Eric R. Naizer, «Discourse Prominence in Matthew 20,1-16: Stanley Porter's Verbal Aspect Theory applied», Vol. 22 (2009) 41-54
While traditionally grammarians have understood the Greek verbal system as grammaticalizing time and/or Aktionsart, there is growing acknowledgment that the Greek verbal system is fundamentally aspectual. There is also increasing recognition that verbal aspect can function to provide the author with the subjective choice to define discourse prominence within any given context. Much of the scholarship done on the subject of verbal aspect with regard to discourse prominence has been done at a theoretical level leaving the majority of the New Testament open for the application of the theory. It is the purpose of this study to apply the results of verbal aspect theory articulated by Stanley E. Porter to the pericope found in Matthew 20,1-16 in order to test the viability of aspect functioning to indicate prominence.
Discourse Prominence in Matthew 20,1-16 47
given in the aorist tense to identify background and supporting informa-
tion (οὐδεὶς ἡμᾶς ἐμισθώσατο) that explains why they are standing idle.
Further, Nolland notes that the same perfective aspect verb is used in v.
1 (μισθώσασθαι) and v. 7 (ἐμισθώσατο)21. Porter’s verbal aspect theory
offers an explanation for the use of the aorist tense as backgrounding the
information while structuring the first half of the pericope. Therefore,
the use of μισθώσασθαι used in v. 1 and ἐμισθώσατο in v. 7 functions
to frame the hiring of the groups of laborers with two perfective aspect
verbs producing a sense of cohesion.
In all but one instance the author uses the perfective aspect to mark
each verb in vv. 8-10 which moves the story along by summarizing the
contents of the command given by the landowner to his manager: to call
the laborers together then to give each payment beginning with the last
group of laborers hired (v. 8). The ensuing episode (vv. 9-10) includes
the laborers being given their payment with those who were hired “first”
(πρῶτοι) expecting to receive more than those who were hired “last”
(ἔσχατοι). The author’s use of the aorist with regard to the manager
functions to background his role within the narrative. Therefore, verbal
aspect theory offers support to Luz’s position that the manager is simply
a supporting character22.
The aorist participle λαβόντες in v. 11 moves the parable along and
recalls the indicative form of the verb used in v. 10b to add background
to the ensuing reaction of the laborers in vv. 11-12. The aorists used in v.
12 provide a summary of the background circumstances of the laborers
that prompt their grumbling (v. 11) and the landowner's response to their
complaints in vv. 13-15.
The landowner’s response is expressed by using an aorist tense verb
(εἶπεν) to summarize his speech in the dialogue, viewing it as a completed
action (v. 13). Further, the landowner’s response also contains the aorist
participle (συνεφώνησάς) recalling the agreement between the landown-
er and the laborers given in the perfective aspect in v. 2 (συμφώνησας).
The aorist imperative ἆρον at the beginning of v. 14 uses the default
aorist aspect for the command “take” indicating its semantic importance
is less than the imperfective aspect utilized in the second half of the verse.
The final two aorists found in vv. 14b.15a are aorist infinitives (δοῦναι
and ποιῆσαι respectively) which are also marked with the default aorist
aspect contrasting the present tense verb θέλω used twice in vv. 14-15
immediately before each of the infinitive verbs.
Nolland, Matthew, 808.
Luz, Matthew, 531.