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Dr Campbell, your book sounds very interesting, the sort of thing I would love to read over summer. However I'm not sure it will be enough, maybe someone should run a 2 week intensive course I could attend...

hmmm... so does this change everything? how wrong can those of old have been?

Hi con

Do you have any examples from the New Testament you could share where your work on Verbal aspect has helped with exegesis of a the text, altering a previously assumed meaning?

I have been reading your book and it is very intriguing, but I have one main question. Did the ancient Greek grammarians see this aspect as well? And I guess coming off of that: What role should the Greeks' own view of their language play?

Thanks all for those questions.

First, geoffc, I'll be getting to some Greek text later in the week. We need to get some theoretical issues clear before we can launch into the text, but don't worry, it will come.

Douglas, some scholars do speak as though recent studies in verbal aspect 'change everything', but I disagree. The earlier grammars like A. T. Robertson's major tome are still wonderfully useful. In my opinion, Robertson is the best of the bunch, and I think that many of the things he wrote about can be aligned with modern advances in verbal aspect. The reality, however, is that the earlier grammars treated verbs based on the theories of their time, which were relatively new and challenging. Verbal aspect was one of them of course, and Aktionsart was another. We are now at a new stage in the development of our understanding, and in our capacity to describe what's going on with Greek verbs, partly due to advances in modern linguistics. So this does mean that I think we are now in a better position to describe Greek verbal usage than some of the earlier grammars, but they still have much to contribute, and, especially Robertson, are in many ways on the right track. I'll add one more thing to this: it seems odd to me if some people are worried about adopting new theories in preference to the standard grammars of yesteryear, since that's exactly what the earlier grammarians were doing. The new theories were replacing older ones, and the grammars were written in that light.

Now to Kyle. This is a big question, and is often raised in discussion about verbal aspect. I can't really do the question justice here, but I'll mention a couple of things. First, there is good evidence that some of the ancient grammarians observed something like aspect in their own language, though they didn't call it that. For example, the ancient label 'aorist' means 'undefined' or 'unbounded' (a-orist), which I think aligns pretty well with how we understand the perfective aspect of the aorist (more on that later). The plain reality, however, is that the few ancient grammarians that we are aware of disagreed with each other at certain points. This leads us to your second question. I think we should listen very carefully to what they Greeks thought about their own language. However, it is a bit of a fallacy to assume that just because they spoke the language they were therefore right about everything. For example, if I asked you whether verbal aspect exists in modern English, what would you say? Many language users remain quite unaware of the structures and patterns within their own language. Having said that, it might be argued that Dionysius Thrax and others were not just 'language users', but were the ancient equivalents to modern linguists. This fact, however, only further underscores the point because even today, English-speaking linguists disagree over certain elements of how English works. For example, is the present tense a 'real tense'? Some scholars say yes, others say no. They each speak the language, and yet such things are debatable, because language is complex. So, in short, we should pay close attention to ancient grammarians, but we shouldn't assume that theirs is the last word on the matter. Our general understanding of how languages work, and the theoretical tools of modern linguistics, give us great ability to describe language use in a way that the ancients were trying to do, but were limited by the tools available to them.

Thanks for the posting, makes the idea very clear.

Verbal aspect represents a subjective choice.

In understanding the meaning of a text, one not only has to look at what is written, but also how it is written, and I think you are suggesting that Verbal Aspect gives us a better view of that. Verbal aspect is built on "viewpoint" rather than "time" (which I think Aktionsart is built on). How does viewpoint affect the way that we read the text and understand the meaning? Why do we take viewpoint as the starting point, and not time, or even other factors?


Thanks for the response. It made a lot of sense, particularly concerning the use of Greek grammarians. Do you know any good sources for Greek grammarians? I would be interested to see more on what they have to say on this issue. Also, I look forward to the rest of this series.

Hey Con,

Well, after hearing so much about verbal aspect, it will be good to actually read your book and get into it! Can I get a signed copy?

Hi Con,

Thanks for this - you are right...verbal aspect is very much 'out there'! looking forward to reading forthcoming posts. interesting stuff!

Dr Constantine,

You mention earlier in the article that Verbal Aspect has been around for some time, and express surprise that it has not become more widely known among theological students. Why do you think it hasn't made a significant part of the approach used in previous generations if it has been around for so long?


Wow - who would have thought there would be so much hype about Biblical Greek

Is your book an appropriate a christmas present for my 70yr old grandmother??? if so can you make it out to Betty!

