“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”, Part II

[See Part I]

In the first part of this investigation we looked at the uses of pharmakeia, pharmakon, and pharmakos in the NT. The intent was and is to try to determine a more precise meaning for pharmakeia in our subject verse, Revelation 18:23:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

Below is a more expansive look at the use of pharmakeia. We will survey literature contemporaneous with the NT era. Later we will view material in the Greek Old Testament (OT), known as the Septuagint, aka LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, ca. 200 BC). And we will also look at synonyms of the pharma– nouns for comparison.

What It Does Not Mean

Sometimes determining what a word does not mean can aid in determining what it does mean. Immense help in this sort of investigation comes from Louw & Nida’s (L&N) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.).8 Rather than sorting alphabetically, this lexicon categorizes terms by definitions, synonyms grouped together. Under the broad category Religious Activities (category 53) is the subdomain Magic (53.96–53.101), which includes the pharma- nouns. Within these definitions is the following crucial note:

Pharmakeia and the variant pharmakon (as in Re 9:21) differ from the preceding terms (53.96–53.99) in that the focus is upon the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells.9

In other words, 53.100 (both pharmakeia and pharmakon), as well as 53.101 (pharmakos) include ‘focus upon certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells’. Conversely, the words correlating to 53.96, 97, 98, and 99 do not focus upon potions, drugs and casting spells.

The L&N lexicon appears to differ from Danker’s in this comment about potions and drugs. Or does it? Following is the L&N definition for pharmakeia and pharmakon (53.100): the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people—‘to practice magic, to cast spells upon, to engage in sorcery, magic, sorcery.’10 If we take the “often” in the definition here and reconcile it with “the focus is upon” in the above note, we might understand this to mean that the pharma– nouns often, though not exclusively, refer to “the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells”. Therefore, many times they do, but sometimes they don’t. This, then, would not contradict Danker’s definition: ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic.11

Now we shall investigate the synonyms to the pharma– nouns—those that do not focus upon using potions or drugs and casting spells (53.96–53.99).

The first synonym is the verb mageuō and its noun form mageia (53.96): to practice magic, presumably by invoking supernatural powers—‘to practice magic, to employ witchcraft, magic.’12 Both forms are found introducing the account of Simon, known as Simon Magus, in Acts 8:

Acts 8:9 A particular man named Simon was formerly in the city practicing mageuō and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. 10 All, from the least to the greatest, began paying attention to him, exclaiming, “This one is the power of God called ‘Great’!”  11 And they continued paying attention to him, because of the long time he had amazed them with mageia.

Next is the noun form for the practitioner of the above, magos: (53.97): one who practices magic and witchcraft—‘magician.’13 The account of Elymas Bar-Jesus contains two occurrences in reference to him:

Acts 13:6 After traveling through the whole island up to Paphos, they found a certain man, a magos, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. He [Paulus] summoned Barnabas and Paul, wanting to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the magos—for this interprets his name14—began opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul from the faith.

(Read the rest of the account to see how Paul handles Elymas’ attempt at deception!)

The next synonym is baskainō (53.98): to bewitch a person, frequently by the use of the evil eye with evil intent—‘to bewitch, to practice magic on’ . . . Baskainō differs from mageuō ‘to practice magic’ (53.96) in that the former [baskainō] involves the use of so-called ‘black magic’.15 The sole NT occurrence of this word is used by the Apostle Paul in response to the Galatian ekklēsia upon learning they began Mosaic Law observance. It seems possible, if not probable, Paul is being a bit sarcastic and hyperbolic here, not literalistic:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who baskainō you!

The final synonym for analysis here is periergos (53.99): the use of magic based on superstition—‘magic, witchcraft’.16 The only usage in the NT is in reference to those who burned their occult works after accepting Christ:

Acts 19:19 Many of those who practiced periergos gathered their books and burned them in front of everybody.

From this investigation we see that there are a number of synonyms to the pharma– nouns in the NT that do not encode ‘potions or drugs and the casting of spells’ as part of their definitions. And baskainō encodes ‘black magic’ as part of its definition, while mageuō/mageia/magos does not. And since the definitions of the pharma– nouns do not include ‘black magic’ in either Danker or L&N, we might assume these do not encode it either.

Venturing Outside the NT

These distinctions will prove useful as we survey extra-Biblical works written by those commonly known as the Apostolic Fathers (AF). The writers of these works are believed to have had contact with the first century Biblical Apostles. The works span part of the first and into the second centuries AD, all roughly contemporaneous with the NT era.

Since we are now venturing outside the NT, it would be prudent to provide more suitable definitions. These are found in the BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. One must be judicious in using this resource, however, for, as the title indicates, it includes ‘other early Christian literature’. Moreover, besides including definitions for the AF, it also contains definitions for “Selected Apocrypha”, the OT (LXX), “Intertestamental/Pseudepigraphical Literature”, “Inscriptions”, “Papyri/Parchments and Ostraca”, and “Writers and Writings of Antiquity”.17 Therefore, one must be careful not to apply a definition that is appropriate for an earlier work/period to the NT era (this could be anachronistic18). With that clarified, here are the relevant definitions (transliterated):19

mageia, a rite or rites ordinarily using incantations designed to influence/control transcendent powers, magic20

This definition is much like L&N above. Though it includes “incantations”, these are not spells cast upon others; these are, like L&N states, ‘to invoke supernatural powers’.

pharmakeia, sorcery, magic21

pharmakeus, maker of potions, magician22

pharmakeu, to make potions, practice magic23

pharmakon, Primarily ‘a drug’, ordinarily contexts indicate whether salubrious or noxious. 1. a harmful drug, poison 2. a drug used as a controlling medium, magic potion, charm 3. a healing remedy, medicineremedy, drug24

pharmakos, 1. one skilled in arcane uses of herbs or drugs, probably poisoner 2. one who does extraordinary things through occult means, sorcerer, magician25

Most of the above aligns with Danker (see previous segment). However, note the increased focus on making potions/drugs (-keus/-keuō/-kon/-kos). Taken all together, it seems like “magic” here primarily involves making potions/drugs. Yet, there must be some distinction between “magic” in the pharma– words and “magic” in mageia. We must keep this in mind as we go along.

Four occurrences of mageia or mageuō are found in the AF, and three of these are in contexts which also include pharmakeia or its verb form pharmakeuō. The first one we will look at is the one excluding any of the pharma– words. This is found in Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 19:3 Consequently, all mageia and every kind of bondage began to loosen, the ignorance of evil began to disappear, the old kingdom began to be abolished—being destroyed by the appearing of God in human form, Who brought newness of eternal life—only when what had been finished by God began to be received.

Next we will look at two selections from Didachē (Greek: Δίδαχή, literally “teaching”), typically dated to the first century (or early second).26 Both include forms of pharmakeia and mageia side-by-side in a list of prohibitions/vices. This fact of occurring side-by-side, of course, implies a clear distinction between the two.

Did. 2:1 The second commandment of this teaching is: 2 You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery [moicheuō], you shall not molest children [paidophthoreō], you shall not commit sexual immorality [porneuō], you shall not steal, you shall not mageuō, you shall not pharmakeuō, you shall not murder a child by miscarriage [i.e., abortion] or kill the born [i.e. infanticide], you shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.

Take careful note as to how the above is grouped. Three sexual sins are listed in a row (one against children), abortion and infanticide are listed one after the other, and in between these two groupings are mageuō and pharmakeuō one next to the other. Each of the three groupings contains similarly-themed terms, but each term within each grouping is individually distinct, different in nuance.

Did. 5:1 But the path of death is this: First of all, it is evil and entirely cursed—murders, adulteries, inordinate lusts, sexual immoralities, thefts, idolatries, mageia, pharmakeia, extortions, false testimonies, hypocrisies . . .

The above is not grouped quite as well as the other selection from Didachē. However, once again, mageia is right next to pharmakeia. Below is the final occurrence of the two terms together, side-by-side. This is from the Epistle of Barnabas, and it is quite similar to the immediately preceding selection:

Barn. 20:1 But the path of the black one is crooked and entirely cursed, for it is a path of eternal death with punishment, in which is the destroying of all the souls—idolatry, audacity, exaltation of power, hypocrisy, duplicity, adultery, murder, extortion, arrogance, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, pharmakeia, mageia, greed, lack of the fear of God.

There are two passages containing pharmakon, which also, helpfully, include adjectives to assist in defining them. This eliminates the necessity of providing any further context. The first is from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians (6:2): thanasimos pharmakon, “deadly poison/potion”, or “deadly drug”. The next one is from Papias of Hierapolis (3:9): dēlētērios pharmakon, “destructive poison/potion”, “harmful drug”.

Two more passages contain pharmakon. The first one we shall investigate is again from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 20:2 . . . that you come together in one faith and one Jesus Christ—Who according to the flesh is from the lineage of David, Who is son of man and Son of God—in order that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the pharmakon of immortality [athanasia], the antidote against dying, but rather to live everlastingly in Jesus Christ.27

Clearly, the term means “medicine” in the above. The word for “immortality” (athanasia) is the same word Paul uses in 1Cor 15:53–54 to refer to our spiritual (non-flesh and blood) bodies we receive at “the last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52).28

The final pharmakon appears in The Shepherd of Hermas, in which the term occurs twice and in context with two occurrences of pharmakos, as well:

Shep. 17:6 (3.9.6) Look, therefore, you who exult in your riches, lest those in need groan, and their groaning rise up to the Lord, and you be excluded, with your goods outside the gate of the tower. 7 (3.9.7) Now, therefore, I say to you, those leading the ekklēsia and in the exalted chairs, do not be like the pharmakos[pl]. For the pharmakos[pl] indeed take up their pharmakon[pl] in wooden boxes, but you [take up] your pharmakon and its poison [ios] into your heart.

The context defines the terms. The pharmakos (plural pharmakoi) make substances, pharmakon (plural), and we can infer that these are poisonous. The leaders, those in the exalted seats, are like the pharmakos in that they also carry poison (not in literal ‘wooden boxes’, but, figuratively, in their exalted chairs) but they take it into their own hearts. The Shepherd is using plays on words here (“to exult”, “rise up”, “exalted”, “take up”).

Tentative Findings

From our investigation of synonyms in the NT and in Christian-themed works contemporary (or nearly contemporary) with the NT, in conjunction with our more expansive survey of pharma- words in these extra-Biblical works, we can arrive at some tentative findings. Comparing the pharma- terms with these synonyms has helped to better define both the pharma- terms and the mag- terms. Though it would be intellectually dishonest to completely take these findings and impose them onto our subject verse (Rev 18:23), it seems we have enough data to come a tentative conclusion: pharmakeia is more likely than not to include “potions” or “drugs” in its definition—understood as carrying negative connotations, of course (not “remedies” or “medicines”).

The next part, the conclusion will survey the LXX, which will include both the Greek OT and works known as the apocrypha (or deuterocanon [literally, “second canon”] in some traditions).


8 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4.

9 This is under 53.100 pharmakeia, p 545. Greek transliterated.

10 L&N, p 545, bold added.

11 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

12 L&N, p 545.

13 L&N, p 545. Note that this same term is used for the Three Wise Men in Matthew 2. L&N categorizes this usage under Understanding: Capacity for Understanding, with the following definition: a person noted for unusual capacity of understanding based upon astrology (such persons were regarded as combining both secular and religious aspects of knowledge and understanding) . . . (p 385).

14 From the ISBE (S. F. Hunter, “Bar-Jesus”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st ed. [1915] prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.5): “Elymas is said to be the interpretation of his name (Acts 13:8). It is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic or Arabic word equivalent to Greek μάγος [magos]. From Arabic ‘alama, ‘to know’ is derived ʾalı̄m, ‘a wise’ or ‘learned man’” (paragraph 7611).

15 L&N, p 545, bold added. Since there is some uncertainty as to its nuance and application here, the editors also place this word under Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related Behaviors: Mislead, Lead Astray, Deceive (88.159): to deceive a person by devious or crafty means, with the possibility of a religious connotation in view of the literal meaning ‘to bewitch’ . . . It is also possible that baskainō in Ga 3:1 is to be understood in the sense of bewitching by means of black magic . . . (L&N, p 760). Nonetheless, I take Paul’s words as hyperbole, sarcasm, not literal.

16 L&N, p 545.

17 BDAG, pp xxxi–li. Many thanks once again to the late Rodney Decker for providing a learning shortcut: BDAG (scroll down to second post “BDAG” dated October 10, 2012, then scroll further down to hyperlink “A Basic Introduction to BDAG” to open a PowerPoint.

18 Words may change over time, with nuances added or subtracted.

19 Of the other synonyms in the NT, none proved to help in our analysis here. Periergos occurs only one time, but there the connotation is “meddling” or “curious”. As to baskainō, it appears more often and in two other (noun and adjective) forms, but none of these appeared to mean “bewitched” in some black magic sense; the terms connote “begrudge” or “envy”.

20 BDAG, p 608.

21 BDAG, p 1049.

22 BDAG, p 1050.

23 BDAG, p 1050.

24 BDAG, p 1050.

25 BDAG, p 1050.

26 The work as we have it today appears to be a composite, seemingly redacted over the course of time. The ISBE (J. R. Michaels, “Apostolic Fathers”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, G. W. Bromiley Gen. Ed., Rev. Ed., [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979]) states: “Total agreement is seldom possible as to which forms are primitive and which are later adaptations. Therefore, it is difficult to speak about dates, but the compilation of purportedly apostolic material under the name of the apostles as a group [ED: complete title is The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations] indicates the apostles are already figures of the past. This together with the apparent use of Matthew’s Gospel tends to suggest a date of composition in the 2nd cent., though many specific elements . . . may well go back to the apostolic age and even perhaps to the early days of the Jerusalem church” (p 207).

