These two positions don't even seem close

Wayne Leman wleman at
Sun Aug 27 14:53:30 EDT 2000


A big part of the problem is that the Aorist Tense is not a tense at all.
The primary function of the so-called "tense" markers of Greek is to
indicate kind or quality of action with regard to time, that is whether
action was viewed as having occurred at a point in time, or being
incomplete, or having on-going effect, etc. Linguists call this category of
language Aspect. It is different from tense which indicates *when* an action
took place. English has true tense. If I say:

"I jumped over the puddle."

anyone who hears me knows that I have spoken about a *past* event. I used
the past tense suffix "-ed" of the word "jump" to indicate this past event.

Greek doesn't work this way. Its time markers indicate, instead, aspect of
the actions or states encoded by its verbs.

It would have been better if the label "tense" had never been used to
describe anything about Greek, but it happened and old labels die hard (just
like Sears batteries!).

Wallace, like Porter, recognizes the aspectual nature of the so-called Greek
tenses. Wallace makes this clear in his textbook Greek Grammar Beyond the
Basics. There is a relationship between Greek aspect and implicit (but
morphologically unmarked) tense, just as there is in many languages which
have aspect systems for their verbs, but it is not a direct relationship
where aorist always corresponds to past tense, etc. The context in which a
verb occurs determines whether its verbal aspect occurred prior to some
other action or the time of speaking, that is as a "past" action.

Wayne Leman
Bible translation discussion list website:
Bible translation site:

> How can this happen?
> Wallace/Manning seem to see the Aorist Tense in a way radically different
> that Porter.
> It seems to me that Wallace sees the Aorist Tense as the Past Tense,
> conceding that other “intrusions” can alter its fundamental, inherent
> tense” meaning.
> But Porter does not seem to see the Aorist Tense as a  “past tense.”  He
> seems to argue that it requires grammatical “intrusions” to indicate Past
> tense, as if “past tense” is not its fundamental sense.
> Do I understand this debate correctly?
> If so, what can I state “for sure” about the Aorist Tense?
> Thank you,
> Mark Wilson

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