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?
act of Jesus to be the main point of the miracle stories. But this proba-
bly has more to do with the fact that they demonstrate the fulfilment of
Isaianic soteriological texts, which, in Luke, become a kind of Messianic
manifesto (see 4,17-21; 7,21-22).
The discipline of discourse analysis offers additional support for equa-
ting the miraculous act of Jesus with the climax of the discourse. One
of the key considerations for discourse analysis is the identification of
the â€œclimactic resolutionâ€ to the â€œcomplicating actionâ€25. That is, Jesusâ€™
miraculous act typically resolves some previously mentioned problem.
Therefore, as we shall see, the structure of the plot suggests that the mira-
culous act of Jesus and the climax of the discourse are one.
A Synagogue exorcism (4,31-37)
Verses 31-32 describe the initial situation and add to the significance
of the exorcism by noting the important detail that it was the Sabbath
day. Verses 33-34 could be classified as the complicating action, which
identify the problem to be resolved. Thus, unsurprisingly, the climax of
the miracle story is the miracle itself (v. 35). Assuming Mark is Lukeâ€™s
main source for this story, it would seem that he further heightens the
exorcism by adding the detail that Î¼Î·Î´á½²Î½ Î²Î»á½±ÏˆÎ±Î½ Î±á½Ï„á½¹Î½ (cf. Mk 1,26).
However, apart from the stereotypical Î»á½³Î³Ï‰Î½, the entire climactic
episode is reported in the aorist tense, which, according to Porter, is the
â€œbackground tenseâ€, the tense which is â€œrelied upon to carry a narrative
along when no attention is being drawn to the events being spoken ofâ€26.
But, in view of the storyâ€™s form and the unfolding of the plot, it is highly
unlikely that no attention is being drawn to the miraculous and climactic
Healing Simonâ€™s mother-in-law (4,38-39)
Again, the point of this episode is that Jesus has the power to heal and,
like the previous pericope, it takes place on the Sabbath. Mark 1,30 sim-
ply reports that she was laid out with a fever (ÎºÎ±Ï„á½³ÎºÎµÎ¹Ï„Î¿ Ï€Ï…Ïá½³ÏƒÏƒÎ¿Ï…ÏƒÎ±),
whereas Luke seems to intensify the description with his á¼¦Î½ ÏƒÏ…Î½ÎµÏ‡Î¿Î¼á½³Î½Î·
Ï€Ï…ÏÎµÏ„á¿· Î¼ÎµÎ³á½±Î»á¿³ (4,38). In view of the preceding and subsequent aorists,
the imperfective aspect of the periphrastic construction could be viewed
as contributing to this sense of prominence. But the meaning of ÏƒÏ…Î½á½³Ï‡Ï‰
and the presence of Î¼ÎµÎ³á½±Î»á¿³ could also, or even exclusively, be responsible
for this effect. Either way, this intensification of the complication increa-
ses the importance of the resolution.
See R.A. Dooley and S.H. Levinsohn, Analyzing Discourse (Dallas 2001) 104-05.
Porter, Idioms, 23, 35.