Saturday, October 17, 2009

Aspect of Verbs in Koine Greek

Professor James Voelz was my teacher and author of Fundamental Greek Grammar (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1993). Professor Voelz developed an innovative way of understanding aspect in Biblical Greek. This is particularly demonstrated with the imperfect tense. Most textbooks just say that imperfects are ongoing action and leave it at that. Dr. Voelz recognized through his Ph.D. work in Luke that this understanding does not fit all imperfects. He developed the additional term aspect to sort of supplement tense in categorizing verbs.

What is often called present tense he refers to as focus-on-connection, (FoC) that is, it conveys a meaning that emphasizes the link between the subject and the action that is referred to by the verb. Statements like, "I leave the check" are conveying a sense that I is connected to the action (leaving). Focus-on-connection is one type of aspect.

Another major type of aspect is focus-on-action (FoA). This aspect is more worried about the fact that the action is/was done than who did it. An example sentence would be "I see you."

As present tense is FoC, so aorist is FoA. Aorist is past time so it is focusing on the action that has been completed. It is the action that is important. Now, imperfect is FoC and is sort of a past time correspondent to present.

Professor Voelz lists 6 different connections conveyed by an imperfect. Context must help you resolve between these:
  1. Continuous, e.g. "I was loosing."
  2. Habitual, e.g. "I used to loose."
  3. Inceptive (beginning), e.g. "I began to loose."
  4. Conatative (attempting), e.g. "I tried to loose."
  5. Repetitive, e.g. "I repeatedly loosed."
  6. Emphatic, e.g. "I did loose."
I have found this understanding of the imperfect has been very helpful. Since I got no Google hits on this topic, I decided it was time for me to do something. For further information, see Prof. Voelz' textbook and other books and papers by him. You may also find some discussion of this by Professor Jeffrey Gibbs; he refers to it as syntactical sugar.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Another prime example of Lutheranism being misunderstood

This St. Paul Pioneer Press article covers a Minneapolis congregation voting to split with the ELCA over their gay resolution recently passed. Here is my email to the writer:


I am writing about your recent Pioneer Press article entitled "Minneapolis church splits with ELCA over gays". It appears from the article that you are not fully understanding Lutheranism in contrast to the popular ideas dominant in American Christianity.

You wrote: "...Wells and other an emphasis on the law part, saying that their interpretation of Scripture holds that God views homosexuality as a sin. The resolution's proponents believe the emphasis should be on the gospel aspect. They generally believe that all humans have sinned and that 'self-righteousness is no longer possible,' said Johnson. That's a basic idea in theology -- God saves us; we do not." This has created a few false dichotomies. What Lutherans are committed to is the teaching that the things that we do and fail to do in our lives do not determine whether we are saved or not. We are and never were able to make ourselves righteous. The law of God shows us that we fail at that and therefore do not deserve to be saved. On the other hand, the gospel tells us what God has done for us, namely that Jesus died to take away our sins. Surely all people are sinners and for those who do not reject it, they have the free gift of salvation. These issues are not at dispute here. There is another question of how God would like us to live our lives. We know we are saved even though we sin. How can we live our lives in thankfulness for being saved? That is what God also tells us in the law. We cannot ever make ourselves good enough" by trying to live according to God's law and so we still depend on Christ's sacrifice. The law has these two roles of showing us our sins and guiding us in life. The gospel is always there telling us we are saved by Jesus sacrifice on the cross. These things are really not at dispute in this issue over gay acceptance. The primary issue is whether God's Word says that homosexual behavior is sinful. The variation is in which parts of the Bible are considered God's Word. God's Word is unchangable as God is, so, put very simply, one must deny that certain portions of the Bible are God's Word. The proponents of the resolution take the position that there is content of the Bible that consist of human statements that are limited to ancient cultures and do not apply today. They would not consider that to be God's Word.

I hopefully have explained myself well here. I would be happy to clarify further or otherwise reply if you wish. In the best of worlds, I would hope for an article to correct some of these misunderstandings of Lutheranism.

- Kevin Buchs; Pastor, Rochester, MN