That Pugnacious Participle (Part 2)

In our previous article, we looked at the work the participle may do in explaining more detail regarding the action in the main verb. However, the participle may also describe events that are occurring independent of the main verb, but in relationship to the time of the main verb. We mentioned that such events could be prior, contemporaneous, or subsequent with the main verb and that the tense of the participle as it relates to the main verb plays a large role in understanding that action. Let’s look at a few examples.
A good example of a participle, the action of which comes prior to the main verb, is found in Mark 2:4. In this story, four men lower a paralytic through the roof of the house. To do that, they have to break off the roof first. Mark 2:4b states, “?and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.” “When they had broken it up” is an aorist active participle (EXORUXANTES). “They let down” is a present, active, indicative verb (CALWSIN). This serves as a perfect illustration of the typical usage of the prior action of the aorist participle with a present tense verb. The action of the aorist participle is clearly prior to the action of the main verb as the man could not have been lowered down until his friends had finished breaking up the roof. Some translations use the word “when” here, but I believe it would be appropriate to translate the participle using the word “after.” The translation would read, “?After they broke it up, they let down the bed?.”
We find a good example of the contemporaneous action of the participle in Mark 15:24, “And they crucify him, and part his garments among them, casting lots upon them?.” (ASV) The two main verbs are “they crucify” and “they divide” (STAUROUSIN and DIAMERIZONTAI). Both verbs are present and indicative. “Casting” (BALLONTES) in the latter part of the verse is a present, active, participle. Again it should seem obvious that the “casting” occurred contemporaneously with the dividing, though, they were two different actions. The simple gerund is a satisfactory translation here, but the word “as” could also serve as a good translation. In other words, “as they cast the lots, they divided his garments.” An aorist participle with a finite aorist main verb may also denote simultaneous action. See, for example, Acts 2:41 where the aorist, active, indicative verb “were baptized” (EBAPTISQHSAN) is contemporaneous with the aorist, participle “received” (APODEXAMENOI). In other words, one could say that upon one’s baptism one had received the word and that one hadn’t received the word until one was baptized.
To find the action of a participle subsequent to the main verb, we can look for two things. On the one hand, we could look for a present participle coupled with an aorist verb. For example, in Acts 18:23, we read regarding Paul’s travels, “And having spent some time there, he departed, and went through the region of Galatia, and Phrygia, in order, establishing all the disciples.” (ASV) The main verb, “he departed” (EXHLQEN), is aorist (second), active, indicative. The present, participle “went” (DIERCOMENOS) follows the action in the main verb. Obviously, Paul couldn’t have gone to Galatia and Phrygia until after he had left Antioch. Hence we have an aorist main verb, but with a present participle. The present participle indicates that the action in the participle occurred after the action of the main verb.
On the other hand, we could look for a future participle coupled with a present tense verb. This is much more difficult to find in the New Testament given the scarcity of the future participle. It almost exclusively is used in the New Testament to designate purpose and really deserves a discussion of its own. However, for our current purposes we note Acts 22:5. Paul says that he “journeyed to Damascus to bring them also that were there unto Jerusalem in bonds to be punished.” (ASV) The word “journeyed” (EPOREUOMHN) is an imperfect, indicative verb. “To bring” (AXWV) is our future, active, participle. While this participle’s primary function is to indicate purpose, it ought to be obvious that Paul couldn’t bring those who were bound unless he went first to where they were. Hence, the future participle designates action that occurs subsequent to the main verb.
There are other combinations not discussed in this brief address of the subject. One ought to carefully consider, however, the relationship of the participle to the main verb before drawing any hasty conclusions. As we discussed last week, the most important consideration is to understand that the participle always gets its relative time from that of the lead verb whether prior, contemporaneous, or subsequent to its action. The lead verb is always to be foremost in consideration.

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