1. Form and Function. The following pages deal with the various functions of the various verb-forms of the Greek of the New Testament, so far as respects their mood and tense. It is important that the nature of the relation between form and function be clearly held in mind. It is by no means the case that each form has but one function, and that each function can be discharged by but one form. Forms of various origin may be associated together under one name and perform the same function, or group of functions. Compare, e.g., the Aorist Active Infinitives, λῦσαι and εἰπεῖν: these forms are of quite diverse origin; in function they have become entirely assimilated. The same is true of the Aorist Active Indicatives, ἔδειξα and ἔστην. Forms also which still have different names, and usually perform different functions, may have certain functions in common. Compare the Aorist Subjunctive and the Future Indicative in clauses of purpose (197, 198). On the other hand, and to an even greater extent, we find that a given form, or a given group of forms bearing a common name, performs various distinct functions. Observe, e.g., the various functions of the Aorist Indicative (38-48).
The name of a given form, or group of forms, is usually derived from some prominent function of the form or group. Thus the term Aorist reflects the fact that the forms thus designated most frequently represent an action indefinitely without reference to its progress. The name Present suggests that the forms thus designated denote present time, which is true, however, of the smaller part only of those that bear the name, and of none of them invariably. The name Optative again reminds us that one function of the forms so named is to express a wish. While, therefore, the names of the forms were originally intended to designate their respective functions, they cannot now be regarded as descriptive of the actual functions, but must be taken as conventional, and to a considerable extent arbitrary, names of the forms. The functions must be learned, not from the names, but from observation of the actual usage.
2. The Interpreter's Relation to Grammar. Both the grammarian as such and the interpreter deal with grammar, but from very different points of view. The distinction between these points of view should be clearly recognized by the interpreter. It may be conveniently represented by the terms historical grammar and exegetical grammar. Historical grammar deals with the development of both form and function through the various periods of the history of the language, and does this in purely objective fashion. Exegetical grammar, on the other hand, takes the forms as it finds them, and defines the functions which at a given period each form discharged, and does this from the point of view of the interpreter, for the purpose of enabling him to reproduce the thought conveyed by the form. To investigate the process by which the several forms were built up, to determine the earliest function of each such form, to show how out of this earliest function others were developed, and how forms of different origin, and presumably at first of different function, became associated, discharging the same function and eventually coming to bear the same name—all this belongs to historical grammar. To reproduce in the mind of the interpreter, and to express as nearly as may be in his own tongue, the exact thought which a given form was in the period in question capable of expressing—this is the task of exegetical grammar. Historical grammar views its problem wholly from the point of view of the language under investigation, without reference to the language of the grammarian. Exegetical grammar is necessarily concerned both with the language under investigation and with that in which the interpreter thinks and speaks, since its problem is to aid in reproducing in the latter tongue thought expressed in the former.
The results of historical grammar are of the greatest interest and value to exegetical grammar. Our interpretation of the phenomena of language in its later periods can hardly fail to be affected by a knowledge of the earlier history. Strictly speaking, however, it is with the results only of the processes of historical grammar that the interpreter is concerned. If the paradigm has been rightly constructed, so that forms of diverse origin perhaps, but completely assimilated in function, bear a common name, exegetical grammar is concerned only to know what are the functions which each group of forms bearing a common name is capable of discharging. Thus, the diversity of origin of the two Aorists, ἔλυσα and ἔλιπον, does not immediately concern the interpreter, if it is an assured result of historical grammar that these two forms are completely assimilated in function. Nor does it concern him that the αι at the end of the Infinitives, δεῖξαι and ἰέναι, is the mark of the Dative case, and that the earliest use of such infinitives was as a verbal noun in the Dative case, except as this fact of historical grammar aids him in the interpretation of the phenomena of that period of the language with which he is dealing. The one question of exegetical grammar to which all other questions are subsidiary is, What function did this form, or group of forms, discharge at the period with which we are dealing? What, e.g., in the New Testament, are the functions of the Present Indicative? What are the uses of the Aorist Subjunctive?
For practical convenience forms are grouped together, and the significance of each of the distinctions made by inflection discussed by itself. The present work confines itself to the discussion of mood and tense, and discusses these as far as possible separately. Its question therefore is, What in the New Testament are the functions of each tense and of each mood? These various functions must be defined first of all from the point of view of the Greek language itself. Since, however, the interpreter whom in the present instance it is sought to serve thinks in English, and seeks to express in English the thought of the Greek, reference must be had also to the functions of the English forms as related to those of the Greek forms. Since, moreover, distinctions of function in the two languages do not always correspond, that is, since what in Greek is one function of a given form may be in English subdivided into several functions performed by several forms, it becomes necessary not only to enumerate and define the functions of a given form purely from the point of view of Greek, but to subdivide the one Greek function into those several functions which in English are recognized and marked by the employment of different forms. An enumeration of the uses of a given Greek tense made for the use of an English interpreter may therefore properly include certain titles which would not occur in a list made for one to whom Greek was the language of ordinary speech and thought. The Aorist for the English Perfect, and the Aorist for the English Pluperfect (46, 48) furnish a pertinent illustration. The interests of the English interpreter require that they be clearly recognized. Fidelity to Greek usage requires that they be recognized as, strictly speaking, true Historical Aorists.
