Greenwood professor of hellenistic greek and indo-european philology in the victoria university of manchester tutor in new testament language and literature



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man's home preceded his creation, in the Divine plan.

Rackham's other "decisive" exx. are 2422, in which ei@paj

and diataca

ba36, where the constative e]ch

the Exodus as a whole. Rackham's object is to justify

the reading of xBHLP al in 1225, by translating "they

returned to J. and fulfilled their ministry and took with

them John." Now "returned . . . in fulfilment . . ." is a

good coincident aorist and quite admissible. But to take

sunparalabo

of subsequent action, and this I must maintain has not yet

been paralleled either in the NT or outside. Hort's conjecture

--th>n ei]j ]I. plhrw

best. The alternative is so flatly out of agreement with the

normal use of the aorist participle that the possibility of it

could only introduce serious confusion into the language.

Prof. Ramsay's appeal to Blass will not lie, I think, for any

"subsequent action" use: we have already referred to the

great grammarian's non possumus for Ac 2513, which entirely

bars his assent to any interpretation involving more than

coincident action. All that he says on 2335 is that keleu

= e]ke

134 A GRAMMAR OF NEW TESTAMENT GREEK.

On the whole case, we may safely accept the vigorous state-

meat of Schniedel on Ac 166 (EB ii. 1599): "It has to

be maintained that the participle must contain, if not

something antecedent to 'they went' (dih?lqon), at least

something synchronous with it, in no case a thing subsequent

to it, if all the rules of grammar and all sure understanding

of language are not to be given up."1

Timeless The careful study of the aorist participle

Aorists will show surviving uses of its original time-

less character, besides those we have noted

already. Lk 1018 e]qewn Satana?n . . . e]k tou?

ou]ranou? peso

ou]k e]k tw?nd ] e]gw> [sc. perga

dissou>j tura2

or Homer Il. 284 (also, however, with aorist in the main verb),

ei] kei?noFi

belongs to a category of which many exx. are given by

Goodwin MT § 148, in which the sense of past time does

not appear: cf Monro HG 212, 401. "I watched him fall"

will be the meaning, the aorist being constative: pi

"falling (cf Vulg. cadentem) would have been much weaker,

suggesting the possibility of recovery. The triumphant

e@pesen e@pesen of Rev 182 (cf next page) is the same action.

We need not stay to show the timelessness of the aorist in

the imperative, subjunctive and infinitive: there never was

any time connotation except when in reported speech an

optative or infinitive aorist took the place of an indicative.

Cases where an aorist indicative denotes present time, or even

future, demand some attention. ]Eblh6 is

paralleled by the well-known classical idiom seen in Euripides


Alc. 386, a]pwlome."3a Similarly in e]ce21, English again demands the

perfect, "he has gone out of his mind." Jannaris HG § 1855

notes that this idiom survives in MGr. In Rom 1423 an

analogous use of the perfect may be seen. The difficult

aorist of Mk 111 and parallels, e]n soi> eu]do

thee I have set the seal of my approval": literally "I set,”
1 Ac 2114 may be rendered "we ceased, with the words . . ."

2 Suggested by my friend Mr H. Bisseker.

3 See Giles, Manual2 499. [a See p. 247.

THE VERB: TENSES AND MODES OF ACTION. 135


at a time which is not defined. None of these exx. are

really in present time, for they only seem to be so through

a difference in idiom between Greek and English. We have

probably to do here with one of the most ancient uses of

the aorist--the ordinary use in Sanskrit—expressing what has

just happened:a cf. Mk 166, Lk 716 1420 1532 2434, Jn 1142

1219 131 (h#lqen) 1331 2110, Rev 148 182, etc., and see p. 140.1

In two other uses we employ the present, the "epistolary"

(as Eph 622), and the so-called "gnomic" aorist. Goodwin

(MT § 155) observes that the gnomic aorist and perfect

"give a more vivid statement of general truths, by employ-

ing a distinct case or several distinct cases in the past to

represent (as it were) all possible cases, and implying that

what has occurred is likely to occur again under similar

circumstances." The present is much commoner than the

aorist,2 which generally (Goodwin § 157) refers to "a

single or a sudden occurrence, while the present (as usual)

implies duration." The gnomic aorist survives in MGr

(Jannaris HG § 185 2), and need not have been denied by

Winer for Jas 111 and 1 Pet 124: see Hort's note on the

latter. Jas 124 combines aor. and perf. in a simile, reminding

us of the closely allied Homeric aorist in similes.


English This is not, however, the only usage in

Rendering which the Greek has to be rendered in English

of Aorist idiom by what we call our Perfect Tense.

Indicative. Our English Past--historically a syncretic

tense, mostly built on the Perfect—is essentially a definite

tense, connoting always some point or period of time at which

the action occurred. But in Greek this is not necessarily

involved at all. Idiomatically we use the past in pure narra-

tive, where the framework of the story implies the continuous

dating of the events; and though the Greek aorist has not this

implication, we may regard the tenses as equivalent in practice.

But outside narrative we use the periphrastic have tense as an
1 In classical Greek we may find an aorist of this kind used with a sequence

which would naturally suggest a foregoing perfect, as Euripides, Medea, 213 f.:

e]ch?lqon do
2 In the important article quoted below (p. 247, additional note upon p. 115),

Prof. Thumb observes that the perfectivising preposition enabled a present or

imperfect to replace the gnomic aorist in similes. [a See p. 217,

136 A GRAMMAR OF NEW TESTAMENT GREEK.

indefinite past; and it thus becomes the inevitable representa-

tive of the Greek aorist when no time is clearly designed: e.g

1 Co 156 tine>j e]koimh

and so "have fallen asleep." This has two unfortunate

results. We have to decide for ourselves whether a Greek

aorist refers to definite or indefinite time—often no easy

task. And we have to recognise that our own perfect is

ambiguous: it is not only the genuine Perfect, describing action

in the past with continuance into present time, but also the

simple indefinite Past. As Dr J. A. Robinson says (Gospels,

p. 107), on e@kruyaj and a]peka25: "If we

render, 'Thou didst hide . . . Thou didst reveal,' . . . our

minds are set to search for some specially appropriate

moment to which reference may be made. The familiar

rendering, 'Thou hast hid . . . Thou hast revealed,' expresses

the sense of the Greek far more closely, though we are using

what we call a 'perfect.' The fact needs to be recognised

that our simple past and our perfect tense do not exactly

coincide in meaning with the Greek aorist and perfect

respectively. The translation of the aorist into English

must be determined partly by the context and partly by

considerations of euphony."1 The use of the English perfect

to render the aorist evidently needs careful guarding, lest the

impression of a true perfect be produced. Take for example

Rom 15. The AV "we have received" decidedly rings as a

perfect: it means "I received originally and still possess."

This lays the emphasis on the wrong element, for Paul

clearly means that when he did receive a gift of grace and a

commission from God, it was through Christ he received it.

This is not an indefinite aorist at all. If a man says to his

friend, "Through you I got a chance in life," we should

never question the idiom: "have got" would convey a

distinct meaning. Among the paraphrasers of Rom, Moffatt

1 This thesis was elaborately worked out by Dr R. F. Weymouth in a

pamphlet, On the Rendering into English of the Greek Aorist and Perfect (1890:

since in 2nd ed.). His posthumous NT in Modern Speech was intended to give

effect to the thesis of the pamphlet. Weymouth's argument is damaged by

some not very wise language about the RV; but in this one point it may

be admitted that the Revisers' principles were (very rarely) applied in rather

too rigid a manner. See however pp. 137 ff.

THE VERB: TENSES AND MODES OF ACTION. 137

and the Twentieth Century NT rightly give the past tense

here with the RV: Rutherford, Way and Weymouth less

accurately give the perfect. The limitations of our idiom

are evident in the contrasted tenses of Mk 166 and 1 Co

154. ]Hge

astounding news of what had just happened—see above on

this use of the aorist. ]Egh

possible emphasis the abiding results of the event, which supply

the main thought of the whole passage. But "He is risen"

is the only possible translation for the former; while in the

latter, since a definite time is named, our usage rather rebels

against the perfect which the sense so strongly demands.

We must either sacrifice this central thought with the AV

and the free translators, who had a chance that was denied

to the literal versions, or we must frankly venture on

"translation English" with the RV: to fit our idiom we might

detach the note of time and say "that he hath been raised

—raised on the third day, according to the scriptures."


AV and RV The subject of the rendering of the

in Mt. Greek aorist is so important that no apology

is needed for an extended enquiry. We will

examine the usage of AV and RV in Mt, which will serve

as a typical book. If my count is right, there are 65

indicative aorists in Mt which are rendered by both AV and

RV alike with the English perfect,1 or in a few cases the

present; while in 41 the AV is deserted by the RV for the

simple past.2 These figures alone are enough to dispose

of any wholesale criticism. In 11 of the 41 Weymouth

himself uses the past in his free translation. His criticism

therefore touches between a quarter and a third of the
1 Including 612, where the AV would certainly have translated a]fh

the RV has done. In a private memorial which was sent to the Revisers by an

unnamed colleague, before their final revision, it is stated that out of nearly

200 places in the Gospels where the aorist was rendered by the English perfect,

the Revisers had only followed the AV in 66. The figures above for Mt show

that the appeal took effect; but in Jn 17, which is specially named, the 21 exx.

remain in the published text. That the majority were right there, I cannot

doubt: the English perfect in that chapter obscures a special feature of the

great prayer, the tone of detachment with which the Lord contemplates His

earthly life as a period lying in the past.


