A Book Set to Transform Commentaries and NT Study

Basics of Verbal Aspects in Biblical Greek

By Constantine Campbell / Zondervan

This book is a very important, although short, book. This book is an introduction to the idea of aspect. Wht is aspect, you might ask? To put it simply, aspect is viewpoint. The difficulties that Greek scholars have faced over the past hundred years or so is in achieving a description of Greek tenses that accounted for all the variety present in the Greek language. For instance, what does the aorist mean, intrinsically? Does it mean “point-like action?” Campbell says no. He gives examples of aorists that do not describe “point-like action.” He argues that such an idea can be part of what an aorist means, but that people who claim the above are confusing Aktionsart with aspect. Aktionsart is an exegetical conclusion, not a starting point. It refers to characteristics that verbs can have regard the nature of the action. Is the action point-like, repetitive (iterative), progressive, ingressive (initiatory), etc. Aspect, however, refers to viewpoint.

The two viewpoints are perfective aspect and imperfective aspect. He makes sure that this concept is not to be confused with the time of the action. Rather, it has to do with how the action is being described. His analogy is that of a reporter describing a parade. Perfective aspect is the view from the helicopter. It is a summary, and it is viewed from the outside. Imperfective aspect, on the other hand, is more vivid. It is the reporter being on the ground level describing the parade as it is happening. He argues, then, that the aorist has perfective aspect. It is a summary tense. The perfect tense, however, is imperfective in aspect (!). The difference is that the perfect tense describes a closer view, like a zoom lense. The pluperfect is also imperfective. However, it is much more remote. Similar evaluations of all the Greek tense-forms are presented in clear, non-jargonic language.

Why is this book so important? It offers a way to understand Greek tenses that makes sense of all the data, not just part of it. Furthermore, is offers clear conceptual categories with which we can understand Greek verbs. My own understanding was much sharpened by reading this book. Also, my ability to critique commentaries has been improved as well. This book will help prevent many unfortunate exegeses that base their erroneous conclusions on faulty understandings of the Greek tense-forms. It will help prevent over-reading the much abused aorist tense.

The reader must be proficient in Greek to get much out of the book. However, it is a perfect book for intermediate Greek students, as it includes a workbook within its pages (and an answer key, but don’t tell anyone!).

The reason why this book will transform commentaries is not so much that his conclusions are wholly original. It is not so much that as that he is able to explain this important theory in easy to understand language, and will thus influence pastors, not just scholars. For anyone who thinks he knows Greek, this book will be a big help.


  1. GLW Johnson said,

    November 11, 2008 at 5:55 am

    Moises Silva was telling us this back in the 80’s at WTS. cf. his ‘Biblical Words & their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics’ (Zondervan 1983).

  2. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 11, 2008 at 8:25 am

    The approach seems parallel to the perfective and imperfective aspects in Hebrew. Is that a fair assessment?

  3. greenbaggins said,

    November 11, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Jeff, it is probably too early at this point to make a connection. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were transferable, but I’m not sure.

  4. Greg Smith said,

    November 11, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    At what point in the study of Greek should verbal aspect be introduced? I this something beginners should wrestle with right from the start or would this be put off for the intermediate level?

  5. November 11, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    I remember hearing about Greek aspect when I was studying Koine Greek as an undergraduate in the middle 1980s, under Dr. David Alan Black, who’s written a Greek book or two. Constantine Campbell seems to be a little late to this party…

  6. Josh Walker said,

    November 12, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I posted a review of the first part of this book on our blog @ http://www.bringthebooks.org/2008/11/basics-of-verbal-aspect-in-biblical.html.

    You might enjoy it!

  7. John Bartik said,

    November 13, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Hi Greg,

    I’m a student at Con’s College. I think he designed the course: we flagged aspect issues at the beginner level and then tackled it significantly at intermediate level.

    Hope this helps.

  8. November 13, 2008 at 11:14 am

    […] 7. Rev. Lane Keister. […]

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