Question for Greek Geeks

When I read A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament there are times when I’ll come across comments about the “timeless aorist” but he doesn’t really elaborate as to what this is exactly (or I haven’t come across his elaboration of this yet).  One example is this comment on Matthew 2818:  

All authority (pāsa exousia). Jesus came close to them (proselthōn) and made this astounding claim. He spoke as one already in heaven with a world-wide outlook and with the resources of heaven at his command. His authority or power in his earthly life had been great (Mat_7:29; Mat_11:27; Mat_21:23.). Now it is boundless and includes earth and heaven.

Hath been given (edothē) is a timeless aorist (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 836f.). It is the sublimist of all spectacles to see the Risen Christ without money or army or state charging this band of five hundred men and women with world conquest and bringing them to believe it possible and to undertake it with serious passion and power. Pentecost is still to come, but dynamic faith rules on this mountain in Galilee.

Now I don’t have Robertson’s Grammar so I can’t check the reference and none of the grammars I do have make reference to the “timeless aorist”.  So here are my questions:

  1. What is the “timeless aorist”?
  2. Is this a legitimate function of grammar or has it been created to smooth out theological difficulties?




10 thoughts on “Question for Greek Geeks

  1. Its an exegetical/interpretive category. For Robertson, its used to describe places where the verb is used to describe a timeless or universal (‘gnomic’) statement.

    Its for the more part identical to the way Stanley Porter uses the phrase as well:

    “The timeless use of the tenses is reserved for occasions where the question of time-reference simply does not occur.”
    Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament (Sheffield: JSOT, 1999), 33.

    So yes, its a legitimate function of grammar. Basically, there is a range of meaning that a tense/aspect can have and categories like “timeless aorist” have been created to describe the variety within the range.

  2. uh…Blass-Debrunner (BDF) isn’t modern, most recent incarnation is 61′, which is almost 50 years ago. And its essential basis is older than Robertson is. Besides, BDF assumes a knowledge of classical Greek as a base.

    McKay’s New Syntax of the Verb is modern.
    Porter’s Verbal Aspect is modern.

  3. Thanks guys… Umm… you know that Christmas is coming up right? And if you all wanted to buy me some grammars I’d be more than happy to accept them ;)

    Email me for my address :-P

  4. Nick,

    I’ve found that most of David Alan Black’s work is very helpful. Get his: It’s Still Greek to Me and Learn to Read NT Greek (Expand. Ed.)

    Black refers to the “timeless” as “gnomic”. This may be another key word for you. You should differentiate between aspect/tense when talking about the aorist though. Aspect seems to do more w/snapshots (it wants to tell you the event happend and is meaningful w/out focusing on duration). Tense seems to focus on the ocurrence of the action as well but often in a simple past-time sense (it either focuses on the conclusion of the action or the whole action). Think of a marching band going down a street. You see the end of the line (which informs you that there it is part of an already started event) but nonetheless, you’re seeing part of it. Or, imagine looking from the top of a building at the band, you now see the whole band from start to finish. This is aorist too. You see the complete event (time is not the focus, the event is).

    As far as being a timeless aorist, then, this is right because as I understand it, aorist doesn’t really focus on time (either in aspect or tense). Just going off of what little I know. I do need to reference Black’s work for more on this, I would encourage you to as well.

  5. To rephrase what Mike said (and I’m basically in agreement):

    – the tense is aorist – just aorist, no “timeless.” The voice is passive.

    Nevertheless the sense of the word can simply be used to indication without really emphasizing the temporal aspect.

    It’s a bit idiomatic, but you see it frequently used that way in the Revelation of John the Apostle, e.g. Rev. 13:5 (twice).

    The sense is more or less simply to indicate present possession. It’s a bit periphrastic, but it gets the point across. It’s a nice idiom because it points (implicitly) back to the Creator/Provider from whom everything (even life itself) is a gift.

    Failure to recognize this idiomatic usage can lead to some odd views (particularly in the Apocalypse).

    Overemphasis on the adjective “timeless” could also lead to some odd views. If we want to call it “timeless” here because Jesus is eternal, ok, but that’s not coming from an exegesis of this text, or from the Greek idiom, but from out theological knowledge from other Scriptures.


  6. Nick, both books by Black were published by Baker. Hurt copies have generally been available at their Grand Rapids store whenever I’ve been back to visit, and certainly when I worked there. Hurt copies sell for 60% the retail price, and you can inquire about them either online (limited selection) or by phone (616-957-3110; ask for used books). You can pay by credit card either online or over the phone, or else you can ask them to hold them under your name when you call, and send them a check or money order.

    Man. Baker should still keep me on the payroll!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s