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Relative Time with Participles - Mondays with Mounce 268

Categories Mondays with Mounce

One of the challenges in teaching first year Greek (and writing a first year Greek grammar) is the question of simplification. How much do you simplify? How many of the grammatical nuances do you set aside?

If we taught everything first year, almost no one would survive. But if you over-simplify, the students will hate you when they have to re-learn things in their second year. Maybe not hate, but certainly not be happy with you.

A good example of this is the issue of relative time and the participle. Here is what I wrote in section 28.17: “Whereas the present (imperfective) participle indicates an action occurring at the same time as the main verb, the aorist (perfective) participle can indicate an action occurring before the time of the main verb. There are, however, many exceptions to this general rule. (That is why it is only a general rule.) For example, many aorist participles indicate an action occurring at the same time as the main verb (‘subsequent time’).”

As you can see, I am laying the groundwork for the nuances of the grammar, but hopefully not overwhelming the student. Yes, aorist adverbial participles tend to occur prior to the time of the main verb. But that is only the general rule.

When is this not true? Wallace explains that “when the aorist participle is related to an aorist main verb, the participle will often be contemporaneous (or simultaneous) to the action of the main verb” (page 624).

This is most visible in the idiomatic expression, “Answering he said,” ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν (e.g., Matt 4:4), in which case both verbal forms refer to the same event.

Dan gives the example of Eph 1:8-9. Speaking of grace, Paul says, “which he lavished (ἐπερίσσευσεν, aorist indicative) upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known (γνωρίσας, aorist participle) to us the mystery of his will.” “Making known” and “lavished” could arguably happen at the same time; indeed, it is hard to see it otherwise.

I am often asked how students should continue in their studies after first year. In terms of a second year, that answer is pretty easy: use my Graded Reader and read through Wallace’s grammar. But what after that?

The best thing to do is get a good commentary that interacts with the Greek, and just start studying. When you do this, you will come across situations like Eph 1:8-9, perhaps be confused by the issue of relative time, and so you crack open Wallace and start learning. This way you can learn a bit at a time, and always in biblical context.


William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of 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. The Mounce Reverse-Interlinear™ New Testament is available to freely read on Bible Gateway.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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