27 This text is used to support the “real presence” doctrine, but one must understand Ignatius through his strong use of metaphorical expression. See the White Horse blog for explanation of how Ignatius is not teaching the “real presence” (much less Transubstantiation): Eating Ignatius.

28 Note also that athanasia (noun) is the opposite (the prefix a negating it) of thanasimos (adjective) in the selection from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians just above.


Appendix: Proposal for a Possible New Conception of the Plu/Perfect Forms

[In this appendix to the multi-part “A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference” we’ll be dispensing with the cumbersome practice of adding “tense-form” to each of the verb names.]

We must continue to ask questions of our methodologies as well as of the text.[102]

The following will be speculative. It may provide a possible way toward a consensus among the various positions on the plu/perfect, or it may prove to have no merit whatsoever. Since this writer lacks the requisite knowledge base to fully test out the following theory, it will not be rigorously argued.[103] The focus here – as in this work as a whole – is on the indicative mood.

Could it be that all the current views on the plu/perfect possess some form of the truth with respect to verbal aspect, yet none capture it in its entirety? That is, is it possible that Fanning is correct that both forms are perfective, Campbell is right that both are imperfective, that Porter and Decker are correct that both forms are a third category altogether, and the traditional view found in most grammars is true in that the plu/perfect are both essentially perfective and imperfective (though some use different terminology)?

Randall Buth, in a blog post late last year[104] – in part recapping a portion of the 2013 SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) meeting in which Porter, Fanning, and Campbell restated their respective views on the perfect – illustrates how the morphology of the perfect emanates diachronically from both aspects.[105] Though apparently adhering to the traditional view including that the perfective (aoristic) portion reflects an anterior event, while the imperfective (present) constitutes ongoing relevance,[106] Buth approaches the theory proposed that will be proposed below:

The Greek perfect is an aspectual category and its morphology reinforces the viewpoint that it is not only an ‘imperfective’ like Campbell, nor is it simply a third aspect category like Porter’s stative, but that it is an aspect that has a perfective element inside it, like Fanning…The perfect is a complex, fused category that includes two ordered parameters that may be labelled {+perfective, +imperfective}. The perfective parameter explains why the perfect includes a complete action.[107]

What if Buth is correct in that the perfect is a “fused category,” consisting of both perfective and imperfective aspects – not that the perfective portion depicts an antecedent verbal action (VA),[108] while the imperfective illustrates ongoing relevance of that VA,[109] but that the two aspects are superimposed one over the other? In other words, rather than two separate VAs in which the imperfective follows the perfective, the perfect is portraying one VA expressed both perfectively and imperfectively simultaneously. Stated yet another way, the expressed viewpoint of the perfect is concurrently perfective and imperfective, as opposed to a sequencing of perfective then imperfective. This is the proposal presented here.

Comrie notes that in Bulgarian, another Proto-Indo-European language, there are the seemingly self-contradictory ‘imperfective aorist’ and ‘perfective imperfect’ forms, each combining both aspects into one.[110] One use of the ‘imperfective aorist’ is, “to indicate an action which is presented as a single whole (whence the Aorist as marker of perfectivity), but with internal complexity (whence the Imperfective as marker of imperfectivity).”[111] In the Bulgarian system it is the tense-form’s aspect that predominates over the added aspectual feature, i.e. with the ‘perfective imperfect’ it is the imperfective aspect of the imperfect that prevails over the perfective aspect.[112] In other words, the imperfective aspect is superimposed over the perfective. Similarly, with the ‘imperfective aorist’ it is the perfective aspect of the aorist which is superimposed over the imperfective aspect.[113] Therefore, the two forms are not redundant, as one has the imperfective dominant, while the other has perfective dominant, thus differentiating the one from the other.[114] In both cases, it seems that the purpose is to emphasize the VA by the use of both aspects.[115]

Is it possible that the Koine Greek perfect and pluperfect resemble the Bulgarian here?[116] Let’s investigate how this might work out after making a few preliminary assumptions.

It seems pretty clear that what is commonly known as the pluperfect exhibits the remoteness feature of the imperfect, which we’ll call remote imperfectivity. Of course, remoteness is not a necessary part of the imperfective aspect, as the present form well illustrates. Therefore, if the Bulgarian schema were to apply to Koine,[117] it seems best to understand the pluperfect as a ‘perfective imperfect’ (PI), with remote imperfectivity the dominant aspectual feature.[118] Hence, borrowing from the Bulgarian model, it superimposes its intrinsic remote imperfectivity over its perfectivity.

But what of the perfect? It appears it could function either as an ‘imperfective aorist’ or a ‘perfective present.’ For now we’ll assume that it’s an ‘imperfective aorist’ (IA) and proceed to argue the case for it, in part because it matches the Bulgarian system; but, more importantly, this seems to provide for the best explanation and outworking of this morphological form, as will be discussed below. Hence, for our purposes here, the IA will be portrayed as superimposing its presumed inherently dominant perfective aspect over its imperfectivity. Since the imperfectivity of the IA is different from that of the PI, we could term it non-remote imperfectivity, or, perhaps better, proximate imperfectivity, in order to distinguish between the two.

Using Isachenko’s parade analogy,[119] we can restate our relative positions on the two forms:

The IA primarily views the VA of the parade in its entirety from the helicopter, yet concurrently views it in progress at street-level of the parade, a proximate imperfective perspective akin to the present. The concurrent perfective and proximate imperfective VA in the IA likely has the effect of semantic emphasis, as compared to single-aspect forms.

The PI primarily views the VA in progress from a remote imperfective perspective, the parade view from the grandstand (a bit more remote from street-level), while simultaneously viewing the VA in its entirety, from start to finish, from the helicopter. The concurrent remote imperfective and perfective VA in the PI likely has the effect of semantic emphasis, as compared to single-aspect forms.

Once again adapting Campbell’s helpful diagrams, graphically the IA and PI could resemble the figures below (these are composites of the diagrams from the third part of this article, with the IA combining the aorist + present graphs, and the PI the aorist + imperfect). The viewpoints in the figures should be understood as ‘looking at’ the VA which resides on T1 – T2. This is not intended to depict a ‘time distance’ from or to the T1 – T2; the distance between the viewpoints and the timeline is depicting remoteness, or non-remoteness/proximity, from the VA. Both T1 and T2 should be understood as adapting to the temporal reference of the specific context. For example, with past temporal reference, both T1 and T2 will be in the past, whereas with present temporal reference (and an omnitemporal, or gnomic, implicature), T1 will represent the past while T2 will represent the future.

Alternatively, the current position in each figure could be seen is illustrating a present-time perspective, envisioning each viewpoint as a ball on a pendulum with its fixed point directly above it on T1 – T2 representing the VA. Swinging to the right (towards T2) will depict a past-time perspective, while swinging to the left (towards T1) will exhibit a future-time perspective. In other words, swinging to the right illustrates the viewpoint to the right of the VA, looking ‘back’ at the VA, looking at the past; swinging to the left illustrates the viewpoint to the left of the VA, looking ‘ahead’ to the VA, peering into the future. Of course, by necessity, each individual figure’s two viewpoints will ‘swing’ in tandem, i.e. the perfective and imperfective viewpoints in each individual figure will always be identical in temporal reference (hence the connecting dotted line).

Stated in previous segments and worth repeating here is that remoteness does not necessarily entail past temporal reference. Also, one must bear in mind that perfectivity, the helicopter view, is inherently more remote than imperfectivity. To differentiate from remote imperfectivity, we could call it perfective remoteness, with the understanding that its remoteness feature is amplified as compared to that of the PI (and the imperfect).

Imperfective Aorist To reiterate, as we are proposing here, the IA is predominately a perfective perspective with added proximate imperfectivity (shown above), whereas the PI is superimposing its remote imperfective viewpoint over perfectivity (shown below). Note that the arrows of the respective perfective viewpoints are placed both further left (at T1) and further right (at T2) of the imperfective arrows, thus illustrating that perfectivity encompasses both the inception and the termination of the VA while imperfectivity does not.

 Perfective Imperfect

In testing this hypothesis we’ll begin with the IA (perfect), since it is much more prevalent in the NT as compared to the PI (pluperfect).

Imperfective Aorist

Colossians 1:17; συνέστηκεν: Most agree that this signifies the continuous holding together of the cosmos by Christ – in other words, imperfective aspect. Taking the traditional understanding of the perfect, what would be the anterior VA in view here?[120] One cannot say it’s the advent of creation (that would be κτίζω from v 16), for this particular verb says nothing about the initial act of creating, but rather sustaining that which has already been created. Applying our theory of the perfect as an IA, this verb is depicting the VA in its entirety, perfectively – an omnitemporal implicature, encompassing the entire temporal realm, from its inception to termination (or to infinity) – while concurrently conveying the VA in its particulars, with its intrinsic proximate imperfectivity. In other words, Paul is communicating that in Christ all things have always been continuously held together, are currently being held together, and will continue to be held together. Admittedly, it’s a bit difficult to translate simultaneous perfectivity and imperfectivity.

John 5:33; ἀπεστάλκατε: This is the first of two perfects in this verse, both of which Campbell opines are difficult to reconcile with Porter’s stative view, asking if this one is reflecting the Jewish leaders as being in “a state of having-sent-to-John-ness?”[121] While this doesn’t necessarily negate Porter’s stance, it does point to a lack of clarity in his rather vague description of this morphological form as constituting “a given (often complex) state of affairs,”[122] as mentioned in the previous segment. This example also seems to create difficulty for the traditional view, as what would be the continuing relevance of the Jewish leaders having sent (messengers) to John (cf. v 35)?[123] Employing our hypothesis here, the IA is illustrating the entire VA of the Jews having sent (messengers) from inception until termination, while simultaneously depicting that they kept sending (messengers). By the context this is evidencing past temporal reference (cf. v 35: ὑμεῖς δὲ ἠθελήσατε ἀγαλλιαθῆναι πρὸς ὥραν ἐν τῷ φωτὶ αὐτοῦ – and you were willing to rejoice in his light for a time).

John 5:33; μεμαρτύρηκεν: This one is very similar to the immediately preceding. Implementing the IA, the sense would be he has borne witness (perfective) and he was bearing witness (imperfective) – past temporal reference. While some may argue that John’s testimony still had some validity at the time of Jesus’ utterance, this seems more of a pragmatic implicature drawn out from the context rather than a part of the aspectual semantics.

Coming from a different angle on this subject of continued relevancy, the VA in the aorist ἐνίκησεν (has conquered) in Revelation 5:5, for example, certainly has ongoing importance, but this is borne out by the context (pragmatics), not necessarily from the perfective aspect (semantics) of the aorist.[124] Could the same be true for some perfects; i.e. could it be the context providing the continuing relevance rather than the presumed semantics of the perfect? Moreover, keeping the traditional understanding of the perfect in mind, the use of the aorist for νικάω in Rev 5:5 begs the question: Why wasn’t the perfect used here instead of the aorist?

Many have noted that there are a number of perfects which some think are merely aoristic, retaining only the perfective aspect.[125] Revelation 5:7 contains one such example in εἴληφεν (He took). Yet Porter notes that John the Revelator uses the aorist form of this verb in the very next verse,[126] thereby indicating that there must be some sort of aspectual distinction between them.[127] On the surface, “took” would seem to be strictly punctiliar, but, as Comrie notes, a verb commonly considered punctiliar can be construed as having duration, albeit very short duration.[128] More importantly, the fact that λαμβάνω is existing in the NT in the present, to include Revelation (14:9, 14:11, 17:12), indicates it can and is used as an imperfective. Hence, εἴληφεν can work as an IA, concurrently perfective and imperfective. Assuming so, John the Revelator describes the taking of the scroll in its entirety, while also illustrating that action in progress. The effect of the added imperfectivity intrinsic to the IA seemingly would be to heighten the significance of the taking of the scroll.

2 Cor. 2:13; ἔσχηκα: While providing his own reasons why some seemingly aoristic perfects actually function as ‘true perfects,’[129] Robertson nearly concedes the usage here is a “preterit punctiliar,” i.e. merely aoristic.[130] However, he goes on to reject both the aorist and imperfect as unsuitable for the presumed literary purpose of Paul who “wished to accent the strain of his anxiety up to the time of the arrival of Titus.”[131] Then Robertson hints at our proposal here: “It was durative plus punctiliar.”[132] Our position on the IA works well in this instance (I did not have rest in my spirit), as Paul is conveying his overall discontent perfectively – from inception to termination – while focusing on the state of his feeling of unrest at that time (imperfectivity). Porter renders this I was not in the state of having, i.e. possessing, rest in my spirit.[133]

1 Cor. 15:4; ἐγήγερται: We’re stepping a bit outside our self-imposed parameters by using an example of a perfect middle indicative, as Porter seems to stand alone in his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:4.[134] Even McKay departs from Porter, adhering more closely to the traditional understanding in that though he affirms stativity, McKay asserts that the state continues.[135] Porter, on the other hand, finds the perfect in this context deictically limited by τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ (on the third day):

…Many commentators extrapolate an unhealthy amount of exegetical insight from the Perfect…claiming that it means that Christ was raised and the results of his being raised continues. This may be good theology, but it cannot be argued for solely on the basis of the stative aspect. In this context temporal deixis (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ) specifically limits the temporal implicature to the state of raisedness that was in existence three days after the burial…Cf. 1 Cor 15:12, 13, 14, where this specific state is referred to, twice in conditional sentences…[136]

Yet it would seem possible that τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ is descriptive rather than limiting, i.e. the Apostle Paul is describing the point at which the state of risen-ness began. On the other hand, if Paul is recounting events chronologically, this may provide more credence to Porter’s position.[137] A final resolution is not necessary, as the IA will work in either case. As regards the traditional understanding, the perfective reflects the beginning of the state of risen-ness on the third day and its extending to infinity, with the imperfective ‘looking at’ the state itself up close in its particulars. As to Porter’s perspective, perfectively the IA signifies the beginning and endpoint of the VA as on the third day; its imperfectivity is the same as in the traditional view, though of much shorter duration.

