Friday, December 24, 2010

Scholars Are Not Always Right (No.2)

     Another misconception found in some Greek grammars, and taught by some
professors of New Testament Greek, is the widely held view that the Greek
aorist "tense" is inherently "one time," or "point," action of short duration. A.T.
Robertson stated, "probably nothing connected with syntax is so imperfectly
understood by the average student as tense." (Robertson's Grammar, page 821)
He also wrote, "Aktionsart ('kind of action') must be clearly understood." (op.cit.
page 823) One grammar states, "The aorist is the prevalent and most important
of the Greek tenses..." (Greek Grammar, page 144, Curtis Vaughn and Virtus

     Even the highly acclaimed Greek Grammar of the New Testament and
Other Early Christian Literature, by Freidrich Blass and Albert Debrunner,
and translated by Robert W. Funk, speaks of "punctiliar" (momentary) in the
aorist stem..." (page 166) The word aorist is derived from aoristos which means
"without limit." So-called one time, instantaneous, or momentary action is not
inherent in the aorist tense (aspect or concept). "It is the indefinite tense...It has no
essential temporal significance...The aorist...simply presents the action as attained."
(A  Manual Grammar of The Greek New Testament, H. E. Dana and Julius R.
Mantey, page 193) The use of aorist summarizes the action of the verb, or
presents it to the hearer or reader as "entirety," "accomplished," or "totality." The
aorist can be used to refer to a single momentary action, but that is determined by
the context, not the by inherent meaning of the aorist stem. "...The aorist can also be
used of an act which is not point." (Grammar, Robertson, page 832) "No matter how
long the action, it must be represented by the aorist when it is summed up." (Syntax 
of Classical Greek, B. L. Gildersleeve, page 105) James H. Moulton says the aorist
"describes the action as a single whole without regarding the time taken in its
accomplishment." (Grammar of New Testament Greek, pages 128,186.  
Introduction To The Study of New Testament Greek, page 190) "The aorist,
which denotes completion...need not by any means have been a momentary action,
but may have actually extended over any length of time, provided it is the completion
and the conclusion of it which is emphasized, this being the true force of the aorist."
(Grammar Of The Greek New Testament, Freidrich Blass, page 193)

     How can we determine that these grammarians are correct when they state that
the aorist does not necessarily denote "instantaneous," "momentary," action but that
it is used to summarize or to indicate the completion of the action? By an examination
of the New Testament writings.

     The following are some of the many texts that conclusively demonstrate that the
aorist "tense" often includes action of extended duration. "He dwelt (eskenosen)
among us and we saw (etheasametha) his glory. (John 1:14) Neither the fact that
he "dwelt" or that we "saw" was momentary. The aorists simply summarize the
historical fact. "Nevertheless death reigned (ebasileusen) from Adam to Moses..."
(Rom. 5:14) Death's reign was obviously not momentary or instantaneous if it was
"from Adam to Moses."  "...If she has brought up (eteknotrophesen) children; if
she has shown (exenodochesen)  hospitality; if she has washed (enipsen) the holy
peoples' feet; if she has helped (eperkesen) those who suffer; if she has devoted
herself (epekolouthesen) to doing good in every way..." (1 Tim. 5:10) Paul uses
a series of aorists in order to summarize the kind of life the widow has lived. Surely
no one believes she did these things on a "one time" or "momentary" basis. "Preach
(keruxon) the word; be alert (epistethi) ; convince (elegchon); rebuke (epitimeson);
encourage (parakaleson)..." (2 Tim. 4:2) Did Paul issue this series of aorists
so that they could be discharged on a "one time" or "momentary" basis? Hardly.
"Be sober" (nepsate) , be watchful (gregoresate)." (1 Peter 5:8) Are these
imperatives to be obeyed on a "one time momentary" basis? No, but during the
entirety of one's life. The aorist is used to describe summary aspect.

     Greek grammars are compiled by human beings. They are subject to the biases
weaknesses, and errors that often characterize the literary productions of people.
Their usefulness is sometimes diminished by the theological presuppositions of the
grammarians. Even the linguistic experts approach the study of the ancient writings
with a certain degree of prejudice. Such is virtually unavoidable because a person
is not only conditioned by his environment, but also by what he has been taught.

     We must be cautious in our use of Greek grammars. Always use more than
one grammar when doing research. No single grammarian can possibly know all
the technical details of Greek grammar. Especially beware of grammarians who
hold eccentric perspectives without supporting data.

Copyright 2010

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