REVIEW OF THE BASIC OF VERBAL ASPECT IN BIBLICAL GREEK BY CONSTANTINE R. CAMPBELL
Dr. Benjamin Simpson
Dallas Theological Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
NT5102OL Elements of Greek Grammar
Ken Suanjong Yeo
REVIEW OF THE BASIC OF VERBAL ASPECT IN BIBLICAL GREEK BY CONSTANTINE R. CAMPBELL
What is Verbal Aspect?
Semantics refers to the encoded values of a verb form, it is always there and un-cancelable. The verbal aspect is a semantics value. It refers to the viewpoint of an action presented by the author. There are two viewpoints, either from an outside viewpoint, which is called the perfective aspect or from an inside viewpoint, which is called the imperfective aspect.
A popular illustration is a reporter who reports a street parade. When he reports the street parade from a helicopter far away in the sky, it is the perfective aspect. It expresses an outside viewpoint of an action in summary, from a distance and does not view the details of how the action took place. When he reports the street parade from the street, it is the imperfective aspect. It expresses an inside viewpoint of an action as it unfolds before his eyes.
Spatial value is another semantics value. There are two types of spatial values, namely proximity and remoteness. Proximity means not only he is viewing the street parade as it unfolds before his eyes but is viewing that part of the parade that is directly in front of him. Remoteness means although the reporter is viewing the street parade as it unfolds before his eyes, he is not looking to the parade directly in front of him, instead, he is looking at the parade at some distance away. Remoteness is metaphorical and could be temporal, spatial, or logical.
Pragmatics refers to what a verb is doing in context and is therefore cancelable. Aktionsarten are pragmatic values, three main elements determine a particular verb’s Aktionsart: semantics, lexeme, and context.
Lexemes are basic units of words that can be divided into two categories, namely transitive and intransitive. A lexeme is transitive if the action is performed upon an object, else it is intransitive. Transitive lexemes can further be divided into punctiliar or not punctiliar. If the action is a once occurring, immediate type of action, it is punctiliar, else it is not punctiliar. Intransitive lexemes can also be further divided into stative or not stative. If the action describes a state of being, it is stative, else it is not.
Present and Imperfect Tense-Forms
The present tense-form is semantically imperfective in aspect with the spatial value of proximity. The imperfect tense-form is also semantically imperfective in aspect but with the spatial value of remoteness.
In narrative texts, the present indicative is most often found in discourse, Jesus used present indicative when He spoke to the Jews in John 5:20.
John 5:20 ὁ γὰρ πατὴρ φιλεῖ τὸν υἱὸν καὶ πάντα δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ ἃ αὐτὸς ποιεῖ…
John 5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing…
The imperfect indicative is most often found in narrative proper rather than discourse to provide supplementary information, John 5:18 is a good example.
John 5:18 διὰ τοῦτο οὖν μᾶλλον ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἀποκτεῖναι ὅτι οὐ μόνον ἔλυε τὸ σάββατον, ἀλλὰ καὶ πατέρα ἴδιον ἔλεγε τὸν θεόν, ἴσον ἑαυτὸν ποιῶν τῷ θεῷ.
John 5:18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
The imperfective aspect combines with any non-punctiliar or non-stative lexeme create a progressive Aktionsart as long as the context does not overrule it.
Luke 8:45 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς Τίς ὁ ἁψάμενός μου; ἀρνουμένων δὲ πάντων εἶπεν ὁ Πέτρος∑ Ἐπιστάτα, οἱ ὄχλοι συνέχουσίν σε καὶ ἀποθλίβουσιν.
Luke 8:45 Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!”
Outside of the indicative mood, the present subjunctive, the present imperative, the present participle and the present infinitives are all imperfective in aspect.
Luke 11:33 is a good example of present subjunctives. The imperfective aspect portrays those who enter would see the light unfolding before their eyes.