Matthew 4:4 (cf. 6, 7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8, 10); γέγραπται: One more perfect middle was chosen, for, on the surface at least, this particular example does not appear to work with our hypothesis. Imperfectivity is plainly evident, but perfectivity seems to be an anterior event, thus, by appearances, tipping the scales toward the traditional interpretation. Perhaps Buth is correct in that it is due to “the reduced focus on the causative action [ED: perfective VA] in the perfect middle.”[138] But, on the other hand, this is no different from our immediately preceding example in this regard. In keeping with our conception here, it is not that the initial handwriting is in “reduced focus,” just as the actual raising of Jesus is not a reduced focal point in 1 Cor. 15:4. Neither the actual writing nor the initial raising is in view at all, but rather, implied.[139] In both cases it is stativity that is the sole focus. In other words, the inception of the state, signified before the ink was dry, so to speak in this case, and a nanosecond after Christ’s raising in the Corinthians passage, is the beginning point of the perfective VA in the IA, which follows the immediately preceding implied action, and so the lexemes here should be understood as stative rather than dynamic/actional. Hence, the perfective VA for γέγραπται is the entire state of ‘written-ness,’ which, after inception, is unbounded temporally, with the imperfective VA the continuing stativity itself. Thus, it seems best to translate the verb as it stands written, or perhaps something akin to it is on record.

Could it be that, in general, a concurrently perfective and imperfective form such as the IA aspectually transforms dynamic/actional lexemes to stative ones, whether in the passive or active mood? Both verbs in John 5:33 above – sending and bearing witness – are actional lexemes, yet the IA has the effect of converting each into stative verbs, as in the Jews were in a state of continuously sending messengers to John and John was in a state of continuously bearing witness about Jesus.   Συνίστημι in Col 1:17 appears to make a similar lexical transformation. It’s too premature to conclude anything definitive given our limited sampling above, but if it be determined that all dynamic/actional lexemes are converted to stative in the IA (perfect), this would provide explanatory force to Porter’s position on the stative aspect. Moreover, this would provide a more firm foundation to counter those who oppose Porter’s position of stative aspect on the basis that stativity is strictly an Aktionsart function, for this would indicate that stativity is subjectively chosen by the writer in his use of the IA (perfect), no matter the lexeme, which in turn would lead to objectively stative Aktionsarten. To put it succinctly, assuming our analysis from the small sampling above holds true universally, in the IA (perfect) it is the concurrent perfective and imperfective VA providing the means by which the Aktionsart values are necessarily stative.

We’ll see if this resulting stative Aktionsart works out in the PI (pluperfect) in the next section.

While our position is that the form known as the perfect is in actuality an ‘imperfective aorist,’ we’ve not yet addressed why it could not be a ‘perfective present’ instead, though we shall do so forthwith, using the following very brief rationale. It is known that the perfect later took on a strictly ‘aoristic’ meaning before it eventually disappeared altogether.[140] Hence, it seems more logical that the form was a perfective-dominated one, with the imperfective portion somewhat subsidiary, rather than an imperfective-prominent form.[141]

Perfective Imperfect

The PI (pluperfect) is only occasionally used in the NT. In keeping with its relative scarcity, fewer examples will be chosen as compared to the IA. Due to the remote imperfective quality of the imperfect, the PI is intrinsically more remote than the IA. This does not necessarily mean the PI will be reflecting past temporal reference, but in many cases it does so.

John 6:17; ἐγεγόνει: This is the first of two PI forms in this particular verse. It had become dark. Once again, we have a normally dynamic lexeme[142] with stative Aktionsart as a result of the use of the two aspects concurrently. The setting is such that it was in a state of having become dark. Because of the overriding thrust of the imperfect, the inherent meaning of the lexeme, and the presence of ἤδη, there is focus on the arrival of darkness.   Here the imperfective VA is the continuing state of darkness which had just begun. The perfective VA is circumscribing the entire VA to the scene depicted in the boat on the water. There is no antecedent event; the entire VA is encompassed in its perfective imperfectivity.

John 6:17; ἐληλύθει: Έρχομαι is also an inherently dynamic/actional lexeme. Jesus had not yet come – here it appears that, once again, the lexeme is transformed into a stative. The point seems not merely that Jesus had not come down to them on the boat, but more in the sense of Jesus had not come and remained with them on the boat. If this is a correct interpretation, then our hypothesis on lexical transformation of the IA and PI holds in this particular case, as well.

Mark 15:7; πεποιήκεισαν: Here we have another dynamic/actional lexeme. Barabbas had brought about murder, or had committed murder, but the focus is not on the initial action. This is more to make an identification of the insurrectionist as a murderer, as one in a state of having committed murder. The Gospel writer could have just chosen the nominative φονεύς or ἀνθρωποκτόνος (murderer). Could it be that the PI was chosen because it carries more weight, perhaps because of its dual-aspectual character? The imperfective VA is the focus on the past and yet-present (at that time) state, while the perfectivity is circumscribing this state to the time encompassing the point immediately following his committing murder to the then-present.

Luke 4:29; ᾠκοδόμητο: Another verb in the middle voice was chosen to determine if it acts the same as the IA examples above. Οἰκοδομέω, building a house, is another dynamic/actional lexeme, and here it is indeed similar to the middle IAs. Once again, it is not the actual building of the city in view; it is the fact that the city is standing. Hence, the sense here is on which their city stood built. The PI’s imperfectivity is the standing of the city, its perfectivity encompasses the time period just after it was built to the then-present.

John 8:19; ᾔδειτε: This verse was chosen because it contains the same verb used in slightly different ways. If you knew Me, you would also know My Father. The first usage seems akin to what Robinson calls a “polite idiom,”[143] which in English is rendered as past tense for the present, as it is here. The second is also present temporal reference. This is an example of the inherent remote imperfectivity of the imperfect portion of the PI being used in a non-past context.


While recognizing that our sampling is inadequately small and the argumentation insufficiently rigorous, we have posited that the perfect and pluperfect forms may well have been intended as ‘imperfective aorists’ and ‘perfective imperfects,’ respectively, in view of the Bulgarian. Assuming so, these morphological forms encode the verbal action as concurrently – as opposed to sequentially – perfective and imperfective. Employing Isachenko’s parade analogy, this is akin to viewing the parade from the helicopter while simultaneously viewing it at street level – a dual perspective. This simultaneity in these dual-aspectual forms inherently produces a stative implicature. Moreover, it appears that normally dynamic/actional lexemes are transformed to stative verbs by the use of these forms, thus resulting in stative Aktionsart. This supports Porter’s stance of stative aspect regarding these morphological forms, while potentially providing specific methodological bases for Porter’s position.

[102]   Guthrie, “Boats in the Bay,” in Porter, Carson, eds. Linguistics and the New Testament: Critical Junctures, p 25. For the purposes of this appendix I’ve taken Guthrie a bit out of context here, but his larger point is what I’m after: We must be willing to continually ask questions of the methodologies used to extract meaning from the NT texts, and studies in the discipline of linguistics may provide a possible way forward in finding a solution to the disparate opinions on the function of the perfect and pluperfect.

[103]   Perhaps there’s a really good reason why the following theory will not work, eluding me due to lack of expertise. I humbly and sincerely welcome any feedback/criticism.

[104]   Randall Buth, “Getting the Right Handles on the Greek Perfect,” Biblical Language Center website, (November 29, 2013), retrieved from http://www.biblicallanguagecenter.com/handles-greek-perfect/, as accessed 9/23/14.

[105]   ibid, paragraphs 5-8. Buth notes that both reduplication, a marker of imperfectivity, and a κ from aorists “preserving an archaic feature of Greek morphology” (par 6), signifying perfectivity, are/were present in the perfect.

[106]   Using ἐμήμεκα (translated as “I have vomited”) as an example (“Getting the Right Handles,” para 4), and adding, “[o]ne could use the label ‘stative’ to describe the ongoing relevance, as long as the ‘completeness’ parameter was also included” (para 4), Buth appears to support the traditional view in this context. Elsewhere (“Verbs Perception and Aspect,” in Taylor, Lee, et. al., eds. Biblical Language and Lexicography) he affirms, “…I, like most Greek grammarians, feel that time intersects with aspect in the indicative. However, I would not disagree with those who would point out that an aspect that is (+ perfective, + imperfective) implies a certain temporal sequencing” (p 192 n 30; emphasis added). This is contrary to the findings of Porter and Decker, which indicate that this does not always work out in practice, as summarized in the fourth part of this series. See also footnote 65.

[107]   ibid, par 3-4.

[108]   The term “verbal action” here is meant as a shorthand, collective descriptor, used for either perfective or imperfective aspect, substituted for “event” (for dynamic/actional lexemes in the perfective), “process” (for dynamic/actional lexemes in the imperfective), and “state” (for stative lexemes in the imperfective, and for stative lexemes in the perfective, which are not merely stative, but typically seen as both incepting and terminating), for brevity. See Comrie, Aspect, pp 48-51.

[109]   Even the presumed perfective VA followed by imperfective VA in the traditional view is not applied universally, as the so-called “extensive perfect” (see Robertson, Grammar, pp 895-896), aka “consummative perfect” (see H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1955), pp 202-203) are explained as the converse, reflecting imperfective followed by perfective.

[110]   Comrie, Aspect, pp 23, 31-32

[111]   ibid, p 23

[112]   ibid, p 32

[113]   ibid.

[114]   In addition, the imperfectivity of the ‘imperfective aorist’ is intrinsically more proximate than the imperfectivity of the ‘perfective imperfect.’ Conversely, the imperfectivity of the ‘perfective imperfect’ is more remote than the imperfectivity of the ‘imperfective aorist.’ More on this below.

[115]   This is my own conclusion, based on the fact of each form’s dual-aspectual value. This seems to comport with the traditional view of the perfect and pluperfect.

[116]   It should be noted that Comrie describes the ancient Greek perfect as per the traditional view: “[T]he Perfect, although referring to a past situation, is still treated as a primary (i.e. non-past) tense for the purpose of determining the sequence of tenses” (Aspect, p 53). However, it seems the author is merely ‘reporting,’ i.e. Comrie is only parroting the positions in typical grammars.

[117]   There is one important difference: In the Bulgarian model each of these forms are past tense, for past temporal reference, according to Comrie (Aspect, p 23). As illustrated in previous sections of this article, Porter has demonstrated that the Koine perfect is reflecting both past and non-past contexts, and the pluperfect, though mostly reflecting past temporal reference, is not exclusively so.

[118]   This would not seem to work as an ‘imperfective aorist,’ as we would most likely assume the imperfectivity in such a form would be akin to the present, i.e. it would be non-remote.

[119]   See Porter, VAGNT, p 91

[120]   Robertson (Grammar) claims the verb here “has lost the punctiliar [ED: aoristic VA, perfective aspect] and is only durative” (p 896).

[121]   Campbell, Verbal Aspect, p 171; cf. 169-175. The same specific example is cited in Campbell, Basics, p 49. Campbell’s difficulty here lies in his confusion of Porter’s position of the subjective use of the perfect to connote a “state of affairs,” as opposed to the objective stativity of Aktionsart.

[122]   Porter, Idioms, p 22

[123]   Robertson (Grammar, pp 896-897) calls this a “vivid” historical present perfect, meaning the VA was actually in the past, but conveyed as if present in order to provide emphasis.

[124]   I state “not necessarily” here since perfective aspect may or may not include durativity, as Comrie notes (Aspect, p 22). One example illustrating durativity is found in the aorist of βασιλεύω in 1 Cor. 4:8: ἡμῶν ἐβασιλεύσατε (You have become kings). Porter (VAGNT), apparently with durativity in mind, renders ἐνίκησεν in Rev 5:5 as the present-referring “stands victorious” (p 228). Osborne (Grant R. Osborne, Revelation: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002)) recognizes a possible present temporal reference here, but ultimately concludes past: “[T]he aorist refers to his life as a victory over the powers of evil (global aorist) or, more likely in this context, to his sacrificial death as the great “victory” over Satan (punctiliar force)” (p 253; parentheses in orig.). At first blush this appears to better fit the context (see ἀρνίον ἑστηκὸς ὡς ἐσφαγμένον in Rev 5:6), agreeing with Thomas (Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, Kenneth Barker gen. ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992)): “The purpose of Jesus’ victory is expressed by anoixai (“that He may open”). This is a shade different from calling the opening a result of His victorious redemptive work…The opening of the scroll is best seen as the object or purpose of Jesus’ conquest” (p 388). On the other hand, David Aune (Word Biblical Commentary, 52A: Revelation 1-5, David A. Hubbard & Glenn W. Barker gen. eds. (Dallas, TX: Word, 1997)) observes that the verb νικᾶν here “is used without an object limiting the scope of victory [which] suggests that his victory is unlimited and absolute” (p 349). While Aune translates the aorist has conquered (pp 321, 349), his understanding suggests then-present and perhaps even current-present reference (similar to Porter?). In other words, this means that Aune understands has conquered as an English present perfect to include the then-present, whereas Thomas and Osborne understand has conquered as an English present perfect which only includes the past on up to but excluding the then-present – see footnote 94.

