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New Testament Greek
Course II
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  Lesson 2 Alpha Privative, Aorist Tense, 1st Aorist Active, 2nd Aorist Active, 1st & 2nd Aorist Passive  
  Alpha Privative  

The word theist is used of a person who believes in God.
An atheist does not believe in God.

A gnostic claimed to have a special knowledge.
An agnostic supposes he cannot know.

Notice the effect of the initial a in atheist and agnostic.

This is something English has inherited from Greek. An α prefixed to a word negates the meaning. It is called an alpha privative. Learn the following words:

δόλος, ου, ὁ n. deceit  
δολος, ον adj. without deceit  
δυνατός, ην, ον adj. powerful  
δύνατος, ον adj. powerless  
θάνατος, ου, ὁ n. death  
θάνατος, ον adj. immortal  
πιστός, η, ον adj. trustworthy, faithful  
πιστος, η, ον adj. unbelievable, faithless  


  Aorist Tense  

ὁρίζω means determine, fix, set. Heb. 4:7 says πάλιν τινὰ ὁρίζει ἡμέραν, again, he defines a certain day. A cognate of ὁρίζω is ὁριστός. This word is not used in the New Testament, but it is an adjective meaning definable, or defined. What do you think this adjective would mean with an alpha privative?

ἀόριστος meant indeterminate, indefinite. It is not found in the New Testament, but the Greeks used this word to describe one of the tenses of their language, and if you drop the final ος and transliterate, you will see that we use the same word: aorist.

Remember that Greek tenses indicate not only time of action, but more especially kind of action. The aorist tense is a secondary tense, and accordingly, in the indicative mood it indicates past action. In other moods, it does not indicate absolute time, and often does not even indicate relative time.

What about kind of action? Mark it down, as its name suggests, the kind of action indicated by the aorist tense is undefined. Inasmuch as there is no definition of the kind of action, the emphasis is upon the fact of the action rather than the duration of the action. In the indicative mood, the significance is that it happened. Whether it happened over a period of time or in an instant is not indicated.

In English, the tense we use for this is the simple past. If I say, I hit the ball, I do not indicate the action was ongoing or repeated. In this particular example, we might suppose the action was instantaneous. But consider the following sentences wherein the simple past is used: I attended college. I studied physics. I raised four children. In each sentence, it is clear that the action described would have taken place over a period of time. However, the speaker does not call attention to the durative nature of the action. The simple past tense may be used to describe a past event regardless of the duration of the event. The same is true of the Aorist.

In Greek, if one wished to call attention to the durative nature of a past event, the Imperfect Tense was used. Study the following pairs of sentences, observing the different ideas represented by the Aorist Tense and the Imperfect Tense.

In Greek these sentences would use the
Aorist Tense

In Greek these sentences would use the
Imperfect Tense

I hit the ball well yesterday. I was hitting the ball well yesterday.
I attended college. I was attending college.
I studied Physics. I was studying Physics.
I raised four children. I was raising four children.

Consider the first of these pairs of sentences. If I say I was hitting the ball, that suggests I mean to describe a process, perhaps an iterative process, perhaps repeated hitting: I was hitting the ball well yesterday until the 14th hole. But if I say, I hit the ball well yesterday, it may be that I hit the ball only once, or it may be that I hit the ball several times. I conceive of the action as if it were punctiliar, but that doesn't mean it was punctiliar.

I may say, I attended college. Most likely, this happened over a period of years. But I describe the action as a single, simple event without reference to the duration. If we choose to distinguish between Aktionsart and Aspect such that the former is the kind of action and the latter is the speaker's perception of the kind of action, we might say the aorist tense has undefined Aktionsart and punctiliar Aspect. However, be careful to note that the meanings of the terms Aktionsart and Aspect vary from one grammarian to another.

  Formation of the Aorist Tense  


Aorist tense is formed using the 3rd principal part

The aorist tense (but only the active and middle voices) is formed using the third principle part stem:

principal part λύω λύσω ἔλυσα λέλυκα λέλυμαι ἐλύθην


future act/mid aorist act/mid perfect act.

pluperfect act.

perfect mid/pass

pluperfect mid/pass

aorist pass

future pass

The Aorist tense is formed with an augmented stem and secondary endings

Like the Imperfect, the aorist is a secondary tense and therefore:

(1) it uses secondary tense endings

(2) it usually has an augment in the indicative mood.

At this point, we need to distinguish between 1st and 2nd aorist forms. 1st aorists are also called weak aorists, and 2nd aorists are called strong aorists. These are not two different tenses, but two different ways of forming an aorist tense. Some verbs use one method, other verbs use the other method.

  1st Aorist Active Indicative  

The sign of the First Aorist is
σα in the stem. The stem may not look very similar to the stem found in the first principle part. However, as a rule it will look similar to the stem in the second principle part (Future tense). 1st Aorist verbs are formed as follows:

augment + stem ending in σα + secondary (active) tense ending

But note that 1st Aorist verbs do not use the regular secondary tense ending in the 1st person singular, i.e. the ν is not used...

  sing.   pl.
1st pers. -   -μεν
2nd pers.   -τε
3rd pers. -  

Also notice the 3rd person singular where we see σε instead of the characteristic σα. Thus we get the following six forms:

augment + stem + sign of
1st Aorist
+ secondary (active)
tense ending
ε   λυ   σα    
ε   λυ   σα   ς
ε   λυ   σε    
ε   λυ   σα   μεν
ε   λυ   σα   τε
ε   λυ   σα   ν

The third person singular form may have the movable ν. This, then, is the conjugation of the aorist active indicative of λύω

  singular   plural
1st person ἔλυσα I loosed ἐλύσαμεν we loosed
2nd person ἔλυσας you loosed ἐλύσατε you (pl.) loosed
3rd person ἔλυσε(ν) he, she, it loosed ἔλυσαν they loosed
  2nd Aorist Active Indicative  

2nd Aorist stems are not identified by particular letter combinations like the σα that characterizes 1st aorist stems. A 2nd aorist stem may look somewhat similar to the imperfect tense because it will have an augment, will use secondary tense endings identical to those used by the imperfect tense, and will usually use ο/ε as connecting vowels just as does the imperfect tense. The difference will be that the imperfect tense is formed on the first principle part and has a stem identical to that of the present tense form, but the 2nd aorist stem will not look like the stem of the present tense form.

2nd Aorist verbs are formed as follows:

augment + stem + connecting vowel + secondary (active) tense ending

2nd Aorist verbs use the regular secondary tense endings:

  sing.   pl.
1st pers.   -μεν
2nd pers.   -τε
3rd pers. -  

Notice that unlike 1st aorist verbs, 2nd aorist verbs do use the ν in the 1st person singular. The third person singular form may have the moveable ν.

This, then, is the conjugation of the aorist active indicative of λαμβάνω, I take, I receive, using the 2nd aorist stem, λαβ-

  singular   plural
1st person ἔλαβον I took ἐλάβομεν we took
2nd person ἔλαβες you took ἐλάβετε you (pl.) took
3rd person ἔλαβε(ν) he, she, it took ἔλαβον they took


Remember that when compounds are augmented, the augmentation usually occurs at the beginning of the original verb stem, not at the beginning of the compounded word. This is the conjugation of the aorist active indicative of ἐκβάλλω, using the 2nd aorist stem, βαλ-