Aorist Indicative: The Disctinction Between The Aorist And The Imperfect


(1) The difference between an Historical Aorist and an Imperfect of action in progress or repeated being one not of the nature of the fact but of the speaker’s conception of the fact, it is evident that the same fact may be expressed by either tense or by both. This is illustrated in Mark 12:41 and 44, where, with strict appropriateness in both cases, Mark writes in v. 41, πολλοὶ πλούσιοι ἔβαλλον πολλά, and in v. 44 records Jesus as stating the same fact in the words πάντες . . . ἔβαλον. The former describes the scene in progress, the latter merely states the fact.

(2) From the nature of the distinction between the Imperfect and Aorist, it also results that the difference in thought represented by the choice of one form rather than the other is sometimes almost imperceptible. Cf., e.g., Mark 3:7 and 5:24; Luke 2:18 and 4:22. Some verbs use one of the two tenses almost or quite to the exclusion of the other. The form e;legon is used in classical Greek without emphasis on the thought of the saying as in progress or repeated, and in the New Testament the Aorist of this verb does not occur. A distinction between the Imperfect ἔλεγον and the Aorist εἶπον is scarcely to be drawn in the New Testament. Cf. G.MT. 56, 57, especially the following: “In all these cases the fundamental distinction of the tenses, which was inherent in the form, remained; only it happened that either of the two distinct forms expressed the meaning which was here needed equally well. It must not be thought, from these occasional examples, that the Greeks of any period were not fully alive to the distinction of the two tenses and could not use it with skill and nicety.”

This approximation of the Aorist and Imperfect, it should be noted, occurs only in the case of the Historical Aorist (The Historical Aorist (1)). The Inceptive and Resultative Aorists are clearly distinguished in force from the Imperfect.

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