Imperative Mood: Present vs. Aorist

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Fri Oct 23 15:50:07 EDT 1998

At 3:20 PM -0500 10/23/98, April Van Bibber wrote:
>A friend put this to me: It seems to me that the present and aorist
>imperatives in some cases are used interchangeably. Where I would expect a
>single aorist I find a present, and visa versa. For example, in Matthew
>5:24 why aren't "leave" your gift and "go" both aorists? Or, in Matthew 8:4
>"go" and "show": "go" is present and "show" is aorist. Still further, in
>Matthew 16:24 "deny" is aorist (I would expect a present), "take up" is
>aorist followed by daily (making me expect it to be present, and "follow
>me" is a present, which I expected. Also, in Ephesians 5:18 "Be not drunk
>with wine but be filled with the Spirit", both verbs are present imperative
>past. Any insights?

I react to this perhaps more instinctively than methodically and
analytically. Perhaps overliterally translating this, I'd say that vs. 23
begins: "So if you're in the process of offering you gift at the altar, and
right then and there you suddenly remember that your brother has a
grievance against you, then at once leave your gift there in front of the
altar and make it your business (hUPAGE: start right away doing ...) (to)
square things with your brother at once, and (only) then go back (ELQWN)
and start presenting your gift."

In 8:4 we see hUPAGE used in the same way as it is in 5:24 (and so also is
the hORA preceding MHDENI EIPHiS; it seems to me that hUPAGE and hORA as
imperatives here suggest the need to adopt a stance governing one's
behavior that is in place as one proceeds to act: "Be careful not to tell
anyone, but make it your business to show the priest and to offer the gift
that Moses prescribed ..." That is to say, I think that hUPAGE and hORA
here urge careful initiation of a whole process, whereas the aorist
imperatives simply state what one should accomplish.

In Eph 5:18 MH MEQUSKESQE ... ALLA PLHROUSQE are present imperatives
because it is regular, habitual behavior that is being urged. Again
overtranslating in terms of a gut feeling, I'd make this: "And don't keep
getting drunk with spirits ... but rather aim at getting high on spirit."
It's habitual behavior that is being urged here rather than what to do in a
given situation that may or may not recur.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad at OR cconrad at

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