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 77
Yet Morrice does end up suggesting that the aorist imperative might be
“more forceful and urgent than the present” (though he is more hesitant
than Heidt and considers other possibilities)16. John Thorley similarly
suggests that the aorist is “concerned with an action as a complete event”
and that the aorist imperative “often has an urgency or immediacy to do
Daniel Wallace, however, views the aorist imperative simply as a
“summary command,” one where “the action is viewed as a whole”18. He
concurs with the others, however, in that the present imperative focuses
on the action “as an ongoing process”19. Similarly, William Mounce
speaks of the aorist imperative as concerned with an “undefined action”
while the present “indicates a continuous action”20. Ernst De Witt Burton
likewise sees the aorist of the dependent moods (including the imperative
mood) as concerning itself with the action as a “simple event or fact”
while the present views the action “as in progress or as repeated”21. Porter
likewise rejects the traditional view and argues that the aorist imperative
can act as a “summery-term for the following specifying or particularizing
present imperatives” (e.g. 1 Pet 2,17)22.
James Boyer provides a similar but slightly different way of viewing
the two tenses of the imperatives. For Boyer, “the present imperative
expresses a command or request that calls for action that is continued
or repeated” (e.g. “Love one another” means “always be doing things for
one another”); by contrast, the aorist imperative “is used to command or
request an action that is specific and occasional, dealing with everyday
procedural decisions, or in general admonitions simply to say ‘Do it’”23.
McKay apparently agrees:
In the imperative the essential difference between the aorist and the
imperfective is that the former urges an activity as whole action and the latter
urges it as ongoing process. The most common realizations of the imperfective
are likely to be continue doing, begin to do, try to do, do habitually, (or from
time to time), do at the same time (parallel with), and a combination of these.
Thorley, “Aktionsart in New Testament Greek” 305.
Wallace, Beyond the Basics 485, 719.
W. D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1993) 303.
E. De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek (2nd ed.;
Chicago: 1893) 46-47.
Porter, Idioms 54.
J. L. Boyer, “The Classification of Imperatives: A Statistical Study”, Grace Theological
Journal 8 (Spring 1987) 41.