the occurrence has nothing to do with its "aspectual"
nature. So, whether Porter's right or not (I'm inclined to think he isn't,
though I admire his attempts to break out of what may be unsubstantiated
time-honored ways of thinking about things in Greek...but that's a whole
'nother discussion), does not effect whether the Present Tense has an
specific aspectual nature or not. However, the examples presented (Mark
11:27; Matt 26:18; Matt 7:19; 2 Cor 9:7) simply prove the point I was
making, namely, none of them are "imperfective" at all, but they simply
state the *fact* of the action, which is the aspect we associate with the
Aorist, not the Imperfect. Thus, to paraphrase you Stephen, the problem
with seeing the Present form as always progressive/imperfective is that it
doesn't always fact most of the time it doesn't work. Actually
my suggestion might help Porter get out of one of his biggest problems,
namely that there are in his scheme two "imperfective" forms, the present
and the imperfect, which if they aren't distinguished by any time
parameters, create a difficulty for language in general, since speakers
tend to get rid of unnecessary redundancies in their language. Now if the
imperfect is the only "imperfective" tense form, and the present is a zero
tense, then Porter is off the hook for this one, since the Present form can
then be used in all the time situations were special Lexis and contextual
issues need to override any aspectual nuance the tense form might otherwise
create (I don't think this is necessarily true, but it is interesting).

Secondly, Dennis Hukel claims that I want to get rid of the progressive
nature of the Imperfect along with the Present. Yikes, I thought I was
careful to NOT say that!! In past time, the Imperfect is Progressive, and
the Aorist is Simple (or whatever you like to call it), and the Perfect is
combined. But the Present form is the Zero Tense, ie., it has no inherent
aspect, and so whatever you know about the portrayal of the action comes
from the Lexis and the context; the Present just gets out of the way. In
general, I'd say that, otherwise I agree with Dennis, which is basically
the view expressed by Fanning, Wallace, and most today.

Thirdly, Steven Craig Miller suggests, "Isn't that the point you are trying
to make here, namely that no one word can bear the meaning for the whole
sentence?" Well, if I understand you, Steven, then, no, that is not the
point I'm trying to make at all. You, like Paul Dixon (who is the one who
made the statement that they were progressive because they were present; I
don't have the full digests here at home, but it was a couple of days ago)
seem to think that I'm talking about 1John 3. I'm really not concerned
about anyone's interpretation of 1John 3; I just used the discussion as a
convenient stating place. What I'm talking about is whether we should
automatically assign an aspectual nuance to the Present form or not.

Fourthly, Paul Dixon accuses me of letting my theology rule my grammar.
That was a cheap shot, Paul; but since we are DTS brothers, I forgive
you... (-: As I said, I really don't care how you end up interpreting
1John or any passage for that matter; I'm really just trying to have a
discussion about the pro's and con's of assigning a
progressive/linear/imperfective/internal aspectual nuance to the Present
form. BTW, unless I miss my guess, I. Howard Marshall did not study under
Zane Hodges--I suspect that he doesn't even know who Zane is... (-;

Fifth, well maybe there is hope after all, Clayton does seem to understand
what I'm getting at...bless you!!

Let me try to make my point a different way; it seems to me that the burden
of proof actually lies upon those who suggest that the Present form carries
just ONE aspectual nuance. This is because there is just one form that is
generally used to express states and actions in present time frames; and if
there is just one form and it has progressive/imperfective/internal aspect,
then how could Greeks ever express the aoristic and perfective ideas in
present time?? They simply wouldn't be able to say anything that was
aoristic or perfective, because the aspect of the verb would overrule the
Lexis of the word. I think such a scenerio is unlikely in the extreme. To
test this out, just try reading a portion of the text and try translating
every single present form that you encounter with an English progressive
present, ie., "He is". It can't be done; you end up making nonsense
out of the text. This is precisely why the syntax books have the
categories of "aoristic" and "perfective" present, along with a host of
other non-progressive/non-imperfective aspectual nuances. So either the
Greek Present form communicates ALL of these things (which, it seems to me
is nonsense) or it communicates NONE of these things, and the reader is
dependent on the Lexis and the context to understand what the actual Aspect
--> Aktionsart is in a given passage.

The one big objection that I see to my suggestion is the fact that in the
non-indicative moods there is only Present, Aorist, and Perfect (with some
occasional Futures thrown in). This would seem to indicate that each has
its own aspect. I've wrestled with this for a long time and I've not come
to a totally satisfying conclusion, but I think the answer may be related
to the fact that it appears that the non-indicative tense usage has more to
do with the relation of the non-indicative to the main verb as far as time
sequence goes, than anything else. Thus, if there is any aspectual nuance
in any particular use, the fact that the Aorist is naturally used for
"aoristic" type verbs (like punctuals) and the Perfect is naturally used
for "perfective" type verbs (like climaxes), it may be a simple matter of
default that the Present gets chosen for the states and unbounded
activities. BTW, are we absolutely and unequivicolly sure that those
non-indicatives are based on the Present only ?? Is it possible that they
are actually based on the Imperfect, which when it loses its augment is
based on the first principal part, just like the present ?! Just a thought...


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:503-251-6478 E-Mail:

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