Paul Himes, «The Use of the Aorist Imperative in the Pastoral Epistles», Vol. 23 (2010) 73-92
In light of recent developments in the study of Koine Greek, this paper proposes to examine the difference between the aorist imperative and the present imperative in the Pastoral Epistles. The first section of the paper surveys the various scholarly positions on the imperative mood (including the prohibitory aorist subjunctive). The second portion of this paper examines every use of the aorist imperative and the aorist prohibitory subjunctive in the Pastoral Epistles, while the third section draws some conclusions based on this analysis. This paper concludes that the aorist tense should be regarded as the default, generic tense (but not necessarily the “background tense” as verbal aspect theory argues), and that its only significance lies in its insignificance. In contrast, however, the present tense does seem to possess a durative/habitual sense.
The Use of the Aorist Imperative in the Pastoral Epistles 75
2.1. Modern Scholarship on the Use of the Imperatives
All scholars agree that temporality does not play a role in the imperative
mood6, except for the fact that, as H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey note,
“as a rule they [the “potential moods”] are relatively futuristic”7. Yet here
the line between aspect and aktionsart truly gets blurred. Does the writer
have a definite kind of action in mind when he uses a particular tense?
In other words, does the use of a present over an aorist mean that the
writer wants his listener(s) to continue doing an action? Similarly, does
an aorist prohibition substantially differ from a present prohibition?
William Heidt represents a more traditional aktionsart approach to the
imperative mood. He argues that the aorist imperative represents “point
action” and thus denotes intensity. Consequently, a proper understanding
of the six aorist imperatives in the Lords Prayer (Matt 6,9-13) would help
“infuse a greater spirit of intensity” into the prayer8. By contrast, the
present imperative “characterizes the activity under consideration as
one which is to be repeated time and time again, a continual process,
Oxford 1991); T. S. Foley, Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek: Verbal Aspect in
Theory and Practice (Linguistic Biblical Studies 1; Leiden, The Netherlands 2009), 58-73
and 125-141; J. Hewson, “Le système verbal du grec ancien: trios distinctions de temps, ou
deux?” Glotta 82 (2007) 96-107; K. L. McKay, A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testa-
ment Greek: An Aspectual Approach (Studies in Biblical Greek; New York 1994); S. E.
Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; n.c. 1999); S. E. Porter, Studies in the
Greek New Testament: Theory and Practice (Studies in New Testament Greek; New York:
Peter Lang, 1996); F. Stagg, “The Abused Aorist”, JBL 91 (June 1972) 222-231; and D.
Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1996) 390-655. The
reader should note that some authors seem to confuse the terminology. M. Zerwick, Biblical
Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici; adapted from the 4th Latin ed by J. Smith; Rome
1963), for example, continually refers to “aspect” when he seems to mean aktionsart (see
esp. 77); R. Funk, A Beginning-Intermediate Grammar of Hellenistic Greek (3 vols.; 2nd
corrected ed.; Society of Biblical Literature Sources for Biblical Study; Missoula, Mont.
1973) 1, 216-217, basically combines aktionsart with aspect and thus fails to distinguish
between the two. Indeed, Fanning (Verbal Aspect 32) is certainly correct when observing
that many of the older scholars failed to distinguish between aspect and aktionsart. Oddly
enough, both Thorley, “Aktionsart in New Testament Greek,” and K. L. McKay, “Aspect
in Imperatival Constructions in New Testament Greek”, NovT 27 (July 1985) 202-226 use
completely different terms when discussing the imperatives. Thorley uses “aktionsart” while
McKay uses “aspect,” yet they both seem to have similar views in mind and Thorley even
references McKay in a positive manner (see Thorley, “Aktionsart in New Testament Greek”
291 and 311).
Some, such as Hewson, point to the lack of the augment as a key indicator of the lack
of temporal concerns (see “Le système du cgrec ancien”, 98-100).
H. E. Dana and J. R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New
York: 1927) 177.
W. Heidt, “Translating the New Testament Imperatives”, CBQ 13 (July 1951) 253-254.