In my last post I reviewed some of the basics of Greek verbs that can help us better understand the text and the message the author was trying to convey. In this post, I wanted to provide a simple example of this in the passage we covered at our previous Foundation’s Bible Study. We will be looking at a very familiar verse that we may not fully appreciate.
In Romans 3:21, Paul is transitioning from an exhaustive argument about how man is living under the just condemnation of God. Paul spends a good part of the first three chapters disarming any argument that man has before God and giving us a vivid look into the spanless canyon between us, the sinner, and God. Man has exchanged the glory of the Creator for the Creation. Man refused to give Him thanks or give him the honor He deserves. Verse 21 begins with a ‘but now’ that shows how God is stepping in to change the reality we live in.
This brings us to one of the most well known verses in Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When you take a look at the tenses of the verbs in Greek, we see that the verbs are in two different tenses. You would probably expect the two verbs to be the same tense, but Paul switches it up. This unusual combination is certainly used as a device to communicate something significant.
The verb for ‘have sinned’ is in the aorist tense. The aorist tense is a simple occurrence, a completed action without regard to the time it was completed. It is just a past action. Paul is saying that all of mankind is guilty of sin. It is a state they entered into at some point in the past.
The second verb, ‘fall short’, is in the present tense. It is a present, active, indicative. This means that man is constantly in a state of falling short of the glory of God. It is an going state. We are perpetually failing to live up to the holy standard of God’s righteousness.
In using two simple verbs in different tenses, Paul shows the reader that man has entered into a state of guiltiness before God and is actively do everything to stay there. There is nothing within man, in the present or past, that has achieved any approval before God.
One can dismiss understanding Greek tenses as an unnecessary academic practice, but this is how God decided to communicate to us. The original authors did not pen it in English (thankfully, otherwise it’d be pretty boring). One doesn’t have to be a Greek scholar to understand this, but there has been a lot of work done to help bring the cookies down on the lower shelves for us to be able to appreciate and grow from.