The Aorist Indicative

(1) The constant characteristic of the Aorist tense in all of its moods, including the participle, is that it represents the action denoted by it indefinitely; i.e. simply as an event, neither on the one hand picturing it in progress, nor on the other affirming the existence of its result. The name indefinite as thus understood is therefore applicable to the tense in all of its uses.

As respects the point of view from which the action is looked at, however, we may distinguish three functions of the tense common to all of its moods.

First, it may be used to describe an action or event in its entirety. This use of the tense, since it is by far the most frequent, may be called by preeminence the Indefinite Aorist. In the Indicative it may be called the Historical Aorist. The Aorist of any verb may be used in this sense; thus εἰπεἴν, to say; διακονεῖνῆσαι, to serve.

Secondly, it may be used to denote the inception of a state. The Aorist thus used may be called the Inceptive Aorist. It belongs to verbs which in the Present and Imperfect denote the continuance of a state; thus σιγαν to be silent; σιγῆσαι, to become silent.

Thirdly, it may be used to denote the success of an effort. The Aorist thus used may be called the Resultative Aorist. It belongs to verbs which in the Present and Imperfect denote effort or attempt; thus κωλύειν, to hinder, obstruct; κωλυσαι, to prevent.

The genetic relation of these three functions of the Aorist tense has not been satisfactorily defined. In the Greek, both of the classical and the New Testament periods, however, they appear side by side as coordinate uses. Br. 159; Del. IV., pp. 100 f.

REMARK. Respecting the force of the Indefinite Aorist, compare Brugmann’s statement concerning the Aorist forms: “Am haufigsten wurden diese Formen so gebraucht, dass man sich die Handlung in einen ungeteilten Denkakt ganz und vollstandig, in sich abgeschlossen, absolut vorstellen sollte. Das Factum wurde einfach constatiert ohne Rucksicht auf Zeitdauer.” Br. 159.

(2) In addition to these uses which belong to the Aorist in all its moods, the Aorist Indicative has three uses, instances of which are comparatively infrequent. These are the Gnomic Aorist, the Epistolary Aorist, and the Dramatic Aorist.

The Aorist for the Perfect and the Aorist for the Pluperfect are, as in ENGLISH EQUIVALENTS OF THE GREEK AORIST INDICATIVE, not distinct functions of the Aorist, but merely special cases of the Historical, Inceptive, or Resultative Aorist.

(3) The distinction between the Indefinite, the Inceptive, and the Resultative functions of the Aorist is often ignored, or its legitimacy denied. It is true that there are cases in which it is not possible to decide certainly whether a given verb refers to the inception of an action only, or to its entire extent, and others in which there is a similar difficulty in deciding whether the reference is to the action as a whole or to its result only. It is true also that the genetic relation of these three uses of the tense is not a matter of entire certainty, and that it is possible that, historically speaking, they are but varying types of one usage. Especially must it be regarded as doubtful whether the Resultative Aorist is anything else than the Indefinite Aorist of verbs denoting effort. The matter of importance to the interpreter, however, is that, whatever the genesis of the fact, of the Aorists of the New Testament some denote a past act in its undivided entirety, others denote merely or chiefly the inception of an action, and others still affirm as a past fact the accomplishment of an act attempted. These distinctions, which from the exegetical point of view it is often important to mark, are conveniently indicated by the terms indefinite, inceptive, and resultative. With reference to the validity of this distinction, see Br. 159.

The Inceptive Aorist is illustrated in Acts 15:13, and after they had become silent [μετὰ δὲ τὸ σιγῆσαι] James answered. It is evident that the Infinitive must refer to the becoming silent, not to the whole period of silence, since in the latter case James must have been silent while the others were silent, and have begun to speak when their silence had ended. In 2 Cor. 8:9, we must read not being rich he was poor, but being rich he became poor; ἐπτώχευσεν is manifestly inceptive. So also in Luke 2:44, supposing him to be in the company, they went a day’s journey, it was not the holding of the opinion that he was in the company that preceded the day’s journey, but the forming of it, and the participle νομίσαντες is inceptive. Contrast Acts 16:27. See other examples under The Inceptive Aorist.

Illustrations of the resultative sense are less numerous and less clear. In Acts 7:36, however, this man led them forth, having wrought wonders and signs in Egypt and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years, the verb ἐξήγαγεν seems to refer only to the result, since the signs wrought in the Red Sea and the wilderness would otherwise have been represented as accompanying the bringing out, and instead of ποιήσας we should have had ποιων. See also The Resultative Aorist.

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