Dissertation Digest

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

Th.D. dissertation, Central Baptist Seminary (Minneapolis), 1998

Rodney J. Decker

Copyright 1998 by Rodney J. Decker. All rights reserved.


One-page abstract is also available. The following provides only enough of the dissertation to provide some indication of its scope and conclusions. Most of the introduction is here, along with introductions to each chapter (and occasionally a chapter summary or conclusion), the conclusion (given completely), and the bibliography (separate file). It should be obvious where deletions have been made (only a few selected footnotes have been included; they are located at the end of each section). The Greek font is an expensive, proprietary one. Sorry.  I have done a lot of manual editing of this text in an attempt to make it legible on a variety of platforms and browsers, but some little pieces may have slipped by me. The complete text of the final version is available via Inter-Library Loan from the seminary library (the seminary’s new address as of Feb. 1998 is: 900 Forrestview Ln., Plymouth, MN 55441-5934).



(Pagination of the original has been left intact.)

List of Figures iv

Abbreviations vi

Introduction 1


1. Verbal Aspect Theory 13

Traditional Approaches to Verbal Aspect 13

Contemporary Discussions of Verbal Aspect 24

2. Temporal Considerations 64

Time in Relation to Verbal Aspect 64

Temporal Deixis in Relation to Verbal Aspect 117

3. Deictic Indicators in Mark 133

Nominal Indicators 134

Adverbial Indicators 140

Prepositional Indicators 165

Conjunctive Indicators 177

Lexical Indicators 184

Other Deictic Indicators 193

4. Temporal Elements of the Verb in Mark 200

Finite Verb Forms in Mark 200

Non-Finite Verb Forms in Mark 253

The Oblique Moods in Mark 268

5. Temporal Expression in the Text of Mark 271

Pragmatics and Temporal Implicature 271

Sample Passages from Mark 276

Excursus: oida and ginwvskw 300

Temporal Reference of the Parables in Mark 302

Conclusion 313

Appendix 324

Bibliography 420


The past decade has seen the publication of significant research in Greek grammar, particularly in relation to the verbal system. Some of this work has challenged long-standing traditional views of the language of the New Testament. Although seemingly innovative (and to some, unorthodox), the key proposals build on the foundation of twentieth-century linguistics across a wide range of languages. These ideas are not idiosyncratic if judged by contemporary linguistic standards and theory, though they often appear such to biblical scholars unacquainted with work outside their field. [1] The implications of these theoretical conceptions of grammar are far-reaching, particularly for exegesis of the New Testament text. [2]

Purpose of the Study

In recent years attention has been addressed to the subject of verbal aspect. Two major studies in particular have caught the attention of New Testament scholars. This work, done by Buist M. Fanning and Stanley E. Porter, proposes that verbal aspect has been misunderstood and inadequately appreciated in previous work, often being confused with Aktionsart (or mode d’action). Porter’s work is the most extensive and has generated the

most debate. [3] His work has been described as “breath-taking,” “ground-breaking,” “epoch-making,” “revolutionary,” “eine Fundgrube und ein Nachschlagewerk,” “meticulously researched,” “a veritable gold mine of linguistic information,” and a “major scholarly contribution to NT studies.” [4] One of Porter’s major arguments is that Greek does not grammaticalize time in the form of the verb, but relies on deictic indicators to signal temporal relationships. [5] The significant semantic factor connected with the form of the verb is not time but aspect. This dissertation is intended to evaluate his proposal in light of traditional explanations of tense as well as other recent proposals in the area of verbal aspect and temporal reference. This evaluation will apply Porter’s theory to the Gospel of Mark and assess the results.


Reason for the Study

The implications of adopting Porter’s approach to aspect are significant and far-reaching in light of the fact that it affects the exegesis of the text. Traditional approaches to exegesis often assume a great deal of significance regarding the “tenses” of the verb. If this significance has been misunderstood (time and Aktionsart rather than aspect) or over-exegeted, the result is a mishandling of the text. If Porter is correct, revisions of some traditional exegesis may be in order. This is especially true for arguments based on the assumed temporal reference of the verb forms. On the other hand, if Porter is incorrect, it is equally important to demonstrate that, so as to avoid converse errors.

Thus far, the discussion of aspect theory in relation to the Greek of the NT has been carried out largely at the theoretical level. Although Porter’s treatment of aspect is massively supported with illustrations drawn from both biblical and extra-biblical Greek, there have been very few attempts to systematically examine his aspect theory in an extended section of NT text. This need has been noted by several NT scholars. This study is therefore designed to test a major part of Porter’s aspect theory–specifically, his argument regarding the grammaticalization of time–throughout an extended narrative corpus. The focus is directed towards finite indicative verbs and non-finite forms with only passing note of the oblique forms.


Method of the Study

This dissertation is written primarily from the perspective of exegetical NT study and is not a specialized study in linguistics, philology, pedagogy, or translation. Although the discussions of verbal aspect and temporal reference from the field of linguistics have been included as much as has been deemed feasible, the writer is not trained in linguistics and treads such ground with full realization that he is a visitor in the territory. The linguistic theory has been argued by Porter and need not be duplicated here since the purpose is to apply and test the theory, not to replace it. How specific passages should be translated in light of aspect theory will not be a major focus.

As an exegetical study, the dissertation examines grammatical, syntactical, and discourse features of the text that impinge on temporal considerations. Using Porter’s theory as the conceptual foundation, individual components are evaluated exegetically to demonstrate how temporal relationships are established by the writer and understood by the reader. Although some linguistic methods (such as contrastive substitution or cancelability) may be invoked at appropriate points, the present study is not intended to be a study in linguistic method.

Selected notes from the Introduction

[1]A. Robertson anticipated such developments in his comment that “it is not possible then to write the final grammar of Greek either ancient or modern” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 32). He explains that this is because we are continually learning more about ancient Greek. Linguistic study contemporary with and subsequent to Robertson has continued to expand such knowledge. Aspect theory, with which this dissertation is concerned, is one part of that expansion. As S. Porter has observed, “most ancient languages are greatly understudied, since the results of ‘modern’ linguistic study have not yet been applied to them. It is here that much resistance has been found to appropriating the best insights of recent linguistics. Just because the languages are called ancient does not mean that the methods for studying them must be ancient also” (Studies in the Greek New Testament, SBG, vol. 6, 18).

[2]For summaries of some of this work and its implications, see: W. Bodine, “The Study of Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew,” in Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, ed. W. Bodine, 1-5; P. Cotterell and M. Turner,Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation; M. Turner, “Modern Linguistics and the New Testament,” in Hearing the New Testament, ed. J. Green, 146-74; E. Nida, “Implications of Contemporary Linguistics for Biblical Scholarship,” JBL 91 (1972): 73-89; S. Porter, “Greek Language and Linguistics,” ExpTim 103 (1991-92): 202-8; idem, “Studying Ancient Languages from a Modern Linguistic Perspective: Essential Terms and Terminology,” FNT 2 (1989): 147-72; S. Porter and J. Reed, “Greek Grammar Since BDF: A Retrospective and Prospective Analysis,” FNT 4 (1991): 143-64; D. Schmidt, “The Study of Hellenistic Greek Grammar in the Light of Contemporary Linguistics,” in PNT, 27-38; and M. Silva, God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics, FCI, vol. 4.

