Infinitive Tense-Form Choice: Ephesians As A Test Case -- By: David Moss

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 10:1 (Spring 2019)
Article: Infinitive Tense-Form Choice: Ephesians As A Test Case
Author: David Moss

Infinitive Tense-Form Choice:
Ephesians As A Test Case

David Moss

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Verbal aspect and its involvement in the Greek verbal system has been intensely debated since Stanley Porter and Buist Fanning published their dissertations after independently researching the role verbal aspect plays in the Greek verbal system. This essay seeks to take the research done in verbal aspect studies over the past three decades and apply it to a particular test case, namely Paul’s use of infinitives in Ephesians. Greek, like most languages, makes distinctions that do not directly translate well into English. Since the Greek infinitive mostly occurs in the Present and Aorist tense-forms, an author has a choice in which to use. However, the choice is not purely subjective but has contextual, lexical, and aspectual influences. This essay explores these influences and shows their exegetical significance in the book of Ephesians.

Key Words: aorist tense, Ephesians, infinitive, lexical influence, present tense, procedural characteristics, verbal aspect


All languages make distinctions that are often not easily understand-able or translatable into other languages. From Chinese resultative verb endings to the nuances of reflexive pronouns in Latin, it is important to understand a language within its own system and its own particularities rather than simply through translation. Ancient Greek is no exception. In imperatives, subjunctives, and infinitives, Koine Greek offers tense-form choices that are not naturally available or immediately understandable to an English speaker. For instance, the difference between the infinitives περιπατῆσαι and περιπατεῖν do not generally translate with any distinction into English as can be observed in translations of Eph 4:1 and 4:17 respectively. As the beginning Greek student quickly finds out, the Greek language often makes a distinction between Present and Aorist forms of various non-indicative moods—the infinitive being the focus here.1 Traditionally, the student is taught that Aorist means “once-and-for-all” and

the Present means “continually.” However, s/he soon discovers that this simple distinction does not always fit and is left wondering why a Greek author would choose one tense over the other. In Koine Greek, tense-form choice for infinitives was not arbitrary or fully subjective but involved lexical, contextual, and aspectua...

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