The Greek Perfect Active System 200 BC – AD 150 -- By: Robert Crellin

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 64:1 (NA 2013)
Article: The Greek Perfect Active System 200 BC – AD 150
Author: Robert Crellin


The Greek Perfect Active System
200 BC – AD 150

Robert Crellin

What does the ancient Greek perfect stem (covering both perfect and pluperfect forms) mean?1 This has proved a controversial question for at least a century, as it has been recognised that traditional accounts leave the form performing functions associated with present and past tenses in certain other European languages. Thus to say ‘I know’ and ‘I stand’, both present forms in English, a perfect is used in Greek. By contrast, the sentiment ‘I have made’ also corresponds to a perfect in Greek. In addition to this aspectual problem the perfect is also involved in a transitivity problem: some perfect actives in Greek are functionally passive. For example, the active perfect ἀπόλωλα means ‘I am lost’, and not ‘I have lost (something)’ which might be expected.

These issues are not limited to Greek in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but in particular the aspectual problem has proved acute here not least because of the considerable research which has been undertaken into verbal aspect in biblical and New Testament Greek in recent years. It has come into specific focus since the recent suggestion that in fact any Greek perfect form from a dynamic verb may correspond to a present progressive in English.2

A case in point is that of 2 Timothy 4:7 (perfects are underlined):

τὸν καλὸν ἀγῶνα ἠγώνισμαι, τὸν δρόμον τετέλεκα, τὴν πίστιν τετήρηκα·

This verse, it has been argued, could be translated: ‘I am fighting the good fight, I am finishing the race, I am keeping the faith’, rather than

the traditional, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ Such a principle has potentially significant doctrinal implications on questions such as the dynamic event of justification: Romans 6:7, ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας, would be capable of being translated, ‘one who has died is being justified from sin’ as opposed to ‘one who has died has been justified from sin’, implying that the justification is still in process after death.

It is important, therefore, for correct exegesis to...

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