[3]Formal reviews and articles that evaluate Porter’s work include: Carson, “Introduction,” 18-25; B. Fanning, “Approaches to Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek: Issues in Definition and Method,” inBiblical Greek Language and Linguistics, ed. S. Porter and D. Carson, 46-62; F. Gignac, review of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, by S. Porter, CBQ 54 (1992): 366-7; H. Guite, review of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, by S. Porter, ExpTim 101 (1989): 346-7; T. Hauff, “An Assessment and Application of the Systemic Linguistic Model of Verbal Aspect in the New Testament Proposed by Stanley E. Porter” (Th.M. thesis, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1996); D. Kuske, review of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, by S. Porter, WiscLuthQtrly 91 (1994): 77-8; S. Maclure, review of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, by S. Porter, Churchman 105 (1991): 74-6; J. Mateos, recensi? de: Biblical Language and Linguistics [sic], por S. Porter Y D. A. Carson (eds.), Neot 8 (1994): 215-22; idem, recensi? de Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, por S. Porter, FNT 4 (1991): 73-82; K. L. McKay, A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, SBG, vol. 5, 35-8; D. Schmidt, review of Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, by B. Fanning and Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, by S. Porter, JBL 111 (1992): 714-8; idem, “Verbal Aspect in Greek: Two Approaches,” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics, ed. S. Porter and D. Carson, 63-73; M. Silva, “A Response to Fanning and Porter on Verbal Aspect,” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics, ed. S. Porter and D. Carson, 74-82; idem, review of Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, by B. Fanning and Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, by S. Porter, WTJ 54 (1992): 179-83; and R. Young, review of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, by S. Porter, JETS 37 (1994): 145-7.

[4]Silva, “Response,” 75; Gignac, review, 367; Young, review, 145, 146; Wei?ngruber, “Verbalaspekt,” 170 (“a storehouse [i.e., of information] and a reference work”); Carson, preface to PVA, ix; J. Voelz, “Present and Aorist Verbal Aspect: A New Proposal,” 4; and M. Turner, “Modern Linguistics,” 174.

[5]In this dissertation reference will be made to verb forms rather than to verb tenses to avoid the (often unconscious) association of temporal reference with the morphological categories of present, aorist, perfect, etc. (Quotations, of course, maintain the terminology of the original.) Voelz has made a similar proposal for the same reason (though his concern is only for the oblique moods): “I would begin by suggesting that we abandon any talk of “tense” in favor of the appellation “stem” when discussing what the various forms of the Greek verb convey. The reason for this is straightforward: the term “tense” brings with it notions of time, so to continue to use this locution when referring to what verbal forms outside the indicative mood convey runs the risk of injecting factors relative to time into the discussion” (“Verbal Aspect,” 3). Carson has observed the same problem, and although he continues to use the term tense, makes it very clear that by doing so he refers only to the morphology of the verb form, not to any temporal meaning (Exegetical Fallacies, 67).

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This chapter traces the historical background of the topic, focusing primarily on twentieth-century explanations of the meaning of tense and of the relationship of tense to temporal reference in biblical Greek. Discussion is limited to the indicative mood. The debate of the past ten years receives greater attention. The overall discussion attempts to be relatively brief since other summaries of aspect theory are available.

[text of chapter omitted; chapter conclusion follows:]

Summary of Verbal Aspect

It is essential to identify and define key terms when describing languages. The differences between languages (not immediately apparent to native speakers who use their own language without conscious grammatical selection) must be evaluated based on a standard set of definitions. The survey of this chapter has reflected a range of definitions for the key terms. There is no consistency within either NT studies or in linguistics in this field. Based on the preceding pages, the following categories, terms, and definitions will be employed in the remainder of this dissertation. Since the dissertation proposes to be an examination of Porter’s theory of aspect, the definition of that term follows his; the definition of Aktionsart, however (which Porter does not treat in any detail), reflects the other studies examined above.

Aspect is the semantic category by which a speaker or writer grammaticalizes a view of the situation by the selection of a particular verb form in the verbal system. [6] This is a grammatical category expressed by the form of the verb. The view is either perfective, imperfective, or stative and is expressed by the aorist, present/imperfect, and perfect/pluperfect forms respectively. Perfective aspect views the situation in summary as a complete event without regard for its progress (or lack thereof). [7] Imperfective aspect views the situation as in progress without regard for its beginning or end. Stative aspect depicts a state of affairs that exists with no reference to any progress and which involves no change. All of these aspects are the speaker’s view of the situation. They are sometimes determined by various factors (lexis, grammatical construction, context, etc.) and other times are the speaker’s reasoned choice of a viewpoint that best expresses the nuance he desires to communicate. The same situation may often be described by two or even three such viewpoints. [8]

Aktionsart is a description of the actional features ascribed to the verbal referent as to the way in which it happens or exists. [9] The Vendler taxonomy as adapted to describe the Aktionsart of Greek verbs in the NT by Fanning and Olsen is probably the best such system developed to date. It is not a grammatical category based on the form of the verb, but is a pragmatic category based on the meaning of the word (lexis) as it is used in a particular context. [10] Appropriate descriptions of these classes include state, activity, accomplishment, climax, or punctual. [11] Classification is on the basis of factors such as dynamicity, durativity, or telicity carried by a combination of lexis and context. [12]

Lexis is not synonymous with Aktionsart. While Aktionsart is a descriptive category for the kind of a situation described, lexis refers to the semantic, denotative value of the word itself. Thus in the statement,ejsqivei meta; tw’n aJmartwlw’n (he was eating with the sinners, Mark 2:16), the lexis of ejsqivei refers to eating (rather than, e.g., running; the context clarifies that the figurative sense of “destroy” is not in view), the aspect is imperfective (present form views it as a process), and the Aktionsart is that of an activity (change, unbounded, durative, thus an action in progress without reaching completion). In this example, note that the aspect and Aktionsart have complementary, overlapping descriptions (both include some element of process). This is expressed differently, however: aspect expresses a view of the process grammatically, Aktionsart expresses it lexically and contextually.

The web of semantic factors comprised by aspect, lexis, and Aktionsart, along with other grammatical and contextual factors (adjuncts, deixis, etc.) is referred to in this dissertation as the verbal complex. [13]Thus a statement that “the meaning of the verbal complex of x…” is to be understood as an inclusive, pragmatic statement (usually employed at the level of clause) summarizing the total semantic value of the verb and its adjuncts in a particular context, including aspect, lexis, Aktionsart, and other contextual factors. The categories often used in traditional grammars (such as tendential, gnomic, or iterative) are not appropriate to either aspect or Aktionsart in the sense defined above. They are relevant as descriptions of the verbal complex, but not of specific verbs or specific forms of verbs. This approach, illustrated in figure 9, seeks to balance formal and contextual contributions, form and function, semantics and pragmatics.

Figure 9 from diss. p. 63

Selected notes from ch. 1

[6]Situation is used here in the sense that Bache defines: “a cover term for all sorts of states, events, actions, processes, activities, etc. In other words, a situation is expressed by a finite predicator plus the sentence functions associated with it (subject, objects, complements and adverbials)” (Aspect, Tense and Action, 125).

