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 85
of “be strengthened” while using an aorist for the others? Certainly both
passing on Paul’s instruction and suffering could be viewed as continuous
acts and should not be viewed as one-time events. Also, it is hard to see
why the latter two verbs should be more stressed than the first one (if,
as some scholars argue, the aorist imperative places a sense of urgency
on the action)50. Finally, from the perspective of verbal aspect theory,
it is difficult to understand why the imperative in verse 1 would be
foregrounded while those in verses 2 and 3 would not be.
In 2,15, Paul uses an aorist imperative coupled with an aorist infinitive
to urge Timothy to present himself as “one approved” before God. In
2,19 Paul quotes the Old Testament to argue that every one naming the
name of the Lord should turn away from sin, using the 3rd person aorist
imperative ἀποστήτω. In between those two verses, in 2,16, Paul uses a
present imperative to tell Timothy to avoid inappropriate conversations.
Once again context does not indicate why Paul used an aorist for the
first but a present for the second (the third usage may simply depend on
the quotation). From the traditional perspective, why would presenting
oneself as “one approved” not be portrayed with an iterative force while
the concept of turning away from sin would be? Both seem equally likely
to possess an iterative force (and, likewise, it is difficult to see why the
former would be considered an “urgent” command in contrast with the
latter). From the perspective of verbal aspect theory, once again it is
difficult to understand why the imperative in 2,16 should be foregrounded
while those in 2,15 and 2,19 would not be.
Second Timothy 4,2 and 4,5 presents a unique situation. All five
imperatives in 4,2 are aorist while 4,5 begins with a present but continues
on with three aorists. In 4,2, Timothy is to preach, be present in all
circumstances (ESV “be ready in season and out of season”), rebuke,
order, and encourage. In 4,5, Timothy is to be sober, suffer, do the work
of an evangelist, and fulfill his ministry. Of all those imperatives only the
command to be sober is in the present tense.
Mounce argues, “The shift to the linear aspect of the present tense
here is appropriate for a general admonition”51. Mounce also suggests
that the five aorists in 4,2 provide “a serious tone appropriate for the
pronouncement”52. Hendriksen and Kistemaker characterize the
imperatives in 4,2 as “brisk,” but do not comment on the tense change
Mounce, Pastoral Epistles 506, argues that the second verb, being aorist, is “signify-
ing the need to find faithful men” but he does not seem to attach any significance to the