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 87
Titus uses a mere fourteen imperatives, only three of which are aorist.
Furthermore, the aorist imperatives parallel those in the last chapter of
2 Tim. Thus in Titus 3,12 Paul once again uses the aorist imperative of
σπουδάζω with the aorist infinitive ἐλθεῖν. In 3,15, just as in 2 Tim 4,19,
Paul uses the aorist imperative for ἀσπάζομαι. At this point one could
even suggest that certain verbs might, in general, have naturally taken
a certain tense in the imperative (i.e. perhaps verbs of greeting always
occur in a certain tense in the imperative mood)58.
In 3,13, Paul urges Titus to send (aorist) Zenas the lawyer to him.
Here, perhaps, is a much more clear instance where the present would
have been inappropriate, not because the aorist refers to a “once-for-all”
kind of action59, but rather because the concept of sending somebody
might (in Greek at least), be somewhat awkward in the imperative mood
if expressed with a present imperative60.
The point, then, has been simply to demonstrate how careful one
should be in mining exegetical gold nuggets from the use of the tenses.
Having surveyed the aorist imperatives in the Pastorals, we can now
attempt to draw some conclusions concerning their significance.
4. Understanding the Aorist Imperative
One thing, at least, is certain from the above study: the difference
between the aorist and present imperative threatens to defy any attempts
at simple classification. Indeed, it is difficult to come to any solid rules
regarding the different tenses in the imperative mood. At the least,
Which, of course, would be in keeping with Baugh’s view in “Introduction to Greek
Tense Form Choice.” See also Thorley, “Aktionsart in New Testament Greek” 305-306, who
discusses verbs where “lexical usage” or “syntactical usage” might dictate the tense, along
with the fact that verbs of motion seem to prefer the present imperative over the aorist.
He contrasts these with “free” verbs (“i.e. where the author has an open choice of aorist or
present imperative without any of the above constraints”). Unfortunately it is beyond the
scope of this paper to discuss that issue more thoroughly.
D. A. Black, It’s Still Greek to Me (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1998) 97, bluntly states that
the aoristic aspect “never means ‘once and for all’, no matter who tells you that it does.”
This writer is inclined to agree.
This writer personally searched (via Accordance) both the NT and the LXX but
could not find any occurrences of either πέμπω or προπέμπω in the present imperative,
although both did occur in the present tense (though surprisingly, both words appear far
less than one would expect).