You've asked some helpful questions, stephenmac. The way aspect affects our reading of text is that are able to view actions as they are portrayed. It's not something that we do self-consciously when we're natural speakers of a language, but since no one living is a natural speaker of Ancient Greek, it helps to be deliberate in understanding what we're doing. If an action is presented as a whole, we should view it as a whole. If an action is presented as unfolding, we should view it that way, etc.

Aspect should be our starting point, because it is the most fundamental element that a tense-form encodes. It will combine with other features of text, such as lexeme and context, but those things frequently change, whereas aspect remains the same. This should become clearer when we look at the aorist and present tense-forms a little later.

Kyle, a good place to start is Robert Binnick's book 'Time and the Verb', Oxford, 1991. Happy hunting.

James, I think there are a variety of reasons. One is that it has tended to be a highly technical discussion that has been inaccessible to non-specialists. A second is that there has been ongoing debate about various elements to do with aspect, which makes it difficult to teach (and learn!), since many facets are still in flux. Personally, I think that neither reason should prevent students of Greek from coming to terms with the basics of verbal aspect. Perhaps someone should write a book for that purpose...

Hmmm this is very interesting. I shall purchase the book

I see a problem in the illustration you're using to describe aspect. Reading it, I get the idea that aspect would have some kind of spatial meaning, which I believe it doesn't have. As I see it, the difference between the perfective and the imperfective has nothing to do with WHERE the reporter stands. Instead I believe the difference has to do with what kind of time relation the reporter has to the parade. Aspect is a description of the time structure of an event (as contrasted to tense which is its position on a timeline). The problem in the illustration is that in both cases the parade is on-going, no matter which spatial position the reporter has. If however the reporter tells the story the next day, his point of view will have changed. It will then be possible for him/her to talk about the event from an external (time-wise) point of view.
I'm not fluent in koine greek and don't really know how aspect works there, but I think this is the meaning of aspect as the term is used in lingustics in general.

Thanks Erik. The parade illustration originates with Isaćenko, and is adopted by Stanley Porter. See A. V. Isaćenko, Grammaticheskij stroj russkogo jazyka v sopostavlenii s slovatskim: Morfologija (Bratislava: The Slovak Academy of Sciences Press, 1960); Stanley E. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament with Reference to Tense and Mood (Studies in Biblical Greek 1; New York: Peter Lang, 1989), 91. It has become fairly standard in describing aspect more generally, and especially within Greek.

There are, however, different approaches to aspect, and it sounds as though you are describing the 'internal temporal constituency' approach. The only major Greek scholar to adopt that approach to aspect is Mari Broman Olsen, A Semantic and Pragmatic Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect (Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics; New York: Garland Publishing, 1997). Most others have adopted a spatial approach, in line with the parade illustration. I think the temporal approach is problematic when it comes to Greek, and I do believe that aspect is primarily a spatial category. For more extensive argumentation on that point, see a different book of mine, Constantine R. Campbell, Verbal Aspect, the Indicative Mood, and Narrative: Soundings in the Greek of the New Testament (Studies in Biblical Greek 13; New York: Peter Lang, 2007).

Thanks for an informative answer.

Great stuff, look forward to more. The book is definitely on my radar for purchase!

Well I thought I new a little about Greek, but now I am not so sure. I better go crack open Wallace's "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics" again!

Wow...I've really enjoyed reading the post and especially the comments! Thanks Dr. Campbell and all of you who've asked questions!

"Hi con

Do you have any examples from the New Testament you could share where your work on Verbal aspect has helped with exegesis of a the text, altering a previously assumed meaning?"

I john 3:6,9 is one. The present tense interpretation, i.e. that a Christian does not continually sin is made suspect by verbal aspect theory. All John would be saying according to this view is that ideologically, Christians don't sin.


Do you think that this view of aspect (spatial) holds true throughout the development of Greek, or was it different before the hellenic period?

Dear Con,
I wonder if you could comment or point me to other peoples' comments about Semitic verbal aspect and whether it influenced NT authors. Are there some publications on Semitic verbal aspect available?
Regards, Mark

I love your blog so much, and there are just some differences with others'. Hope there will be more wonderful things in your blog. Happy every day! http://www.star-trek-dvd.com/star_trek/The_Next_Generation/index.html

What key role(s) does context play in our discerning the biblical writers' command of grammar and verbal aspect?

For instance, to refer back to an earlier post: 1 Jn. 3:9 seems to state that Christians are incapable of practicing sin because of the Holy Spirit in them. Only, this seems likely, not in the least due to the form of the present tense, but because the context seems to "execute" the present tense in such a way (cf. vv. 7-8).

Are there any correlations between verbal aspect, and context?

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