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Donald Miller and the Aorist (Mark 8:34)

Thankfully, the days are long gone when we think that an aorist verb automatically describes a punctiliar action. No more describing the aorist as the bat hitting the ball (although the error is still present in some older commentaries).

I was reading Miller’s latest book, Scary Close, and it reminded me of a verse that illustrates the aorist.

What is discipleship? What is it to be a Christian (since all Christians must be disciples)? Jesus tells us in Mark 8:34. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself (ἀπαρνησάσθω), take up (ἀράτω) his cross and follow (ἀκολουθείτω) me.”

The aorist ἀπαρνησάσθω may suggest that the denial is a once-off event, as might the aorist ἀράτω. In this case, both words would be referring to conversion.

However, in the parallel passage in Luke 9:23, Luke adds the adverbial καθ᾿ ἡμέραν to make it clear that ἀράτω is a daily event. “If someone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and let him take up his cross daily (καθ᾿ ἡμέραν), and let him follow me.” So although it is aorist, in reality ἀράτω refers to a daily, even constant, action. Perhaps it is best to classify it as gnomic.

In the past I have thought of ἀπαρνησάσθω as being conversion, but I am not so sure any more. The progressive ἀκολουθείτω certainly refers to a daily activity, as does the meaning of the word (good old aktionsart). And the shift from aorist to present may suggest a change of meaning.

However, denial and taking up one’s cross are flip sides of the same coin, and experience is teaching me that you can’t have one without the other. Every day I am asked to deny my will, to live as one crucified to my own will, and in this way follow Jesus. The shift to the present tense may be nothing more than what is required by the meaning of “follow.”

Donald Miller compares Freud and Frankl. Freud says that our highest goal is pleasure; Frankl says it is meaning, and when we can’t find meaning we turn to pleasure. Think on that for a bit. What we really strive for is outside of ourselves, not within.

Isn’t that what the Greatest Commandment is all about? We don’t seek our own pleasure as the highest good; we seek God. True meaning is found in our relationship with God. And love for our brothers and sisters is another way we turn outside of ourselves to true meaning, in loving others. As Waltke says repeatedly in his lectures on Proverbs , love is disadvantaging ourselves in other to advantage others. Or as Piper says, love is joyfully putting the needs of others ahead of yourself.

All of these are ways in which we daily deny ourselves, daily take up our cross, and daily follow Jesus. ἀράτω may be aorist, but it is not punctiliar.

To those of you pursuing Greek competence, please do not look for meaning in parsing, in academic excellence. Look for it in the denial of yourself and in following Christ, loving him and others. Let your parsing ability be not an end but a tool to love others better.

Believe it or not, parsing is one way in which he love God as we pursue the competencies that will prepare us for ministry.

ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν.

ἀλλήλους ἀγαπήσατε.

ἀγαπᾶτε τοὺς ἐχθροὺς.

Μὴ ἀγαπᾶτε τὸν κόσμον.

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