Perfect Tense: A Closer Look

An Expanded Discussion of the Greek Perfect Tense

Any Greek student is familiar with the basic idea of the perfect tense:  completed action.  The tense is used to describe an action or process that (1) has been completed and (2) has produced results that are still in effect at the time of writing.

Whenever you try to analyze the meaning of a perfect tense more precisely, you should begin by asking, “Which aspect of the meaning is spotlighted here: the completed action or the existing results?

To answer this question, you must examine the context and use your common sense to decide which usage of the tense the writer has chosen.

Here are some of the ideas that might lie under the surface of an aorist verb:

1.  Intensive perfect

The perfect tense is used to emphasize the fact that some results are still in effect. This usage is a particularly strong way to stress the fact that something is. 

Whenever you have a strong urge to translate a perfect tense with an English present tense, you are probably looking at an intensive perfect.  In fact, many English versions of the New Testament will translate these as present tense.

Romans 14:23 – “He who doubts is condemned [literally, “has been condemned].”

2.  Consummative perfect

The perfect tense is used to emphasize the completed action, not the existing results.  This does not mean that the results do not exist; it simply means that they are not highlighted.  This type of perfect is usually translated using the word has or have.

Acts 5:28 — “You have filled Jerusalem with your teachings.”

The difference between these first two usages is mainly a difference of emphasis.  It is quite possible to find perfect verbs that put roughly equal emphasis on both the completed action and the enduring results.

3.  dramatic perfect

Used to describe a fact in a vivid manner, even though smooth English may demand that we render the verb as a simple past tense.

Matthew 13:48 — “He went and sold [literally,”has sold”] all he had.”

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