Robertson (Grammar) calls the usage in Rev 5:5 an application of the “effective aorist,” with a focus on the “end of the action” (pp 834-835). But this seems a bit forced, as if he wants to retain the presumed past tense feature of the aorist – “…because of the time-element in the indicative (expressed by the augment and secondary endings),” (p 835) – while somehow providing a present-time application in order to fit the context here.

[125]   See Robertson, Grammar, pp 898-902; McKay, Syntax, p 50; Mathewson, “Rethinking Greek Verb Tenses,” pp 20-22; Wallace, Grammar, pp 578-579; H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1955) pp 202-205.

[126]   Porter, VAGNT, pp 264-265; cf. Mathewson (“Rethinking Greek Verb Tenses”) in which the author observes that Rev 5:9 also contains the aorist form of λαμβάνω (p 20). Robertson (Grammar) calls the usage here a “vivid dramatic colloquial historical perfect” (p 899). Dana and Mantey (Manual Grammar, p 204) follow Robertson.

[127]   Robertson (Grammar) notes this: “The mere fact of the use of the aorists and perfects side by side does not prove confusion of the tenses. It rather argues the other way” (p 901).

[128]   Comrie (Aspect, pp 42-43) uses the example of “cough” – not as iterative (a series of coughs), but as a semelfactive (one single cough) – in a situation in which a film of an individual’s single cough is slowed down to where it is revealed as having very brief duration. It seems one may even be able to argue that “kick” can be imperfective, taking into account the individual’s swing of the foot leading up to the actual point of impact, and perhaps even including its follow-through.

[129]   Robertson, Grammar, pp 898-902

[130]   Robertson, Grammar, p 901. Robertson uses “punctiliar” rather loosely in describing perfectivity throughout.

[131]   ibid.

[132]   ibid. Though Robertson opines that the perfect or pluperfect could work here, he ultimately interprets Paul’s usage as a “(historical dramatic) present perfect” (p 901; parenthesis in original).

[133]   Porter, VAGNT, p 258

[134]   This is according to the works surveyed here.

[135]   McKay (New Syntax) asserts: “[T]he event producing the state may be implied strongly enough for the addition of an adverbial attachment which applies particularly to the event: e.g. 1 Cor. 15:4 καὶ ὅτι ἐγήγερται τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ, and that he rose on the third day (and remains risen). The emphasis is still on the state rather than the event, but the flexibility of the language permits the addition of an adverbial phrase which would usually accompany the aorist which might have been used here” (p 32). Cf. pp 40, 50; McKay “The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect,” pp 12-13.

[136]   Porter, VAGNT, p 262

[137]   That is, if verse 4 is seen as the beginning of a chronological series of events describing Christ’s death and resurrection and the ramifications of His atoning work (“Christ died for our sins” in v 3), then we have 1) He was buried, 2) He was raised on the third day, 3) He appeared to Peter, 4) then to the Twelve, etc., which could be construed as limiting ἐγήγερται to Easter.

[138]   Buth, “Getting the Right Handles,” par 10

[139]   McKay (“The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect”) suggests this regarding the Corinthians passage: “But the context is that Christ is risen, a continuing condition which has given rise to a new state of affairs. A more strict grammarian would no doubt have used the aorist at this point and introduced the perfect later, but Paul is less concerned with the respective provinces of aorist and perfect than with his theological purpose: the past facts of death, burial, resurrection and attestation are to him subsidiary to the significance of the fact that Christ continues in the risen state” (p 12; italics in original, bold added for emphasis).

[140]   See, e.g. Rodney J. Decker, Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), p 236; McKay, “The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect,” pp 1-2. Perhaps the dual-aspect quality of the form proved too confusing.

[141]   Moreover, with two other imperfectives – namely the present and the imperfect – the decision to use it ‘aoristically,’ rather than imperfectively, makes sense. It would make an interesting study to see if, upon its adoption as a strictly perfective, the ‘perfect’ was used predominantly, or even solely, in one temporal sphere as opposed to another, in order to differentiate it from the aorist, before the ‘perfect’ eventually disappeared.

[142]   Γίνομαι is used to denote a change from one state to another by some sort of process or event. Thus, the verb is dynamic, signifying the act of transition. This differentiates it from, e.g. εἰμί. That it results in a new state does not negate that it is inherently dynamic/actional.

[143] Robertson, Grammar, pp 918-919. See footnote 68 above.

A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference (pt 4)

[See part 1, part 2, and part 3.]

Stative Aspect

This brings us to the perplexing perfect and pluperfect tense-forms. While there are different understandings as regards the outworking of the plu/perfect forms, there is general agreement that the relationship between the perfect and the pluperfect bears resemblance to the relationship between the present and imperfect tense-forms.

Traditionally the perfect tense-form has been described as a past action with present results, or present continuing relevance. Julius R. Mantey, co-author with H. E. Dana of A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, notes the following about the perfect tense-form: “The perfect tense is the most difficult of Greek tenses to understand and to interpret. This is true chiefly due to the fact that it has been explained as being a combination of the two tenses, the aorist and the present.”83 Obviously, this view is time bound, to include the understanding that the aorist tense-form necessarily encodes past time, while the present tense-form encodes present time. This is what is reflected in most Koine Greek grammars, i.e. that the perfect tense-form encodes a past action with presently existing results (sometimes understood as extending beyond the time of the writing to include the modern day present time). It is also fraught with troubles when applied universally, as we shall see.

Fanning identifies the perfect tense-form as a complex consisting of past time with present results, stative Aktionsart, and perfective aspect.84 As noted earlier, Campbell claims the plu/perfect forms encode imperfective aspect. Porter, following McKay, asserts that the plu/perfect tense-forms constitute a third aspect, stative aspect. As a Proto-Indo-European language, Porter’s position that Koine Greek includes a stative aspect comports with the Encyclopedia Britannica: “The Proto-Indo-European verb had three aspects: imperfective, perfective, and stative…The stative aspect, traditionally called ‘perfect,’ described states of the subject…‘be in a standing position’…‘have in mind.85 And as with the perfective and imperfective, Porter asserts that the time element of the stative aspect is not intrinsic.

Going back to the parade analogy, Porter describes the stative aspect thusly:

…[I]f I am the parade manager considering all of the conditions in existence at this parade, including not only the arrangements that are coming to fruition but all the accompanying events that allow the parade to operate, I view the process not in its particulars [imperfective aspect] or its immediacy [perfective aspect] but as “stative,” i.e. as a condition or state of affairs in existence.86

Porter defines it more simply elsewhere as “the action is conceived of by the language user as reflecting a given (often complex) state of affairs.”87 One could criticize Porter’s definition as too vague, and perhaps rightly so.88 Importantly, Porter does not mean that the plu/perfect forms encode stative Aktionsart – i.e. lexical (objective) stativity, as stative verbs such as ἔχω (I possess/have), μένω (I remain/stay), etc. convey stativity with any aspectual form – but instead a “state of affairs” portrayed subjectively by the writer/speaker in the use of these morphological forms, and by this understanding of stativity, either stative or dynamic (actional) lexemes in the plu/perfect tense-forms produce a stative implicature.

As mentioned earlier, according to Porter, the perfective aspect is the least marked aspect, with the aorist carrying the narrative, the story-line, being the “background” tense-form.89 The present tense-form (imperfective) slows down the narrative by bringing in “selected or highlighted events,” and is termed the “foreground” tense-form.90 The perfect is the most heavily marked,91 defined as the “frontground” tense-form, “reserved for selective mention of a few very significant items.”92

As the previous sections above have shown with the aorist and the present tense-forms, the following will illustrate that the perfect tense-form is found in all temporal spheres. We’ll begin with Mark 9:13, which exhibits past temporal reference of the perfect tense-form:93

Ηλίας ἐλήλυθεν, καὶ    ἐποίησαν    αὐτῷ     ὅσα    ἤθελον
Elias come,        and     they do  to him as much as they want
Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wanted

Jesus is speaking of John the Baptist here who had been beheaded earlier (cf. Mark 6:14-29). Importantly, note that this ‘coming’ of John is completely in the past; i.e. there are no continuing results of his coming, as he’s not still alive at the time Jesus spoke those words. Moreover, the context clearly indicates past temporal reference as “they” (Herod and Herodias) had already “done to him everything they wanted.” This is clearly a past state/condition best translated as an English present perfect (has come), indicating an unspecified time before the present (at the time of the speaker). While the English present perfect may indicate either past action at some unspecified time before the present or past action on up to and including the present,94 the overall context here, including personal deixis (“Elijah” – John the Baptist), indicates the former.

Because it is assumed that the Koine Greek perfect tense-form refers to present and/or continuing states, we’ll provide two more examples of past-referring perfects, the first from John 6:32:

οὐ Μωϋσῆς δέδωκεν ὑμῖν τὸν ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ
not Moses      give       you the bread from the heaven
Moses did not give you the bread from heaven

In this context, it is, once again, personal deixis (Moses) indicating a past reference. Obviously the ‘giving’ of the bread has not continued beyond the time of the Exodus.

The next example of past temporal reference is found in John 8:57, in which the Pharisees are astounded by Jesus’ claim in the previous verse that Abraham saw Him (and, by implication, vice versa) – with personal deixis (Abraham) yet again, plus the overall context, illustrating past implicature:

πεντήκοντα ἔτη    οὔπω   ἔχεις καὶ Ἀβραὰμ  ἑώρακας
Fifty             years not yet have and Abraham you see!
You have (are) not yet fifty years (old), and you have seen Abraham?!

The above example cannot be referring to present time, as the Pharisees’ point is that, from their perspective, Jesus is not possibly old enough (not yet fifty years) to have been a contemporary of Abraham in order to have seen him.

Porter cautions against necessarily reading past actions into the perfect form: “Whether a previous event is alluded to or exists at all is a matter of lexis in context and not part of aspectual semantics.”95 Decker makes note of this, providing Mark 6:14 as an example: “Here the point is not that a past action has taken place, but on the present state that exists: the people are convinced that John’s resurrected state accounts for his [Jesus’] power.”96 In other words, in this verse the thought was that a supposed resurrected John the Baptist was providing Jesus’ powers, thereby implicating present temporal reference. Moreover, since one cannot ascertain whether or not the perceived risen state of John extends beyond the time identified by the immediate context, it would seem dubious to claim continuing relevance:

Ιωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ διὰ    τοῦτο ἐνεργοῦσιν αἱ δυνάμεις ἐν αὐτῷ.
John     the Baptist   raise      from dead and through this   he works   the powers in/through him.
John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and by this he performs miracles in Him.

John 1:18 is one example of a timeless application of the perfect tense-form, again with no previous event in view:

Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε…
God no one see         ever/at any time…
No one sees God ever…

In this clause, the verb seems best translated as “no one sees God ever” (cf. Ex 33:20), rather than as an English present perfect (“no one has ever seen God”) as per most English translations, since πώποτε connotes unrestricted temporal deixis, indicating no specific temporal sphere.97 The Gospel writer’s point is that the λόγος (Logos: word, message), Who came from the Father, became flesh (Jn 1:14) and this enfleshed λόγος, Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17), was the One who revealed the Father to us (Jn 1:18b-d), and though no one ever sees God (Jn 1:18a), we have seen God in a sense, in the Person of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 14:7, 9-11).

In translating ἑώρακεν as “has ever seen” the temporal reference is strictly limited to the time preceding and on up to and including the Incarnation (past + then-present), or the time the words were narrated by the Gospel writer, rather than leaving it open-ended, timeless. To provide an analogy by way of another example of the English present perfect: Making the claim that no one has ever run a marathon faster than 2 hours does not preclude someone from breaking this perceived barrier at some point in the future. Similarly, stating “no one has ever seen God” does not prohibit the possibility that someone will see God in the future – a statement that violates other Scripture (Ex 33:20; 1 Tm 6:16; 1 Jn 4:12).

An omnitemporal implicature is found in 2 Peter 2:19, according to Porter:98

ᾧ                        γάρ      τις      ἥττηται    τούτῳ δεδούλωται
who/which/what for a certain overcome  that/this enslave
for by what someone is overcome, by this he is enslaved.

In the immediate context, Peter is illustrating the fact that these unregenerate individuals (false teachers, cf. 2:1) are continually overcome and therefore enslaved by their sins.

James 5:2 (and 5:3) provides examples of future temporal reference of the perfect tense-form:

ὁ πλοῦτος ὑμῶν σέσηπεν καὶ τὰ    ἱμάτια    ὑμῶν σητόβρωτα γέγονεν
the riches  your rot    and the garments   your moth-eaten become
your riches will rot and your garments will become moth-eaten99

These perfects are traditionally rendered as either past or present temporal reference (proleptic or prophetic); however, Porter asserts these should best be translated as future. Certainly it would seem that the earthly rich described by James here have their riches unrotted temporally, but they won’t have them to enjoy eternally.

