R. Zimmermann, the Aorist Imperative, and the Greek Gurus of the Facebook- and Blogosphere

In my recent blog review of Ruben Zimmermann‘s newly translated book The Logic of Love: Discovering Paul’s “Implicit Ethics” Through 1 Corinthians (trans. Dieter T. Roth; Fortress Academic, 2019; cf. German Version), I focused on tracing some key lines of thought in this work and engaging critically with his treatment of the topic of freedom.

In this post, my goal is to flag up his treatment of present and aorist imperatives, with the goal of learning from others. For my part, while I found Zimmermann’s discussion of the wide range of imperatival forms in 1 Corinthians and his inclusion of them in the appendix to be both helpful and illuminating (111-119, 267-275), I remain uncertain with regard to the validity of his treatment of the present and aorist imperatives. Here are the two key quotations:

“The present imperative is progressive or durative and refers to an action that is ongoing whereas the aorist imperative is definitive or ingressive and usually refers to a single act. A few examples can help illustrate the difference. In 1 Cor 14:1, Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην (“Pursue love!”) thus means “keep pursuing love!” or, in a paraphrase, “keep love in view as the goal!” Similarly, the present imperative in 1 Cor 7:2 (ἐχέτω) means that each man or wife should have an ongoing, durative sexual relationship with his own wife or her own husband, respectively. The injunction to clean out the old yeast in 1 Cor 5:7, expressed with an aorist imperative (ἐκκαθάρατε), highlights the ingressive aspect of the command” (35).

“That Paul is aware of the usual Greek distinction between imperatival forms (present imperatives are durative and aorist imperatives are ingressive) is particularly evident in the occurrences of the aorist imperative. For instance, cleaning out the old leaven (1 Cor 5:7) or marrying (1 Cor 7:9) are formulated with an aorist in order to express the desired entrance into an action. The change of aspect in 1 Cor 7:11 is also significant in the application of the divorce prohibition: ἐὰν δὲ καὶ χωρισθῇμενέτω (present imperative) ἄγαμος  τῷ ἀνδρὶ καταλλαγήτω (aorist imperative) but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried (progressive/durative) or else be reconciled to her husband (ingressive). (1 Cor 7:11).” (111)

In short, it is unclear to me whether one can assume that the aorist imperative has an ingressive force commonly or in these specific cases, though Zimmermann’s reading does seem possible to me, at least for the texts that he cites. Hence, I would be very interested to know whether the Greek Grammar Gurus of the facebook- and blogosphere would affirm or criticize Zimmermann with respect to this point, i.e. with a view to general usage or to the specific texts that he references. For example, Mike Aubrey’s recent post on aspect and imperatives, which was posted after I had completed this post, seems to frame the issues in a rather different way from Zimmermann, which leads me to believe that he might not be satisfied with Zimmermann’s presentation of the matter. Am I understanding Aubrey correctly here? And whether or not I am getting him right, what do others think about Zimmermann’s (and Aubrey’s) presentation of this issue?

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne