Dissertation Summary

“Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect”

Rodney J. Decker, Th.D.


A more detailed digest of the dissertation is available, as is the complete bibliography.


Using the Gospel of Mark as a test corpus, this study examines the aspectual theory of the Greek verb, particularly as related to the issue of temporal reference, proposed by Stanley E. Porter (Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood). It seeks to demonstrate that this approach is an adequate and consistent explanation of the temporal reference system of the koine Greek used in Mark’s Gospel.

The dissertation traces verbal aspect theory in its historical development, concentrating on those studies (particularly those by McKay, Fanning, Porter, and Olsen) that have applied modern linguistics to the phenomenon of aspect in the Greek of the New Testament. Definitions and distinctions are given for the terms used to describe the verbal complex, including aspect (and its subcategories, perfective, imperfective, and stative), Aktionsart, and lexis.

Theoretical issues related to the description of time in relation to language are delineated. Porter’s specific temporal thesis, that the Greek verb does not grammaticalize temporal reference in the form of the verb, is examined, along with his theoretical basis for it in contrastive substitution. The objections that have been raised against this proposal are evaluated. The dissertation concludes that none of the objections are unanswerable and that even the few substantive objections have adequate responses. In place of grammaticalized temporal reference, time is indicated largely by deictic factors in the context. Deixis is surveyed and deictic indicators in the New Testament are cataloged.

The Markan data is collated and the temporal indicators are classified and discussed in the categories of nominal (the cases), adverbial, adjectival, prepositional, conjunctive, lexical, composite, particle, and miscellaneous. The verb is also examined, concentrating primarily on the use of the finite forms in various temporal contexts in Mark. It is demonstrated that each of the verb forms functions in a variety of temporal settings; none of the forms are restricted to only one temporal perspective. Some (such as the aorist) have a greater uniformity than others (such as the present), but a nontemporal explanation for the semantic value of the forms appears to be an adequate approach to the verb in Mark. Four key passages are selected from Mark and employed to illustrate the various temporal and aspectual issues presented and to demonstrate how temporal reference is determined in extended narrative text: 2:1-12; 9:2-9; 13; and 14:12-31.

The dissertation concludes that Porter’s aspectual thesis (and the temporal implications of that thesis) provide an adequate model for temporal reference in the koine Greek of Mark’s Gospel. It is an adequate explanation of the pragmatic usage of verb forms, it is internally consistent and coherent, and it provides an objective explanation for temporal reference.