Category Archives: greek

This day, nine years ago…

On this day, nine years ago, I met the most beautiful girl in the world.

Elsiene and Matthew

Elsiene and Matthew (March 2005)

A mutual friend introduced Elsiene and me to one another February 27, 2005 at about 10:15 AM. It was Sunday morning between first and second service at Grace Community Church where I worked for the bookstore. Elsiene was also hired on to work for the bookstore during Shepherds’ Conference. We ended up working together that week, and well… the rest is history.

… History, and a little bit of koine Greek.

In God’s timing, a couple weeks prior, I was assigned to study and solve an interpretational issue in 1 Thessalonians 4:4 for my Greek Exegesis class at The Master’s Seminary.

The King James Version for 1 Thes 4:4 says, “Every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor.” Most modern translations say something like, “Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (NIV).

I, however, in my study in the Greek text, became convinced that “know how to posses his vessel” very likely ought to be translated “learn to acquire a wife” or “learn to live with his own wife.” The translation that most closely reflects this view is the Revised Standard Version: “that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor.”

If you’re curious, the NIV has a text note referencing this as a possible translation. The Baker New Testament Commentary and The New American Commentary on the letters to the Thessalonians are both fine places to start if you want to get the gist of the argument over this passage.

Anyhow, convicted that I needed to obey God’s will clearly revealed for me in Scripture, I set out in earnest to acquire a wife. And God did not disappoint. Before the month was over, I had met her, and before the year ended, I made her my wife.

After my own salvation in Christ, Elsiene is God’s greatest gift to me, and the one whom my heart loves.

Some people claim that studying Scripture in the original languages is no longer practical or relevant today. I beg to differ. Can you share an experience where sudden clarity on a passage in Scripture marked a turning point in your life?

Book Review: Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek

Constantine R. Campbell. Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. 159pp. $16.99. Reviewed by Matthew Carroll.

Constantine R. Campbell’s Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, released just this month by Zondervan, is an accessible, affordable, and I believe, invaluable, introduction to the topic of verbal aspect.

I entered seminary with an undergraduate degree in engineering, and no knowledge of Greek aside from the letters of the alphabet my former vocation had appropriated to represent all manner of variables. At seminary, I took an intensive summer introduction to Greek grammar, followed by two semesters of Greek Exegesis. Looking back though, I can’t recall if I learned anything about aspect. So among Campbell’s readers, I consider myself among of the uninitiated.

For my benefit, Campbell responds first to the “So what?” question. Knowledge of verbal aspect is important because it enables one to correct exegetical falacies, not uncommon in commentaries. Positively, it allows one to understand why a particular verb may have been employed in Scripture over against another, opening up rich exegetical insights (11-16).

Campbell defines verbal aspect as the speaker’s or author’s viewpoint on the action of the verb, and holds that there are only two aspects, perfective and imperfective. In the perfective aspect, the speaker views the verb as a whole, in summary, from a distance, with no regard for the details. In the imperfective aspect, the speaker views the verb as if unfolding before his very eyes, with no regard for the beginning or end of the action. The classic example is that of a journalist reporting on a parade. Sitting in a helicopter far above the parade, the reporter would describe the event in the perfective aspect as a whole. Standing on the curb with the parade passing before his eyes, the same reporter would speak in the imperfective aspect of the details of the parade, with no reference to the beginning or end of the parade (19).

Campbell’s book is a necessary addition to our resources on Greek grammar because many of the most trusted works on biblical Greek confound aspect and Aktionart. Aspect is a semantic value built in to the tense-form of the verb, it does not change from one context to another. Aktionart, the “kind of action,” is a pragmatic value that arises from the aspect, the lexeme (the particular word) and the context, so the same verb, in the same tense, may involve a different Aktionart from one context to another (21-25).

Greek tense, Campbell argues, is not primarily a temporal quality as it is in English, but a spatial quality. In other words, speaking in summary of a remote event, the subject would use a verb with the aorist tense-form. The aorist tends therefore to be translated as a past tense in English, but since time is not the most important factor in tense, sometimes context requires us to translate an aorist verb in the present or the future.

The theory of verbal aspect, Campbell explains in Part 1 of his book, and in Part 2, he shows how this plays out in the New Testament text. Both parts of the book yielded a number of good “ah-ha!” moments for me. Campbell uses Luke 9:42-45 to give an example of how perfective and imperfective aspect are employed in narrative. In this case, aorist verbs are employed to provide the main structure of the narrative. The main events described are remote to the narrator, and are presented in summary; Jesus rebuked the demon and healed the boy. But the supplemental information is provided via the imperfect tense, which is similarly remote, but is able to convey unfolding events, in this passage, the people’s reaction to the healing and subsequent fear (44-5).

Campbell deals with each of the tense-forms according to an understanding of aspect in chapters 7 through 9, and then in chapter 10, he deals with participles. I have heard sermons (in fact, I have taught) on Matthew 28:19 that the imperative verb is make disciples, and that go is actually a participle that may be understood “as you are going.” Regarding this verse, Campbell explains how knowledge of aspect requires us to treat this participle as taking on the same imperative mood of make disciples.

“It would be a mistake to render this aorist participle ‘as you go,’ communicating an action that frames the context in which the command ‘make disciples’ is to take place. Instead, as a participle of attendant circumstance, the aorist takes on the full force of the imperative with which it is coordinate. The command is to go and make disciples” (127).

After finishing Constantine R. Campbell’s Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, I returned and reread Part 1 on Verbal Aspect Theory, and found I filled in a number of remaining gaps in my understanding of aspect. I recommend this book to any student of the Greek Testament, whether you already know the importance of aspect, whether you are looking for a way to freshen up a knowledge of Greek grammar that has grown rusty, or whether, like me, you don’t recall if you ever heard of this before. Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek is an invaluable tool in your Greek study.


Campbell is blogging this week over at Koinonia. Read the blog to sample the content of his book:
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Gnomic Aktionart

I am learning about gnomic Aktionart. As intriguing as that sounds, it actually has nothing to do with lawn ornaments.

Aktionart is a grammarian’s way of describing what “kind of action” a verb describes in its context, whether a repetitive action, an action beginning, or a state of being, for example.

“Gnomic” is an adjective that describes some universal, timeless truth. So when James writes, “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1:11), he uses aorist verbs (for those of you interested in such things) which are ideally suited in their aspect for creating a gnomic Aktionart, expressing a general statement about reality.

Verbal “aspect” (since you asked) is a way of communicating the speaker’s viewpoint upon the action. If the speaker describes the action as from a viewpoint spacially or temporally distant, he employs a perfective aspect. If he describes the action as unfolding right before his eyes, he employs an imperfective aspect.

Zondervan has just published Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, by Constantine Campbell. Constantine argues that classical and koine Greek actually did not employ tenses (past or present) as we do in English, but instead used aspect. When translating the Greek Testament in to English, we need to pay attention to aspect and context to determine what English tense to employ.

I’m something of a hobby linguist and Greek nerd, so I found this book fascinating. Russian language also uses aspect, so the concept in Greek was not completely foreign to me. All the same there were still some parts that left me scratching my head saying, “Huh?!?” Undoubtedly, that is no fault of Dr. Campbell’s.

Shortly, I plan to post something more along the lines of a book review here on Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, but for the moment, I merely wanted to gush about Greek grammar. It’s the coolest evar!

Campbell is blogging this week about his book over at Koinonia.
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His book just happens to be available at Grace Books International.