hOI PERITEMNOMENOI in Gal. 6:13
Carl W. Conrad
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Mon Jan 24 21:19:23 EST 2000
This message appears to have been sitting here all day long without anyone
tackling it while instead we go on talking around and about the Greek and
other foreign language learning questions. I have a feeling that this is
one of those questions about which any who have seriously considered it are
waiting for someone else to take a stab at it, after which they'll pounce
I always have to have the whole Greek text in question in front of me:
OUDE GAR hOI PERITEMNOMENOI AUTOI NOMON FULASSOUSIN ALLA QELOUSIN hUMAS
PERITEMNESQAI, MONON hINA EN THi hUMETERAi SARKI KAUCHSWNTAI.
At 8:59 AM -0600 1/24/00, Mark D. Nanos wrote:
>I am seeking help for how to translate and understand hOI PERITEMNOMENOI,
>by which Paul identifies those who are advocating the addressees'
>circumcision in 6:13.
>A list of the prevailing views found in commentaries with a few of my own
>additional suggestions for possibilities (#'s 3-5):
>1 Present middle causative, thus emphasis on the influencers' advocacy of
>circumcision of addressees is the focus: "those who cause to be
>circumcised," or "the ones causing receipt of circumcision," or simply,
>"the advocates of circumcision."
I don't think this is right, primarily because I take the middle-voice form
(and I think it IS middle rather than passive--I ALWAYS think we should try
to understand these middle/passive forms as middles and accept them as
passives only if we have some agent or instrumental element that points in
that direction). I think that those who advocate circumcision for others
would be active hOI PERITEMNONTES.
>2 Present middle permissive, which highlights the present sense of the
>action with a passive twist, thus it could be translated as "those who
>receive circumcision," "those presently getting circumcised themselves,"
>or "those who let themselves be circumcised."
This is what I think comes closest to the right sense, only I don't think
I'd call it simply permissive--I'd call it outright reflexive: "those who
get themselves circumcised."
>3 Present middle habitual would signify a temporal habitual force at work,
>"those who customarily circumcise," or "those who are customarily
Don't think so; again, the reason being that I think an active form is what
would be called for in this sense: hOI PERITEMNONTES: I think hOI
PERITEMNOMENOI has to be those who do it to themselves or get it done to
>4 Present middle concessive would focus upon the connection by
>accentuating the exception that it involves, bringing to bear the opening
>OUDE: "even the ones who are circumcised," or "even the ones who
O.K. but I'd understand the OUDE as KAI hOI PERITEMNOMENOI OU ... "Even the
ones who get themselves circumcised don't keep the law ..." That is to say,
I think, that in my view Paul is saying "although they should, insofar as
they go through the ritual motions of becoming Jewish, endeavor to keep the
Law, they don't ..."
>5 Present middle circumstances attendant brings out the action of the main
>verb, in this case, the accusation following that focuses upon the
>connection between their identity by way of this substantive participle
>and the undermining "revelation" that these ones do not themselves
>"keep/guard" the Law, thus: "the ones who are circumcising," or simply
>"the ones circumcising" do not "keep/guard" that which they would be
>expected to thus hold most dear.
Again, I really don't feel that the behavior indicated by the substantive
ptc. hOI PERITEMNOMENOI goes beyond their having themselves circumcised; I
don't think this participial phrase implies anything about what these
people do to others; rather that's in the next clause (QELOUSIN hUMAS
PERITEMNESQAI), which is not "they want to circumcise you" but rather "they
want YOU to get YOURSELVES circumcised." Now you may say this amounts to
the same thing: they undergo circumcision themselves and want others to do
the same, so really hOI PERITEMNOMENOI are "circumcisers" in effect, not
just "self-circumcisers." But I think that either overcomplicates or
oversimplifies matters. Rather, as I see it, these guys are proud of their
operation (perhaps they like to show it off like some weird sort of
flashers?) and they're trying to get other guys to have the same
operation--and the final clause in what I take to be a very sarcastic verse
13 indicates what these guys are really after: they want to gloat over the
fact that you guys have done just what they have done--they've made you
commit yourselves through a definitive act of self-mutilation to show the
world that you are a card-carrying member of their party--and it's all a
game of numbers and partisan pride and has absolutely nothing with
observance of the Torah.
>6 Present passive, thus emphasizing the influencers own receipt of
>circumcision. This may be translated as "the ones who receive
As I've said above, I can't see passivity here: their "receipt" of
circumcision is active and passionately reflexive: they don't just "let"
themselves be done, but they "get" themselves done.
>7 Perfect passive, or hOI PERITETMNHMENOI, a variant construction actually
>attested in a few important manuscripts (including [P46), focuses on the
>condition which results from a previous action, and would translate "those
>who have been circumcised," or "those in the state of circumcision.
Here again I'd prefer the middle sense, the more so in the perfect tense, I
think, than if the reading we had here were PERITMHQENTES, which might with
more justification be deemed authentically passive.
>Are the above options the only ones that should be sorted through? And
>following Carl's observation that passive is a form of middle, so
>passive-middle perhaps, what difference might this make?
>In this case it does seem that the active middle choice is redundant, Paul
>has already said clearly that they "would compel you to be circumcised,"
>so why the substantive participle here in the next verse," or is that just
>why, because it is the already defined identity?
Yes, I think that's it: this is a class of people that I think Paul means
to be describing with a pejorative term as something like "self-mutilators
(cf. 5:12). I don't really mean to say at all that Paul despises
circumcision, but it seems to me that he here makes crystal-clear that he
despises those who are NOT ethnic Jews who suppose that they have to LOOK
like ethnic Jews in every respect and want other Gentiles to join their
>On the other hand, might not their own identity as circumcised, perhaps
>even by choice (i.e., that they are themselves proselytes who now seek the
>proselyte conversion of the addressees), be implied in this participle, so
>that it is not a restatement of their advocacy as much as of their
>culpability, which is what the rest of the verbal phrase undermines. That
>is, that in spite of their indebtedness as circumcised ones to observe the
>whole Law (5:3), which is living with the interests of one's neighbor in
>view (5:14), that their advocacy of circumcision of the addressees is a
>violation of this principle, since it is, in Paul's view, a violation of
>what is in the best interests of these gentiles, because it for them
>render's meaningless the death of Christ for them as gentiles,
>representatives of the Nations. I mean to express no judgement of whether
>Paul's judgement of these people or groups is correct or not; I take his
>interest here to be a part of a larger rhetorical discussion that would
>have to be considered.
If I understand rightly what seems a very convoluted sentence/paragraph, I
think I agree with this, and I think that's what I've argued above: these
people aren't concerned with what it means to be a Jew or a "believer" at
all: their game is politics--it's putting numbers of new recruits on the
board and scoring brownie points for those who can bring in the most
recruits. At least, that's the way I read it.
>Any feedback would be appreciated.
And now, as my son would say, " the Chalupa has been dropped," and others
can move in and have a go at it.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
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