Breakthroughs in Understanding the Greek Verb

When I finished my first four semesters of Greek, I was enchanted by the language and the way it opened up my understanding of the Bible as a whole. Yet I knew there was still much more to learn than the basic verbal categories in Wallace’s grammar, especially given all the exceptions to his rules. His description of aspect was also relatively new, following Porter’s and Fanning’s monographs within a few years. In the past two decades, scholars have attended diligently to the Greek verbal system and we have gained good ground on advancing our understanding of it.

The newest resource to continue moving the discussion forward is The Greek Verb Revisited. When I saw this nearly 700 page behemoth, I knew I would want to dig into it, and I was even happier when I obtained my copy and began reading. It was hard to put the book down, which is rare for an academic book of this nature. After studying Greek for ten years and teaching it for several, I have amassed a catalog of problems, of issues to study further, and of issues that are constantly referred to in the literature. I found that The Greek Verb Revisited addressed most of these issues and provided substantive discussions that both advanced my own understanding and gave me much to think on and test during my own Greek reading.

There are 19 chapters, all originally delivered at a conference at Cambridge. There are too many contributions to discuss each one, so let me note the topics addressed and then praise some of essays I found most helpful. Buist Fanning briefly opens with a retrospective essay covering the old debate. His essay is followed by three essays on aspect in Koine and Classical Greek. Levinsohn and Runge provide essays on discourse features and several other authors discuss specific linguistic issues that have direct applicability to our reading of the Greek New Testament.

Robar takes on the historical present, while Gentry tackled the function of the augment. Specific tense-forms are taken on by Fresch (non-past aorist indicatives), Buth, Crellin, and Runge (three separate essays on the perfect), Rachel Aubrey (middle and passive forms), and Michael Aubrey on prohibitions. Moser surveys tense and aspect after the NT era, and Horrocks concludes with an envoi.

There are several important contributions in this volume, and I can only mention a few of them here, but will interact more with them in forthcoming posts. First, the three essays on the perfect provide substantive and nuanced discussions of its morphology, discourse function, and aspect. R. Booth analyzes the morphological components of the prefect and notices that the kappa perfect has two fused etymologies, a perfective etymology from the kappa aorist, and a frequentive etymology connected with its reduplication. Stephen Runge argues that the discourse function of the perfect tense-form is “to correlate logically anterior states of affairs with the current discourse situation” (482). R. Crellin’s uses a similar definition of aspect to C. J. Thomson’s earlier in the book and uses that definition to understand the perfect (the definition is too complex for this post).

Speaking of Thomson, his essay on aspect is significant and should be consulted by everyone dealing with Greek verbs (!). He argues that the majority of linguists define aspect not as a subjective viewpoint (a la Porter and others), but as the way a situation is presented in relation to time. Thomson suggests we throw out the “viewpoint” spatial metaphor and replace it with literal language, that aspect is literally “the temporal phase or phases about which the speaker or writer is speaking” (35). In my view (and given my interests), this claim, supported by persuasive argumentation, was the most significant claim in the entire volume. One of the main reasons is that it allows aspect and Aktionsart to play nicer together than in the scheme of Porter and others who have followed him, which divorces aspect from time completely.

Overall this work cannot be ignored. If you want to understand the Greek verbal system, get this book! I do warn you that the book is heavy in linguistic terminology and it may take you longer to work through the essays than you would want. But, if you have basic linguistic knowledge, you should be able to work through it well enough, and your progress in understanding the Greek verbal system will be enhanced greatly.

Preview or buy it here on Amazon.

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