Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Exegetical Insight (Chapter 22)

The aorist (αοριστος) is the indefinite tense that states only the fact of the action without specifying its duration. When the aorist describes an action as a unit event it may accentuate one of three possibilities, as, imagine, a ball that has been thrown: 1) let fly (inceptive or ingressive); 2) flew (constative or durative); 3) hit (culminative or telic).

These aspects of the indefinite aorist may shed some light on a perplexing saying of Jesus in his Olivet discourse (Mark 13:30 and parallels). “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things γενηται.” The difficulty lies in the fact that Jesus has already described the end of the world in vv. 24f. in vivid terms of the sun and moon not giving their light, the stars falling from the sky, and the heavenly bodies being shaken. Unless the expression “this generation” (η γενεα αυτη) is stretched to include the entire age from Jesus’ first to his second coming (a less likely option), the aorist γενηται must provide the clue. If we view the verb as an ingressive aorist and translate it from the perspective of initiated action, the saying may be rendered, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things begin to come to pass.”

This nuance of the same aorist form may also be seen in the angel Gabriel’s words to Zechariah (Luke 1:20): “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day γενηται ταυτα.” Not only the birth but the adult ministry of John the Baptist is prophesied by Gabriel in vv. 13-17, yet Zechariah recovers his speech as soon as he writes the name of his infant son John on a tablet (vv. 62-64). Accordingly, v. 20 should be translated, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day these things begin to happen.”

The student is well advised, then, to pay careful attention to the contextual meaning of the larger sense unit and interpret the aorist as the pericope or paragraph would suggest.

Royce Gordon Gruenler