Luke 11:33 Οὐδεὶς λύχνον ἅψας εἰς κρύπτην τίθησιν οὐδὲ ὑπὸ τὸν μόδιον ἀλλʼ ἐπὶ τὴν λυχνίαν, ἵνα οἱ εἰσπορευόμενοι τὸ φέγγος βλέπωσιν.
Luke 11:33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.
In the present imperative, the imperfective aspect normally implicates commands that express some kind of general instruction because the imperfective aspect is open-ended, without the beginning and the end in view. Luke 6:27 is a good example.
Luke 6:27 … ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑμῶν, καλῶς ποιεῖτε τοῖς μισοῦσιν ὑμᾶς
Luke 6:27 … love your enemies, do good to those who hate you
In the present participle, the imperfective aspect nearly always expresses an action that is contemporaneous with its leading verb (excluding substantial and periphrastic usages). In John 6:24 the crowd went into Capernaum and seeking Jesus at the same time.
John 6:24 … καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ ζητοῦντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν.
John 6:24 … went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
In the present infinitive, the imperfective aspect explains the unfolding of the action. In Luke 5:21, the present infinitive διαλογίζομαι gives an inside view that the scribe and Pharisees were beginning to question Jesus.
Luke 5:21 καὶ ἤρξαντο διαλογίζεσθαι οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι λέγοντες∑ Τίς ἐστιν οὗτος ὃς λαλεῖ βλασφημίας; τίς δύναται ἁμαρτίας ἀφεῖναι εἰ μὴ μόνος ὁ θεός;
Luke 5:21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
The imperfect tense-form has the same imperfective aspect as the present tense-form, thus it behaves like the present tense-form. Its imperfective aspect combines with any non-punctiliar or non-stative lexeme to create a progressive Aktionsart as long as the context does not overrule it. Matthew 14:36 is a good example.
Matthew 14:36 καὶ παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν ἵνα μόνον ἅψωνται τοῦ κρασπέδου τοῦ ἱματίου αὐτοῦ· καὶ ὅσοι ἥψαντο διεσώθησαν
Matthew 14:36 They were begging him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
Aorist and Future Tense-Forms
The aorist tense-form is semantically perfective in aspect with the spatial value of remoteness. The future tense-form is also perfective in aspect, however, because all future tense-forms refer to actions in the future, its future temporal is considered a semantics value.
The aorist indicative is most often found to give the skeleton of a narrative. It is used to tell the summary of a narrative in quick succession without giving the details. Luke 1:39-40 is a good example.
Luke 1:39-40 Ἀναστᾶσα δὲ Μαριὰμ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὴν ὀρεινὴν μετὰ σπουδῆς εἰς πόλιν Ἰούδα, καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον Ζαχαρίου καὶ ἠσπάσατο τὴν Ἐλισάβετ.
Luke 1:39-40 In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.
The future indicative is most often found in discourse rather than narrative proper. It is used to describe future actions. John 16:14 is a good example.
John 16:14 ἐκεῖνος ἐμὲ δοξάσει, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λήμψεται καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν.
John 16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
The perfective aspect combines with any non-punctiliar or non-stative lexeme create a summary Aktionsart as long as the context does not overrule it. John 1:17 illustrates this well.
John 1:17 ὅτι ὁ νόμος διὰ Μωϋσέως ἐδόθη, ἡ χάρις καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐγένετο.
John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Outside of the indicative mood, the aorist subjunctive, the aorist imperative, the aorist participle, and the aorist infinitives are all perfective in aspect.
In aorist subjunctive, its perfective aspect conveys an external summarized viewpoint of an action. It is in contrast with the present subjunctive, which is used to portray an action that is unfolding before our eyes. For example, in John 12:49 Jesus used aorist subjunctive to express he should say what the Father has given to Him without the details.
John 12:49 ὅτι ἐγὼ ἐξ ἐμαυτοῦ οὐκ ἐλάλησα, ἀλλʼ ὁ πέμψας με πατὴρ αὐτός μοι ἐντολὴν δέδωκεν τί εἴπω καὶ τί λαλήσω.
