Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

Exegetical Insight (Chapter 21)

The Greek imperfect tense is both limited and versatile in its usage. It is limited in that it only occurs in the indicative mood, but in that mood it has some interesting nuances of meaning. Basically, the imperfect expresses linear action in past time. That action may be repetitive, prolonged or just beginning. Sometimes, however, the imperfect expresses repeated attempts.

This is true in Galatians 1:13 where Paul says, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how I violently persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” Both verbs in the second clause of this verse are imperfects. The first one (ejdivwkon) simply expresses repeated action in the past. Paul is saying that he often persecuted the church. The second one (ejpovrqoun) is “tendential,” i.e., it expresses attempted action. (This is why the NIV adds the word “tried,” which does not occur in the Greek.) Paul repeatedly persecuted the church, but his violent acts did not, indeed could not, destroy it. His actions were only attempts, and feeble ones at that. Jesus’ promise about his church was true then, as it is now: “The gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Walter W. Wessel