Contrastive Substitution and the Nature of Tense: Runge on Contrastive Substitution and the Greek Verb (part 3 of 6)

Shawn Wilhite and I are blogging through a new journal article by Steven Runge. Here is his post (part 3 of 6).

Early this week, Brian Renshaw and I began a six-part series on Steven Runge’s recent article, “Contrastive Substitution and the Greek Verb: Reassessing Porter’s Argument,” Novum Testamentum 56 (2014): 154–73. (see here)

In part I, we introduce the problem and define contrastive substitution.

In part II, Brian highlights the background and the reason Runge reexamines Porter’s analysis of contrastive substitution.

In the following post, I engage Porter and two of his three sources (Curtius[1] and Collinge[2]). As Runge demonstrates, and I elaborate, Porter misuses and misrepresents Curtius and Collinge when describing contrastive substitution.

Contrastive Substitution and the Nature of Tense[3]

Two places in Porter’s dissertation, Verbal Aspect[4], contrastive substition appears to be a foundation for Porter’s claim of atemporal verbal semantics. Also, he makes reference to Curtius, Bache, and Collinge in relation to his atemporal position. Therefore, one is left to assume Porter is appealing to these three authors to add further linguistic backing and support for his view.

However, according to Runge, Porter fails to clarify what these sources are doing and how readers are to respond to such sources. He says,

the cited pages are of little relevance to his claim about how to appropriately use contrastive substitution as a test, let alone what conclusions can be legitimately drawn from it.[5]
Accordingly, neither Porter nor these sources provide comments regarding methodological safeguards or other forms of constraints to guide Greek analysis.[6]

First, Curtius, according to Runge, is in clear disagreement with Porter’s position. The page Porter cites[7] is in the middle of Curtius describing the Greek verb encoding two things: (1) grades of time (i.e., past, preset, future) and kind of action (i.e., continuous [imperfective], completed [stative] and eintrendende [perfective]).[8] In Elucidations[9], however, Curtius speaks of timelessness as a pedagogical tool to assist English speaking students comprehend the complexities of aspect. So Curtius, bifurcates time and tense to aid student comprehension, not because the Greek semantics encode such division.

Furthermore, Curtius argues the augment communicates a past time description.

The older grammarians treated the aorist throughout, and the perfect also in part, as tense of past time. But the analysis of the forms proves in the most striking manner that language possesses no other means whatever to denote past time generally than the augment; and therefore the denotation of past time can only be primarily assumed where the augment stands—that is, in the imperfect pluperfect and indicative of the aorist, and therefore generally in the indicative only.[10]
As Curtius argues, tense, then, is part of the semantics of the verb, as noted by the augment and generally part of the indicative mood. Consequently, Curtius is in clear disagreement with Porter, not only in terms of temporal semantic features, but also in utilizing contrastive substitution.[11]

Second, Collinge’s footnote is also used in Porter’s argument.[12] Collinge says the following,

On what evidential basis would a descriptive synchronic analyst of the classical Latin verb-system set up, as separate terms, the present-tense and past-tense valores of the perfect forms, when there is no formal distinction to be observed? Is such a separation any more defensible than the synchronic distinction of the instrumental from the ablative function within the formal bundle of the ‘septimus casus’ of the noun?[13]
This digresses from Greek contrastive substitution in multiple ways. First, Collinge is providing discussion on comparative studies of the Latin language with other older Indo-European languages, like Sanskrit and Greek. Second, the brief comments about no formal distinction are describing the Latin verb, not the Greek verb. Third, the passing comment of the Latin verb is about the case-system of the Latin language. So, if Collinge is using contrastive substitution it in no way relates to how Porter is wanting to use it. Furthermore, Collinge is describing the Latin case system not the Greek verbal system. This is a comparison of apples and oranges.

Therefore, Runge argues, and is correct to affirm,

it is unclear how these grammarians [Curtius and Collinge] meaningfully contribute to Porter’s point, or justify his linguistic methodology.[14]

Stay tuned for early next week. In part 4, I will briefly describe Carl Bache’s (Porter’s third source) linguistic 4-fold framework and how Porter conflates Bache’s framework in order to argue for atemporal semantics.


[1] G. Curtius, Elucidations of the Student’s Greek Grammar, trans. E. Abbott, 2nd ed. (London, UK: John Murray, 1875).

[2] N.E. Collinge, “Some Reflexions on Comparative Historical Syntax,” Archivum Linguisticum 12 (1960): 79–101.

[3] This is the title to Runge’s third section. Steven E. Runge, “Contrastive Substitution and the Greek Verb: Reassessing Porter’s Argument,” Novum Testamentum 56 (2014): 157.

[4] Stanley E. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, Studies in Biblical Greek 1 (New York: Peter Lang, 1989), 77, 83.

[5] Runge, “Contrastive Substitution,” 157.

[6] Runge, “Contrastive Substitution,” 157.

[7] Porter, Verbal Aspect, 77, 83; Curtius, Elucidations, 209.

[8] Runge, “Contrastive Substitution,” 157.

[9] Curtius, Elucidations, 208.

[10] Curtius, Elucidations, 207.

[11] Runge, “Contrastive Substitution,” 158.

[12] Porter, Verbal Aspect, 77, 83.

[13] Collinge, “Reflexions,” 89n1.

[14] Runge, “Contrastive Substitution,” 159.