What’s the “Aorist” Tense?

In many sermons today it is common for pastors to comment on Greek words or phrases. After a steady diet of this a lay person can begin to formulate ideas about certain words and concepts. Unfortunately, this can lead to some very bad misconceptions. One such case is that of the Greek aorist tense. How many times have we heard that the aorist tense denotes a once-for-all action or a past action or something of the sort? Students of Greek should know better and pastors who paid attention in Greek class should better nuance such comments (if they have to comment at all). In his new Greek introduction (Reading Koine Greek) Rodney Decker offers this bit of sound advice on the aorist.

“The aorist tense-form is, in many ways, the default verb form—one that writers use when they do not want to say anything in particular about a situation, only that it occurs (or has occurred or will occur). Sometimes students think the aorist is quite esoteric and significant. This is often because we do not have an aorist form in English, so it sounds a bit magical. You may even hear people say things like ‘It’s an aorist, therefore . . .,’ as if the aorist were particularly important. That is a bit ironic since it is the least significant of all the tense-forms; it is the normal form one uses when the nuances of the other tense-forms are not important.” (118)

For an excellent discussion that is lay friendly see D.A Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies (pp. 68-75). He writes, “The aorist, after all, is well-named: it is aorist, without a place, undefined. It simply refers to the action itself without specifying whether the action is unique, repeated, ingressive, instantaneous, past, or accomplished.” (p. 68)

Reading Koine Greek

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