Jody A. Barnard, «Is Verbal Aspect a Prominence Indicator? An Evaluation of Stanley Porter’s Proposal with Special Reference to the Gospel of Luke.», Vol. 19 (2006) 3-29
The purpose of this article is to evaluate Stanley Porter’s theory of
aspectual prominence. According to Porter the three verbal aspects of the
Greek language (perfective, imperfective and stative) operate at a discourse
level to indicate prominence (background, foreground and frontground). This
theory will be tested against the points of emphasis and climactic junctures
evident in a selection of Luke’s miracle and pronouncement stories.
Is Verbal Aspect a Prominence Indicator? 11
The main verb employed at this climactic juncture, however, is the
aorist ÏƒÏ…Î½á½³ÎºÎ»ÎµÎ¹ÏƒÎ±Î½ (v. 6). Given the discourse preponderance upon this
event, it is unlikely that â€œno attention is being drawn to itâ€, as Porterâ€™s
proposal suggests. Furthermore, the so called â€œfrontgroundâ€ tense is used
by Luke to report the backgrounded introductory details (5,1-2). It would
seem that Luke felt that the perfect tense was a legitimate choice for do-
cumenting the initial situation.
Healing a Leper (5,12-16)
The cleansing of the leper is widely recognised as a healing story34,
so the high point of the pericope would seem to be v. 13. Luke confirms
this by drawing additional attention to the miracle by noting its instan-
taneous nature (Îµá½Î¸á½³Ï‰Ï‚). However, the tense that Luke uses to report
the departure of the leprosy is aorist (á¼€Ï€á¿†Î»Î¸ÎµÎ½). Once again it is highly
unlikely that Luke is drawing no attention to the climactic resolution of
this socially ostracizing complicating action.
Healing a paralytic (5,17-26)
This account is particularly interesting in the light of Porterâ€™s propo-
sal since all three verbal aspects are scattered throughout the discourse.
Verse 17, for example, sets the scene for the paralyticâ€™s healing, yet this
introductory material is reported with perfective (á¼Î³á½³Î½ÎµÏ„Î¿), imperfective
(á¼¦Î½ Î´Î¹Î´á½±ÏƒÎºÏ‰Î½) and stative (á¼¦ÏƒÎ±Î½ á¼Î»Î·Î»Ï…Î¸á½¹Ï„ÎµÏ‚) aspects. Nolland has ob-
served that â€œLuke uses periphrastic tenses (á¼¦Î½ Î´Î¹Î´á½±ÏƒÎºÏ‰Î½ [â€˜was teachingâ€™],
á¼¦ÏƒÎ±Î½ ÎºÎ±Î¸á½µÎ¼ÎµÎ½Î¿Î¹ [â€˜were seatedâ€™], á¼¦ÏƒÎ±Î½ á¼Î»Î·Î»Ï…Î¸á½¹Ï„ÎµÏ‚ [â€˜had comeâ€™]) to set
the background for the action of the storyâ€35. This certainly seems to be
the case here, yet these constructions express imperfective and stative
aspects, Porterâ€™s foreground and frontground aspects.
As with many of these stories there seems to be a mixture of forms.
In this instance both pronouncement (5,20.23-24) and miracle (5,25) can
be discerned36. But, in view of the fronted Ï€Î±ÏÎ±Ï‡Ïá¿†Î¼Î± (v. 25) and the
repetition that each of Jesusâ€™ instructions came to pass; it seems natural
to consider the miracle itself as the climactic point of the story. The key
actions, however, are reported with the aorist tense forms á¼€Î½Î±ÏƒÏ„á½±Ï‚ ...
á¼„ÏÎ±Ï‚ ... á¼€Ï€á¿†Î»Î¸ÎµÎ½ (v. 25).
Porterâ€™s proposal would suggest that, in relation to á¼€Î½Î±ÏƒÏ„á½±Ï‚ ... á¼„ÏÎ±Ï‚ ...
á¼€Ï€á¿†Î»Î¸ÎµÎ½, Luke is highlighting ÎºÎ±Ï„á½³ÎºÎµÎ¹Ï„Î¿ and Î´Î¿Î¾á½±Î¶Ï‰Î½. But in view of the
Bultmann, History, 212; I.H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids 1979) 206;
Fitzmyer, Luke, 1:572; Bock, Luke, 1:470.
J. Nolland, Luke 1-9:20; 9:21-18:34; 18:35-24:53 (Dallas 1989-93) 1:233.
See Bock, Luke, 1:470.