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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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Introduction to Part 1 —Understanding Prohibitions


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Understanding Prohibitions

Prohibitions are a primary form of human interaction in both spoken and written communication. In fact, for many children, the repeated use of the single-word prohibition “No!” results in that term becoming their first spoken vocabulary word. As children grow, prohibitions become more complex in grammatical formulations and more nuanced in intensity as well.

Prohibitions are part of everyday life for adults, too. Even our faith practices are not devoid of negative commands, and this is with good precedence: eight of the Ten Commandments written by God himself are expressed as prohibitions (see Exod 20:1–17 and Deut 5:6–21).1 So we take up here an investigation of prohibitions, and for reasons of space and time constraints, we are limiting the investigation to the Scriptures of the New Testament.

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