Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicative

Grammar questions which are not related to any specific text.

Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicative

Postby WAnderson » December 16th, 2013, 5:42 pm

I understand that Revelation isn't exactly the best place for a beginner, but I keep being drawn to the richness of the text. Anyway, I'm assuming the question has more to do with basic grammar than something unique to Revelation.

Revelation 12:4a (NASB): "And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth."

The word for "swept away" is σύρει, present active indicative (lit. sweeps away, or drags away). The word for "threw" is ἔβαλεν, aorist active indicative.

My question is this: Irrespective of who or what the stars represent (not relevant), how is it that his tail is presently dragging away the stars, but that the stars were (aorist indicative--at some point in the past) thrown to the earth? The time elements don't seem to agree. How can a present action have an antecedent result? Is this a particular category of aorist that might explain the apparent incongruity?
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby Wes Wood » December 16th, 2013, 10:57 pm

If you are able to give the greek text you are looking at, it will help others answer your question. , 4καὶ ἡ οὐρὰ αὐτοῦ σύρει τὸ τρίτον τῶν ἀστέρων τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἔβαλεν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν γῆν. καὶ ὁ δράκων ἕστηκεν ἐνώπιον τῆς γυναικὸς τῆς μελλούσης τεκεῖν, ἵνα ὅταν τέκῃ τὸ τέκνον αὐτῆς καταφάγῃ. First off, let me admit that this is my initial impression of this passage, and I may be off base as I am pulling only from my own relatively limited knowledge of greek grammar. This present seems to be functioning as a historical present. It is located in narrative material with a verb of action and is in the third person. The historical present only occurs in the third person, though it can occur as a singular or plural verb. In these types of passages, the context helps clarify the usage of the present. Since it is found here in narrative material, you instinctively knew the meaning even though you are unfamiliar with the usage. I believe most grammarians would say that it is used to emphasize some action or sequence, in this case perhaps the sweeping. I tend to view this construction as being similar to something an English speaker might say to his friends when describing some unusual or important event that happened to him. Maybe something like, " yesterday I had to pick up my car from the mechanic, so I went into the shop. No one was in the office so I walk up to the counter and ring the bell..." You would know that the event is clearly in the past, but the present is used to put the audience in the moment with you. It often seems to alert the reader that something significant is taking or is about to take place. That's my two cents, but you will probably receive a much better and more informed answer shortly.
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby Stephen Carlson » December 17th, 2013, 2:20 am

Yes, I too think this is an historical present. This is a legitimate use of the present in Greek as well as in many other languages. The author of Revelation is somewhat more fond of them than the other NT authors and tends to use them in what may seem to be an uncontrolled manner by usual literary standards.
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby WAnderson » December 17th, 2013, 6:35 am

Help me out here. Could both of these verbs in verse 4a (σύρει, drags; and ἔβαλεν, threw) be with respect to the aorist active indicative ὤφθη ("was seen") that occurs back in verse 3: καὶ ὤφθη ἄλλο σημεῖον ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ("And was seen another sign in heaven")? In other words, does the aorist verb ὤφθη in v. 3 determine the "time reference" to which both σύρει and ἔβαλεν in verse 4 apply? If so, how to put it together time-wise? Like this (?): A sign "was seen" (aorist indicative), and it's within that past context that the tail "drags away" (historical present) the stars and "threw" (aorist indicative) them to earth.
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby Wes Wood » December 17th, 2013, 8:11 am

3καὶ ὤφθη ἄλλο σημεῖον ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, καὶ ἰδοὺ δράκων μέγας πυρρός, ἔχων κεφαλὰς ἑπτὰ καὶ κέρατα δέκα καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτοῦ ἑπτὰ διαδήματα, I believe that the clearest indication of sequence is in verse three, but it is not the verb. It is the phrase "καὶ ὤφθη ἄλλο σημεῖον ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ" or "and another sign appeared in heaven." The word for "another" by necessity distinguishes the first sign from the second and establishes a chronology for this particular sequence as it unfolds for the author.
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby WAnderson » December 17th, 2013, 7:02 pm

Thank you Wes, good point. I'm also wondering (not quite sure how to word what I mean here) whether ὤφθη itself in verse 3a places the events of verses 3-4a (ie, the second sign that was seen) within an "aorist indicative framework" (so to speak)--thereby indicating "past time with reference to the time of speaking" (Wallace, Beyond the Basics, p. 555). Would this not explain the use of the historical present σύρει and the aorist indicative ἔβαλεν in verse 4a? Since in v. 3 the sign itself "was seen" in an aorist/past context, does it not make sense that in v. 4a the actions performed also take place within a past context?
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby Stephen Carlson » December 17th, 2013, 7:17 pm

I agree that Rev 12:3 establishes the setting within which to understand the historical present in v.4. Usually, a past context will have been established for a historical present, but I should note that it is not strictly mandatory. For example, Xenophon's Anabasis famously begins with a historical present: Δαρείου καὶ Παρυσάτιδος γίγνονται παῖδες δύο, πρεσβύτερος μὲν Ἀρταξέρξης, νεώτερος δὲ Κῦρος.
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby Wes Wood » December 17th, 2013, 10:39 pm

The reference does refer to past time here since the vision occurred before it was written down. However, the events in the vision would not have to have occurred in the past relative to the time of the speaker. They could refer events yet to have occurred at the composition of the book, but this is going beyond the scope of this forum. If this is not what you are asking, I apologize. Also, thank you Dr. Carlson for giving your more informed opinions. I don't have to stress out over whether or not I unintentionally misled someone when you do. :D
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby WAnderson » December 17th, 2013, 11:01 pm

Thanks Stephen! Since the aorist ὤφθη also occurs in verse 1, it looks like both of the signs that were seen (vv. 1, 3) are to be understood within an aorist setting.

At the risk of beating this little horse to death, and in order to help me wrap my mind around the aorist indicative, how then do the two instances of ὤφθη "was seen" (in vv. 1, 3) affect the narrative's point of view? In each instance a sign "was seen" (aorist), but do we know how long ago in the past it "was seen," or do we only know that at some point in the past it "was seen"? Taking the larger context (chapter 12, and then the book itself) into consideration, it doesn't seem likely that the sign "was seen" a thousand years ago, but rather, in some sense, it must have been seen within the "time context" of what either occurs in the chapter, or in the book itself. However one might interpret the passage (again, irrelevant), it would seem that though the two signs in 12:1-5 were seen in the past, it has to have been in a past that has some "time relevance" to what occurs in the chapter, rather than to some far distant past that has no relevance to what occurs in either the chapter or the book. Can someone point me in the right direction as to how to view the aorists in verses 1 and 3 time-wise? I'm still having some difficulty with the aorist indicative.
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Re: Present Active Indicative versus Aorist Active Indicativ

Postby Wes Wood » December 18th, 2013, 12:42 am

If you will forgive me, I will take one last stab at this. The aorist states only that something occurred in the past. It cannot tell you the duration of the event or how long ago in the past that event occurred. I believe this corresponds to your second option. In regards to the two signs, the context tells us that they overlap because the dragon is waiting on the birth of the child. The narrative appears to unfold sequentially in this chapter and throughout most of the book but we have no sure way of knowing how much time passes between the different events. In the case of verses 6, 7, and 13, for example, we don't know how much time passes between these events unless verse 6 refers to the amount of time that the woman is strengthened before the dragon's renewed attack in verse 13. Again, this is a consideration of the context and not the specific tense form of the verb that is used.
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