[7]Note that the definition uses complete, not completed. To use completed implies a time-based conception of the situation. Complete, by contrast, simply refers to the entire situation with no comment as to whether or not it has been completed. Many writers confuse or ignore this distinction (e.g., W. Klein, Time in Language, GL, 28 and Olsen, “Model,” 7).

[8]The definition of aspect is based on Porter’s Idioms, 21-2, with only slight modifications suggested by the discussions of Fanning, Wallace, and Baugh. The term reasoned choice does not intend that the speaker makes a deliberate, conscious choice for which he could give a list of reasons. Rather it emphasizes the fact that the choices made by a speaker, though often automatic and subconscious, are reasonable choices that are part of a consistent network of choices made available in his language and they therefore carry semantic value (see Brook, “Authorial Choice,” 9-10). This choice describes a “conceptual reality” in that “the situations expressed are projected situations, i.e., still real- or possible-world situations but real-or possible-world situations as conceived by the locutionary agent and his addressees” (Bache, Aspect, Tense and Action, 55). This is a subjective conception but not solipsistic due to the innate human ability of conceptualization and classification that is shared by all people (despite some elements of cultural difference). Bache explains this as a human genetic endowment (ibid., 57). From a biblical perspective, man’s creation as the image of God (which probably includes his language capacity as part of a created rational nature) can account for this ability to communicate intelligibly despite the subjective element involved.

[9]This definition draws on those proposed by Bache, Fanning, and Binnick (see above). It is not used with the same meaning that it has in the standard, NT reference grammars, although the definition here may be viewed as a logical, contiguous development from the traditional use as more recent scholars have refined the terminology. Fanning also refers to it as “procedural character” (FVA, 41); Binnick calls it “Aristotelian aspect” (Time and the Verb, 170-3, 457-8); Fleischman’s choice is “situation type” (Tense and Narrativity, 20-2); and Bache has recently proposed that it be referred to simply as “action” (Aspect, Tense and Action, 12).

[10]That the same word may have different Aktionsart values depending on contextual adjuncts suggests that it is not a semantic, word-level category but is a pragmatic, clause-level feature (see Binnick, Time and the Verb, 457-8 and Fleischman, Tense, 22).

[11]These are Fanning’s categories (see fig. 4, p. 45). If Olsen’s were used, the list would be: state, activity, accomplishment, achievement, semelfactive, and stage-level state. It is not the purpose of this dissertation to resolve the terminology in this area. Part of the question raised by these two taxonomies is whether an equipollent (Fanning) or privative (Olsen) analysis should be used.

[12]These three tests of the “situation taxonomy” are those proposed by Olsen, “Model,” 31-45. For Fanning’s rules, see FVA, 128-63.

[13]”Verbal complex” is used as a descriptive phrase and is not intended to coin a new technical term. It is what Klein refers to as “the inherent lexical content of full VPs [= verb phrases]” (Time in Language,31). Other terms have been used for this category, but there has been no agreement, at least in the NT field. Olsen uses aspect as the broad term and then differentiates grammatical aspect and lexical aspect (“Model,” 9-12), but this does not adequately reflect the contextual factors. The only solution here would be to define aspect as a discourse level phenomenon rather than a grammatical one (Hopper has suggested this: “Aspect Between Discourse and Grammar,” in Tense-Aspect, ed. P. Hopper, 5). Another alternative is proposed by Wallace who employs the term Aktionsart as the umbrella term (GGBB, 499), but this is decidedly non-standard terminology and makes aspect part of Aktionsart rather than distinguishing the two categories.

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This chapter examines the theoretical issues related specifically to Porter’s position regarding the grammaticalization of time (or lack thereof) by the Greek verb. The first part of the chapter addresses the broader issues of time and tense. Porter’s temporal thesis (that the Greek verb does not grammaticalize time) is then presented in some detail. His arguments are given along with objections from his critics. Representative data from the NT is included to illustrate the theory. It is argued that a plausible case can be made for Porter’s thesis, at least on a theoretical basis, using selected examples to demonstrate the approach. The chapter then addresses the narrower topic of temporal deixis: the specific ways in which time is indicated in Greek texts. The discussion begins with the field of discourse analysis and then turns to the more specific sub-disciplines of pragmatics and deixis. The various deictical indicators of time are surveyed.

The deictic [14] categories of past, present, and future seem both natural and universal. [15] The perspective employed in such references to temporal location is usually assumed to be that of the speaker (called absolute time). Other temporal relationships, however, do not fit these categories. Such references may be designated as temporally unrestricted. [16] Some of these statements are true of both past, present, and future and could thus be called omnitemporal (e.g., aujtomavth hJ gh’ karpoforei’, the soil produces grain by itself, Mark 4:28). Other statements have no relationship to time at all and could be classified as timeless (e.g., kuvriov” ejstin oJ uiJo;” tou’ ajnqrwvpou, the Son of Man is Lord, Mark 2:28–so long as this is not understood as an incarnational statement). [17]

As it is used in this dissertation, temporally unrestricted refers to references in which the time is irrelevant (technically timeless), and also to references in which the specific time is irrelevant (technicallyomnitemporal). [18] Although timeless and omnitemporal can sometimes be distinguished along the lines suggested above, frequently it is very difficult to discriminate so finely. The difference often hinges on how one explains the reference rather than on any authorially-intended nuance…

Chapter conclusion:

Evaluation of the Evidence

Is Porter right? Direct proof for such a proposal is not possible due to the nature of the theory. Traditional views are subject to the same limitation. Since there is no pou sto for a deductive argument, the theory can only be examined empirically for internal consistency and (especially) for conformity to the data available. A negative approach might also be considered: can the theory be falsified? Are there examples that are not explainable on the basis of the theory? which contradict the theory? As McKay suggests, “whereas any of a number of different theories may adequately explain a reasonable proportion, or even a majority, of the examples under consideration, the correct theory is likely to be the one which leaves the fewest anomalies.”

Porter suggests three criteria for such a theory: it must be inclusive (i.e., must incorporate the largest quantity of data), rational (i.e., capable of analysis and evaluation), and productive (i.e., it must enable a basis for further work). It is at the level of inclusivity that the traditional views prove most vulnerable. The “tenses” have traditionally been defined on the basis of their most frequent use, leaving many “anomalies” that must be treated as exceptions. The power of Porter’s approach is that there are far fewer such problems. It handles the data more adequately than previous treatments. It appears, then, that a plausible case can be made for Porter’s thesis, at least on a theoretical basis, using selected examples to demonstrate the approach. The following chapters endeavor to demonstrate that the theory does work when examined empirically in an extended passage of narrative text.

Selected notes from ch. 2

[14]The terminology of this section generally follows B. Comrie (Aspect, 2-6) and J. Lyons (Semantics, 2:636-7, 677-82). Deixis may be defined as “the location and identification of persons, objects, events, processes and activities being talked about, or referred to, in relation to the spatiotemporal context created and sustained by the act of utterance and the participation in it, typically, of a single speaker and at least one addressee” (ibid., 637).

