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.
28 Jody A. Barnard
such as the grammatical system itselfâ€107. This is indeed a great weakness
of Porterâ€™s aspectual approach, and throws doubt on the idea that an
author was invariably free to select tenses on the basis of what he wanted
to emphasize. It is a pity that Silva does not develop his comment about
the grammatical system further since there is probably a lot to be learned
from such an investigation.
Nevertheless there is at least one grammatical factor, relevant to both
miracle and pronouncement stories, which supports his comment. As
is well known, â€œwhen one transfers the words of direct speech to indi-
rect speech, despite several other changes which may be made (usually
regarding person), the verbal aspect of direct speech is retainedâ€108. In
other words, in the event of indirect discourse, the rules of the language
have already determined which verbal aspect will be used. With regard to
Acts 16, for example, Porter suggests that á½‘Ï€á½±ÏÏ‡Ï‰ (v. 3) is imperfective
(á½‘Ï€á¿†ÏÏ‡ÎµÎ½) to reinforce the reason for Timothyâ€™s circumcision109, but the
imperfective aspect had already been determined by virtue of its position
within indirect discourse110.
This study has attempted to engage with Porterâ€™s theory of aspectual
prominence and evaluate the possibility that prominence was a factor in
Lukeâ€™s appropriation of verbal aspect. His theory has been tested against
the points of emphasis and climactic junctures evident in Lukeâ€™s miracle
and pronouncement stories, which seem to be based on a variety of sour-
ces (Mark, Q and L).
With regard to the miracle stories it was discovered that the aorist ten-
se is typically employed at the climax of the discourse, which is entirely
contrary to Porterâ€™s proposal. It was also seen that it is not unusual to
find Porterâ€™s foreground and frontground tenses in background contexts.
These findings, therefore, are more consistent with the models of aspec-
tual prominence advocated by Wallace, Fanning and Levinsohn.
With regard to the pronouncement stories it was discovered that
many of the prominent points or climactic sayings employ the present
Silva, â€˜Responseâ€™, 79; cf. B.M. Fanning, â€œApproaches to Verbal Aspect in New
Testament Greek: Issues in Definition and Methodâ€, in Porter and Carson (eds.), Greek
Language and Linguistics, 50-53.
Porter, Idioms, 269 (italics mine); cf. Wallace, Grammar, 457.
Porter, Aspect, 93.
This does not necessarily mean that the direct discourse was imperfect however, since
an imperfect sometimes stands for a present; see M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek Illustrated by
Examples, Translated by J. Smith (Rome 1963) 119, n.12.