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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 6—The Negated Aorist Tense Prohibitions


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The Negated Aorist Tense Prohibitions

In what we have called “the great prohibition debate” in Chapters 1–4 above, the focus is on distinguishing between the present imperative and the aorist subjunctive as used in NT prohibitions. Chapter 5 above covers the negated present imperative constructions (both 2nd person and 3rd person), and here Chapter 6 focuses on the negated aorist subjunctive constructions (both 2nd person and 3rd person). Of course, the negated aorist subjunctive can be used to convey several other authorial intentions (e.g., expressions of fear; cautious negated assertions; with οὐ μή, emphatic negation or denial), but our focus will be on prohibitions.

Why the aorist subjunctive has taken over the imperative role in NT Greek is something of a mystery. Several explanatory theories have been advanced. Samuel G. Green calls this substitution of the aorist subjunctive for the aorist imperative “the regular classical idiom.”1 Similarly, Mandilaras calls the prohibitory subjunctive construction “classical” and notes its frequent use in the papyri that sometimes runs parallel with the prohibitory imperative.2 Basil Gildersleeve notes, “The shifting from imperative to subjunctive in the prohibitive is found in other languages, and some scholars have seen a certain urbanity in the change from the second person imperative to the second person subjunctive in the pungent aorist form; but it is noteworthy that a like limitation is found in Sanskrit, in which the corresponding negative particle mā is prevalently used with a form that...

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