[15]See, e.g., the standard categories used by Hewson, Tense, 5-6. Philosophers who have addressed this question, however, have shown that this seemingly natural system is not as simple as first appears (see, e.g., Smart, “Time,” 126-34). Linguists, likewise, have pointed out that what seems so natural from a Western perspective is not at all universal. There are several different systems for describing time besides past, present, and future (categories which date at least to the ancient Greeks). These include, e.g., languages which describe events as immediate, near, far, and remote past (e.g., the Chinook language; see Bull, Time, Tense, and the Verb, 20). Other languages have multiple grades of remoteness that refer specifically to, e.g., earlier today, yesterday, and before yesterday as well as later today or tomorrow, versus after tomorrow–all grammaticalized with different verb forms (in the Haya language; see B. Comrie, Tense, CTL, 29; similar are the Kamba, Hixkaryana, and Kiksht languages, for which see O. Dahl, Tense and Aspect Systems, 121-3). Some languages do not grammaticalize “tense” at all, though they can and do express time relationships in other ways (e.g., Burmese; see ibid., 50-1). Some linguists even argue that there are languages that contain no time references at all. B. Whorf argued this: “the Hopi language is seen to contain no words, grammatical forms, constructions or expressions that refer directly to what we call ‘time,’ or to past, present, or future…. Hence the Hopi language contains no reference to ‘time,’ either explicit or implicit” (Language, Thought, and Reality, 57-8). Even though the “Saphir-Whorf Hypothesis” connecting people’s language with their perception of reality is rejected by most linguists (S. Porter, “The Greek Language of the New Testament,” in Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament,ed. S. Porter, 124-9 and G. Sampson, Schools of Linguistics, 81-102), and the specific claims that Hopi has no temporal reference is viewed skeptically (R. Binnick, Time and the Verb, 130), the very different nature of Hopi in this regard still serves to make the point that the Western tradition is not the only way to view time. K. McKay points out that it is likely that the ancient Greeks were not bothered by some of the ambiguities of time that perplex twentieth-century westerners (“Time and Aspect in New Testament Greek,” NovT 34 [1992]: 227).

[16]See the very helpful discussions of omnitemporal and timeless reference in Lyons, Semantics, 2:680-1; S. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, SBG, vol. 1, 217-25, 233-8; for classical Greek see K. McKay, “Aspectual Usage in Timeless Contexts in Ancient Greek,” in In the Footsteps of Raphael K?ner, ed. A. Rijksbaron, 193-208. Gnomic statements may be either omnitemporal or timeless.

[17]A major study of the timeless aorist has been provided by A. P?ist?akis, Essai sur l’aoriste intemporel en grec. He defines the intemporal aorist as a use that is “d?ourvu de la notion du temps” (without a notion of time) (3). He explains that this is frequent in “general contexts”: “Nous avons donc adopt?e term d’aoriste intemporel, parce que l’aoriste est d?ourvu de la valeur temporelle dans les phrases de sens g??al” (we have adopted the term intemporal aorist because the aorist has no temporal value in sentences of general meaning) (v). “En effet, lorsqu’un auteur s’exprime d’une fa?n g??ale, fait des r?lexions qui n’ont aucun rapport avec des ??ements concrets…, alors il se place en dehors de tout temps r?l parce que ce qu’il dit est ou doit ?re valable et r?lisable dans tous les temps” (in effect when an author expresses himself in a general fashion, when he makes remarks that have no relationship to specific events…, he places himself outside all real time because what he says is or should be worthwhile and able to be accomplished in all times) (5). These general statements often include such statements as conditions, hypothetical statements, and relative expressions (summary on 284-5).

[18]This is slightly different than Lyons’ use of the same term. He uses it to describe omnitemporal propositions, i.e., those that are time-bound but not restricted to any particular time (Semantics, 2:680).

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The following chapters are the heart of the dissertation as the theoretical framework laid out in the preceding two chapters is applied explicitly to an extended narrative corpus. There are a number of constructions that may indicate temporal relationships that occur in Mark. In the following sections a preliminary list is given for each category. Not all of the constructions listed below are necessarily temporal in each instance in Mark since some can also indicate other relationships. This list simply confirms that the grammatical construction does occur in the Gospel. Constructions that may indicate temporal relationships but which do not occur in Mark have been noted. Some of these temporal indicators are relevant to the time at or during which an event occurs, others relate to a description of the temporal constituency of the event itself. In the latter case the temporal factors relate most directly to Aktionsart (procedural character, or lexical aspect). The remaining chapters focus almost exclusively on the former category: how does a writer express when an event takes place or when is a situation conceived as existing, and how does a reader determine that in any given passage?

[The bulk of this chapter is devoted to cataloging and evaluating temporal deictic indicators in Mark. They are presented according to the following outline: Nominal Indicators (the four major cases), Adverbial Indicators (some two dozen are listed, including a longer treatment of eujqu” due to its frequent and distinctive use), Prepositional Indicators (10 are cataloged), Conjunctive Indicators (6 have temporal functions), Lexical Indicators (general terms, temporal relationships, units of time [calendar and clock terms; words related to age]), Other Deictic Indicators (particles, composite terms), and Miscellaneous Indicators (person and place deixis that serve a temporal function).

Chapter summary: Although attention has usually been focused on the role of the “tenses” in indicating time, this chapter illustrates that there are a host of other significant factors involved. Over 100 temporal deictic indicators in approximately 500 verses have been cataloged in Mark. All of these contribute to establishing temporal reference in some way.

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Finite Verb Forms in Mark

This section catalogs and evaluates the use of the finite indicative verb forms used in Mark and notes their temporal function. Traditional explanations of each are summarized and evaluated. Deictic indicators in the context are noted and the relationship of verbal aspect to that reference is also noted (pragmatics and temporal implicature). This involves both a catalog of forms used as well as a discussion of each form (aorist, present/imperfect, perfect/pluperfect, and future). The historical present in Mark is included here, as is a discussion of the future form (which is handled differently from the other forms in most contemporary discussions of verbal aspect).

Catalog of Verb Forms

The following tables are based on the Gramcord grammatical tagging of the electronic version of the Nestle-Aland27 Greek NT (text v. 2.2), accessed using Accordance (v. 2.1). Some discrepancies in tagging particular forms may exist, but any such differences of opinion will be minor. As may be seen in figures 29-31, the figures for Mark (fig. 28) are in close proportion to NT use.

Use of Specific Indicative Forms

This section examines each of the indicative verb forms in Mark in regard to its range of temporal reference. Since the purpose of the present study is to illustrate and document the temporal range of these verb forms, it is not necessary to subdivide the forms beyond the basic temporal divisions of past, present, future, and temporally unrestricted. Various pragmatic categories that reflect the semantics of the entire verbal web are possible (and for some purposes may be helpful). Most grammars provide a list of such categories that are usually based, ostensibly, on the semantics of the “tense.” In reality these categories depend on lexis, Aktionsart, and other contextual factors (i.e., pragmatics, not semantics). Temporal assumptions often color these categories and they seldom reflect aspectual matters explicitly. As long as such categories are not confused with the semantic value of the verb form (aspect), modifications of or replacements for these categories can be employed as a useful exegetical taxonomy. [19] On the basis of the theory being tested, the temporal categories employed here are not understood to be semantic categories. That is, Porter’s theory does not handle past, present, future, and temporally unrestricted as part of the grammaticalized meaning of the verb form. These are viewed, rather, as pragmatic categories that are determined on the basis of various contextual factors that coordinate with the aspectual semantics of the verb. On this pragmatic, contextual basis the verb forms found in Mark have been examined and classified as to their temporal reference to determine if such an approach adequately handles the data of Mark.

