Present vs Aorist Imperative

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uberdwayne
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Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by uberdwayne » Tue Jul 16, 2013 5:43 pm

In 1 John 2:15, John writes "μη αγαπατε τον κοσμον" how would it change the meaning of the text if he had written "μη αγαπησατε τον κοσμον" instead.

I often hear that the present imperative indicates a cessation of an act already in progress, but in this passage it seems to be more of a general exhortation.

what are your thoughts?
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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Jul 16, 2013 6:23 pm

uberdwayne wrote:In 1 John 2:15, John writes "μη αγαπατε τον κοσμον" how would it change the meaning of the text if he had written "μη αγαπησατε τον κοσμον" instead.

I often hear that the present imperative indicates a cessation of an act already in progress, but in this passage it seems to be more of a general exhortation.
Martin Culy I, II. III John Handbook on Greek Text pp.42-43 has a long note on this. The imperfective aspect does not indicate the action prohibited was in progress. Cites S.E. Porter (1994, p. 226) 100 out of 174 examples do not support the traditional understanding. Also suggests present tense is used to foreground material but I don't follow that line of the argument. I don't think Levinsohn would agree with that but I will check and comment later.

Edit: Levinsohn 2000 doesn't discuss aorist/present imperatives in non-narrative texts. The imperfective aspect is discussed[1] within narrative where the imperfective is found in background material but doesn't necessarily mark backgrounding. The perfective (aorist) is used in mainline of the story telling which some call foreground but might be better to consider this middle ground[2] since there are other means of highlighting narration which make it stand out from the main line. None of this applies to aorist/present imperatives in non-narrative texts.

Second Edit: Culy in his introduction p. xviii explains his tentative and cautious approach to identifying semantic or discourse significance of the verb aspect in a hortatory letter. I would agree that imperatives are foreground but the tense aspect suggestions are not very compelling and Culy understands this. He doe not make strong claims concerning the tense aspect of an imperative in I John.

Third Edit: Silva[3] as quoted by Runge[4]
Porter places a good bit of emphasis on the present as the marked aspect, especially in the subjunctive and imperative moods. Part of the argument is that the aorist is more frequent than the present (p. 323). But this distribution is not consistent among the various authors. The present imperative in Paul, for example, is at least three times more frequent than the aorist (the difference is considerably greater if we leave out of account the more than 20 instances of ἀσπάσασθε, most of which occur in Rom. 16).
Culy (introduction p. xviii) makes similar observations and concludes verb aspect alone is "insufficient grounds for isolating foreground and background material."

*********************

[1]Levinsohn 2000: §10.2.1-§10.2.2

[2]other's use the three terms: background, foreground, and frontground

[3]Moises Silva, “A Response to Fanning and Porter on Verbal Aspect.” Pp. 74-82 in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current Research, edited by Stanley E. Porter and D. A. Carson (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), 79

[4] Runge http://www.ntdiscourse.org/2010/03/more ... and-genre/
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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by Markos » Wed Jul 17, 2013 2:01 am

uberdwayne wrote:In 1 John 2:15, John writes "μη αγαπατε τον κοσμον" how would it change the meaning of the text if he had written "μη αγαπησατε τον κοσμον" instead.
χαῖρε φίλε!

Without answering your question, let me just point out the quibble that in prohibitions the aorist imperative is almost never used. Instead we find the aorist subjunctive. So, your question should better be how would the meaning have been different if John had written

μὴ ἀγαπήσητε τὸν κόσμον

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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by uberdwayne » Thu Jul 18, 2013 3:55 am

ευχαριστω υμιν, Μαρκος και Βαρθολομυ!

Batholomew... I can't say though, that Im entirely sure what you mean by "foregrounding and backgrounding." Is this a concept that Stephen Runge writes about in his discourse grammar (I saw you mention Runge)?

Μαρκος... That begs the question then.... How would the meaning be different if John had said "μη αγαπησητε τον κοσμον" ? :)

παλιν ευχαριστω υμιν
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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Jul 18, 2013 5:55 pm

uberdwayne wrote: Batholomew... I can't say though, that Im entirely sure what you mean by "foregrounding and backgrounding." Is this a concept that Stephen Runge writes about in his discourse grammar (I saw you mention Runge)?

