[B-Greek] Can the Imperfect not be Continuous? (ELEGEN)
alexali at internode.on.net
alexali at internode.on.net
Wed Dec 15 20:15:35 EST 2010
Yesterday Carl brought to our attention Mounce's blog on the
"instantaneous imperfect". I'd like to express agreement with Rich
>Imperfect may not be communicating "ongoing" or "incomplete". At
times I think that imperfect simply takes one up close and into the
ongoing action... Or in the case of speech brings the reader up close
and into the actual conversation.
In his blog, Mounce writes,
>Jesus “said (ελεγεν), ‘Depart, for the little girl is not
dead, but sleeping’” (Matt 9:24). Does this mean that Jesus made
this statement over and over? “He said (ελεγεν), ‘Who
touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30). Did it take Jesus a while of
asking to find the woman?
The questions are rhetorical, but there are two difficulties with
them. The first is, they may be answered in a manner that contradicts
the rhetorical expectation.
Take the first question, "Does this mean that Jesus made this
statement over and over?" It may be helpful to look, not simply at the
first part of Matthew 9:24, but at the whole verse: ἔλεγεν,
Ἀναχωρεῖτε, οὐ γὰρ ἀπέθανεν τὸ
κοράσιον ἀλλὰ καθεύδει. καὶ
κατεγέλων αὐτοῦ. If we were to treat
κατεγέλων in the way Mounce suggests we treat ἔλεγεν,
we would understand this as "Jesus said 'x'. And they laughed at him."
If, however, we give the imperfects continuative force we get a far
more vivid picture, "Jesus was saying 'x', and they were laughing at
him." They were so convinced that Jesus was wrong, that they were
laughing; perhaps, then, Jesus did say again that the girl was alive.
We cannot determine this, because the iterative potential of the
imperfect is a feature that is cancelable.
Mounce's second rhetorical question is, "Did it take Jesus a while of
asking to find the woman?" The rhetorical expectation is, "No". Again,
context shows that the actual answer is otherwise. Here are verses
30-33. Notice the repeated imperfects. καὶ εὐθὺς ὁ
Ἰησοῦς ἐπιγνοὺς ἐν ἑαυτῷ τὴν ἐξ
αὐτοῦ δύναμιν ἐξελθοῦσαν
ἐπιστραφεὶς ἐν τῷ ὄχλῳ ἔλεγεν, Τίς
μου ἥψατο τῶν ἱματίων; 31 καὶ ἔλεγον
αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ, Βλέπεις τὸν
ὄχλον συνθλίβοντά σε καὶ λέγεις,
Τίς μου ἥψατο; 32 καὶ περιεβλέπετο
ἰδεῖν τὴν τοῦτο ποιήσασαν. 33 ἡ δὲ
γυνὴ φοβηθεῖσα καὶ τρέμουσα,
εἰδυῖα ὃ γέγονεν αὐτῇ, ἦλθεν καὶ
προσέπεσεν αὐτῷ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ
πᾶσαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν. (Mark 5:30-33 GNT) Jesus was
saying, ... His disciples were saying, ... , he was looking around.
Perhaps, again, Jesus did repeat the question, Τίς μου
ἥψατο τῶν ἱματίων; Again, we cannot be sure,
because the iterative feature is cancelable.
And this brings us to the second difficulty with the questions Mounce
asks. They are the wrong questions.
They address the choice of the imperfect as a matter of Aktionsart,
as if the determinant feature in its use is the nature of the action.
This assumption that it is the nature of the action that is critical
in the choice of tense leads Mounce to imply that there is something
surprising about instances of the imperfect expressing actions he
regards as "instantaneous".
But if we look at the choice of tense not as a matter of Aktionsart
but as one of aspect, we ask different questions, holding that it lay
with the writer to choose between the presentation of an action in its
continuance, viewing it in process, or simply asserting the occurrence
of an action which is viewed in its entirety, globally.
Although the iterative potential of the imperfect is cancelable, its
presentation of an action in its continuance is not. So when we see
ἔλεγεν, it is more productive to ask 'Why does the author want
us to view this action in its process?' Even if it does not require an
iterative understanding, in both instances Mounce cites, ἔλεγεν
slows down the pace of the narration and focuses on what was being
said. Nor has it been difficult to see why. In the first case, what
Jesus was saying was so extraordinary, so contrary to what the
onlookers 'knew', that they considered it risible. In the second case,
it draws attention to an extraordinary scene where Jesus knows that
power has gone out from him and is looking about for the person who
had touched him.
The question as to whether Jesus was here acting in accordance with
his humanity or otherwise might be asked, but is not one for the
BGreek forum; I mention it simply to indicate that the distinctions
between the tenses are no mere trifle but bear upon our understanding
of matters more significant than Greek grammar, yet also give us
reason to elucidate Greek grammar as carefully as we are able. Like
flattening layers in a Photoshop document, flattening the distinction
between the imperfect and aorist results in a loss of information.
Rich, nuanced information that is significant for a vibrant
understanding of the text.
I suppose this means that I'm adopting a different position from Mark
L's when he writes,
>Mounce ... says you have to regularly review your grammar--your
Wallace and others--or else you might forget that ελεγε (ELEGE)
is not a continuous imperfect. But if you never learned any grammar in
the first place, if, that is, you learned a language the way 99% of
all humans have ever learned a language, you would not even know what
an imperfect is. You would just read or hear or say ελεγε and you
would get an intuitive feel that it pretty much means the same thing
as ειπε and you would move on to the next word without even
thinking about it and you would not have the problem that Mounce
I think 100% of us haven't learnt NT Greek the way humans have ever
learnt their first language, so grammars are perhaps more significant
light-bearers than Mark seems to imply, but these days that ought
include grammars that tackle Aspect and not just Aktionsart.
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