Similar to the perfect, traditionally the pluperfect has been asserted as being a combination of the aorist and the imperfect tense-forms. Porter identifies some problems with the traditional view, noting that there are occasions in the NT in which 1) “the aoristic past is not of importance,” 2) “the result is lacking,” and 3) “the context is not past-referring.”100 As to the first, Porter cites John 6:17 as one example,101 for Jesus had not yet come:

καὶ σκοτία    ἤδη ἐγεγόνει καὶ οὔπω ἐληλύθει πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς
and darkness now become and not yet   come   to   them the Jesus
Now it had become dark and Jesus had not yet come to them.

The second point is evidenced in Acts 23:5:

ἔφη τε ὁ Παῦλος· οὐκ ᾔδειν,      ἀδελφοί, ὅτι ἐστὶν ἀρχιερεύς
said so the Paul   not understand brothers that be   high priest
So Paul answered, “I did not realize, brothers, that he was the high priest.”

The pluperfect, like the imperfect, is used predominately in past-referring contexts, yet not exclusively so. Thus, the final point above is found in John 8:19, with its implicature indicating present temporal reference:

εἰ ἐμὲ ᾔδειτε,    καὶ τὸν πατέρα μου ἂν    ᾔδειτε
if me you know also the father my would you know
If you knew Me, you would also know My Father

Summing Up

Porter contends that temporal reference is not intrinsic to the Koine Greek verb, with aspect being the sole semantic property encoded into the verb’s morphological form, while temporal reference, a pragmatic implicature, is found via the accompanying context. To claim that a specific temporal reference is a feature of the verb that can be cancelled out based on context is to allow for exceptions when it would seem best to minimize exceptional cases to the extent possible in a given system. This somewhat brief survey supports Porter’s position of the non-temporality of the Koine Greek verb, by illustrating that the aorist, the present, and the perfect tense-forms can be found in the full range of temporal spheres (past, present, omnitemporal, timeless, and future), while even the imperfect and pluperfect tense-forms are available in other than the traditionally presumed past temporal reference.

(Also see Appendix)


83  Julius R. Mantey “Evidence that the Perfect Tense in John 20:23 and Matthew 16:19 is Mistranslated” in Journal of Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), 16-3 (September 1973), p 129.

84   Decker (Temporal Deixis, p 108) sketches Fanning’s position, as does Trevor V. Evans (“Future Directions for Aspect Studies in Ancient Greek,” in Taylor, Lee et al eds. Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography, p 205). Campbell (Verbal Aspect, p 189) also defines Fanning’s conception, rightfully criticizing it as “a modern restatement of the classic view,” which then “admits too many exceptions” (p 189; cf. 189-190 for additional, more specific critique).

85   Encyclopaedia Brittanica online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/286368/Indo-European-languages/74556/Morphology-and-syntax

86   Porter, VAGNT, pp 91. Bracketed explanation is mine.

87   Porter, Idioms, pp 21-22; original is italicized. This exact verbiage is also found in Porter’s newest grammar (Fundamentals, p 315).

88   See e.g. Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 170-171.   In the appendix a possible alternate understanding of the perfect and pluperfect forms will be proposed, which may or may not provide a more adequate methodological approach and explanation, though this position will not be rigorously argued.

89   Porter, Idioms, p 23. It should be noted that Porter’s terminological distinctions are at odds with other linguists (and Fanning).

90   ibid.

91   Porter, VAGNT, p 258. For background on markedness, see Comrie, Aspect, pp 111-122.

92   Porter, Idioms, p 23

93   This example found in Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 109

94   Following are examples illustrating ‘past excluding present’ and ‘past including present’ usages of the English present perfect. Past time, excluding the present: Dr. Brown has been to Antarctica on expeditions many times over the past 30 years (but he is not currently in Antarctica, and no further expeditions are scheduled). In a different context, with Dr. Brown currently on an expedition in Antarctica, the statement would convey – excluding the parenthetical portion, of course – both past and present. For past time including the present: Jorge has lived in San Antonio his entire life (and he remains a resident of San Antonio).

95   Porter, VAGNT, p 259

96   Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 109

97   See Porter, VAGNT, p 269

98   Porter, VAGNT, p 268

99   Porter (VAGNT, p 267) renders these are going to rot and are going to become moth-eaten.

100   Porter, VAGNT, p 288

101   ibid.

A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference (pt 3)

After an introduction of verbal aspect, followed by its illustration in English in part I, we proceeded to an overview of verbal aspect in Koine Greek, moving to a discussion of the perfective aspect in part 2. This third part will cover the imperfective aspect.

Imperfective Aspect

As previously noted, the imperfective aspect is exhibited by both the imperfect tense-form and the present tense-form. The difference between the two is one of remoteness, with the imperfect tense-form more remote than the present tense-form. In other words, the present tense-form is more proximate56 (closer to the event/situation) than the imperfect tense-form, yet both are ‘street-level’ perspectives, using our parade analogy.57 The difference could be envisioned as the present tense-form standing on the sidewalk next to the parade, while the imperfect tense-form is perched upon a grandstand placed alongside the street, or some other position at a slight distance from the parade.58

It may be helpful to provide diagrams to differentiate between the remoteness of the aorist tense-form (perfective aspect) and that of the imperfect tense-form.59 In the figures below, the horizontal line illustrates the time element of the event/situation (derived from the pragmatics of the context), with T1 representing the beginning point and T2 the end. The time period can be of very short duration or very long. Taking the example of John 11:35 above (Jesus wept), this time period is likely only a few minutes or so, whereas in Romans 5:14 (death reigned from Adam to Moses) it is quite long!

Perfective Aspect

The perfective viewpoint is like a snapshot of the action, an overview, a summary perspective of the whole event/situation. In John 11:35 and Romans 5:14 both T1 and T2 are in the past; however, as noted in the previous section, the event/situation could be in present time, future time, of an omnitemporal nature, or timeless. In the latter case the viewpoint would retain its relative remoteness, or distance from the horizontal line (event/situation), however neither T1 nor T2 would be able to be definitively identified in terms of past, present, or future.

Comparatively, the imperfective viewpoint of the imperfect tense-form is only remote relative to the proximity of the present tense-form. It is much closer to T1 – T2 than the perfective aspect, as the imperfective aspect is the street level perspective, with a closer look at the interval between T1 and T2.

 Imperfective Aspect Imperfect

The present tense-form, then, is graphically illustrated as closer yet to the event/situation (on the sidewalk), as compared to the imperfect tense-form (on the grandstand).

 Imperfective Aspect Present

While the perfective aspect looks at the entirety of the event/situation, the imperfective aspect looks at its internal structure as it is unfolding, with the present tense-form providing a comparatively closer look at its enfoldment than the imperfect tense-form. And while the perfective perspective includes both the beginning and the end points, the imperfective is depicting the internal progress or process rather than focusing on the beginning and/or end. The imperfective aspect is more heavily marked than the perfective aspect, and it logically follows that the present tense-form, due to its relative proximity, is comparatively more heavily marked than the imperfect tense-form.60

To help demonstrate Porter’s assertion that verbal aspect is subjective, i.e., that the NT writer makes a (probably subconscious) choice to use one particular aspect over another,61 we’ll compare the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew and Mark.62 Matthew uses the aorist form for the verb “give” (δίδωμι, didōmi), while Mark uses the imperfect tense-form for this same exact event. Therefore, Matthew (14:19) chooses to provide a summary view of Jesus’ distribution of the multiplied bread and fish to the 5000 by using the perfective aspect (He gave), while Mark (6:41) chooses to highlight the actual progression of this miracle by using the imperfective aspect (He was giving), focusing on the process of Jesus multiplying and handing out the bread.63

It is its relative spatial remoteness (distance from the event/situation) that makes the imperfect tense-form well-suited for use in past time narratives, and this is most often where they are found. Along with the example of Mark 6:41 just above, John 5:18 provides an example:

διὰ             τοῦτο οὖν       μᾶλλον ἐζήτουν      αὐτὸν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἀποκτεῖναι,
because of this therefore more   seek/strive  him the Jews     to kill
For this, therefore, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him.

Instead of using the aorist form (ἐζήτησαν, ezētēsan, sought), the narrator chose to illustrate the event as in progress, in order to make it more vivid. While the aorist provides the skeletal outline of the narrative, the imperfect tense-form provides further description of events, supporting details, and can introduce conversations.64

The imperfect tense-form is also used in discourse (speech, conversations) that reference the past. One such example is found in the words of Jesus in Luke 17:27, with the Lord speaking of the time before the flood:

ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἐγάμουν, ἐγαμίζοντο,
eat,     drink, marry, give in marriage,
They were eating, drinking, marrying, being given in marriage,

While the imperfect tense-form is used predominantly for past-time events/situations, it is not exclusively so.65 Its relative remoteness, as compared to the non-remote (proximate) present tense-form, puts it in a “broader, demonstrative category that may be logical, temporal, conditional, physical, etc.,”66 meaning that, e.g., it may signify a spatial (or logical) distance but with a time reference other than past.67 Two examples are found in Acts 25:22 and Galatians 4:20, in which a present temporal reference is used:

Αγρίππας δὲ πρὸς τὸν Φῆστον· ἐβουλόμην καὶ αὐτὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀκοῦσαι
Agrippa then to the Festus     will/want   also myself the   man    to hear
Then Agrippa (said) to Festus: “I myself also would like to hear this man.”


ἤθελον        δὲ    παρεῖναι        πρὸς    ὑμᾶς ἄρτι καὶ    ἀλλάξαι  τὴν φωνήν
want/wish but to be present for/with you   now and to change the voice
But I wish to be present with you now and change (my tone of) voice.68

 “I am wishing” may work as a translation, though perhaps a bit clumsily, but “would like” and “wish” convey the continuing action of the imperfective aspect just fine. Both Porter and Decker find an omnitemporal use of the imperfect tense-form in Matthew 23:23:

ταῦτα [δὲ]             ἔδει    ποιῆσαι  κἀκεῖνα       μὴ  ἀφιέναι.
these things it is necessary to do and the others not to neglect.
It is necessary to do these things and not to neglect the others.69

Jesus’ point in His rebuke of the Pharisees is that they should practice the more important part of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness – without neglecting those of lesser importance (tithing – as per OT Mosaic Law). It is always (omnitemporally) necessary to continually exhibit justice, mercy and faithfulness – Jesus is not merely telling them they “should have,” as most translations render this, they should have and they should continue to do so. Hence, it is necessary is probably the best rendering. Even if one were to argue against a continuing relevance into the future, asserting it is beyond the context (though certainly theologically true), it is clear that both a past and present time reference are in view (T1 is past time and T2 would be present time in such a case – rather than future, as in the Porter/Decker stance).70 Nonetheless, with either understanding it is necessary is probably the best translation.

An omnitemporal usage of the imperfect tense-form is found in Colossians 3:18 in the subordinate clause following a present tense-form imperative:

Αἱ γυναῖκες, ὑποτάσσεσθε τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ὡς ἀνῆκεν ἐν κυρίῳ.
The wives submit yourselves to the husbands as is fitting in [the] Lord.
Wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.71

The present tense-form imperative ὑποτάσσεσθε (submit) in the independent clause should be understood as an omnitemporal command, with the imperfect tense-form ἀνῆκεν (is fitting) in the dependent clause correlating to this same omnitemporal implicature. The imperfect tense-form is used here since the information is supplementary (though important!) detail.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to get into specific theological interpretation (though this is not completely unavoidable as can be seen above), this verse requires a bit of grammatical analysis. In the main (independent) clause rendered Wives submit to your husbands the middle voice rather than the passive voice in the command “can imply a voluntary submission,” which would make it the wife’s “willing choice, not some universal law that ordains masculine dominance.”72 The subordinate clause (as is fitting in the Lord) qualifies the wife’s submission as “an allegiance shown to Christ,”73 with the likely understanding that the degree of subjection should be in accord with that which befits the husband’s love of the wife “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it” (Eph 5:25).74 Note that Paul’s command (present active imperative) to the husband in verse 19 is much stronger.75

While the imperfect tense-form is evident in only relatively few instances outside of past temporal reference in the NT, the present tense-form has as much temporal variety as the aorist. Present temporal reference is the one assumed to be normative, so we’ll begin there. Luke 24:17 is but one example:

εἶπεν     δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· τίνες οἱ λόγοι οὗτοι οὓς ἀντιβάλλετε πρὸς ἀλλήλους
say/speak then to them, what the words these that you exchange with one another
Then He asked them, “What are these words that you discuss with each other?”

James 3 evinces quite a few instances of the omnitemporal use of the present tense-form, in reference to the tongue.76 James 3:9 contains one such usage:

ἐν αὐτῇ εὐλογοῦμεν τὸν κύριον καὶ πατέρα καὶ ἐν αὐτῇ καταρώμεθα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους
With it we praise     the Lord   and Father and/yet with it we curse       (the) men.
With it we praise the Lord and Father, yet77 with it we curse men.

After using timeless aorists in most of Romans 1:18-32 to describe the sinful nature of man, chapter 2 begins with the timeless application of a number of present tense-forms for God’s righteous judgment.78 We’ll illustrate this with the latter part of the first verse of the second chapter in Romans:

ἐν ᾧ   γὰρ κρίνεις    τὸν ἕτερον, σεαυτὸν κατακρίνεις, τὰ γὰρ αὐτὰ πράσσεις       ὁ κρίνων.
In what for you judge the other yourself you condemn the for same you do the one judging
For in what you judge the other you condemn yourself, since you who judge practice the same.

Stated another way: For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, practice the same things.

