Is ELEGEN(imperfect) used almost as aorist (EIPEN)?

Alex / Ali alexali at
Sat Jan 4 10:44:42 EST 2003

I'd like to go back to Moon's question about the use of ELEGEN at Mark 2:16,
24, and 27, and whether these are used almost as aorists.

Iver has given an answer to this, and in what follows there is an overlap
with his response.  But I'll give an answer in any case, because the
question is a helpful one, in focussing on the difference between the
imperfect and aorist.  In my earlier studies I had some great teachers;  but
what a cracking pace they set!  One strategy I adopted in trying to avoid
brain-overload was to say to myself that since the imperfect and aorist were
both past tenses, I could lump both together and worry about the
distinctions later.  In doing so, as later I came to realize, I blinded
myself to much that is of real worth.  Observing the distinctions between
these two tenses brings a richer appreciation of the Greek and so gives a
greater enjoyment of the text as well as a more accurate understanding of

I start on the basis that the difference between the imperfect and aorist
has nothing to do with the nature of the action involved, but with the
writer's intention in presenting the action.  If he wished simply to affirm
that something had taken place, the aorist was chosen;  if for some reason
he wished to draw attention to the process of the action, the imperfect was

Because the imperfect draws attention to the continuative aspect of an
action, it is the more descriptive of the two tenses, and it is particularly
suitable if the author's purpose is to bring attention to an action as
iterative, durative, or conative;  it's also well suited to the sort of
layering I mentioned in a post a day or two ago.  Because it invites the
reader to see the process of an action, it is somewhat similar in effect to
the use of the historic present.


I don't have time to deal with the full movement of the passage Mark
2:13-17, but it's worth noting that a couple of historic presents are used,
and there are a number of imperfects, which slow down the pace of the
narrative so that the reader gives more attention to the process of what was
happening.  At verse 16, this is sufficient to account for the ELEGON;  but
this imperfect also suggests to me that the Lord's accusers were badgering
the disciples with their criticism of the Lord's eating with sinners and
tax-gatherers.  I don't imagine they confronted the disciples, stated once
their criticism of Jesus, and were then satisfied;  they were hounding the
disciples with their criticism, pestering them until they got an answer.
The imperfect is far more apt in bringing to the reader's view the
continuative process of their carping.  (I probably don't need to say that
I'm over-stating my case, but hope that this will serve to convey the
essence of my understanding of the choice of the imperfect here.  Secondly,
I don't take the imperfect to mean that the Lord's critics were repeating
the same words over and over, but that META TWN TELWNWN KAI hAMARTWLWN
ESQIEI communicates the essence of their complaint.)

TOIS SABBASIN hO OUK EXESTIN?   Again, I think the imperfect is used here
because the writer wants to slow down the narrative and have us picture the
scene in its unfolding.  There's perhaps an iterative idea: that the
question, with its criticism of the disciples for plucking heads of grain on
a Sabbath, was on the lips of more than one individual is clear from the use
of the plural FARISAIOI.  Again, this doesn't mean they were repeating
verbatim the one pattern of words, but that a number of them were voicing
their disapproval of the disciples (and, by implication, of the Lord for
failing to 'correct' them), and we are invited by the imperfect to see this
in process.  (Iver's comment is worth repeating: 'It [the imperfective] may
indicate verbal plurality, that is, several people are saying the same thing
or one person is saying the same thing to several people or several times.')
It is of note, too, that at verse 17 and again at verse 25 the Lord's answer
to his critics is reported with the historic present, LEGEI AUTOIS, since
the historic present is similar in effect to the imperfect.

At verse 27 a second part of the Lord's answer to those critical of his
disciples is introduced with the words, KAI ELEGEN AUTOIS.  The same factors
are at work;  in highlighting the continuative aspect, the imperfect may
suggest that what is recorded is the substance of the Lord's answer which we
might imagine was explained more fully as they proceeded through the fields
of grain, but that is not of the essence.  What is fundamental, I think, is
that the author's use of the imperfect slows the narrative pace and views
the action in its continuance.  In verbs of speech such as ELEGEN, the
imperfect is not a tense just to be used to introduce longer discourses such
as parables;  this would be true if the distinction between the imperfect
and aorist were a matter of the nature of the action.  Rather, whereas the
aorist is chosen if the author wants simply to affirm that something was
said, the imperfect is appropriate even for a single utterance if it is the
author's purpose to have the reader view the process of the action.

I have been enjoying the discussion of the imperfective and other
discussions that it has generated;  I'm about to take some time off with my
family, so I'm looking forward to catching up with the progress of these


Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia

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