Passive Instrument: A Clarification

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Fri Aug 17 06:32:54 EDT 2001

In addition to the considerations Iver has stated, B-Greekers seriously
interested in the question of EN + dative to express agent of a passive
verb might find a thread in our 1999 archives of interest:

10/8/99		subject header: 1co 6:5 re: outsiders?
10/9-10/99 	subject header: EN of the personal agent
				EN of the personal agent & 1 Cor 6:4

At 11:42 AM +0200 8/17/01, Iver Larsen wrote:
>> Let me clarify my last post. In Colossians 1:16, how is the phrase "en
>> autw" being grammatically used? En + Dative is not the normal Greek
>> passive agency, which is usually accomplished by dative of instrument or
>> agency. But "en autw" would then have no recourse but to be locative.
>> However, the locative in this passage makes no sense. What would that be
>> saying? That all of creation geographically exists inside Christ's
>> physical body? Thus, am I justified in understanding this, by process of
>> elimination, as simply a peculiar, but not unwarranted, perphrastic dative
>> of passive agency? Thanks, Matthew R. Miller
>Just a couple of comments:
>1. Agency or agent is a semantic term and passive is a syntactical term.
>When a passive is used the semantic agent is suppressed. In some languages,
>e.g. English and Greek, the agent can be resurrected at a secondary level.
>The normal way of doing that in Greek is by the use of hUPO as in:
>"he was driven BY the demon into the wilderness"
>Blass/Debrunner 191 lists one instance in the NT of the dative being used to
>express agency (Luke 23:15), but this seems to be exceptional. I am not
>aware of EN+dative being used to express an agent and could not find
>examples of this in BDAG under EN. But it is not uncommon in an interlinear
>Greek to translate EN+dative into English "by ...".
>2. EN in Greek has a wide range of uses beyond the basic locative sense.
>BDAG lists four major categories of meaning: place, time, cause/instrument
>and various other uses. Each of these have several subcategories and some
>have further subcategories.
>They list Col. 1:16 under I.5. and I quote: "to indicate a very close
>connection: ...Col. 1:16 is prob. to be understood as local, not
>instrumental, since it would otherwise be identical w. DI' AUTOU in the same
>This is their evaluation, but it is also possible to put it under sense
>III.1.b "with the help of" or I.3 "to denote the presence of a person:
>before, in the presence of".
>There are times where EN is used where we might have expected a hUPO, e.g.
>"He was led in the Spirit in the wilderness"
>Here the Spirit is not the agent in the same way that the demon was the
>agent above. It seems to be either that he was in the presence of the Spirit
>or in close relationship with the Spirit. Maybe even directed by the Spirit.
>I suppose that could be called an extended locative sense.
>There are other similar examples that are instructive to look at, e.g.
>"and if the world is judged with your help"
>2 Cor 3:14 hOTI EN CRISTWi KATARGEITAI "because in/through Christ it is set
>I am learning from these exercises, and I hope others learn something, too.
>Thanks for asking the question.
>Iver Larsen
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Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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