I think it was Longacre[1] who used the visual metaphor of a black camels crossing a black desert at night. This captures the notion of background. I just looked at a photograph of camels crossing the Saharh late in the day but still well lighted. The background is golden late sun on the landscape, the camels with riders are backlighted so appear as shadows and stand out vividly. It is kind of a misnomer to call the camels foreground because there is a lot of territory between the camels and the point of view (position of the camera). The camels are the subject that grabs the attention of the viewer.

Backgrounding in discourse has different flavors in different authors who use the term. S.E Porter is different from S. Levinsohn who is somewhat similar to R. E. Longacre but develops it further.

Longacre, Robert E. 1996. The grammar of discourse. 2nd edition. Topics in Language and Linguistics. New York: Plenum Press.
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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by uberdwayne » Thu Jul 18, 2013 6:08 pm

so in your first reply, the act of "μη αγαπατε" is foregrounded against the backdrop of "τον κοσμον"? I understand from your post that this is disputed, but for the sake of my own understanding, this would bring out the seriousness on "μη αγαπατε" and if it was aorist, it would not? Forgive me, I just recently heard of "dicourse analysis" and am having a hard time trying to apply the foregrounding/backgrounding prinicple to the imperative.
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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by uberdwayne » Thu Jul 18, 2013 6:08 pm

so in your first reply, the act of "μη αγαπατε" is foregrounded against the backdrop of "τον κοσμον"? I understand from your post that this is disputed, but for the sake of my own understanding, this would bring out the seriousness on "μη αγαπατε" and if it was aorist, it would not? Forgive me, I just recently heard of "dicourse analysis" and am having a hard time trying to apply the foregrounding/backgrounding prinicple to the imperative.
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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by Markos » Thu Jul 18, 2013 6:22 pm

uberdwayne wrote: Μαρκος... That begs the question then.... How would the meaning be different if John had said "μη αγαπησητε τον κοσμον" ? :)

παλιν ευχαριστω υμιν
The short answer is that I don't think the meaning would be any different. The choice is likely to have been euphonic, not semantic. For the longer answer, take a look at the second half of this thread:

viewtopic.php?f=22&t=42676

χάρις τέ σοι καὶ σοῖς ἐν ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ.

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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Jul 18, 2013 6:24 pm

uberdwayne wrote:so in your first reply, the act of "μη αγαπατε" is foregrounded against the backdrop of "τον κοσμον"? I understand from your post that this is disputed, but for the sake of my own understanding, this would bring out the seriousness on "μη αγαπατε" and if it was aorist, it would not?
There are different types of clause/sentence articulation. I don't think the imperative "μη αγαπατε τον κοσμον" is particularly well suited to the kind of analysis I was using. It isn't narrative nor is it expository. I don't think background and foreground have much usefulness in analysis of "μη αγαπατε τον κοσμον". Could be wrong. I was objecting to one specific suggestion that the present form of the verb would foreground the whole proposition (not just the verb). I think imperatives, hortatory subjunctives, and verbs of command have a high level of "natural salience" in a discourse. So the whole clause would be of higher salience than non-command constituents. But the kind of foreground and background I was talking about in Longacre was specific to narrative.

According to some analysts, in narrative the perfective aspect carries the backbone of the storyline. Imperfective aspect is used for background and/or contextualization. This isn't really the same thing as salience marking. You could argue that main storyline is more salient than the background but it doesn't follow that perfective aspect is MARKED for salience. The main storyline just has salience (natural) without any marking being necessary.
Last edited by C. S. Bartholomew on Thu Jul 18, 2013 11:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Present vs Aorist Imperative

Post by IreneY » Thu Jul 18, 2013 6:32 pm

I would say that, in general, the difference is between specific or general, whether that is related to how many times something happens or some other aspect.

"Don't tie him up tightly this time" would be aorist , whereas "don't tie him up tightly from now on" would be present.

In this particular case, I would say the difference is between "Don't love"/"You shouldn't love" (present) and "do not, in the future, fall in love". Or, in other words, general principle (present) vs. specific act (aorist).

Say, "As a principle, don't tie him up" would be present whereas "in the future, don't tie him up" would be aorist.

That's my take anyway. A bit vague, I know, but I'm mainly working from how things work on modern Greek to tell you the truth. All the theoretical books I've read only confused me more :D :oops:

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