Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, April 15

Does the Aorist Tense Prove Judas is in Heaven? (Matt 9:28)

I received an email about what could be the weirdest misuse of the aorist tense I have ever seen. They claimed that the aorist “having followed” in Matthew 19:28 describes a once for action that was eternally binding, and therefore Judas will be in heaven judging the twelve tribes of Israel. How do people come up with these things, and what lack of humility allows someone to make a claim about Greek that no grammar or commentary would allow?


¶ Well, not to detract from the ridiculousness of the guy's e-mail, but the aorist intrinsically says even less than that. The aorist denotes neither tense nor aspect. It describes just the fact of the verb without specifying time or completion at all, leaving the reader to get that from the context. As the name of the Greek verb tense itself denotes, αοριστος ("indefinite, undefined," literally "α-οριστος," without-boundary) there is nothing more to conclude from it than that. Furthermore, the verb in question is a participle, literally ", the following me..." Obviously, a text full of participles is not becoming of good English style, so translators often change a lot of them to verbs, but the fact that it is a participle removes it even more from the point of the text, since now it functions adjectivally. ¶ In other words, the guy is not only reading too much into one verb tense, he is reading something into a verb participle that says nothing at all with regard to his claimed point. ¶ I like to use the English illustration "I play the piano," which, if I just came right out and said that, does not specify either when I have, or am, or will play it. Using the English simple present tense in this way is taken as an implicit aorist (though we don't have an explicit aorist tense in English). The sense is only that I am a piano player. Then, when you change it to a participle, "the piano-playing Garth" -- well, even the "-ing" ending might mislead by denoting a continuous action -- "The piano-player Garth is sitting at the computer, writing a comment in response to Dr. Mounce's blog entry," would remove it even further from the question of tense or aspect (time or completion).

Looking at it a different way, if he had wanted to say ", the having followed me...," describing a "completed action," then that would be a Greek perfect participle. Let me spell that out: "...υμεις οι κηκολουθηκοτες μοι..." (I might need a professor to check my spelling there exactly, but that should be pretty close).