While it is true that in English the present tense-form can be used for present, omnitemporal, and timeless temporal references,79 the point here is to illustrate that what is termed “present tense-form” in Koine Greek can be used for all temporal categories (see future and past just below) – just like the aorist (see previous section) and perfect tense-forms (see next section below) can be employed for any sphere of temporal reference. This indicates that time is not an intrinsic part of NT verbs’ morphological forms, and that there must be something else that differentiates the tense-forms from one another. That ‘something else’ is, as we’ve been illustrating, aspect.

This next example in Matthew 26:18 illustrates a future usage (from the time of Jesus’ speaking) of the present tense-form:

πρὸς σὲ           ποιῶ            τὸ     πάσχα  μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν μου.80
for/with you I to make/keep the Passover with the disciples   my
With you I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples.

The so-called “historical present” (HP), or past-referring present tense-form, has received quite a bit of ink, mostly due to the perceived ‘wrong use’ of the tense-form, which is misconstrued as encoding present-time. When viewed from a framework of verbal aspect, it is understood that past temporal reference is merely one of five possible choices (including Porter’s delineation between timeless and omnitemporal). In narrative these past-referring present tense-forms are usually best rendered as an English simple past tense-form. John 6:19 provides one such example:

θεωροῦσιν τὸν Ἰησοῦν περιπατοῦντα ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης καὶ ἐγγὺς τοῦ πλοίου γινόμενον
They saw   the Jesus     walking         on the water       and near the   boat    becoming
They saw Jesus walking on the water coming near the boat

Scholars have observed some discourse functions of the HP, noting that it is generally a prominence marker, though it seems each Gospel writer employs it a bit differently. This is a natural implicature for the more heavily marked present tense-form, due to its proximity as compared to the relative remoteness of the imperfect tense-form, but especially to the unmarked aorist. It is outside the purview of this article to get into the specific variety of uses of the HP in the various Gospels, so we’ll provide a brief overview:81

(a)    To begin a new pericope

(b)    To begin a specific scene after a general introduction

(c)    To introduce new characters

(d)    To illustrate a character’s movement to new locations

(e)    To highlight following events (cataphoric function)

(f)     To close a pericope

In our example of John 6:19 above (c) applies.82

This concludes our study of the imperfective aspect. The next part will cover the stative aspect.


56   Inferring from Campbell’s words (Verbal Aspect, p 36), Fanning may be the first to use the term “proximity” (Campbell cites Fanning, Verbal Aspect, p 27) in the context of verbal aspect. Campbell then adopts this term to explain the difference between the present and imperfect tense-forms, and, in a different way, the difference between the perfect and the pluperfect tense-forms (see Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 48-57, 195-211). I’m adopting a variation of Campbell’s views on both the relationship of the imperfect to the present (see figures just below) and the pluperfect to the perfect (see Appendix).

57   See above. Campbell (Basics) provides a helpful explanation: “[T]he present tense-form [has] the spatial value of proximity. The imperfect tense-form [has] the spatial value of remoteness. These are semantic values that are not cancelable but are expressed pragmatically in a variety of ways in context” (p 60).

58   My own extrapolation based upon my view of the differences between the present and imperfect tense-forms. Campbell provides helpful diagrams illustrating the relative proximity of the present tense-form, as compared to the imperfect tense-form (Basics, pp 42, 61; cf. Campbell Verbal Aspect, pp 50-51), yet the way in which Campbell has pictured the imperfect tense-form seems to lend itself solely to a past time implicature. It seems better instead to place the viewpoint at a further distance from the timeline of the event/situation than the present, in order to account for its relative remoteness as compared to the present tense-form’s proximity. See figures below.

59   While Campbell provides diagrams for the present and imperfect tense-forms, (see note 58 above), he provides none at all for the aorist/perfective. I’m hopeful the diagrams here will help the reader to distinguish the function of the aorist from that of the imperfect tense-form.

60   Porter, Idioms, p 34: “The imperfect is similar in function to the historic [past] use of the present. Although they share the same verbal aspect, the present is used to draw even more attention to an action.” The “even more” here refers to a comparison with the aorist in which the imperfect “is the narrative form used when an action is selected to dwell upon” (p 34).

61   Porter, VAGNT, pp 88, 91-92; Porter, Idioms, pp 28-29.

62   The idea to use this example comes from David Alan Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek (3rd ed., Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, pp 15-16), though Black differs a bit from Porter’s views (see pp 13-16). For more on authorial subjective choice regarding aspect, see Matthew’s use of the historic present (tense-form) in his account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and its juxtaposition with the aorist as compared to Mark’s and Luke’s use of these tense-forms in Stephanie L. Black, “The Historic Present in Matthew: Beyond Speech Margins,” in Porter, Reed, eds., Discourse Analysis, pp 120-135.

63   One could argue that these should be rendered began to give and began giving, respectively, as the context implies that the multiplying of the bread began in Jesus’ hands. Yet, this does not mean we would call these, respectively, an “inceptive aorist” or “inceptive imperfect,” as it’s not the verbs’ form (aspect) that determines this, nor the lexis; it’s the context that would make it so. Hence, according to Porter, these terms should not be used in general (Idioms, pp 27-28). See also short section titled “Semantic Meaning and Pragmatic Effects” in Stephen H. Levinsohn Discourse Features of New Testament Greek: A Coursebook on the Information Structure of New Testament Greek, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2000), p IX.

64   See Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 107.

65   It is commonly assumed that the imperfect tense-form is a preterite (past-time) marker; e.g., Biblical linguist Randall Buth: “The Greek imperfect is a past imperfective” (“Verbs Perception and Aspect: Greek Lexicography and Grammar” [sic] in Bernard A. Taylor, John A. L. Lee, et. al., eds. Biblical Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004, p 182, n 15). However, as we will see, this does not hold unequivocally.

Some contend that the augment is a past-time marker. However, McKay’s 1965 work “The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect Down to the Second Century A.D.” (cited earlier), remarking in a footnote, questions, “whether the augment, which is generally taken as originally an adverb denoting past time, was not rather an adverb of remoteness, signifying either past time or reduced actuality, as required” (p 19 n 22; italics in orig, bold added). Porter (VAGNT, pp 208-211) is more assertive, stating outright that the augment is not a past-time indicator.  Cf. Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 39-40; Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 88-91.

66   Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 106, cf. 107.

67   McKay (New Syntax) observes that, “some common time indicators sometimes occur in situations where they are markers of some other part of the temporal setting, or where they are markers of some other factor, such as reality, rather than time” (p 40). Campbell (Verbal Aspect), citing James T. Hooker, notes that there are “many non-past-referring imperfects in the wider Greek literature,” to include Homer, Aristophanes, Plato, and Aristotle (p 87 n 17).

68   Both Gal 4:20 and Acts 25:22 (among others) are construed by Robertson (Grammar, pp 885-886) and Wallace (Grammar, pp 550-552) as “potential” and “voluntative/tendential” (“an attempt was about to be made or one that was almost desired to be made”), respectively. Yet elsewhere Robertson (Grammar, pp 918-919) refers to this is as a “polite idiom,” similar to the English “I was just thinking,” and while he comes just shy of explicitly affirming the Acts passage as present temporal reference, he affirms the Galatians: “Paul is speaking of present time” (p 919). Somewhat similarly, Wallace states that this particular usage “frequently is present time in which the action is entirely unrealized in the present” in which the imperfect tense-form “seems to be used to indicate the unreal present situation” (p 551; italics in original).

Richard N. Longenecker (Galatians: Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas, TX: Word, 1990), pp 187, 196), follows Robertson, stating the usage here is “expressing the desire for something in the present, with, of course, that wish unable to be realized” for, quoting Robertson (Grammar, p 886), “‘wishes about the present are naturally unattainable’” (p 196). However, Longenecker is quick to affirm that the context is an actual present time desire (at the time of writing) of Paul, as v 20 picks up from v 18 which “lays emphasis on Paul’s desire to be personally present with his Galatian converts – not present just by means of his letter or some emissary who might have brought the letter, but himself there with them. The adverb ἄρτι (“now”) is often used to connote more sharply defined present time than its synonym νῦν, and so should probably be understood to suggest ‘at this very moment’” (p 196).

In the Acts passage Agrippa clearly wants to hear Paul, with the king receiving that hearing the very next day (25:22-23). Porter (VAGNT, p 210), Decker (Temporal Deixis, pp 46-47, 51), and Campbell (Verbal Aspect, p 86) all affirm these two passages as present time usage of the imperfect tense-form, without qualification.

Another example of present temporal reference is cited by Porter in John 11:8 (VAGNT, p 210; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 19, though Decker changed his stance – see just below in this same paragraph), rendered “the Jews are now seeking,” but the NASB/ESV/ISV interpretation is probably correct (“the Jews just now were seeking;” “were trying” in ISV) in view of the overall context, with νῦν understood as representing near-past time reference (see H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (founded upon the 7th ed. of LSG-EL, Oxford: Clarendon, 1889, p 537) for “just now” in Homeric Greek; cf. Decker, “Semantic Range of νῦν,” pp 202-204; cf. John 13:31 above for near-future use of νῦν), considering that the Jewish leaders were seeking to stone Him earlier (8:59, 10:31). It seems difficult to imagine that the Jews in Judea were “now” still actively seeking to stone Him, given the time interval involved in Jesus crossing the Jordan (10:40) to Bethany (“where John had been baptizing in the early days” – see Carson Gospel of John, pp 146-147, for two different Bethany’s) where He had been staying for a period of at least three days (11:6 – Jesus stayed “two more days” before announcing his intent to return to Judea). In the final analysis, a near-past time reference seems most likely.

69   Porter’s translation (VAGNT, p 211), with Decker following (Temporal Deixis, p 51); cf. McKay, New Syntax, p 76. The translation is as a result of the combination of the finite imperfect tense-form verb (ἔδει) in conjunction with the aorist infinitive which follows it (ποιῆσαι) – known as a catenative construction (see VAGNT, pp 487, 488). Cf. Robertson, Grammar, pp 886, 919, 1080.

70   I may incline towards this view, which is one of the reasons why another example of omnitemporal reference is provided just below. Perhaps another category of temporal reference should be coined, such as “multi-temporal reference,” in order to differentiate from “omnitemporal,” if this view has merit.

71   Decker (Temporal Deixis) makes brief reference to this verse in a footnote (p 192 n 109).

72   David E. Garland, Colossians/Philemon: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapid, MI: Zondervan, 1998), p 244. It’s important to note that the verb ὑποτάσσω in the imperative mood is the same in both passive and middle voice, which means the interpreter must decide which is most likely intended (see Todd D. Still “Colossians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed., Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, gen. eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), p 337).

73   Garland, Colossians/Philemon, p 244. Robertson (Grammar) calls the usage here as one of “propriety” (pp 885-87, 919-20).

74   James D. G. Dunn (The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: New International Greek Testament Commentary, I. Howard Marshall, W. Ward Gasque, & Donald A. Hagner, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996)) observes that the subordinate clause can be read one of two ways, either “as an affirmation that the husband headship of the household is ‘fitting’ also within the community” of believers in Christ as Lord or “as a qualification that only that degree of subjection to the husband which is ‘fitting in the Lord’ is to be countenanced” (p 248). Dunn prefers the latter, citing 1 Corinthians 7:15 as correlative (ibid.). CF. Peter O’Brien Colossians, Philemon: Word Biblical Commentary, Bruce M. Metzger, gen. ed. (Dallas, TX: Thomas Nelson/Word, 1982), p 222.   With this understanding, the scales are tipped more decisively to the middle voice in the independent clause.

75   O’Brien (Colossian, Philemon), asserts, “The exhortation to be subordinate is balanced with the instruction to husbands to love their wives [ED: in v 19]: the admonition is an appeal to free and responsible agents that can only be heeded voluntarily, never by the elimination or breaking of the human will, much less by means of a servile submissiveness” (p 222). Once again, this points to the middle over the passive voice in the main clause in v 18.

76   See Porter, VAGNT, p 224.

77   Robertson (Grammar, pp 1182-83) notes that καὶ can be used in an adversative sense (“and yet”); cf. BDAG (W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000), p 495, 1bη); cf. F. W. Danker (The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009), p 183), though none explicitly cite this verse.

78   See Porter, VAGNT, p 238.

79   And even future temporal reference, see note 14 above.

80   See Porter, VAGNT, pp 77-78, 231; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 7, which provides a fuller illustration.

81   These points culled from Porter, VAGNT, pp 196-198; Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 103-104 (Decker relies on and agrees with Fanning here); S. H. Levinsohn, Discourse Features, pp 200-213; M. V. Leung, “The Narrative Function and Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present in the Fourth Gospel,” p 710; S. L. Black, “The Historic Present in Matthew,” pp 127-139.

82   See Levinsohn, Discourse Features, pp 208-209; Leung, “The Narrative Function and Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present in the Fourth Gospel,” p 710.

A Somewhat Brief Explanation of Verbal Aspect Theory as it Pertains to Koine (NT) Greek, with Focus on Temporal Reference (pt 2)

In part 1, an introduction to Koine Greek verbal aspect theory, as well as an explanation of verbal aspect in English was provided. This part will begin the explanation of the theory as it pertains to NT Greek, illustrating the various temporal references found of the perfective aspect, reflected in the aorist tense-form.

Verbal Aspect in Koine Greek

As noted previously, the English verbal system is intrinsically time-based (in large part); i.e., time is tied directly to the tense-forms (with many forms aided by the use of auxiliary verbs). For example, as we observed above, the English past tense-form encodes both perfective aspect and past time. However, as stated earlier, according to Porter’s verbal aspect theory with respect to NT Greek, aspect is found in a verb’s tense-form,22 while the specific time element is not included. Time is determined by context.

