What tenses does aorist in indicative mood in the New Testament usually express? Can it express a continuous action in the present (like a verb in Present Progressive in English)? Can it express a future action? Can anyone, please, give an overview. Please, note that I am only interested in the N.T. aorist, that is, the Koine Greek aorist found in the New Testament and not the Attic Greek aorist. Also, I am only interested about aorist in indicative mood.

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    It would probably be better to ask about a specific text, as this may be off topic (especially if there ever comes to exist a site about the Greek language).
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 15:13
  • Also, there may be some special usage in a specific passage of interest to you that we could clue you in on. Even so, I intend to answer this for you.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 15:19

1 Answer 1


The aorist tense "presents an occurrence in summary, viewed as a whole from the outside, without regard for the internal make-up of the occurrence."1 Wallace explains,

This contrasts with the present and imperfect, which portray the action as an ongoing process. It may be helpful to think of the aorist as taking a snapshot of the action while the imperfect (like the present) takes a motion picture, portraying the action as it unfolds.

[A footnote points out,] There is a difference between seeing the aorist as undefined and seeing it as a summary tense, though the two are closely related. In our view the aorist summarizes. It is thus not undefined or unmarked. That is to say, it is not necessarily the “default” tense that one would use unless he or she had reason to use another. The key issue, it seems, is the tense-mood combination. Outside the indicative, the aorist is hardly unmarked (statistically, the present runs neck-and-neck with it). However, in the indicative, the aorist does appear to function this way, at least in narrative literature. The imperfect, (historical) present, perfect, and pluperfect are all used in narrative, along with the aorist. But the aorist is by far the most common. Thus, the analogy with a snapshot seems appropriate, enabling the student to get a handle on the basic notion of the aorist’s aspect.2

Wallace goes on to share a helpful analogy:

Suppose I were to take a snapshot of a student studying for a mid-term exam in intermediate Greek. Below the picture I put the caption, “Horatio Glutchstomach studied for the mid-term.” From the snapshot and the caption all that one would be able to state positively is that Horatio Glutchstomach studied for the mid-term. Now in the picture you notice that Horatio has his Greek text opened before him. From this, you cannot say, “Because the picture is a snapshot rather than a movie, I know that Horatio Glutchstomach only had his Greek text opened for a split-second”! This might be true, but the snapshot does not tell you this. All you really know is that the student had his Greek text open. An event happened. From the picture you cannot tell for how long he had his text open. You cannot tell whether he studied for four hours straight (durative), or for eight hours, taking a ten minute break every 20 minutes (iterative). You cannot tell whether he studied successfully so as to pass the test, or whether he studied unsuccessfully. The snapshot does not tell you any of this. The snapshot by itself cannot tell if the action was momentary, “once-for-all”, repeated, at regularly recurring intervals, or over a long period of time. It is obvious from this crude illustration that it would be silly to say that since I took a snapshot of Horatio studying, rather than a movie, he must have studied only for a very short time!3

Wallace further elaborates on the aorist in the indicative mood:

In the indicative, the aorist usually indicates past time with reference to the time of speaking (thus, “absolute time”). Aorist participles usually suggest antecedent time to that of the main verb (i.e., past time in a relative sense). There are exceptions to this general principle, of course, but they are due to intrusions from other linguistic features vying for control....

Outside the indicative and participle, time is not a feature of the aorist.4

In conclusion, we must avoid the dangers of saying too much or too little when the aorist tense occurs. The aorist doesn't exist "in a vacuum," so we must pay attention to when context is guiding us towards different meanings as it combines various linguistic features. But we must also avoid saying too much (i.e. saying the aorist always means "once-for-all" or "momentary" action).

1 Fanning, Verbal Aspect, 97. Cf. also McKay, “Time and Aspect,” 225.

2 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 555.

3 Ibid., 555.

4 Ibid., 555.

  • WOW!! A very good answer. Thank you. I didn't have any specific verse in particular. I just wanted to have an overview of indicative mood aorist use in the New Testament.
    – brilliant
    Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 13:26
  • @brilliant sounds good. I just figured I'd asks since there are some exceptional use cases.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 14:21

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