John 12:49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
In aorist imperative, its perfective aspect has a pragmatic function to convey specific commands, it involves a specific agent acting within a specific situation. It is in contrast to the present imperative, which is to convey a generic command. In Luke 5:4 Jesus told Simon specifically what to do, that is to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch.
Luke 5:4 ὡς δὲ ἐπαύσατο λαλῶν, εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα∑ Ἐπανάγαγε εἰς τὸ βάθος καὶ χαλάσατε τὰ δίκτυα ὑμῶν εἰς ἄγραν.
Luke 5:4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
In aorist participle, its perfective aspect caused it to have the main pragmatic function which is the antecedent to its leading verb. That is, the action of the leading verb occurs after the action of the aorist participle. That is in contrast to the present participle, which expresses an action that is contemporaneous with its leading verb. Romans 5:1 used aorist participle to tell us that peace comes after we have been declared righteous by faith.
Romans 5:1 Δικαιωθέντες οὖν ἐκ πίστεως εἰρήνην ἔχομεν…
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace…
In aorist infinitive, its imperfective aspect, together with infinitival construction, could express antecedent time or subsequent time. In Luke 22:15, Jesus used the imperfective aspect to show he would eat the Passover meal with his disciples before he suffers.
Luke 22:15 καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς· Ἐπιθυμίᾳ ἐπεθύμησα τοῦτο τὸ πάσχα φαγεῖν μεθʼ ὑμῶν πρὸ τοῦ με παθεῖν·
Luke 22:15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
The Aktionsart for future tense-form is parallel to the aorist usage except for its future reference, thus it will not be discussed here.
Perfect and Pluperfect Tense-Forms
The perfect tense-form is semantically perfective in aspect with the spatial value of heightened proximity. The pluperfect tense-form is semantically perfective in aspect with the spatial value of heightened remoteness.
In narrative texts, parallels to the present tense-form, the perfect indicative is most often found in discourse. Jesus used perfect indicative when he was teaching in John 7:28.
John 7:28 ἔκραξεν οὖν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ διδάσκων ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ λέγων· Κἀμὲ οἴδατε καὶ οἴδατε πόθεν εἰμί· καὶ ἀπʼ ἐμαυτοῦ οὐκ ἐλήλυθα, ἀλλʼ ἔστιν ἀληθινὸς ὁ πέμψας με, ὃν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε·
John 7:28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know.
In narrative texts, parallels to the imperfect tense-form, the pluperfect is often used to provide supplementary information. John used pluperfect in John 7:30 to tell the details.
John 7:30 … καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐπέβαλεν ἐπʼ αὐτὸν τὴν χεῖρα, ὅτι οὔπω ἐληλύθει ἡ ὥρα αὐτοῦ.
John 7:30 … but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
The perfect participle is semantically imperfective in aspect. Parallels to the present participle, it nearly always expresses an action that is contemporaneous with its leading verb. While spatial values are not generally encoded in nonindicative verbs, the perfect participle encodes the spatial value of proximity, which distinguishes it from the present participle. However, it is not normally possible to reflect this in English translation. Paul used perfect participle in Romans 5:3 to express that knowing and rejoicing were happening at the same time.
Roman 5:3 … καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν, εἰδότες ὅτι …
Roman 5:3 … we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that …
A common pluperfect Actionsart is Past-Past, it is parallels to past perfect tense in English. This use of the pluperfect can involve any type of lexeme and is decided by the context. Luke 22:13 is a good example.
Luke 22:13 ἀπελθόντες δὲ εὗρον καθὼς εἰρήκει αὐτοῖς…
Luke 22:13 And they went and found it just as he had told them…
Campbell, Constantine R. Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008.
Danker, Frederick W., Walter Bauer, and William Arndt. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. 4th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019.