Methodology and Background: Runge on Contrastive Substitution and the Greek Verb (part 2 of 6)

In this second post (see part 1) examining Steven Runge’s article, “Contrastive Substitution and the Greek Verb: Reassessing Porter’s Argument”, I will examine the background, leading him to reexamination of Porter’s analysis of contrastive substitution.


The purpose of Runge’s article is not necessarily to disprove Porter’s use of contrastive substitution but rather to “demonstrate his failure to develop a linguistically sound methodological framework.”[1] Runge argues that Porter misunderstands his sources, which leads to incorrect conclusions regarding contrastive substitution. In Porter’s writings it appears that he is in agreement with the linguists he cites but as Runge points out, the evidence is to the contrary.

Why is establishing a proper methodology so important? By providing a sound methodological framework you protect yourself from making incorrect or contrary assumptions. Runge shows that Porter does not provide (or provides very little) a framework for proving that the Greek verb does not encode any temporality[2]. In other words, Porter does not provide a framework that safegaurds against an improper understanding of the Greek verb. This leads to inaccurate conclusions regarding previous linguists understanding of the Greek verbal system with regards to contrastive substitution.

Standing on Fragile Ground

Porter sums up his argument by stating the following:

my formulation utilizes contrastive substituion to ilustrate that absolute temporal categories (such as past, present, and future) are not grammaticialized by the verb form even in the indicative mood that a particular verbal aspectual semantic feature is gramaticalized by a given form[3].

But as Runge explains in more detail later in his essay, Porter establishes contrastive substitution without providing the proper methodological framework before making his conclusion. Porter cites examples from the New Testament and forms conclusions without a “discussion of where this test originated, what parameters guide appropriate selection of contrastive examples, or what can be legitimately be concluded from its application to the use of different tense forms in ostensibly the same temporal context[4].” Without providing the origination of the test the reader is left to assume that the test is valid. Without a proper test Porter is left free to provide examples that may in fact be contrary to each other. Later in the article Runge shows that Porter cites only examples that agree with his conclusions. If the proper parameters were provided this could have been avoided.

His conclusions were largely accepted without properly examining the research behind the conclusions. As Shawn shows in his previous post Silva voiced these concerns in 1993 but they went largely unnoticed.

In general terms, I found Porter’s theoretical framework more convincing than Fanning’s … On the other hand, when it came to looking at their imple- mentation of the principles, I had many more problems with Porter than with Fanning: time and time again I failed to see either the logic or the evidence for his interpretations.[5]

Others after Porter have cited him as authoratative and taken his conclusions at face-value. These have led to twenty years of many NT scholars and students using unwarrented conclusions[6].


Your methodological framework matters. If there is one thing that I have learned from Runge in both his literature and in class is the importance of forming a proper framework for research. Working within your stated framework provides both gaurd rails for incorrect conclusions and allowing others to examine your methodology and test your conclusions. Unfortunately, as we will see in later posts, Porter misreprents his literature, which allows him to make conclusions that actually contradict each other when your examine the works cited[7].

In the next post Shawn will examine section two of the article: Contrastive Substitution and the Nature of Tense.

  1. Runge, Steven E. “Contrastive Substitutino and the Greek Verb: Reassessing Porter’s Argument.” Novum Testamentum 56 (2014), 155.  ↩

  2. Runge, “Contrastive Substitution”, 155n3.  ↩

  3. Stanley E. Porter, “In Defense of Verbal Aspect,” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current Research (ed. Stanley E. Porter and D.A. Carson; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993) 32.  ↩

  4. Runge, “Contrastive Substitution”, 156.  ↩

  5. Moisés Silva, “A Response to Fanning and Porter on Verbal Aspect,” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics: Open Questions in Current Research (ed. Stanley E. Porter and D.A. Carson; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993) 74–82.  ↩

  6. Runge, “Contrastive Substitution”, 156n3, states two major recent works that utilize Porter’s framework: Rodney J. Decker, Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect (Studies in Biblical Greek 10; New York: Peter Lang, 2001) 34; David Matthewson, Verbal Aspect in the Book of Revelation: The Function of Greek Verb Tenses in John’s Apocalypse (Amsterdam: Brill, 2010) 24.  ↩

  7. See Runge, “Constrastive Substitution”, 163.  ↩