[The remainder of this chapter examines each indicative form, along with a brief treatment of the infinitive and participle; the oblique moods receive only a cursory summary.]

This chapter has examined the use of each of the finite indicative verb forms in Mark as well as the temporal use of nonfinite forms. The data collated demonstrates that each of the indicative verb forms is used in a variety of temporal contexts. Present forms have the greatest diversity, evidencing a wide range of past, present, future, and temporally unrestricted reference. Aorist and imperfect forms are used with largely past reference, but this is not exclusive. The aorist appears in present, future, and temporally unrestricted contexts and the imperfect at times conveys temporally unrestricted reference. The perfect form functions primarily in present time references, but also may be found in past and temporally unrestricted uses. Even the future form can be employed in temporally unrestricted contexts in addition to its usual future reference. Nonindicative and nonfinite forms were also seen to be temporally diverse. Since the indicative forms are the crux of Porter’s proposal that temporal reference is not grammaticalized, this data provides significant confirmation for his approach.

[19]The purpose of this study lies outside such concerns, however. B. Fanning, e.g., provides carefully thought out classifications for the various forms. Although he has maintained some continuity with traditional terminology, his discussion is more carefully nuanced than most older treatments (Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, OTM, 198-309).

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This chapter addresses several questions that evaluate the significance of some of the data collated above. It also selects a number of representative passages in Mark for the purposes of exploring and applying the preceding material in extended passages.

Pragmatics and Temporal Implicature

The earlier chapters of this study have argued that the verb does not grammaticalize temporal reference in the L-tense system. They have also shown, however, that in Mark, the vast majority of, for example, aorist forms do, indeed, refer to past time. Is the theoretical argument at odds with the actual data in Mark? It is argued here that this is not the case. At least two factors are relevant. First, the distinction discussed earlier between L-tense and M-tense is important here. Second, temporal implicature explains the natural association of certain aspects with specific temporal reference.

Metalinguistic tense (M-tense) has a strictly temporal meaning, but this refers to the full range of temporal indication used by a language; it is not a morphological or semantic element of the verb form. Language tense (L-tense), on the other hand, is a morphological category that at the semantic level conveys verbal aspect. This suggests that there is only a problem if the two categories (M- and L-tense) are confused. That is, in Mark, the vast majority of “L-tense aorists” do refer to “M-tense past time,” but that is neither a problem nor a contradiction in terms.

The seemingly natural association of some forms with a regular and fairly consistent temporal reference may be helpfully considered in terms of temporal implicature. This concept originated with H. Grice in his 1967 William James lecture at Harvard. Grice was primarily concerned with explaining how people understand oral conversation when so many elements necessary for interpretation are not explicit. [20]

His theory of conversational implicature has been extended by linguists to address similar problems in language generally. As Dahl explains, the term implicature is used “to mean something that can be inferred from the use of a certain linguistic category or type of expression, although it cannot be regarded as belonging to its proper meaning.” [21]

It is proposed here that verb forms only grammaticalize aspect at the level of code; temporal reference (“tense,” viz., L-tense) is not coded, but comes from interaction with contextual features (deixis), genre, and background knowledge as the forms are found in specific utterances. The temporal reference that can be determined on this basis would not be expressed grammatically, but would be said to be an implicature. [22]

To use a specific example, although it is argued here that the aorist form does not grammaticalize past time, it can be (and often is) used to describe events in the past. As noted just above, this is clearly the dominant usage of the aorist form in Mark. This past reference, however, need not be explained as part of the form. Just because a form is aorist would neither mean nor imply that the situation so described is past in time. The temporal reference would come from a host of other contextual factors. Given an aorist form in a specific utterance, it may be possible to say, on the basis of temporal implicature (and not on the basis of the aorist form alone), that it does, indeed, refer to a past time situation.

There are some natural affinities between the aspects and certain temporal references. Perfective indicative forms (i.e., aorist) most frequently do refer to past time, especially in narrative texts such as Mark.[23] It is inherently logical, however, that one would use perfective aspect for such a description since it views the action as a complete event. [24] In actual occurrence, the frequent use of a string of aorist forms in narrative to carry the storyline is quite evident. This is not to say that imperfective aspect is not feasible in such instances. Indeed, the imperfect form can and does make reference to events in the past (even the same events), but it views them as processes rather than as complete events. [25] Use of the imperfective aspect for this purpose is not as common simply because the usual point of referring to past events is simply to note what happened, for which the perfective aspect is well suited. Imperfective references in this situation would tend to be more marked and suggest that the speaker is often making a specific point of describing the action as a process by his choice of aspects. [26] Although frequency is only one factor in determining markedness, this accords with usage in narrative texts (aorist is usually the more frequent form in that genre). [27]

Another related pattern is the use of repeated aorist forms in narrative contexts to specify a sequence of events. [28] For example, Mark 1:34-7 contains a series of six aorist forms: ejqeravpeusen … ejxevbalen… ejxh’lqen … ajph’lqen … katedivwxen … eu|ron (he healed … he drove out … he got up … he left … he searched … they found). Mark 12:1 strings together six aorists for this purpose (in this instance in a parable): ejfuvteusen kai; perievqhken … kai; w[ruxen … kai; w/jkodovmhsen … kai; ejxevdeto … kai; ajpedhvmhsen (he planted and put … and dug … and built … and rented … and went away). [29]

It should be observed that repeated use of certain forms in particular contexts (e.g., narrative–Mark’s use of the aorist is a classic example in this regard) for the same time reference may result in an assumption that this time reference is part of the semantic meaning of the form rather than being a pragmatic meaning based on implicature. This may explain why many have assumed that aorist and imperfect forms carry past reference as part of their meaning. [30] Languages may, on this basis, change over time as pragmatic meanings become part of the semantic meaning. [31] One must therefore be cautious in the use of diachronic data from earlier or later periods of the language to establish a conclusion at the synchronic level. It is the thesis of this dissertation, however, that the koine Greek found in Mark’s gospel did not include temporal reference as part of the semantic meaning of the verb forms.

Sample Passages from Mark

This section selects a number of representative passages in Mark for the purposes of exploring and applying the preceding material in several extensive passages. The approach to and the format of the selected texts are varied as several somewhat differing temporal and aspectual concerns are addressed in each of the selections.

[The passages discussed are, in sequence: Mark 9:2-9; 13; 14:12-31; and 2:1-12.]

