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Verbal Aspect Theory and the Prohibitions in the Greek New Testament


Douglas S. Huffman

The end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries have involved much discussion on overhauling and refining a scholarly understanding of the verbal system for first-century Greek. These discussions have included advances in verbal aspect theory and other linguistic approaches to describing the grammatical phenomena of ancient languages. This volume seeks to apply some of that learning to the narrow realm of how prohibitions were constructed in the first-century Greek of the New Testament.
Part 1 «The Great Prohibition Debate» seeks to demonstrate that verbal aspect theory has a better explanation than traditional Aktionsart theory for authorial choices between the negated present imperative and the negated aorist subjunctive in expressing prohibitions in the Greek New Testament.
Part 2 «All the Prohibitions in the Greek NT» continues to examine prohibitions, but is more of an exercise in functional linguistics. That is, rather than apply verbal aspect theory to the grammar of prohibition constructions, Part 2 seeks only to survey the (initially surprising) wide variety of ways prohibitions can be expressed in koine Greek: more than a dozen different constructions. To do this, the NT prohibitions are grouped in their varying grammatical-syntactical and/or pragmatic constructions, all of which function – in varying degrees – in a prohibitory fashion. This taxonomy may prove to be the beginnings of further investigations into how biblical Greek communicates commands.
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Chapter 2—The Failures of the Aktionsart View: Verb Tense-Forms ≠ Kind of Action


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The Failures of the Aktionsart View: Verb Tense-Forms ≠ Kind of Action

The Aktionsart view of prohibitions in the Greek New Testament suggests that the historical kind of action represented by the verb determines which tense-form an author uses to describe it. This argument focuses on two of Greek’s most commonly used prohibition constructions: the negated present imperative is used to command that an ongoing action cease and the negated aorist subjunctive is used to command that an action not begin.

Many NT passages can be appealed to as supportive of this Aktionsart approach to interpreting prohibitions. Regarding negated present imperatives, the following are some of the better NT examples, each passage clearly indicating the action as happening before the command is given to cease it.

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