[B-Greek] "Inceptive" aor. subj. in Matthew 24:34?

mark lama markosl80 at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 17 13:34:00 EDT 2003

"Carl W. Conrad" <cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu> wrote:
Although less than 24 hours have elapsed since Bert's message was
distributed, I thought there might be some comment from another list-member
regarding Mounce's "exegetical insights" in general or this one in
particular. I know that to some, perhaps to many users of Mounce's primer
these are one of the most attractive features of a good textbook; for my
part, on the couple occasions when I used the textbook for teaching, I
found them annoying and distracting, often tendentious, occasionally even
making extraordinary claims on the basis of rather dubious grammatical
distinctions. And such is the case with this one in particular, where
Professor Mounce argues that the aorist subjunctive GENHTAI in Mt 24:34 --
and also in Lk 1:20 -- should be understood as an "inceptive or ingressive"

For my part, I haven't seen any convincing instance of the "inceptive or
ingressive aorist" outside of the indicative mood (I don't question the
legitimacy of this category). I shall not cite but simply list the
references that anyone who wishes to do so may check: BDF §331; Wallace
GGBB, pp. 558-9; AT Robertson GGNT p. 834; Smyth §1924. Smyth even
categorizes and offers a list of verbs subject to such usage, and Wallace
cites several NT passages (not including either of these texts in
question). I persist in my view of Mt 24:34 that hEWS AN PANTA TAUTA
GENHTAI does indeed mean "until all these things have come to pass."
Moreover I think that in Lk 1:20 there's no particular FOCUS upon the
inception of the sequence of events of John's ministry.

I agree with Carl. The aorist subjuctive with hEWS AN in Mt. 24:34 (and elsewhere) means no more or less than the comparable English phrase with the aoristic present, "until all this happens." It is no more complex than the other phrases with the aorist subjunctive that immediately preceed it in this passage and occur times without number in the NT. 

There is a distict danger when doing exegesis to become so involved in the "issues" of interpretation that one loses sight of the Greek text as an ordinary human language, and thus to blow supposed grammatical nuances way out of proportion, doing violence to the linguistic integrity of the utterance. In my opinion, this is what is happening here. 

Let's face it. When a speaker (or writer) wants to introduce a semantic element (such as the inception of an action) to his hearers, he selects a lexical or morphological element in his language that conventionally functions to convey that semantic element. He makes use of the semantic distictions that are "programmed" into the structure of the language. The non-indicative mood forms of the aorist in Greek are simply not programmed to carry the distiction that Mounce is trying to load them with in this passage. If the author had intended to bring an inceptive element to bear here, he would have chosen a form of speech that carried that element, such as the verb ARCOMAI. 

The best remedy for these misguided grammatical conjectures is a sound grasp (as far as it is attainable) of NT Greek as a living language. It is helpful to compare features of Greek syntax with similar features in contempory languages. For example, Modern Greek still preserves the distiction between the present and aorist subjunctives, and represents it as action viewed as simply occuring vs. action viewed as extended. It is greatly edifying to see the same division of duties between the two subjunctives in a contemporary Greek newspaper article as one observes in the NT, especially since it is a feature foreign to native speakers of English. A NT writer didn't have to think twice about using phrases like hEWS AN GENHTAI or hOTAN GENHTAI: they were the forms that naturally sprang to his mind with the ideas "until it happens" or "when it happens."

The goal for us students of the Greek NT should be to get an intuitive feel for the resources (and limits) of the language, so that if we cannot actually become fluent speakers of the language we can at least see the text, in so far as possible, from the point of view of a speaker. Then we will be able to see many of the problems of understanding the NT text as analogous to what they would be if it had been written in Spanish or German. Too often, NT Greek is treated as a kind of superhuman exegetical code. While beginners may be forgiven this, it is regrettable that textbook authors like Mounce should further the notion by linguisically unwarranted exegetical digressions like the one cited.

In the end, then, I would agree with Carl that the burden in this verse (Mt 24:34) lies on how we are to understand the words hH GENEA hAUTH. I am hardly qualified to make a pronouncement on this, but I would observe that the Greek word is not limited to the way we use our English word "generation" today, as in "Generation X".


Mark Lama

Do you Yahoo!?
SBC Yahoo! DSL - Now only $29.95 per month!

More information about the B-Greek mailing list