[An excursus on the aspect of oida and ginwvskw is included, as is a more extended treatment of temporal reference in parables. In regard to the parables, it is concluded that:

Based on this survey of the Markan parables, it seems most consistent to classify indicative verb forms in the parables as temporally unrestricted. The very nature and purpose of parables (to communicate timeless truth) argues for this as does the interchange of present and aorist forms as the dominant narrative form–some parables using the present and others the aorist with no discernible difference in temporal reference. [32]

[Chapter summary]

This chapter has served three purposes. It first addressed a potential objection to Porter’s thesis in terms of the extent to which perfective forms refer to past time. It was suggested that this is an expected pattern and that it is best explained on the basis of temporal implicature. There are natural affinities between various aspects and particular temporal reference as well as certain narrative functions. These pragmatic factors should not be confused with semantic factors. Second, four passages in Mark were selected to illustrate both the implicatures just noted as well as a wide range of deictic features and pragmatic functions. It was demonstrated that temporal reference can be established without exclusive reference to the form of the verb, that the form of the verb in these passages is not always consistent with traditional explanations, and that verbal aspect plays a key role in narrative functions when considered from a discourse perspective. These passages illustrate that Porter’s theory does, indeed, work consistently and adequately in handling the data of the text. Third, a more narrow issue related to the temporal reference of parables in Mark was examined to substantiate the temporally unrestricted classification employed for such passages throughout the dissertation.

Selected notes from ch. 5

[20]Extensive summaries of Grice’s “maxims of conversation” (which consists of the co-operative principle and the maxims of quality, quantity, relevance, and manner) may be found in S. Levinson, Pragmatics,CTL, 100-18 and J. Lyons, Semantics, 2:592-606.

[21]O. Dahl, Tense and Aspect Systems, 11. B. Comrie has observed that “one of the major advances in recent semantic theory has been the recognition of the distinction between the meaning of a linguistic item, in terms of its conventionalised semantic representation, and the implicatures that can be drawn from the use of a linguistic item in a particular context” (Tense, CTL, 23).

[22]S. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, SBG, vol. 1, 15, 82-3. As used in pragmatics, implicature is not synonymous with imply/implication as it is used in everyday language (Levinson, Pragmatics, 103-4). One may imply certain logical conclusions from specific grammaticalized meanings, but implicature goes beyond this level to nongrammaticalized elements (“they generate inferences beyond the semantic content of the sentences uttered,” ibid., 103).

[23]D. Carson suggests that “perhaps 85 per cent of finite aorists in the indicative are past referring” and that this “might owe a fair bit to the intrinsic likelihood that an action in the past will be presented as a `complete’ action” (“An Introduction to the Porter/Fanning Debate,” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics, ed. S. Porter and D. Carson, JSNTSup, 80:25) It is not clear whether this figure is based on an actual count of a representative corpus or whether it is an experienced estimate. The figures in Mark are a bit higher (see chapter 4), but the lower figure may be more in line if the non-narrative sections of the NT are included. K. McKay notes that “in some types of discourse some tenses are usually associated with particular time values, but it is clear that time is not morphologically expressed, but is determined by context…. In narrative accounts of past events it is clear that the aorist and imperfect are the dominant tenses, with the pluperfect occasionally used parallel to the imperfect, while the present and perfect are only used for special effect” (“Time and Aspect in New Testament Greek,” NovT 34 [1992]: 226).

[24]Note: not completed (which implies a temporal meaning) but simply complete.

[25]As just one example, note that in describing the same event (Jairus coming to Jesus) Mark and Luke use different forms–Mark 5:22, e[rcetai and Luke 8:41, hlqen.

[26]This explanation is a generalization only and does not include other factors such as words that occur only in imperfective forms. If a word does not have an aorist form, it obviously cannot be used in a perfective statement.

[27]See Porter’s discussion of these factors in PVA, 102-7.

[28]Cf. Fanning’s comment that “the aorist records events, including utterances, in sequence occurring in toto one after the other” (B. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, OTM, 288).

[29]The two imperfects that occur in main clauses in this passage are not part of the storyline (i.e., they do not move the narrative forward), but serve to supply background information. The reader is told that Jesus was not allowing the demons to speak (h[fien lalei’n, v. 34) and that after going to a desolate place, he was praying (proshuvceto, v. 35). Similar patterns may be found in Mark 5:33; 8:8; and 14:22. “A sequence of forms with perfective meaning will normally be taken to indicate a sequence of events” (B. Comrie, Aspect, CTL, 5).

[30]Dahl notes that “if some condition happens to be fulfilled frequently when a certain category is used, a stronger association may develop between the condition and the category in such a way that the condition comes to be understood as an integral part of the meaning of the category” (Tense and Aspect Systems, 11). McKay, likewise, says that “it is precisely because so many of these aspectual contrasts in various contexts produce an obvious temporal contrast that the assumption has persisted for so long that the tense forms were dominantly temporal” (“Time and Aspect,” 227).

[31]Comrie, Tense, 26, illustrates this with the change in meaning in the English perfect.

[32]That temporally unrestricted reference should be related to genre is not surprising. Hippocrates frequently uses it as part of his technical medical writing: “en dialecte ionien, c’est Hippocrate de Cos qui emploie le plus fr?uemment l’aorist intemporel…. L’emploi de l’aoriste chez les m?ecins et chez Hippocrate semble ?re un proc??echnique” (in the Ionian dialect, it is Hippocrates of Cos who uses the intemporal aorist most frequently…. The use of the aorist by the medical community and by the associates of Hippocrates seems to be a technical process) (A. P?ist?akis, Essai sur l’aoriste intemporel en grec,287).

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The expression of time in Mark has been considered at some length. The traditional view of the Greek verb has been compared with more recent approaches that have emphasized the priority of verbal aspect in the semantics of the verb. Of the newer approaches, Fanning has proposed a semantic explanation that gives priority to aspect and Aktionsart, but which still includes temporal reference as a secondary feature of the indicative forms. He has developed in considerable detail the interrelationships of aspect, Aktionsart, and lexis, while endeavoring to maintain some continuity with traditional terminology. [33]Porter’s approach, while in substantial agreement with Fanning (particularly in terms of defining aspect), has proposed an approach that is at greater variance with the traditional explanation of the verbal system. [34] The most distinctive feature of Porter’s system is the proposal that the Greek verb does not grammaticalize time, even in the indicative mood. Temporal considerations come, rather, from deictic factors in the context as they interact with the grammaticalized semantics of the verb (i.e., verbal aspect). It has been the purpose of this dissertation to test Porter’s theory by application to the Gospel of Mark.

Distinguishing the various technical terms has proven to be a crucial factor in a precise statement of the issues involved. Thus this dissertation, after surveying major works on aspect in chapter one, has proposed the following explanations on which to base the discussion of temporal relationships. Aspect is the semantic category by which a speaker or writer grammaticalizes a view of the situation by the selection of a particular verb form in the verbal system. This is a grammatical category expressed by the form of the verb. Perfective aspect, expressed by the aorist form, views the situation in summary as a complete event without regard for its progress (or lack thereof). Imperfective aspect, grammaticalized by the present and imperfect forms, views the situation as in progress without regard for its beginning or end. Stative aspect, the semantic value of the perfect and pluperfect forms, depicts a state of affairs that exists with no reference to any progress and which involves no change.

Aktionsart is a description of the actional features ascribed to the verbal referent as to the way in which it happens or exists, best described by the Vendler taxonomy as adapted by Fanning and Olsen. It is not a grammatical category based on the form of the verb, but is a pragmatic category based on the meaning of the word (lexis) as it is used in a particular context. Appropriate descriptions of Aktionsart classes include state, activity, accomplishment, climax, or punctual.

