Ex nihilo? Was Raqiyah

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Wed Jul 24 20:04:31 EDT 2002


Bill,
When I was studying advanced Greek grammar, we called these 
principles "first-year lies."  Which is to say, in the first year profs 
often over-simplify things, then have to go back and explain what's 
really going on later.  I don't know of a single case of the type you 
describe in the NT; there are some of the reverse, such as Mark's 
omnipresent "historic present," but that seems to be more a case of 
one writer's idiolect than anything else.  Outside the indicative mode, 
it's possible that the "tenses" were aspect-based, though even this 
can be questioned.  In the indicative, however, as in Gen 1:1, the 
present tense was not an option.  Had the translator understood 
some sort of "linear" aspect in addition to the past tense, s/he would 
likely have used an imperfect.  In the indicative, the aorist (as its 
name suggests) is the simple past tense.  In English I can say "I 
went to the kitchen" or "I went to Paris" and only the context - 
specifically the pragmatic fact that I live in Boise, Idaho, can tell a 
listener that the latter event took much longer than the former.  
Again, I recommend reading Stagg before making too many 
sweeping comments about the aorist.

> Dave,
> 
> Since the discussion is really about Gen. 1:1 I won't dwell on the finer
> points of Greek.  And some real Greek scholar might correct me. And this
> comment does not really deal with the use of aorist in Gen. 1:1.  However as
> far as Greek tenses are concerned they are less time specific than aspect
> specific.  In other words the Greek writter used aorist in some cases
> because it was "punctiliar" rather than because it represented a "past"
> event.  The use of the present tense in Greek more often meant an act in the
> present time that is in process. I believe there are cases in the New
> Testament at least where the writer used the aorist to express an event in
> "present time (at least to the mind of the English speaker)" with
> "punctilar" action.
> 
> Bill Burks
> 
> On 7/24/02 5:32 PM, "Dave Washburn" <dwashbur at nyx.net> wrote:
> 
> > Just to follow up on this (I was a Greek geek before I became a
> > Hebrew geek), the "aorist" is the "simple" past tense without
> > reference to duration, repetition or anything else.  It is customary to
> > speak of it in a "punctiliar" sense, but it is necessary to stretch the
> > meaning of "punctiliar" to make it stick.  the word "aorist" itself
> > means "undefined," i.e. it is an unspecific past tense.  Thus one
> > could say "I went to the store" with the aorist, but one could also say
> > "I read the same paragraph six times [before I gave up and put the
> > book down]" with the aorist as well.  The only factor that determines
> > whether an aorist is ingressive, gnomic, punctiliar, or whatever, is
> > context.  The terms ingressive, gnomic etc. are constructs created
> > by us linguists to pidgeon-hole the various contexts in which the
> > undefined aorist is used.  The definitive work on this subject is Frank
> > Stagg, "The Abused Aorist," JBL 91 (1972) 222-231.
> > 
> > The upshot of all this, as Stagg points out, is that *absence* of the
> > aorist is much more likely to have linguistic significance than
> > *presence* of the aorist.  In the case of Gen 1:1, the aorist says
> > "God created."  Nothing more.  It might be possible to understand it
> > in an ingressive sense, but nothing in the context requires, or even
> > suggests, such a reading.
> >> Ian asserted that the Greek aorist in Genesis 1:1 LXX must be "inceptive
> >> aorist or overview" - see below. I asked a friend who is a Greek scholar
> >> to comment. Following my comments is the reply, forwarded with
> >> permission and slightly edited to conceal my friend's identity.
> >> 
> >> It seems that I am justified in my claim that this aorist is much more
> >> simply understood as a simple punctiliar aorist, one of a series of past
> >> events. This leaves open the question of whether the following verses
> >> refer to subsequent states and events or give internal details of what
> >> is initially presented as an event with no internal structure: compare:
> >> "I went to the town today. It was a nice warm day. First I walked down
> >> the road, then I caught the bus..." Perhaps this is what Ian meant by
> >> "overview", and this is certainly a possible interpretation of both the
> >> Hebrew and the Greek. But there is certainly no support in the Greek for
> >> the inceptive idea.
> >> 
> >> Peter Kirk
> >> 
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: ... 
> >> Sent: 24 July 2002 12:46
> >> To: Peter Kirk
> >> Subject: Re: Ex nihilo? Was Raqiyah
> >> 
> >> Inceptive aorist is used with verbs whose present denotes a state or
> >> condition. E. de W. Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in NT Greek,
> >> #41;
> >> C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of N.T. Greek, p. 10;W.W. Goodwin, Syntax of
> >> the
> >> Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, #55. (Goodwin is a classical one,
> >> the
> >> use was the same from the Ionic dialect to the Koine.)
> >> 
> >> By "overview" (which I have never heard of) I assume he means a gnomic
> >> aorist. A gnomic aorist expresses a general truth (e.g. they impose a
> >> penalty on everyone who commits a crime) clearly absolutely impossible
> >> here!
> >> 
> >> By the way, I have looked through every single reference work I have
> >> that
> >> mentions the LXX, and not one comments on Genesis 1:1, as they would if
> >> there was anything remotely interesting there. It is obviously a simple
> >> aorist.
> >> 
> >> Hope this helps!
> >> 
> >> ...
> >> 
> >> 
> >> ----- Original Message -----
> >> From: "Peter Kirk" <Peter_Kirk at sil.org>
> >> ...
> >>> 
> >>> -----Original Message-----
> >>> From: Ian Hutchesson [mailto:mc2499 at mclink.it]
> >>> Sent: 23 July 2002 02:20
> >>> To: Biblical Hebrew
> >>> Subject: Re: Ex nihilo? Was Raqiyah
> >>> 
> >>>> I see creation ex nihilo in verse 1, which I still interpret as an
> >>>> independent sentence - don't let's get back into discussing the
> >> syntax
> >>>> again.
> >>> 
> >>> You still haven't explained the relationship of the
> >>> first two verses with the rest of the creation story,
> >>> given that the first creative act according to the
> >>> imposition of the seven day week was that the first
> >>> act of creation begain on day one when God said, Let
> >>> there be light.
> >>> 
> >>>> On my interpretation, which is certainly a very ancient one going
> >>>> back at least to the LXX, there is no mention of preexisting matter,
> >>>> just that God created the heavens and the earth.
> >>> 
> >>> The aorist form of the verb indicates that the LXX
> >>> does not in fact support the position you claim. My
> >>> reaction was that it had to be an inceptive aorist
> >>> ie we are looking at the start of the creation in v1,
> >>> though another approach was also outlined on this
> >>> list was that the aorist gave an overview of the
> >>> whole story which followed. It certainly is not a
> >>> punctiliar aorist -- as it's not a punctiliar action.
> >>> 
> >>>> This interpretation
> >>>> takes v.2 as a description of the state of the earth just after it
> >> had
> >>>> been created.
> >>> 
> >>> Either way, inceptive aorist or overview, such an
> >>> interpretation doesn't seem available.
> >>> 
> >>> 
> >>> Ian
> >>> 
> >> 
> >> 
> >> 
> >> ---
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> >> 
> > 
> > Dave Washburn
> > http://www.nyx.net/~dwashbur
> > You know you're a lousy artist when you can't
> > draw a straight line on an Etch-a-Sketch.
> > 
> > 
> > ---
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> 
> 
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> 

Dave Washburn
http://www.nyx.net/~dwashbur
You know you're a lousy artist when you can't
draw a straight line on an Etch-a-Sketch.




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