3. The Greek verb has four moods,—the Indicative, the Subjunctive, the Optative, and the Imperative. With these are associated in the study of Syntax the Infinitive, which is, strictly speaking, a verbal noun, and the Participle, which is a verbal adjective.
The Subjunctive, Optative, Imperative, and Infinitive are often called dependent moods.
Rem. The term dependent is not strictly applicable to these moods, and least of all to the Imperative, which almost always stands as a principal verb. It has, however, become an established term, and is retained as a matter of convenience.
Those tenses which denote present or future time are called Primary tenses. Those tenses which denote past time are called Secondary tenses. Since the time denoted by a tense varies with the particular use of the tense, no fixed line of division can be drawn between the two classes of tenses. In the Indicative the Present and Perfect are usually, and the Future and Future Perfect are always, Primary tenses; the Imperfect, Aorist, and Pluperfect are usually Secondary tenses.
5. The action denoted by a verb may be defined by the tense of the verb (a) As respects its progress. Thus it may be represented as in progress, or as completed, or indefinitely, i.e. as a simple event without reference to progress or completion.
(b) As respects its time, as past, present, or future.
The tenses of the Indicative mood in general define the action of the verb in both these respects.
The tenses of the other moods in general define the action of the verb only as respects its progress. HA. 821; G. 1249.
Rem. The chief function of a Greek tense is thus not to denote time, but progress. This latter function belongs to the tense-forms of all the moods, the former to those of the Indicative only.
6. The significance of the tenses of the Indicative mood may be stated in general as follows:—As respects progress: The Present and Imperfect denote action in progress; the Perfect, Pluperfect, and Future Perfect denote completed action; the Aorist represents the action indefinitely as an event or single fact; the Future is used either of action in progress like the Present, or indefinitely like the Aorist.
As respects time: The Present and Perfect denote present time; the Imperfect, Aorist, and Pluperfect denote past time; the Future and Future Perfect denote future time.
7. The tenses of the Indicative in general denote time relative to that of speaking. Most exceptions to this rule are apparent or rhetorical rather than real and grammatical. In indirect discourse the point of view, as respects time, of the original speaking or thinking is retained. Cf. 351. Of two verbs of past time, one may refer to an action antecedent to the other, but this fact of antecedence is implied in the context, not expressed in the tense. Cf. 29 and 48. By prolepsis also a verb of past time may refer to or include events to take place after the time of speaking, but before a point of future time spoken of in the context. Cf. 50. In conditional sentences of the second form, the tenses are properly timeless. Cf. 248. See Br. 154 (p. 180).
I marvel that ye are, so quickly removing from him that called you.
9. The most constant characteristic of the Present Indicative is that it denotes action in progress. It probably had originally no reference to present time (see Br. 156). But since, in the historical periods of the language, action in progress in past time is expressed by the Imperfect, and the Future is used both as a progressive and as an aoristic tense for future time, it results that the Present Indicative is chiefly used to express action in progress in present time. Hence in deciding upon the significance of any given instance of the Present Indicative in the New Testament as well as in classi-cal Greek, the interpreter may consider that there is, at least in the majority of words, a certain presumption in favor of the Progressive Present rather than any of the other uses mentioned below.
10. The Progressive Present in Greek is not always best translated by what is commonly called in English the "Progressive Form." Some English verbs themselves suggest action in progress, and do not, except when there is strong emphasis on the progressive idea, use the progressive form. Thus the verb θαυμάζω, in Gal. 1:6, is a Progressive Present, but is best translated I marvel, the verb itself sufficiently suggesting the idea of action in progress.
11. The Conative Present. The Present Indicative is occasionally used of action attempted, but not accomplished. HA. 825; G. 1255. This use is, however, not to be regarded as a distinct function of the tense. The Conative Present is merely a species of the Progressive Present. A verb which of itself suggests effort, when used in a tense which implies action in progress, and hence incomplete, naturally suggests the idea of attempt. All the verb-forms of the Present system are equally, with the Present, capable of expressing, attempted action, since they all denote action in progress. John 10:32, λιθάζετε, and Gal. 5:4, δικαιοῦσθε, illustrate this usage in the Present. Similar is the use of the Present in Rom. 2:4, ἄγει, leadeth, i.e. such is its tendency.