The web of semantic factors comprised by aspect, lexis, and Aktionsart, along with other grammatical and contextual factors is referred to as the verbal complex. This approach seeks to balance formal and contextual contributions, form and function, semantics and pragmatics.

Chapter two of this study then developed a theoretical framework for temporal reference (past, present, future, and temporally unrestricted) and also distinguished between M-tense and L-tense. Porter’s specific proposal that the Greek verb does not grammaticalize temporal reference was then presented. Responses were also presented for specific objections that have been raised against the theory. The most substantive of these objections include the function of the augment (explained as a formal feature that does not consistently express past time), the root fallacy (it was suggested that the forms express a consistent semantic value, but evidence diverse pragmatic usage), and cancelability (in which it was argued that temporal reference may be canceled). The next major task of the study was to examine in some detail the specific deictic indicators that are found in Mark’s gospel. Consequently, the last part of chapter two considered the matter of deixis and cataloged the array of temporal deictic indicators used in the NT.

Chapter three was devoted to an examination of the various grammatical elements that are relevant to the expression of time in Mark. This spanned a wide range of indicators, including the use of the various cases, thirty temporal adverbs, ten prepositions, six conjunctions, nearly four dozen words with temporal connotations (based on lexis), and another half dozen or so particles and compound expressions. Together these comprise a significant and extensive body of temporal indicators.

The study then turned to the verb and its relationship to time. Since Porter’s view (a temporally ungrammaticalized view of time/tense) is most directly involved at this point, chapter four was devoted to a detailed study and classification of the temporal reference of finite indicative verb forms. (Non-finite forms and the oblique moods were considered only incidentally.) The 518 aorist indicative forms in Mark were examined and cataloged as predominantly past in reference (88.6%). The dominance of past-referring aorist forms was both expected and in agreement with normal use in narrative genre. It is significant, however, that the aorist is not exclusively past in temporal reference. Although infrequent, 58 aorists did not refer to an event or situation in the past (8 present, 4 future, and 46 temporally unrestricted).

Present forms (514 total) were also examined, but with quite different results from the aorist forms. In this case, the range of temporal reference was much more broadly distributed into distinct categories. Present time reference accounted for only about one-third of all present forms (34.2%). The largest single category was past reference at 38.8%, followed by temporally unrestricted uses (20.4%), and some future reference (6.6%). One of the reasons for the large percentage of forms with past reference is the use of the “historical present” that is characteristic of Mark (152x). Two things are worth noting in this regard. First, the semantic value of the present form does not dictate invariable present time reference. Appeal to “exceptions” is not realistic with nearly one-third of the forms in this category. Second, although Markan style may raise the percentage of historical presents somewhat, this is not idiosyncratic since both John and Matthew also use a large number of historical presents. [35] The discourse function of the historical present provides a consistent rationale with significant explanatory power for this syntactical feature.

Also notable is the use of both present and aorist forms in parables. It was observed that most parables are either told primarily in the aorist or primarily in the present. Since parables do not refer to a particular time (they are temporally unrestricted by their nature), a temporal explanation does not provide a workable explanation as to why some are told with aorist forms and some with presents. An aspectual approach to the parables does provide a reasonable explanation for such differences. Although both perfective and imperfective aspects can be (and are) used, the writer is free to select the viewpoint that best suits his purposes, whether to narrate the construed events in summary fashion or to couch them in terms of process, and this irrespective of temporal reference.

Imperfect form verbs were considered next. In keeping with Porter’s theory being investigated, the imperfect consistently referred to past time events in almost all cases. Only a half dozen instances require a divergent reference. To account for such usage, the semantic value of remoteness covered all instances. Most were remote in time, the others were remote in terms of reality or logic (e.g., conative events). As to the use of the imperfect forms in narrative (i.e., pragmatics), it was observed that the concept of remoteness carries over there as well with the aorist (and sometimes the historic present) carrying the main events on the storyline with the imperfect used to explain, provide background information, describe, or otherwise incorporate elements of the story that are more remote from the storyline.

In terms of the perfect form, the explanations of McKay and Porter were adopted: the perfect grammaticalized stative aspect. Although the frequency of the perfect in Mark is considerably less than the aorist, present, and imperfect, a range of temporal reference was observed. Most such forms referred to a state existing at the time of the speaker, although reference to past states was also noted, and a few were best classed as temporally unrestricted. The pluperfect was observed to function in relation to the perfect much as the imperfect in relation to the present. That is, it expresses the same aspect as the perfect (stative), but adds the element of remoteness.

The future form is not exactly a parallel category with the other forms in that it contains modal elements. It is best viewed as aspectually vague (i.e., it does not grammaticalize aspect). Rather it grammaticalizes the semantic value of expectation. It is most commonly used in terms of what is expected in future time, though this may be either predictive or related to hypothetical or interrogative statements.

The remainder of chapter four briefly considered the temporal use of the infinitive (only found a half dozen times in Mark), the participle (evaluated in three selected chapters in Mark), and the oblique moods. Most significant in terms of temporal reference was the range of temporal reference involved in the participle. Neither form nor word order was adequate to determine temporal reference, although there were general patterns evident. As with the finite forms, the correct time could only be determined based on the context.

The final chapter first addressed the question of temporal implicature and the seemingly natural correlation between certain aspects and certain time references in narrative material. The high frequency of perfective forms in narrative, for example, was seen to be based on a logical relationship between the “complete view” of the aorist and the narration of a sequence of events in past time. Factors such as this have led many to assume that past time reference is part of the semantic meaning of the form. The relationship is rather one of temporal implicature–pragmatics rather than semantics.

This chapter then turned to examine in some detail four selected passages from Mark for the purpose of illustrating how temporal reference is determined in extended text. As appropriate, the various temporal indicators were noted along with the pragmatic use of the various verb forms. Although not every indicator previously discussed could be illustrated in the four sample passages, an adequate picture emerged showing that temporal reference is not arbitrary or capricious. Even when Porter’s view of the verb is adopted (thus deleting the traditional view’s temporal definitions of the forms), a consistent and objective explanation of Mark’s temporal references and assumptions emerges. [36]

Two possible conclusions could be proposed on the basis of this study. One would be to preserve a fairly traditional explanation of the Greek verb. This would recognize the primacy of aspect, but would maintain a secondary temporal element in the indicative mood. The obvious variations from the traditional temporal definitions would then have to be explained as exceptions from the normal rule. [37] The alternative would be to adopt Porter’s nontraditional proposal and define the verb strictly in terms of aspect, leaving temporal reference to come from the context. The disadvantage of doing so is the more radical change from the traditional explanation. [38] Such a change is a significant one with far-reaching implications and is not to be taken lightly.

Although both of these alternatives could be reconciled with the data collated above, there would be several significant disadvantages of attempting to maintain the traditional views, albeit in renovated form. The first is that the number of exceptions necessary in Mark would be quite high. If the discussion were limited to the aorist and imperfect forms, this would be a more attractive option since the variation there is relatively small. The greater problem comes in handling the present. If only a third of the instances do, indeed, fit the traditional definition, it hardly seems realistic to appeal to exceptions for the remaining two-thirds majority.

