Greek Verb Conference at Tyndale House – Buist Fanning

I polled various readers here and on twitter and facebook and I get some requests for which presentations to write about. This is the beginning of following up on that. I’ll also be doing: Rugter Allan’s, Peter Gentry’s, and Rachel Aubrey’s (my wife).

All of the presentations I’m blogging about will be available in full in their larger form in:

The Greek Verb Revisited: A Fresh Approach for Biblical Exegesis, edited by Steve Runge & Chris Fresch

Buist, if you’re reading this and I missed something or said something wrong, let me know.

The purpose of Fanning’s paper was to provide some context in terms of the discussion of research on aspect and the verb in New Testament studies in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Fanning’s perspective, logically focus more on his own work, research influences, and ideas simply because that was what he knew firsthand. The trajectory of his original dissertation research had began in the realm of New Testament studies and biblical theology. Still, there were a number of leads that contributed to Fanning’s interest in Greek aspect. These motivated him to do his dissertation on aspect in Greek.

  • These included:
  • James Barr’s work on lexicography and semantics
  • Stagg’s article “The Abused Aorist”
  • Kenneth McKay’s work on the Greek verb in Classical and Post-Classical Greek
  • His own experiences in the classroom teaching Greek
  • Reading Bernard Comrie’s 1976 monograph on aspect
  • Reading John Lyon’s two volume work Semantics

These are all parallel to the same influences that impacted Porter and his own research. Fanning expressed the expectation of the parallel in his presentation and I know from friends at McMaster Divinity School that essentially the same set of existing research motivated Porter as he also worked toward the completion of his own book on aspect.

One of the key differences between them, however, was in how they approach the question. Contrasts between Porter & Fanning:

  • Fanning assumed that the understanding of aspect has grown over the centuries. That the philological insights of past scholars were not mistakes, but simplistic and in need of refinement. Not an intellectual revolution, but a process of extending and correcting the work of others.
  • Porter viewed past work as flawed and saw a need for a scientific revolution. Everything before 1989 needed to be cleared away. There was a need for a rigorous & structualist framework.

At this point, Fanning himself emphasized that this expression of the difference between the two of them constitutes a gross over-simplification of the history of their research.

Finally, Fanning described the areas of agreement between their two respective works as follows:

  • Verbal aspect is central to the understanding of the Greek verb
  • Aspect is a matter of viewpoint.
  • The Greek aorist is perfective
  • The present/imperfective is imperfective
  • Greek aspect is important and relevant for discourse structure.

Fanning eagerly encourages other to come and participate in the work of improvement of our understanding.

It’s probably worth linking to the two books at the center of discussion:

Buist Fanning’s Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990).

Stanley E. Porter’s Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament (New York: Peter Lang, 1989).

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