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Aorist imperative

Posted: March 25th, 2016, 8:12 am
by dransom
Good morning, I'm working through Colossians 3, and am trying to make sure I understand the significance (or lack thereof) of the aorist imperative. I ask some specific questions below. Feel free to answer (simple and straightforward please), or point me to a resource that does.

Primarily, in verse 1, the verb "seek" (ζητέω) is Present Active Imperative. Same thing for "set your minds" (φρονέω) in verse 2.

In verse 5 however, "put to death" (νεκρόω) is Aorist Active Imperative. Is this to differentiate the verbs somehow? Are the first two ("seek" and "set your minds") present, while "putting to death" is tied to the existence of those members?

And what about later in the chapter, in verse 8, "put them away" (ἀποτίθημι), which is Second Aorist Middle Imperative.

I want to understand the passage, and to make sure I'm communicating what is meant to be communicated, and NOT reading in a meaning that is not there.

Thanks so much for your help and your patience!

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 3:32 am
by Eeli Kaikkonen
The aspect of imperative is notoriously difficult to explain and we don't yet have a theory which would convincingly explain them all or even nearly all. In this case the easiest explanation would be that the present imperatives view the situations as ongoing processes, like in English progressive "be seeking", "keep your minds on" and the aorist views the situation as complete, having the end point, so that it logically entails the point when the things are killed.

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 5:21 am
by Eeli Kaikkonen
ζητέω and φρονέω are atelic or unbounded, they don't have natural endpoints of situations in themselves. νεκρόω, on the other hand, is telic or bounded and has a natural endpoint where the object is mortified, dead. ἀποτίθημι likewise. Using imperfective aspect (the "Present tense"), which is unbounded, not having an endpoint, with telic situations having endpoints, could easily lead to conative interpretation: "try to do", or repetitive interpretation: "do again and again". Therefore the Aorist Imperative with telic situations is the most easy to explain, it's just the most natural choice. Especially here Paul's point is that we "mortify" and "put away" totally, not just try or not so that we have to do it again and again. Mortifying and putting away are both seen as one whole action. Atelic verbs are more difficult in general because Aorist Imperative can actually be used with them in many situations even when we feel that Present could (or even should) have been used.

There can be many other explanations or things to consider, for example: is there a timeline where several things must be done after each other? Is some action foregrounded and another backgrounded in discourse? Is the commanded situation topic or focus in discourse? Which one is the topic or the focus, the doer or thing to be done? Can a writer change the perspective when reporting speech?

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 5:54 am
by Eeli Kaikkonen
Still one thing. If the perfective bounded aspect (Aorist) is used with static situation, it is easily interpreted as ingressive, i.e. meaning the beginning of or the entry to the situation. Some translations have "set your minds on" here; I don't understand why. It would be correct if Aorist would have been used. But φρονέω in itself is atelic or even stative, "to have in mind", rather than telic. "Set one's mind" in English is clearly telic and hardly is a proper translation for stative lexical/situation aspect + imperfective grammatical/viewpoint aspect.

B-Greek isn't for evaluating translations, but I had to say this.

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 9:58 am
by dransom
Eeli, thanks for your helpful replies.

While I was waiting to hear back, I was able to borrow someone's copy of Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. The clearest explanation I found regarding Aorist Imperative is on page 720 (which is part of the Volitional Clauses section).

He states that in general the Aorist Imperative views the command as a whole, without regard for the internal make-up of the action (which is what you are saying, if I've understood you correctly).

According to Wallace, there are also cases, depending on context, in which the meaning can be affected by lexical or contextual features. Most aorist imperatives can be placed in one of two broad categories: the Ingressive, and Constative. The Constative stresses the urgency and the solemnity... “make this your top priority”.

What are those lexical and contextual features that would determine one of these categories?

Thanks again!

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 11:07 am
by James Spinti
While not directly addressing your questions, Mike Aubrey's blog post from yesterday might be of interest to you: ... mperative/

This particular passage is something I've been wresting with for the last week or so, too. I don't have any answers yet. As Eeli said, we don't have a nice, overarching theory for imperatives right now.

I'm also working my way through a book that might have some answers: The Greek imperative: An investigation into the aspectual differences between the present and aorist imperatives in Greek prayer from Homer up to the present day, by Willem Frederik Bakker. It's a revised dissertation, as if the long title doesn't clue you in on that : )

Sorry that I don't have an answer for you, but at least maybe those two resources will help.

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 11:36 am
by MAubrey
I'm currently working on a journal article and occasionally blogging through bits of data.

There are a lot of factors that affect how aspect (aorist = perfective, present = imperfective) that influence the speakers "choice" of one or the other for the imperative and sometimes it's difficult to assign a reason to a given example. Nevertheless, there is consistently a durational component to present/imperfective imperatives that is not there for aorist/perfective imperatives. This could be anything from the speaker desiring the commanded event to be performed regularly/habitually, to the simple fact that the verb being used with the imperative inherently requires duration (or in the case of the aorist/perfective, inherently lacks duration). There are a number of possibilities in the middle.

So the short answer is that there is no "meaning of the present imperative or aorist imperative." There is simply the meaning of the imperative and the meaning of the the imperfective & perfective aspects and how those interact with each other in specific contexts.

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 2:05 pm
by Eeli Kaikkonen
dransom wrote: What are those lexical and contextual features that would determine one of these categories?
"Contextual" can mean almost anything. There are several interrelated features of verbs or verbal phrases which affect the interpretation. You can try to get information from wikipedia:

Lexical aspect (not very good article)
Telicity (better)
Stative verb
Grammatical aspect

Wallace's explanation of aspect is pretty good for starters, at least I found it easy to comprehend, even though it's not linguistically accurate. And yes, you understood me correctly and what he says in general WRT imperative and aspect. He just leaves it at that, as do many other grammars, and don't explain the factors which lead to each interpretation. Con Campbell explains some of these in his short book Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, but he is also inaccurate and there are many points which are disagreed by those who know linguistics. If you have time to read and study, I recommend first hand linguistics literature, for example Riemer: Introducing Semantics.

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 4:13 pm
by Stirling Bartholomew
In light of what has already been said, I would suggest evaluating the meaning not by starting with the proposed semantic contribution of atomistic features (e.g., aspect) and trying to produce meaning by some sort of semantic calculus, combining lexical semantics with verb aspect semantics and so forth. This approach leads to "headaches." The lexical semantics of the verb situated within a scenario will often constrain the aspectual choice to the extent that the exegesis can safely ignore the verb aspect as almost but not quite irrelevant. In other words, the situation plus the lexical contribution of the verb frequently determines the choice of aspect. So your better off focusing on matters other than aspect, so that exegetical the tail doesn't wag the dog.

Re: Aorist imperative

Posted: March 26th, 2016, 5:01 pm
by dransom
Stirling, thank you for weighing in.

In this case, what would your personal conclusion be then?