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Adverbial Participles and Finite Verbs (Monday with Mounce 116)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceI came across a great illustration today of the relative significance of aorist adverbial participles and finite verbs in Matt 2:8.

(Boy, that sounds like a yawner. I should come up with a better lead-in. How’s this?

Is the Great Commission to “Go,” “Make disciples,” or both?

I have used Matt 28:19 a lot to illustrate the value of knowing Greek. In the Great Commission, “Go” is not an imperative. It is an aorist adverbial participle. The Great Commission is to make disciples. “Go” matches most of Wallace’s description (p. 642) of an attendant participle

  1. ”Go” (πορευθέντες) is aorist.
  2. ”Make” (μαθητεύσατε) is an aorist imperative (criteria 2 and 3).
  3. ”Go” precedes the main verb in word order and in the timing of the events. The disciples had to go if they were to make disciples, given their historical situation.
  4. While Matt 28 may not be fully classified as narrative material (criteria 5), the example I found today in Matt 2:8 is narrative.

In talking with Dan, he has emphasized to me that this type of participle picks up some of the imperatival force of the imperative, so it is wrong to say it is purely temporal, “as you go” (p. 645). And yet, the primary force is on the imperative.

Okay, take this to Matt 2:8. “Then he [Herod] sent them [Magi] to Bethlehem, saying, “Go (πορευθέντες) and search (ἐξετάσατε) diligently for the child; and when you have found him, report back to me, so that I also may go and worship him.”

Clearly Herod wanted them to go, because if they didn’t go they could never find the Messiah.

Full meaning is not conveyed by just a word or a tense or a grammatical construction. All these things (and more) work together to communicate. As we preach our sermons and write our commentaries, we need to remember this. Meaning has a larger component than just a word.

So we are to go (wherever that may be), and as we go we are to make disciples, just as the Magi were to go, and as they went they were to look for Jesus.

Let’s not hang too tightly onto just a word study or a grammatical definition of a tense. Let’s make sure that our exegesis takes these things into consideration, but always sees the meaning as primarily coming from the larger linguistic units, such as the relationship between aorist adverbial participles and main verbs.

MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at

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