My readers are probably growing incredibly tired of my writing on this topic. I can’t helpful. I keep reading old grammars. And the old grammars keep confirming my view that Porter’s historical survey of the Greek verbal system is wrong.
What is it this time?
Here are a few quotes from Handbook to the Exegesis of the New Testament. Porter delineates three periods in the modern study of the Greek verb. The first is Winer:
This period, perhaps best represented by the influential grammarian G.B. Winer, analyzed Greek verbal structure in terms of a logical framework. In this framework, tense-forms were said to be equated with temporal values. … However, a moment’s reflection will show that this framework is inadequate to explain what actually occurs in the language. For example, Winer cannot adequately account for instances of the historic present, such as in Mark’s Gospel where the present tense is used in a narrative context, that is, where a present form appears to have past reference (e.g. Mark 14:12–25); neither can he account for the gnomic use of the aorist tense, where the aorist is used for events that are not, strictly speaking, past but are recurring events of nature (e.g. Jas 1:11). Winer’s grammar is of limited use in terms of understanding the Greek verbal system.
Now, I’m less concerned with the so-called first period and more interested in the second, though there are issues (As a side note, you’ll be wanting to keep an eye out for Steve Runge’s SBL paper on the Historical Present. I think it’ll be an important one). Porter continues in his discussion his second historical period being that of Brugmann. Blass, Moulton, Robertson, Moule, & Turner:
One of the most important of these grammarians was Karl Brugmann, who elucidated the theory of Aktionsart. This theory stated that verb structure is related not only or exclusively to temporal categories, but to the kind of action or the way that an event occurs. Aktionsart theory stated that a language has various means, including the use of verb tenses, verbal roots, and affixing of prepositions, to express the ways in which action occurs.
Aktionsart theory made a distinctive contribution to Greek grammatical study in that it frees the tense-forms from strict reference to time, especially promoting the recognition by most grammarians that non-indicative verb forms did not refer to time. However, this theory also had severe limitations. The first was in its attempt to objectify a conception of how events transpire, and then to equate these conceptions with particular grammatical forms. It was soon seen that action is multifarious, and that there is no such thing as a punctiliar action or a linear action in and of itself, only insofar as a given observer chooses to describe it as such, and certainly no easy way to equate this to tense-forms.
Let’s focus on the words in bold. I’ll be writing a part two to this post where I’ll discuss my frustration with this description. Many of you can probably guess, but there’s more to it than my pass rants on this subject. As I’ve been reading some dead grammarians and have found some juicy evidence that I would suggest contradicts these words here.
But in the meantime, how do you feel about these quotes and the words in bold?
Do you think that they accurately represent this particular period of Greek scholarship?
Why or why not?
Or perhaps do you feel as if you don’t have the background or framework for judging these words?
We’ll discuss Porter’s third period of Greek verbal studies and then make some comparisons with his words here using quotes from a number of the grammarians he refers to.