To be more precise, using terminology from the field of linguistics, aspect is semantically encoded in the morphological forms (tense-forms) of NT Greek verbs, while temporal reference (and Aktionsart, ‘kind of action’) is determined by pragmatics, i.e., the context, derived at clause, sentence, or paragraph level, or even from the entire document. Semantics are the meanings of the tense-forms (verbal aspect), while pragmatics (also known as implicature) are what the writer conveys by the use of the tense-forms in particular contexts.23 It’s important to note that the term semantics is understood more narrowly here than common usage, which is typically the range of meanings for a given term (lexical semantics).24 Here the term is much more specific, indicating the non-cancelable properties of a verb, i.e., its morphological form (aspect) and the meaning inherent within the form (grammatical semantics).25 Porter provides an explanation:

…Verbal aspect is a semantic feature which attaches directly to use of a given tense-form in [NT] Greek. Other values [ED: pragmatics] – such as time – are established at the level of larger grammatical or conceptual units, such as the sentence, paragraph, proposition, or even discourse…The choice of the particular verbal aspect (expressed in the tense-form) resides with the language user, and it is from this perspective that grammatical interpretation of the verb must begin.26

In essence, verbal aspect, which is encoded in the morphological form (tense-form) of the verb, is a subjective choice made between the various aspectual options available to the writer (see below for the third option besides perfective and imperfective). Verbal aspect (viewpoint, perspective) is the foremost exegetical consideration for the reader with respect to verbs.27 Once aspect, the semantic value found in the morphological form, is determined, time (and Aktionsart, kind of action) is then ascertained by context, i.e., pragmatics (implicature).

This idea that time is not encoded into the NT Greek verbal system is difficult to conceive for those of us whose native language/s are western European. K. L. McKay notes this struggle:

Our…difficulty is that of divesting ourselves of the basic assumptions of our own language in order to appreciate better those of another language. We moderns tend to be obsessed in our verb usage with the idea of time – past, present, future…Even when we appreciate that [the conception of time in NT Greek] was not [similar to western European languages’ verbal systems], it remains difficult for us to be entirely free of prejudice.28

It is important to keep this in mind as we go along, for we must be vigilant to not impose our own native language rules upon Koine Greek. We must be ever aware of our own internal bias in this regard.

At the risk of potentially causing some confusion, though hopefully to further aid in explanation instead, we could propose a very rough comparison, an analogy of sorts, between English verbal aspect and NT Greek verbal aspect. Taking the two sentences from the previous section that are expressing imperfective aspect (1B & 2B), while deleting both auxiliary verbs, since it’s the auxiliary verb that explicitly denotes temporal reference in these particular examples, we could render them:

1B1) I releasing
2B1) Peter coming

Obviously, this is very bad English grammar, but the point here is to roughly approximate NT Greek imperfective aspect, by removing the specific time reference (“was” and “is,” respectively). To reiterate, this is just a rough analogy; please don’t think of these as simply English participles in and of themselves; rather, think of these as reflecting imperfective aspect with the time element not intrinsic. Moreover, don’t think of the above as Greek participles translated into English, but rather as the verbal roots release (λύω, luō) and come (ἔρχομαι, erchomai), respectively, with imperfective aspect. In this approximation to Koine Greek, both “releasing” and “coming” are semantically encoding aspect but not temporal reference. More information is needed to determine time of action, and this could be done by adding one adverb to each of these ‘sentences’:

1B2) Yesterday I releasing
2B2) Now Peter coming

“Yesterday” and “Now” are examples of pragmatics, more specifically, temporal deictic indicators,29 adverbs modifying “releasing” and “going,” respectively. The term deictic is the adjectival (adjective) form of the noun deixis (from Greek δείκνυμι, deiknumi, show), which means words that point to such things as time, person, and spatial location in a given text.30 Temporal deictic indicators convey time reference in NT Greek, rather than the verbs themselves. However, in Koine Greek the temporal deictic indicators “yesterday” (ἐχθὲς, echthes) and “now” (νῦν, nyn; ἄρτι, arti) may be placed somewhere else in the larger context (paragraph, discourse, etc.) instead of the sentence or clause containing the particular verb. In such instances, with the immediate context at clause or sentence level not explicitly referencing time, temporal reference must be found by the larger context.

Following are the three aspects of NT Greek, followed by the verb tense-forms which express the particular aspect:31

Perfective aspect: aorist tense-form

Imperfective aspect: present tense-form, imperfect tense-form

Stative aspect: perfect tense-form, pluperfect tense-form

The stative aspect will be discussed a bit later. Recall from the parade analogy that perfective aspect is the view from the helicopter. As indicated above, this is reflected by only one form – the aorist tense-form. Also, recall that imperfective aspect is the view of the parade at street level. But, what is the difference between the imperfect tense-form and the present tense-form you may be thinking? It is one of proximity. The imperfect tense-form is a bit more remote spatially than the present tense-form; i.e., the present tense-form is more proximate (closer to the event/situation) than the imperfect tense-form.32

As we can see in the above, some terminology in the forms are similar to English (present, perfect), but these are used in very different ways. Therefore, the similarity in the names can result in some confusion for those who tend to equate tense-forms with temporal reference and/or those who may inadvertently impose English usage upon the Greek.33 To further confound the issue, many traditional grammars claim that, for example, the aorist tense-form reflects past time but with exceptions, while the present tense-form reflects present time but with exceptions.34 These “exceptions” are eliminated when one views the verb tense-forms as solely encoding aspect rather than time (and kind of action – Aktionsart), which, again, is a pragmatic function determined by context. The following sections will make that assertion clear.

Perfective Aspect

Perfective aspect is the “least marked” of the three aspects, the default, the one used unless a special emphasis is desired.35 Accordingly, the aorist tense-form, the only form semantically encoding perfective aspect, is the predominate tense-form carrying the narrative in the NT.36 The aorist mostly does convey past time, as revealed by the contexts, in the NT. This is primarily because, given its perfective aspect, which provides a summary, wholistic view of individual events or situations, it is well-suited for narrative, which is typically set in past time.37 Yet, as we will see, there are instances in which the aorist tense-form conveys present temporal reference (from the perspective of the speaker and/or situation),38 and even future time (though these are very few).39

Let’s examine a few NT examples of perfective aspect, expressed by the aorist tense-form. We’ll start with the shortest verse in all Scripture – John 11:35. For those with no Greek background, many times verbs are placed before the subject (also, verbs encode person and number: e.g., 3rd person singular {he/she/it} in the following). Also, the definite article (the, in this case ὁ, ho, the masculine singular form) many times precedes names.

ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς.
weep         (the) Jesus
Jesus wept.

Here ἐδάκρυσεν is the aorist tense-form of δακρύω (dakruō, weep). Using this form indicates that the Gospel writer wished to summarize Jesus’ weeping, rather than focus upon its progression. This is the helicopter, or remote, summary perspective. In this example, clearly the setting indicates past time by looking at the immediate context.

Romans 5:14 provides another illustration of perfective aspect:

ἀλλ᾿ ἐβασίλευσεν ὁ θάνατος ἀπὸ Ἀδὰμ μέχρι Μωϋσέως40
But     reign         the death from Adam  to      Moses
But death reigned from (the time of) Adam to Moses

In this verse ἐβασίλευσεν is the aorist tense-form of βασιλεύω (basileuō, reign). Note that this ‘reign’ of death encompasses quite a long interval (from Adam to Moses), yet Paul uses the perfective aspect to show a summary perspective of this time period. Of course, this time period was in the past from the point of Paul’s writing.

Yet, Jesus’ words as recorded by the Gospel writer in John 13:31 indicate the future use of the perfective aspect:

νῦν ἐδοξάσθη ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐδοξάσθη ἐν αὐτῷ·
Now glorify the Son of Man         and (the) God glorify in Him.
Now the Son of Man is to be glorified and God is to be glorified in Him.41

Most English translations render both aorist verbs with present time reference (is glorified);42 however, in order to properly exegete this verse, to find temporal reference, we must look at the larger context. As George H. Guthrie asserts, “[A] key to understanding an act of communication…is to understand the organization of material as related to a given context, and this is the objective of a form of inquiry known as ‘discourse analysis’.”43 The term discourse analysis, as used here, refers to analyzing not just discourse (conversations between individuals), but also narrative. While sometimes the immediate context will make temporal reference obvious, at other times it is necessary to do further discourse analysis, to look not only to the larger context (previous and following sentences) but to even larger chunks, to include prior and subsequent paragraphs, and perhaps the whole document.44

To assist in exegeting 13:31, we’ll go back to John 12:23-29, to find an earlier mention of glorification of which “the hour has come”. In that particular context, Jesus mentions the future event of His being “lifted up” (12:32), just as He had stated this earlier in 3:14 (and 8:28); then He goes on to speak of His death (12:35), as the narrator had earlier (12:33). This is obviously referring to the Crucifixion, and it is this event that will bring glorification. This is the same event in view in John 13:31.

While the adverb νῦν (now) is typically a temporal deictic indicator for present time, in this case it’s in the sense of near-future, like we have in “the hour has come” in 12:23.45 Jesus’ words in 13:31 are immediately preceded by “When he [Judas] was gone, Jesus said” – clearly, it wasn’t Judas’ leaving in and of itself that glorified the Son, however Judas’ forthcoming betrayal would set the stage for the events that would ultimately lead to the Crucifixion. Moreover, the future tense-forms of “to glorify” in the very next verse (13:32 – “will glorify”) appear to logically indicate a future temporal reference for verse 31. [Note that the future tense-form is not listed as an aspect above, because it is “not fully aspectual,” or “aspectually vague” – see note 22.] This particular example well illustrates the importance of looking to broader contextual clues to determine temporal reference.

The Father’s words to the Son just after His baptism, after He came up out of the water, are certainly not past temporal reference, yet they don’t seem to express merely present time either. The Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels (Mat 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). The wording in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke is identical:

σὺ     εἶ   ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν      σοὶ         εὐδόκησα.
You be the Son my the beloved in/with You I well pleased
You are my [one] beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.

The use of the English present tense-form in translation is probably the best rendering; however, as noted, this does not seem to fully convey the force of the Father’s words.46 In the Culy, Parsons, and Stigall commentary on Luke in the Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, the authors take special note of this verb and its form as used in the above context:

…This is a good example of why some scholars (e.g. Porter, Decker, Campbell) maintain that the aorist tense, like the other tenses, does not explicitly refer to time, though it is used most often to refer to past events…Here, God is simply portrayed as speaking of his pleasure with Jesus as a whole action or simple event by using the aorist tense/perfective aspect (cf. McKay, 27) rather than as a process (imperfective aspect). There is no indication in the context that God’s pleasure with Jesus begins at this point, which would require that God also began to be pleased with Jesus at the transfiguration….47

Note the authors’ last sentence above; similar words were spoken by the Father at the Transfiguration (Mat 17:5, II Peter 1:17; though cf. Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35). We wouldn’t think the Father began to be pleased at baptism, and then began again to be pleased at the Transfiguration. So, did the Father begin to be pleased with the Son at baptism and continue to be pleased on up through to the Transfiguration, or perhaps even for the rest of His earthly ministry?  Or, was the Father pleased the 30 years preceding, on up to, and including baptism and the Transfiguration? Without belaboring any further, it’s clear to see that in this case we cannot definitively pinpoint temporal reference.  This illustrates the difficulty of translating an aspect-based language such as Koine Greek to a time-based language such as English. As Porter observes, “The focus upon finding a specific temporal reference in the realm of past, present or future often encumbers discussion of Greek tense-forms.”48

With this in mind, Porter argues that, with no specific temporal deictic indicators in the context to temporally anchor the Father’s assessment of the Son, the usage here is timeless,49 defined as “not restricted to any temporal sphere of reference”, with timeless also including such things as mathematical truths (e.g., 1 + 1 equals 2).50 Porter makes a distinction between “timeless” and “omnitemporal” (Porter’s term, which means “all time” – past, present and future – with the term encompassing yet refining what is usually termed “gnomic” in most grammars).51  The former (timeless) cannot be placed on a time-line because it pertains to “a statement that is not deictically limited,” with this perhaps exemplifying “the essentially non-temporal semantic character of the verb itself.”52 The latter (omnitemporal) is something that is always occurring or recurring: it is occurring, has always been occurring, and will continue to be occurring temporally.53

Perhaps a handy way to differentiate between the two is with the shorthand “not fixed to the time-line” for timeless, as compared to “always on the time-line” for omnitemporal.  A timeless truth or event/situation does not fit on a particular place on the time-line as the time of action is either: (1) irrelevant, or (2) not specified, not determinable by the context. An omnitemporal event/situation is always occurring/recurring, and hence, always on the time-line.

The Apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah (40:6-8) in his first epistle, thus providing an example of the aorist tense-form used for an omnitemporal action. Following is the latter part of 1 Peter 1:24 (cf. James 1:11):54

ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν
dry up    the grass and the flower falls
the grass dries up and the flower falls (off)         

Again, this is the summary, complete (not completed), or remote perspective. The processes of nature are continually recurring, and have always been occurring since creation (or, at least since the Fall in the Garden), so these are on the time-line, or at least recurring at intervals on the time-line.

