Order And Relative Time In The Participles Of The Greek New Testament -- By: Robert E. Picirilli

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 57:1 (Mar 2014)
Article: Order And Relative Time In The Participles Of The Greek New Testament
Author: Robert E. Picirilli


Order And Relative Time In The Participles Of The Greek New Testament

Robert E. Picirilli*

* Robert E. Picirilli is Professor Emeritus at Welch College, 3606 West End Avenue, Nashville, TN 37205.

One of the unresolved issues growing (indirectly) out of Stanley Porter’s important and groundbreaking study of verbal aspect in the NT is whether the order of adverbial (circumstantial) participles, in relation to their primary verbs, generally signals relative time.1 In other words, if an adverbial participle is pre-positioned (before its primary verb in the sentence), does that tend to indicate that its action is antecedent to that of the primary verb? And, if an adverbial participle is post-positioned (after its primary verb in the sentence), does that tend to indicate that its action is contemporaneous with or subsequent to that of the primary verb? This is Porter’s hypothesis.2

This is a relatively small matter, but if it is generally reliable it will help translators and interpreters with their work. Consequently, it needed to be thoroughly tested. In 2007, I engaged Porter in some discussion, based on my analysis of participles in Mark and Luke.3 Our exchange left the matter unsettled, and I ultimately decided to wait until I had analyzed the participles in the rest of the NT before publishing on the subject again. I have now completed that task and am satisfied that there are too many exceptions to Porter’s hypothesis for it to become a rule of thumb.

I. Preliminary Matters

Has NT interpretation already gone beyond this issue? Discourse analysis has in many ways branched out from the traditional categories, and this has included some attention to the order of participles in the sentence. Steven Runge, for example, in his chapter on “circumstantial frames” deals with adverbial participles and

order. He begins by saying that “there is a meaningful distinction to be made between adverbial participles that precede the verb of the main clause and those that follow the main clause.”4 In the ensuing discussion, he proposes that a pre-positioned participle represents a conscious choice of the author not to use a finite verb and so to express action that plays a “supporting” role. Such a participle presents “background” information that “is less important than that of the primary verb.”5 As for post-positioned participl...

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