Imperfects in Mark

The following is from a study of the discourse function of imperfects in the first eight chapters of the gospel of Mark. The first eight chapters were chosen to avoid "peak" areas around the climax (assumed to be the crucifixion) which might change the discourse functions. The imperfect of the copula (i.e., HN) was excluded from the study since no aorist of the copula is available.

The imperfect was always used in narrative texttype; the only place where an imperfect occurred in quoted material was in 4:5-8, which was in a narrative that Jesus told.

Imperfects are used in the first half of Mark in the following five ways:

  1. They are used in episodic setting to perform a background function of giving descriptive material. (Examples: 1:5, 7, 21, 22; 6:19)
  2. They occur in result statements at the end of episodes. Here they are used on a secondary storyline that is thematic in nature. The theme seems to be that Jesus is someone more than a man. (Examples: 1:13, 34, 45; 5:13, 20, 42; 6:5)
  3. They occur in summary sections that are also on a secondary storyline. (Examples: 3:11-12; 4:33-34; 6:13, 55-56; 7:36-37; 8:32)
  4. They occur on the main storyline to introduce quotations. There seems to be little difference between the aorist EIPEN and the imperfect ELEGEN, except that there are three kinds of quotation material where EIPEN is not used and ELEGEN is:
    1. EIPEN is not used to introduce passages that could be taken as sayings that were repeated more than once. (Examples: 5:28, 30)
    2. EIPEN is not used to break up long quotations into a series of short ones, where the same speaker continues on and the imperfect ELEGEN seems to serve some sort of refresh operation to remind the reader that a quotation is in progress. (Examples: 2:27; 4:9, 11, 21, 24, 26, 30; 6:4; 7:20)
    3. EIPEN is not used as frequently in *Mark* as ELEGEN in non-peak areas. In the latter half of Mark, as the climax approaches, EIPEN is used more frequently. (Mark 1-8: 32 imperfects ELEGEN, 20 aorist EIPEN)
  5. Imperfects are used three times in the first half of Mark to indicate episodic peak. These are also on the main storyline, although they are highlighted as well. (Examples: 5:32; 6:41; 8:6)
This material is excerpted from an unpublished 1990 study at UTA. It is based on my own original research. Permission to use this is freely granted, as long as appropriate credit is given.

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