The only temporal reference we’ve not yet covered for the aorist tense-form is present time (though, of course, omnitemporal actions necessarily include present time, and timeless actions may). We’ll list just a few examples: Luke 8:52 (she is not dead but sleeping); 1 Corinthians 4:18 (some are arrogant/puffed up); 2 Corinthians 5:13 (if we are out of our minds).55

All the preceding examples displaying the various temporal references used of the aorist tense-term aptly illustrate that the verb itself does not encode time. It is the context that is the determining factor.

The next installment, part 3, covers the imperfective aspect.


22   To be more technical: “Synthetic verbal aspect [is] a morphologically-based semantic category which grammaticalizes the author/speaker’s reasoned subjective choice of conception of a process” (Porter, VAGNT, pp xi, 1). Or: “Greek verbal aspect is a synthetic semantic category (realized in the forms of verbs) used of meaningful oppositions in a network of tense systems to grammaticalize the author’s reasoned subjective choice of a process” (Porter, VAGNT, p 88).

This is excepting the future and future perfect tense-forms, anomalies in the Koine Greek aspectual system, which are “not fully aspectual,” or “aspectually vague,” encoding “+expectation,” according to Porter (Porter, VAGNT, p 403-439; cf. Porter, Idioms, pp 43-44). Contra Campbell (Verbal Aspect, pp 127-160, esp. 139-151; Basics, pp 39, 83-102) who claims the future encodes perfective aspect. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the future tense-form at any length.

Other exceptions include some specific verbs, such as all -mi verbs, which are “aspectually vague” because there is not a full range of tense-forms, and hence aspects, from which to choose (Porter, VAGNT, p 442-447; cf. Porter, Idioms, pp 24-25). Porter helpfully distinguishes between words which are ambiguous, having more than one meaning, determined by context (the particle δὲ (de) being a good example of one that “it is possible for one interpretation to be true simultaneous with, or to the exclusion of others” (VAGNT, p 442)) , as compared to those which are vague: “Essentially, if an item realizes or is capable of realizing more than one set of meaning choices, i.e. more than one selection expression from a network, then it is ambiguous, if not, then any doubts about its interpretation may be put down to vagueness” (VAGNT, pp 442ff). In periphrastic constructions the form of εἰμί (eimi – be, exist) expresses mood, number, and person, while it is the participle that encodes verbal aspect and voice (Idioms, pp 25, 45-49; VAGNT, pp 440-486).

23   Porter, VAGNT, pp 15-16; cf. Porter, “In Defense of Verbal Aspect”, p 37 n 54. While aspect is the semantic value of the verb’s morphological form, pragmatics are derived from the overall context. Cf. Campbell, Basics, pp 22-25. The beginning point for Aktionsart – which comes after determining aspect – is lexis (the verb’s root), followed by context; time is found by contextual indicators, though sometimes in combination with the verb’s lexical (dictionary) meaning.

24   See Porter, “Linguistic Issues in New Testament Lexicography,” in Porter, Studies in the GNT, p 66.

25   Ibid, pp 66-67.

26   Porter, Idioms, p 21, italics in original. Porter notes elsewhere: “[V]erbal aspect [is] not simply Aktionsart in new clothing, or not simply another way of formulating the same temporal perspective on verbs” (Porter, “In Defense of Verbal Aspect,” p 37).

27   Since the NT writer has already made a (most likely subconscious) choice of verbal aspect (viewpoint, perspective) from the available choices by the use of a specific morphological form, the exegete should consider why the particular aspect was chosen over other possibilities (cf. Porter, VAGNT, p 13). For example, when a verb with imperfective aspect is placed amongst other verbs of perfective aspect, the imperfective verb stands out in comparison.

However, this necessarily excludes εἰμί, and other “aspectually vague” verbs, since εἰμί is available in neither the aorist (perfective aspect) nor the perfect (stative aspect) tense-form, and therefore provides no aspectual choice for these forms.

28   K. L. McKay, “The Use of the Ancient Greek Perfect Down to the Second Century A.D.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 12-1 (1965), p 4, emphasis added; cf. p 5. Doi: 10.1111/j.2041-5370.1965.tb00014.x.

29   Peter Cotterell & Max Turner, Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989, pp 234-236, 239; Porter, VAGNT, pp 101, 98-101; Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 52-59.

30   Cotterell & Turner, Linguistics, pp 236, 236-240; Porter, VAGNT, pp 98-102; Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 55; Jeffrey T. Reed, “The Cohesiveness of Discourse,” pp 38-40.

31   Picirilli, (“The Meaning of the Tenses,” p 543), suggests changing the perfective and imperfective to, respectively, “wholistic” and “progressive” (he proposes no improvement on the stative), in order to standardize the terms, while simultaneously making their meanings more self-evident to students. While initially this may appear helpful, the terms perfective and imperfective are from the discipline of linguistics (See Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 17), and are applied to other languages that are aspectually-based; so, it seems proper to retain this nomenclature. Decker (“Poor Man’s Porter,” p 29) cites the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (William Bright, ed., 4 vols. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992)) definition of Aspect: [D]esignates the internal temporal organization of the situation described by the verb. The most common possibilities are PERFECTIVE, which indicates that the situation is to be viewed as a bounded whole, and IMPERFECTIVE, which in one way or another looks inside the temporal boundaries of the situation… (4.145).

The stative aspect is not as well accepted in Koine Greek circles, with McKay (though he calls it “perfect aspect”; see McKay New Syntax, pp 27, 31, 49), Porter, and Decker among the few affirming this as a third aspect in NT Greek; contra Campbell, e.g., who rejects stativity as strictly an Aktionsart category (Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 172-173, citing Fanning and others). The perfect tense-form is the subject of much debate; see below.

32   Porter, VAGNT, p 198; Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 106-107; Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 48-53; Campbell, Basics, pp 60-68.

33   In fact, it appears quite possible these terms were imported from the English. It would seem like a good idea to change the terminology; however, these terms are so well entrenched that it would be very difficult at this juncture, for, in a general sense, “[w]e do not care for people messing with our paradigms” (Guthrie, “Boats in the Bay”, p 27).

34   Particularly the so-called “historical present” (HP) in which pragmatics indicates that the present tense-form verb is functioning in past time in narratives. Some, however, construe that these are instead reflecting present time in order to heighten this part of the context (and there are other explanations; cf. Porter Idioms, pp 30-31). This seems to be a case of viewing the Greek through an English lens. An example of English usage follows: I went to the store yesterday. On the way, I hear this loud bang, and immediately feel the front passenger side sink down; so, I get out of my car, and I see that I have a flat tire. This entire event happened yesterday, but in relating the incident, the speaker only uses past tense once to indicate when the event occurred (went…yesterday) in order to set the stage, and then proceeds to heighten the flat tire incident by using the simple present tense-form for all the verbs associated with it. Some assume this is how the NT Greek is using the Greek present tense-form when used in past time contexts, but a proper understanding of, and reading with, verbal aspect instead seems to make better sense of its usage, providing a universal explanation without exceptions. See Porter, VAGNT, pp 189-198; cf. Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 101-104; Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 57-76; Campbell, Basics, pp 43, 66-68; Leung “The Narrative Function and Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present in the Fourth Gospel”, pp 703-720, though the author of the latter apparently inadvertently omitted a portion of a quote from VAGNT, specifically, in footnote 24. Leung wrote the piece in support of Porter’s position, yet her footnote reads, “In a past-time situation, ‘the historic present has either altered or neutralized its verbal aspect’ (Porter, Verbal Aspect 196),” which does not reflect Porter’s position. It should read, “In a past-time situation, ‘there is no compelling reason to believe that the historic present has either altered or neutralized its verbal aspect,’” with the page reference 195-196 instead.

Steven E. Runge’s mostly excellent Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, © 2010 Logos Bible Software), well explains how the HP can signal a change in the narrative (pp 125-142); however, the author confuses semantics (aspect) with pragmatics (time), as evidenced by the following: “I contend that the present [tense-] form is the most viable option for marking prominence in a past-time setting. Think about what it is that makes it stand out; the name associated with it says it all. It is a present verb, normally associated with present time, being used in a past-tense context” (p 130, emphasis added). As asserted above, the (unfortunately named) present tense-form encodes imperfective aspect, which does not include temporal reference at all, as time is determined by context (pragmatics), though it is many times reflecting present time in the various contexts. However, it’s the fact that it is imperfective in aspect that makes it stand out amongst perfective (aorist) verbs – not that it is ‘supposed’ to signal present time.

Even more concerning is the summary at the end of the book: “Historical Present: Discourse Principle: Marked usage: mismatch of verbal aspect (imperfective aspect verb for perfective action) [?!; cf. pp 128-129], mismatch of temporal association (imperfect associated with past time, present with nonpast)” (p 386, italics in original, other emphasis added, brackets mine). Runge appears to follow Wallace (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996, pp 504-512, 526-532.) here who, in turn, follows Fanning with regard to time being implicit in the tense-forms. (Wallace wrote the Foreword to Runge’s book; however, Wallace does not necessarily agree with all Runge’s material (see p xvi).) See McKay, New Syntax, pp 36-37, for his critique of Fanning in this regard; cf. Porter, “In Defense of Verbal Aspect”, pp 30-32.

35   Porter, VAGNT, pp 90, 90-95, 178-181. Markedness is a linguistics term, which Decker defines in “Poor Man’s Porter” (p 29), using the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics: the concept by which a particular quality is regarded as neutral or expected, i.e., ‘unmarked’, whereas an alternative, more unusual quality is considered ‘marked’ (2:390). In English, it is the present tense-form which is the least heavily marked, the default (see Porter, VAGNT, p 222; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 20, n 1), illustrating yet another possible place for confusion between the languages.

36   Porter, Idioms, p 35.

37   Porter, VAGNT, pp 102-108; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 13; cf. Campbell, Basics, pp 38-39.

38   Porter, VAGNT, pp 225-230; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” pp 6-8.

39   Porter, VAGNT, pp 232-233; cf. Decker, “Poor Man’s Porter,” pp 6-8.

40   This example is taken from Campbell, Basics, p 35, though the editor there neglects to use elision at the end of ἀλλὰ (deleting {eliding} the final vowel {ὰ}, replacing it with an apostrophe {‘}, because the next word begins with a vowel also). Translation is Campbell’s; the parenthetical clause here is not in parentheses in his book.

41   This example found in Porter, VAGNT, p 233. Translation is Porter’s. Porter lists this verse as one of “a few possible instances” of future referring aorists. While I may not be persuaded with all his other possibilities, I view this one as a certainty, as I argue here; Decker does as well (see note 45).

42   Campbell (Basics, p 89) also identifies this as present temporal reference.

43   George H. Guthrie, “Discourse Analysis” in David Alan Black & David S. Dockery, eds. Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001, p 255.

44   Guthrie (“Discourse Analysis”) states: “In longer discourses…strategic organization of linguistic elements and context are vital for communication. Strategically organized words build phrases and clauses; phrases and clauses form sentences; sentences form paragraphs; and paragraphs are grouped to build articles, research papers, whole speeches, or chapters in a book…[W]ords and sentences only have meaning as they are grouped appropriately and given their places in context” (p 254).

For a more technical look at sentence structure, see Reed, “The Cohesiveness of Discourse”, pp 28-46. Reed here focuses on the “semantic and grammatical symmetry within a text” rather than “thematic structure” (p 30).

45   See Decker, Temporal Deixis, pp 50, 194 n 125; cf. Decker “The Semantic Range of νῦν in the Gospels as Related to Temporal Deixis” (Trinity Journal 16 (Fall 1995), pp 203-204): “The language must refer forward: νῦν here is best understood as ‘is about to be’” (p 204). Cf. D. A. Carson, (The Gospel According to John (PNTC), Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991, pp 482-483, 486-487): “…[I]t can easily be shown that verbs in the aorist tense, even when in the indicative mood, can be past-referring, present-referring, and even future-referring…A consistent aspect-theory of the Greek verb finds little difficulty here” (p 487).

46   Disappointingly, Campbell cites the aorist here as merely present-referring: Campbell, Basics, p 89 for Mark 1:11; Campbell, Verbal Aspect, pp 120-121 for Luke 3:22. This seems deficient, as is argued below.

47   Martin M. Culy, Mikeal C. Parsons, and Joshua J. Stigall, Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010, p 119 (Parentheses in original). The parenthetical remark “cf. McKay, 27” is referencing New Syntax, as we’ve referenced here.

47   Porter, VAGNT, p 128.

49   Porter, VAGNT, pp 126-129, 233-234. Cf. Decker, Temporal Deixis, p 98.

50   Porter, Idioms, p 314. Decker uses this mathematical example in “Poor Man’s Porter,” p 15.

51   Porter, VAGNT, pp 182, 218. Cf. Porter, Idioms, pp 311, 312, 314. Decker prefers not to differentiate between these two, adopting instead “temporally unrestricted” for both (Temporal Deixis, p 30). I much prefer “temporally unrestricted” to “timeless”, as the latter could be misconstrued as eternal – even if a thing is temporally always true, it may not necessarily be eternally true. Perhaps only eternal truths should be considered “timeless”, i.e., they are outside time being in the eternal realm, e.g. “God is Love.”

52   Porter, VAGNT, p 182. I find Porter’s delineation between omnitemporal and timeless a useful distinction.

53   I’m using ‘temporally’ as opposed to ‘eternally’ true, though Porter does not appear to make this distinction; see note 51.

54   Both the examples of 1 Peter 1:24 and James 1:11 found in Porter, VAGNT, p 223.

55   These examples found in Porter, VAGNT, pp 227-228.

%d bloggers like this: