Word of the Week
February 26, 2022
The Aorist Myth
For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ‘tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”
The same principle holds true when you teach the Bible. There is a big difference between the right explanation and one that is almost right.
One of the prime places for “almost right” statements is the area of Greek grammar. It’s a foreign language, after all, and most of us operate from a limited base of knowledge. As a result, it’s easy to perpetuate grammatical myths.
You have probably heard Bible teachers talk about the Greek aorist tense – and what they have said is almost always accurate.
Let’s take a closer look!
One of the great themes of the New Testament is the death of Christ for our sins. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 condenses the whole Christian message into two events: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” and “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
All through the Old Testament, priests slaughtered animals and offered the carcasses as a sacrifice for sin. Year after year, thousands of sheep and oxen went up in smoke so that worshippers could have access to the Lord.
When Jesus died on the cross, He became the ultimate sacrifice for sin. He was the perfect Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Because His death perfectly satisfied God’s demands, it only had to happen once. The endless line of animal sacrifices could stop, because He died a sacrificial death once for all, one that never had to be repeated. This truth is explained in detail in Hebrews 10:10-14.
How does this link up to the aorist tense?
A number of Bible teachers have come to passages like Romans 6:10 and said things like, “Paul uses the aorist tense when he says that Christ died to sin. The aorist tense always describes actions that take place once for all, never to be repeated. That’s how we know that the death of Christ solved the sin problem once for all, so it never has to be repeated.”
As you can see, the basic idea is true. Christ’s death was a once-for-all solution for sin.
However, the preacher’s statement is almost true – but not quite.
The aorist tense is a good tense to use when you’re describing an event that happens only once. But the aorist is used for other kinds of events. For example, John 6:23 describes the people who “ate the bread” when Jesus fed the 5000. Surely, we don’t think the crowd ate the bread once for all, never repeating the act of eating!
No, the aorist tense doesn’t prove that something happened only once. It simply shows that it happened. In Romans 6:10, we know it happened once for all because Paul added the Greek ephapax, which means “once for all.”
Bottom line: The aorist tense can describe something that only happens once, but you have to examine the context of the verse to determine whether that is the meaning here.
There are other common myths about the aorist tense, such as the idea that it always describes action happening at a single point in time, action that is virtually instantaneous. However, John 2:20 uses the aorist tense of “built” to describe the 42-year process of constructing the Temple. That’s a pretty big “point”!
You can find a more complete explanation of the aorist tense on the Ezra Project Web site. Just click HERE
More on Grammar:
Curious about the possibilities of studying Greek grammar? For the next four weeks, Word of the Week will shift to a special focus on ways that you can go even deeper by paying attention to some of the highlights of Greek grammar.
You can receive my FREE fact sheet “Myths and Insights: The Most Useful Facts of Greek Grammar.
Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and say, “Send me the fact sheet.”
I’ll send you this list of my 10 favorite grammar hints plus 5 myths to avoid.
Did you know that there are four ways to say “If” in Greek? Next week we will use this grammar trick to get a more accurate picture of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness.
©Ezra Project 2022