Tense and testable assertions
jonathan.robie at datadirect-technologies.com
Sun Oct 27 13:45:34 EST 2002
At 07:12 PM 10/26/2002 -0700, waldo slusher wrote:
>Fanning and Porter have been contrasted lately out
>here. I have been wondering about a particular issue
>for some time now after reading both Verbal Aspect
>books. One author/scholar holds that there is no
>temporal nature to the finite indicative verbal
>system, whereas the other holds just the opposite....
>that the Greek finite indicative verbs do by and large
>make temporal assertions.
So naturally, you might want to ask what testable assertions each author
makes so that we can look at some data and see who is right. Keep the
following in mind:
1. A good theory has to falsifiable
2. To be accepted, a theory must account for the phenomena
3. In Greek grammar, the Greek corpus is the most important phenomenon to
In any language, there are certainly time markers that are not part of the
verb. For instance, consider the following:
Then I come home and find out that the pipes are frozen.
I think that it's pretty obvious to most speakers of English that this
happened in the past, even though the tenses are all present. In general,
the time component of present tense in most languages is easily overruled
by other factors (, as quoted by ), and Mari Olsen argues that this
is also true of the aorist in Greek. I compared the treatment of time and
aspect in Greek by Porter, Fanning, and Olsen in .
Mari claims that the Aorist and the Present contain a weak indication of
past and present time, but one that is easily overruled by other factors.
To use an English analogy:
I weigh 180 pounds.
By default, that is in present time. I can easily overrule it, though, by
adding other factors:
So this guy comes up to me and says "I weigh 180 pounds".
For Greek, I believe that Porter would say that the present tense does not
indicate time largely because of examples like the one shown above. But his
examples show something much weaker, I think - that the time contained in
the verb can often be overruled by other factors. This is not surprising,
it is true of most languages. Unfortunately, Porter pretty much throws time
out entirely, which means that he gives almost no guidance for determining
how the time aspects of verb forms interact with other indications of time
- he simply says that they do not.
If my memory is accurate, Mari Broman Olsen came to the following
conclusions for New Testament Greek:
1. In the absence of other factors - eg in simple, isolated statements -
the aorist and present, in addition to their other, stronger functions -
indicate past and present time respectively.
2. For these two tenses, the time indication in the verb can be overruled
by other factors.
3. The other tenses of Greek are true tenses, and convey time.
The first statement can be tested by looking for simple, isolated,
declarative statements in the indicative and determining whether they
convey time. The second and the third assertions are best tested by looking
at passages where other time factors are at odds with the time of the verb,
presuming that the verb tense does have an indication of time.
Here are a few such passages:
John 13:31 hOTE OUN EXHLQEN, LEGEI IHSOUS: ***NUN *** EDOXASQH hO UIOS TOU
ANQRWPOU KAI hO QEOS EDOXASQH EN AUTW:
Using Mari's interpretation, "now is the son of man glorified, and God is
glorified in him." The glorification does not refer to the past - Jesus has
not yet been crucified - it refers to the "now" in the sentence. Exactly
when is a matter of interpretation (the time of Christ's crucifiction? the
time of his ascending into heaven? the time of his resurrection?), but it
clearly isn't in the past.
Roma 11:31 hOUTWS KAI hOUTOI ***NUN ***HPEIQHSAN TW hUMETERW ELEEI, hINA
KAI AUTOI ***(NUN) ***ELEHQWSIN.
Traditionally: "these also *were* disobedient"
Mari: "these also *are* disobedient"
In context, though, it is clear that they still *are* disobedient. The
contrast is that the Christians *were* disobedient, and the Jews *are*
disobedient, but just as the Christians were shown mercy when they were
disobedient, the Jews will now be shown mercy because of the mercy that has
been shown to the Christian
Here are some other passages which could plausibly be interpreted either as
Mari suggests or using the more traditional interpretation:
Ephe 3:5 hO ETERAIS GENEAIS OUK EGNWRISQH TOIS hUIOIS TWN ANQRWPWN hWS
***NUN ***APEKALUFQH TOIS AGIOIS APOSTOLOIS AUTOU KAI PROFHTAIS EN PNEUMATI,
Mari: "as it is now revealed"
Traditional: "as it now has been revealed".
Matt 26:65 TOTE hO ARCIEREUS DIERRHXEN TA IMATIA AUTOU LEGWN: EBLASFHMHSEN:
TI ETI CREIAN ECOMEN MARTURWN; IDE ***NUN HKOUSATE*** THN BLASFHMIAN:
Traditional: "now we have heard the blasphemy"
Mari: "now we hear the blasphemy", as in, "why worry about witnesses, now
we *hear* the blasphemy, let's crucify this guy".
1Pet 1:12 hOIS APEKALUFQH hOTI OUC hEAUTOIS hUMIN DE DIHKONOUN AUTA, hA
***NUN ***ANHGGELH hUMIN DIA TWN EUAGGELISAMENWN hUMAS (EN) PNEUMATI hAGIW
APOSTALENTI AP OURANOU, EIS hA EPIQUMOUSIN AGGELOI PARAKUYAI.
Traditional: "now has been revealed to you"
Mari: "is now revealed to you"
Hope this helps!
 Tense and Aspect. The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences,
831-832. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.
 "Tense, mostly" Mari Broman Olsen
 "Mari Broman (was Aorist resources)"
 "A Semantic and Pragmatic Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect",
Mari Broman Olsen, Garland Pub; ISBN: 0815328494; Revised edition (August
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