For examples of the Imperfect see 23. Respecting the resultative force of such verbs in the Aorist see 42.
Matt. 7:17; πᾶν δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ποιεῖ, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.
2 Cor. 9:7; ἱλαρὸν γὰρ δότην ἀγαπᾷ ὁ θεός, for God loveth a cheerful giver.
13. The Aoristic Present. The Present Indicative is sometimes used of an action or event coincident in time with the act of speaking, and conceived of as a simple event. Most frequently the action denoted by the verb is identical with the act of speaking itself, or takes place in that act.
Acts 16:18; παραγγέλλω σοι ἐν ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ. See also Mark 2:5, ἀφίενται; Acts 9:34, ἰᾶται; 26:1, ἐπιτρέπεται; Gal. 1:11, γνωρίζω, and the numerous instances of λέγω in the gospels.
Rem. This usage is a distinct departure from the prevailing use of the Present tense to denote action in progress (cf. 9). There being in the Indicative no tense which represents an event as a simple fact without at the same time assigning it either to the past or the future, the Present is used for those instances (rare as compared with the cases of the Progressive Present), in which an action of present time is conceived of without reference to its progress.
Rem. The term "Present for Future" is sometimes objected to, but without good reason. The arguments of Buttmann, pp. 203f., and Winer, WT. pp. 265ff.; WM. pp. 331ff., are valid only against the theory of an arbitrary interchange of tenses. It is indeed not to be supposed that Greek writers confused the Present and the Future tenses, or used them indiscriminately. But that the form which customarily denoted an act in progress at the time of speaking was sometimes, for the sake of vividness, used with reference to a fact still in the future, is recognized by all grammarians. See, e.g., J. 397; K. 3.82, 5; G.M.T. 32. The whole force of the idiom is derived from the unusualness of the tense employed.
16. The Present form ἥκω means I have come (John 2:4; 4:47; etc.). Similarly πάρειμι (I am present) sometimes means I have arrived (Acts 17:6; etc.). This, however, is not a Present for the Perfect of the same verb, but a Present equivalent to the Perfect of another verb. The use of ἀκούω meaning I am informed (cf. similar use of English hear, see, learn) is more nearly a proper Present for Perfect (1 Cor. 11:18; 2 Thess. 3:11). Such use of the Present belongs to a very few verbs. HA. 827; G. 1256.
The Present Indicative, accompanied by an adverbial expression denoting duration and referring to past time, is sometimes used in Greek, as in German, to describe an action which, beginning in past time, is still in progress at the time of speaking. English idiom requires the use of the Perfect in such cases. HA. 826; G. 1258.
Acts 15:21; Μωυσῆς γὰρ ἐκ γενεῶν ἀρχαίων κατὰ πόλιν τοὺς κηρύσσοντας αὐτὸν ἔχει, for Moses from generations of old has had in every city them that preached him. See also Luke 13:7, ἔρχομαι; 15:29, δουλεύω; John 5:6; 2 Tim. 3:15, οἶδας. This Present is almost always incorrectly rendered in R. V.
Rem. Cf. Br. 156, "Das Präsens in Verbindung mit πάρος, πάλαι, ποτέ wurde seit Homer gebraucht, um eine Handlung auszudrücken, die sich durch die Vergangenheit bis zur Zeit des Sprechens hinzieht." In the New Testament examples definite expressions of past time occur in place of the adverbs πάρος, etc.
19. Verbs in indirect discourse retain the point of view, as respects time, of the original statement; a Progressive Present in indirect discourse accordingly denotes action going on at the time, not of the quotation of the words, but of the original utterance of them. English usage in indirect discourse is different, and from this difference it results that a Greek Present Indicative standing in indirect discourse after a verb of past time must often be rendered by a verb of past time. These cases, however, involve no special use of the Greek tense, and should not be confused with those of the Historical Present. Cf. 351-356.
20. Periphrastic Form of the Present. One of the clearly marked peculiarities of the Greek of the New Testament is the frequency with which periphrastic forms composed of a Present or Perfect Participle (Luke 23:19 is quite exceptional in its use of the Aorist Participle; cf. Ev. Pet. 23), and the Present, Imperfect, or Future Indicative, or the Present Subjunctive, Imperative, Infinitive, and even participle, of the verb εἰμί (rarely also ὑπάρχω), are used instead of the usual simple forms. Cf. 431, and see the full discussion with examples in B. pp. 308-313, and the list (not quite complete) in S. pp. 131ff.
Instances of the periphrastic Present Indicative are, however, few. The clear instances belong under the head of the General Present.
—Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek