Esoteric Scholarship: Linguistics and the New Testament II

I want to come back to the issue of Aspect & Tense now. Let’s look at the debated issues:


There are a couple things to be said on this. For one, the concept of remoteness and proximity as used by Porter, Decker, and Campbell are rarely used in linguistics. And indeed, as far as I can tell the use of such terminology for what we seen in the Greek verb is definitely not main stream description. Most linguists prefer the tense terminology. And the vast majority of linguistic literature that uses the these two terms remoteness and proximity use them in reference to demonstratives, not verbs (just do a google search for remote proximate linguistics; you’ll see). This fact makes me more uncomfortable with calling the aorist and imperfect forms “remote” than even the criticisms put forward by people like Randall Buth or Moises Silva.

The (Plu)Perfect Form

The issue of the perfect is really a subset of this debate because Campbell is really the one who has separated himself more than anyone else.* He doesn’t like the term stative and then because he sees parallel usage between the imperfective aspect and the Perfect form in direct and indirect discourse. This leads him to the conclusion that its imperfective in Aspect. To differentiate it from the present form, he proposes the term “heightened proximity,” which he describes as a sort of narrowing in on the action in view (see page 195ff. of Verbal Aspect).

Now what gets me about this explanation is this. What happens when you narrow closely in on a given action. Might it perhaps begin to look like a state? We find is that Campbell’s explanation of the perfect is less different than supposed.

But there’s also another problem. I’ve already said that discussion of remoteness and proximity are quite rare in linguistic literature. And when we move to Campbell’s proposal of heightened remoteness & heightened proximity, the linguistic literature seems to be non-existent. As far as I can tell, Campbell’s terminological proposal is completely unique in linguistic and grammatical discussions as a whole regardless of language.*** Campbell doesn’t help is case when hiss larger book (see the reference above), gives absolutely no citation of any literature that uses such terminology. That makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Its never a good idea to go around creating new categories unless there is extremely clear evidence in the language. And the fact that we have such a stalemate in this debate suggests that the evidence is far from clear!

Moving Beyond the Stalemate

Now I don’t really care what terminology is used. I can use the remoteness/proximate terminology just as easily as tense terminology. I don’t see them as that distinct. So here are some suggestions:

  • Until scholars begin to work harder at understanding the other side’s use of terms, we’re only going to cause more confusions for the non-specialist.
  • It shouldn’t require a PHD in linguistics to understand what you write (and in the case of Porter’s dissertation, it shouldn’t take a magnifying glass either – I would have 1,000 pages).
  • If you don’t write for the non-specialist, your work is destined for the wastebasket because the majority of NT scholars don’t have the time to invest in translating it into normal English.
  • Creating new terminology doesn’t help the problem unless that terminology is obviously self-explanatory.**

[Update] Be sure to read Dr. Campbell’s comment on the post.

* Porter maybe relatively unique is his explanation of the Perfect as Stative among NT scholars, but his basic description is not that different from anyone elses, at least not in my opinion.

** In terms of Aspect terminology, I think we need to move beyond Aspect and Aktionsart to the language proposed by Carlota Smith (The Parameter of Aspect): Viewpoint Aspect and Situation Aspect. For one, using these terms will prevent future students from applying modern definitions of Aktionsart to early 20th century grammarians. It also makes explicit that distinction between “subjective” and “objective” action that we hear so much about.

*** This refers to terminology only. His definitions *are helpful*, though I probably would have described them differently.