The second problem concerns the distinction between semantics and pragmatics. Only by blurring the line between these two categories can the traditional explanation be rehabilitated. If the proper domain of semantics is strictly concerned with what the grammatical form means in and of itself, then it would be very difficult to maintain a temporal view of the verb. A semantic definition of the aorist, for example, must define what the aorist means across the board. If divergent definitions are necessary for the aorist in the indicative mood and the aorist in the oblique moods or in the nonfinite forms, then the aorist has not been defined. An aspectual approach proposes that the semantic value–the information grammaticalized by the form of the verb–is that of aspect and only aspect. Other elements of meaning come from the area of pragmatics rather than that of semantics. What an individual form means in a particular utterance, when combined with the Aktionsart of a specific lexical form and certain contextual indicators–the entire verbal complex–is not a statement of semantics but of pragmatics.

This would point to the importance of paying attention to the explicit temporal markers and other factors in various contexts. As this study has demonstrated, there are a large number of such factors that may be employed in such a determination. Too often interpreters already know what a text says (or at least what it is supposed to say!)–after all, they have already read it in translation. As a result the text is too frequently read in terms of such expectations. Temporal relationships (which are only one part of such problems) are often assumed without conscious consideration, using the default temporal meanings assigned by traditional grammar. Since such conclusions often “fit” (perhaps more often than they ought [39]) and do not produce unorthodox interpretations, such exegesis has survived. The problem is often not with the conclusion reached (though that can obviously be a problem at times), but with the basis on which the conclusion is defended. The approach to temporal relationship argued in this dissertation has the potential to offer an objective, sound basis for specific exegetical conclusions.

The form of a verb and the aspect it expresses are only one of many other grammatical, syntactical, and contextual ingredients necessary for exegesis. It is unwise to place great exegetical weight on individual grammatical nuances, whether form/aspect, Aktionsart, number, or voice. A balanced and responsible interpretation of any statement must include these pieces, but must also be based on and consistent with the context. Rather than specifying a particular temporal relationship based on the form of a verb, a broader examination is necessary. Familiarity with the range of pragmatic usage for a verb form, the aspectual nuances involved, the Aktionsart values possible, and the stylistic factors may not dictate a particular interpretation. They may rather serve as a safe-guard against invalid explanations as well as narrowing the interpretive possibilities. Such an approach may not yield large quantities of exegetical nuggets, but this minimalist approach to grammar is more likely to encourage and enable responsible exegesis. [40]

Footnotes from the conclusion

[33]B. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, OTM.

[34]S. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, SBG, vol. 1. Although there are areas of disagreement, these two studies are in many ways complementary so long as it is realized that each has focused on a different emphasis. Porter’s work devotes itself more narrowly to the subject of aspect in and of itself. Fanning’s, by contrast, takes a broader focus and addresses primarily the interactions of aspect with other contextual factors such as Aktionsart (procedural character in his terminology). As a result, Porter is more concerned with the issue of semantics, Fanning with pragmatics.

[35]Based on the figures in J. Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, 143-9 and 213 (which differ slightly from the figures used in this dissertation), compared with Mark’s 151 instances, the historical present is found 162 times in John, 78 times in Matthew, but only 4 times in Luke. Mark’s use is also quite similar to the LXX of 1 Samuel which uses it 151 times. Both John and 1 Samuel are somewhat longer than Mark, so the proportion is still a bit less than Mark’s, though the difference is not great. The following figures have not been examined in the same detail that has been invested in Mark (translation Greek, forms of eijmiv, etc. are retained in all the figures below), but based on an Accordance search for all verbs in each book and the figures from Hawkins above, the percentage of historical presents is as follows: Matthew, 1.9%; Mark, 5.7%; Luke, .09%; John, 4.5%; and 1 Samuel, 4.3%. These figures will vary depending on what search criteria is used. If the percentage of historical presents is based only on present indicative forms used (of Mark’s 515, the historical presents account for 29.3%), John’s proportion will drop significantly since he uses a very large number of present form verbs (1027 total = 15.8%). Conversely, 1 Samuel will increase substantially since he uses very few present forms (331 total = 45.6%). Nevertheless, the similarities and differences can be discerned here in rough outline. J. Doudna makes a similar comparison of Mark’s use of the historical present with that of John and 1 Samuel (The Greek of the Gospel of Mark, JBLMS, vol. 12, 42).

[36]A number of related and relevant issues have surfaced in the course of the preceding study but which are beyond the scope of the present dissertation. Such areas that deserve further study within the Markan corpus include a more comprehensive examination of the temporal reference of participles, the oblique moods, and the narrative functions of aspect. It would also be instructive to compare Markan use with the other Synoptics and to pursue study similar to that offered here in non-narrative genre (particularly the NT epistolary literature) and in extra-biblical texts.

[37]By exception, I mean that a verb form is used in a temporal context different from what one would expect on the basis of the traditional definition. The issue involves cancelability and the distinction between semantics and pragmatics. Cancelability is a linguistic method that attempts to determine the meaning of a word or grammatical form. Olsen’s work in aspect has developed this extensively from the perspective of a linguist. She has demonstrated on a linguistic basis that the temporal reference of both aorist and present forms can be cancelled (“A Semantic and Pragmatic Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect,” [Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1994], 279-90). The distinction between semantics and pragmatics is predicated on cancelability. By definition, semantics refers to the meaning of a word or form that is always present, whereas pragmatics includes variable factors influenced and molded by context. If a temporal value is part of the semantics of a form, then it must be present in each instance. If the context nuances the meaning in an unexpected way (this is essentially the explanation given in the recent works by Buist Fanning [FVA] and Daniel Wallace [Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics]), then the issue is pragmatics, not semantics.

[38]Porter comments that “whereas most scholars today disagree with [Winer’s temporal] model on theoretical grounds, when it comes to actual interpretation many find the approach comfortable since it is similar to English and is still found in the vast majority of beginning Greek textbooks” (“Greek Language and Linguistics,” ExpT 103 [1991-2]: 205).

[39]Cf. the comments on the participle in this regard by C. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, 99, previously cited on p. 258 n. 145).

[40]The factors discussed in this dissertation and which are summarized above would suggest that exegesis is best served by a minimalist approach to language in which the least significance is attributed to the individual elements and greater weight is placed on the context. Similar concerns have been voiced by M. Silva on a number of occasions, most explicitly as it relates to verbs and verbal aspect in Explorations in Exegetical Method, 68-79; see also his Biblical Words and Their Meanings, 153-8; God, Language and Scripture, esp. 11-6, 118, 144, though the whole is relevant; “Language and Style of the Gospels,” in The Gospels Today, ed. J. Skilton, 35-6; and Philippians, WEC, 13. Also relevant to this issue are E. Nida, “Implications of Contemporary Linguistics for Biblical Scholarship,” JBL 91 (1972): 74, 86; M. Joos, “Semantic Axiom Number One,” Language 48 (1972): 257; and FVA, 82. Although not formulated in quite such terms, this also appears to be the burden of a good part of Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, particularly chapter 2, “Grammatical Fallacies,” 65-86.

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