2 One passage, 1811, is only in RVmg.

138 A GRAMMAR OF NEW TESTAMENT GREEK.

passages which come under our notice in Mt. From which

we may fairly infer that the Revisers' English was, after

all, not quite as black as it was painted. In examining the

material, we will assume in the first instance that the aorist

is rightly rendered by our perfect (or present) in all the

places where AV and RV agree. (This is only assumed for

the sake of argument, as will be seen below.) Our first task

then is with the 41 passages in which there is a difference.

Of these Weymouth's own translation justifies 215 (a very

definite aor.—see Hos 111) 531. 33. 38. 43 (here AV was misled

by its wrong translation of toi?j a]rxai

vv. 21. 27) 1034f. (AV came in one of the three) 1712 2142

2540 We may further deduct 2116 as justified by the AV

in v. 42, and 2524. 26 as on all fours with the past "I sowed."

It remains to discuss the legitimacy of the English past in

the rest of the exx. Our test shall be sought in idiomatic

sentences, constructed so as to carry the same grammatical

conditions: they are purposely assimilated to the colloquial

idiom, and are therefore generally made parallel in grammar

only to the passages they illustrate. In each case the pre-

terite tacitly implies a definite occasion; and the parallel

will show that this implication is at least a natural under-

standing of the Greek. Where the perfect is equally idiomatic,

we may infer that the Greek is indeterminate. Taking them

as they come, 22 ei@domen seems to me clearly definite: "I saw

the news in the paper and came off at once." 37 u[ope

"has warned" may be justified, but "Who told you that?"

is presumably English. We may put together 517 1034f.

(h#lqon) 1524 (a]pesta

Weymouth use the past in one of these passages, and they

are all on the same footing. "I came for business, not

for pleasure" is good enough English, even if "have come"

is likewise correct and not very different. Or compare

Shakspere's

"Why came I hither but for that intent?"

In 722 (e]profhteu

would be unobjectionable, but the past is quite idiomatic:

cf such a sentence as "Now then—didn't I make speeches

all over the country? Didn't I subscribe liberally to the

THE VERB: TENSES AND MODES OF ACTION. 139
party funds?" 108 (e]la

You paid nothing: you get nothing." 1117 (hu]li

etc.): cf "There's no pleasing you. I made small talk, and

you were bored: I gave you a lecture, and you went to

sleep." 1125 (a]pe

"I am very glad you kept me in the dark, and told my

friend." 1317 (e]pequ

justification is needed than Watts's

"How blessed are our ears

That hear this joyful sound,

Which kings and prophets waited for,

And sought, but never found."

1344 (e@kruye): the aorist is almost gnomic, like Jas 124, but

it would be wrong to obliterate the difference between the

aorist and the present (historic) which follows.1 1513 e]fu<-

teusen): cf "Every movement which you didn't start is

wrong." 167 (e]la

with me." 1912 (eu]nou

exception. Unless Origen's exegesis was right, the third

verb does not refer to a single event like the other two,

except so far as may concern a moment of renunciation in

the past: the perfect therefore would perhaps be less mis-

leading, despite apparent inconsistency. 2120 (e]chra

"How on earth did that happen?" (AV wrongly joins pw?j

and paraxrh?ma.) 2142 (e]genh

ambiguous: if it is the aorist of an event just completed,

the AV is right, but this may well be pure narrative. 2815

(diefhmi

leave the verb to be a narrative aorist. Finally 2820 (e]neti-

la

everything I told you." In all these passages then, with one

possible exception, the simple past is proved to be entirely

idiomatic; and if this is allowed, we may freely concede the

perfect as permissible in several cases, and occasionally

perhaps preferable.

Let us go back for a moment to our lists for Mt, to

1 For this idiom see p. 121 n. above. Wellhausen, on Mk 728 (Einl. 16),

makes it an Aramaism. In view of the MGr usage, we can only accept this

with the proviso that it be counted good vernacular Greek as well.

140 A GRAMMAR OF NEW TESTAMENT GREEK.

draw some inferences as to the meaning of the aorist where

simple narrative, and the reference to a specific time, are

mostly excluded. Parenthetically, we might strike out a few

of the passages in which AV and RV agree on the English

perfect. 1328 is not indefinite: "You did that" is quite as

correct as "You have done it," and seems to me more suitable

where the emphasis is to lie on the subject. In 196 sune

carries the thought immediately and obviously to the wedding

day: "those whom God joined together" is on this view

preferable. Similarly a]fh27. 29 calls up

unmistakably the day of the sacrifice. In 207 we cannot

object to rendering "has hired"; but it may be observed

that "nobody asked you" is not exactly a Graecism. And

surely h!marton paradou4) is definite enough—"I sinned

when I betrayed"? We may end this section by putting

together the exx. of two important categories. Under the

head of "things just happened " come 918 e]teleu

a@rti); 528 e]moi15 parh?lqen and 1712 h#lqe (with

h@dh); 612 a]fh28 e@fqasen, 142 etc. h]ge17 a]pe-

ka15 e]ke12 e]poi




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