The Greek Geek

Greek Verb Tenses

By Kevin Stone

Tenses are categories of verbs. In English, verb tense indicates time of action (past, present, or future). Each one of the three basic tenses can be expressed in perfect tense (showing completed action), progressive tense (showing continuing action), or perfect progressive tense (showing continuing action relative to a different, completed action). Altogether, English verbs have twelve tenses.

Greek has six basic tenses. In Greek, verb tense indicates both time of action and kind of action, with an emphasis on the latter. Time plays a role in Greek verb tense only when the mood is indicative (used to make assertions of fact).

Because verb tenses are vitally important in ancient Greek, it's good to have at least a basic understanding of them. What follows is a (very) brief look at the different Greek tenses:

Present – showing action occurring now (as opposed to action in the past or future). Often, present tense refers to repeated or continuous action, but in the indicative mood it can refer to a specific action at a specific point of time. Love in John 11:3 is in the present tense, and it shows the continuous action of Jesus' loving Lazarus.

Imperfect – showing continuous or repeated action in the past. It is only used with the indicative mood. Begging in Acts 19:31 is in the imperfect tense, and it shows the repeated requests of Paul's friends; the NAS more literally translates the verb as "repeatedly urged."

Aorist – showing a simple, undefined action in the past (as opposed to continuing or specific action). Has had in Mark 5:19 is in the aorist tense, and it speaks of Jesus' mercy — the word generally summarizes the Lord's showing mercy to the man.

Future – showing an action in the future, usually a specific action at a certain point in the future. Will be delivered and will condemn in Matthew 20:18 are both in the future tense (the first is passive voice), and these verbs refer to specific acts in the future, viz., the betrayal of Jesus and His trial before Pilate.

Perfect – showing an action in the past with continuing results in the present. There is no exact English equivalent to this tense. Saved in Ephesians 2:8 is in the perfect tense, indicating that God's saving us in the past has continuous, present results (and praise the Lord for that!).

Pluperfect (also called past perfect) – showing an action in the past with continuing results also in the past (as opposed to continuing results in the present, as shown by the perfect tense). This tense, used only with indicative mood, is rare in the Bible. Was founded in Matthew 7:25 is in the pluperfect tense, and it shows the wise man's house in Jesus' story was established (in the past) with the result (in the past) that it weathered the storm.

To stress the importance of Greek verb tenses, we'll take a look at 1 John 3:7–9: "Dear children, do not let anyone lead [present] you astray. The one who does [present] what is right is [present] righteous, just as he is [present] righteous. The one who does [present] what is sinful is [present] of the devil, because the devil has been sinning [present] from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared [aorist] was to destroy [aorist] the devil's work. No one who is born [perfect] of God will continue [present] to sin, because God's seed remains [present] in them; they cannot go on sinning [present], because they have been born [perfect] of God."

The sin referred to in this passage is continuous and repeated — a lifestyle of sin. As the Amplified Bible has it, to "sin" is to "deliberately, knowingly, and habitually practice sin." The new birth, given to us by God, is shown to be a past action with continuing results right now. One of those continuing results is that we now have a lifestyle of righteousness. Or, as the Amplified Bible has it, we are "upright, conforming to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action, living a consistently conscientious life." That's a lot of information to pack into a verb, but that's the job of Greek tenses.

Image Credit: Sam Fam; "Our Cook Tent"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Biblical-Truth

comments powered by Disqus
Published 6-19-15