Sunday, January 27, 2013

Porter's "Three Planes of Discourse"

Stanley Porter is famous for the work he's done on Greek aspect. His Idioms of the Greek New Testament outlines something known as the "three planes of discourse." I summarize Porter's discussion below. The full treatment of aspect prominence can be found in the work referenced above. I will include the bibliographical data at the conclusion of this post.

1. The aorist is supposed to be the background tense. It's analogous to a bookshelf since the aorist "forms the basis for discourse" or it structures narratives and sketches background events.

2. The present is the foreground tense (according to Porter). It is analogous to one shelf (rather than the whole bookshelf). A present tense verb evidently introduces significant characters within a narrative and makes "appropriate climactic references" to particular circumstances.

3. Finally, the perfect is the frontground tense. It's comparable to a book. This tense introduces elements of a narrative in "an even more discrete, defined, contoured and complex way." See how the perfect functions in Matthew 4:2 (epeinasen).

Robertson thinks that the aorist verb in Matthew 4:2 functions ingressively.

Stanley Porter. Idioms of the Greek New Testament (Sheffield: JSOT, 1992), 23ff.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Didache, Fasting and Prayer

Taken from Didache 8:

But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever.

Pray this three times each day.


Comparing the Tenses of Matt 24:45-47 and Lk 12:41-44

Matthew 24:45 uses the Greek verb κατέστησεν to describe Jesus' appointment of the faithful and discreet slave. But καταστήσει appears in Luke 12:42.

So the Apostle Matthew employs the aorist indicative tense while Luke conscripts the future καταστήσει. Why is there a difference in tenses between the two Gospels? Is the difference substantive?

Regarding the aorist, modern studies in New Testament Greek now tell us that the aorist does not necessarily signify that an action is performed once for all time. The punctiliar nature of an act is derived from the context of a verse and not the aorist tense alone. The aorist is an example of what grammarians and linguists call, perfective aspect. What this means is that the writer (in this case, Matthew) evidently visualizes and subsequently presents the action described by the verb (aorist form) as an undivided whole, without much concern for the progression of the action or its telicity.

A reader can discern whether an action delineated by the aorist is punctiliar or otherwise by taking note of contextual or other linguistic features (also known as affected vs. unaffected meaning). As a side point, some grammarians classify the aorist as external rather than perfective aspect.

Daniel B. Wallace ("Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics," page 501) also classifies the future tense as perfective or "external" (his terminology) aspect. If this is the case, then it would apparently mean that there is no theological significance in Luke employing the future instead of the aorist form of the verb. I think the result is the same, regardless of which morphological formation the writer used. Both writers portray Jesus as appointing the faithful and discreet slave, then augmenting his authority once the Master arrives (see Luke 12:44).

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Notes on the Aorist Participle (Luke 10:18)

Here is a response that I made some years ago to a question about Luke 10:18.

Okay [Mike], here we go.

As I mentioned last night, the information you requested is actually on page 67 of Goodwin's syntax and can be found in section 146 under aorist participles.

Goodwin writes:

"The Aorist Participle used as an integral part of the object of a verb of perception represents the action which it denotes as a simple event without defining its time. The action may be one which is directly perceived and hence coincident in time with that of the principal verb, or it may be one which is ascertained or learned, and hence antecedent to the action of the principal verb. In the latter case it takes the place of a clause of indirect discourse having its verb in the Aorist Indicative.

Acts 9:12; KAI EIDEN ANDRA . . . ANANIAN ONOMATI EISELQONTA KAI ETIQENTA AUTWi XEIRAS, and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay hands upon him. See also Luke 10:18; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 26:13; 2 Pet. 1:18.

Luke 4:23; hOSA HKOUSAMEN GENOMENA, whatever things we have heard to have been done."

That is what Goodwin says verbatim.

Looking at the NWT rendering, "I began to behold Satan already fallen like lightning from heaven," it seems that the NWT construes EQEWROUN (1st singular imperfect indicative active) as having ingressive (inceptive) force. This strategy is fine in light of what K.L. McKay writes in A Syntax of the Verb in NT Greek (pages 29-30):

"The imperfective aspect presents an activity as going on, in process, without reference to its completion. This may consist of a single activity in process at the time of reference, or a series of repetitions of an action, whether consecutively by one agent or distributively by a number of agents, regarded as parts of a wider whole activity. According to its context an activity in process may imply a notion of attempting, continuing, setting about, beginning or the like, and a variety of English translations may be needed to represent one Greek form."

See Mt 5:2.

As for the "already fallen" rendering of PESONTA, it appears that the NWT simply construes the aorist participle as denoting antecedent action (i.e., Jesus began to see an event that had already occurred [began to occur] before he started to perceive it) by using the English past participle "fallen" coupled with the adverbial "already."

I must admit that after reading Stanley Porter's works and consulting Buist Fanning, my understanding of aorist participles has shifted somewhat. If you care to read Porter's dense monograph on aspect, see Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the NT, With Reference to Tense and Mood (New York: Peter Lang, 1989). Frankly I think he provides one of the most "scientific" accounts of aorist participles. Having said the foregoing, I believe the NWT rendering is not problematic from a translational standpoint.

As an update to this old post, I must point out that Porter has been thoroughly criticized by Chrys Caragounis. The latter scholar argues (somewhat convincingly) that Porter has misrepresented how Greeks understand tense and aspect.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Evangelical Change in Outlook Regarding the Trinity Doctrine?

Theologian Kevin Giles contends that Evangelicals have altered their view of the Trinity doctrine based on certain cultural presuppositions. He maintains that a Christian's reading of the Bible or his/her formulation of doctrine is always historically conditioned. Giles therefore insists orthodox Christians have traditionally believed that the three Persons of the Godhead are all ontologically and functionally equal (i.e. not subordinate with respect to the AD INTRA or AD EXTRA works of the Trinity). However, after the suffrage movement or the advent of the birth control pill (INTER ALIA), Evangelicals began to claim that the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father, yet equal to Him as respects the one nature that they either share with the Father or are with Him (according to the SIMPLCITAS DEI doctrine).

The analogy used to support such thinking (Giles points out) was the husband and wife relationship, which he believes is theologically innovative: it is not rooted in historical Trinitarian orthodoxy. The upshot of his analysis is that Evangelicals tend to read the Bible or formulate doctrine through particular cultural lenses. Just as they changed their views on the social, familial or ecclesiastical role of women, so many professed Christians (whether Evangelical or Catholic) have altered their beliefs on slavery and the Trinity doctrine.

See The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate (Downer's Grove: IVP, 2002).

Raymond E. Brown and John 20:17

"The traditional exegesis, repeated even by such penetrating scholars as Loisy, Bernard, Hoskyns, and Lightfoot, is that Jesus says 'your Father' and 'my Father,' rather than 'our Father,' because he wants to keep distinct his special relationship to the Father . . . from that of his followers (adopted sons). Catharinet, art. cit., has proved just the opposite. To understand the 'my Father and your Father, my God and your God' pattern, one should recall Ruth 1:16. Urged by Naomi to stay behind in Moab, Ruth insists that, even though not an Israelite, she will come to Israel with Naomi; for from this moment, 'Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.' Similarly the statement of the Johannine Jesus is one of identification and not of disjunction. Jesus is ascending to his Father who will now become the Father of his disciples (Anchor Bible, Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, Raymond Brown, p. 1016-1017).