Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Fri Oct 26 18:06:52 EDT 2001

The discussion about voice has been interesting to me, but it seems to be
quite complex. Let me add some comments from my perspective. I am not
"taking sides" just looking at the issue from a different angle.

Ward powers said:
> First of all, what IS voice? The term "voice" refers to how a person or
> thing  relates to the action of the verb. To state this in its
> simplest form:
> ACTIVE: I was the one who did it to him. "I saw the Lord." I.e., in the
> active the subject performs the action of the verb, and it
> normally has or
> implies an object of the action described.
> MIDDLE: I was the one who did it, and no one else was involved.
> I.e., I did
> something TO myself, or BY myself. Normally intransitive (without an
> object, or the object is oneself).
> E.g., the one who has bathed [that is, bathed himself] (John 13:10) hO
> Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5), APEGXATO.
> PASSIVE: I had the action done to me by something or someone else. E.g.,
> The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) OU DUNATAI LUQHNAI hH GRAFH;
> [the] heavens will be dissolved (2 Peter 3:12) OURANOI LUQHSONTAI
> These distinctions are not always consistently carried out in the actual
> functioning of the language. Thus, in the Lord's command to Peter (Acts
> 10:13), "Rise, Peter, kill and eat", there is no expressed object
> for "kill and eat", but obviously these verbs CAN have an expressed
object, and an
> object of the action is implied even when not expressed: if you kill and
> eat, you kill and eat SOMETHING. So in the verse these verbs are
> active. On the other hand, "rise" is something you just do yourself: it is
> intransitive. So it would be a good candidate for being middle. In the
> event, all three verbs in this sentence are aorist active (the first is a
> participle form, the other two are imperatives): ANASTAS, PETRE,

In order to hopefully avoid confusion, let me just briefly state the terms I
am using:
Intransitive, transitive and ditransitive verbs are syntactic terms and
describe whether a verb when it has its complete set of arguments is
constructed with just a subject, a subject and an object or a subject and
two objects, one of which may be indirect object.
The term passive I understand as a derived form of a transitive or
ditransitive verb form. This means that an intransitive verb cannot have a
In semantics, it is more common to talk about verbs that have one, two or
three basic valencies. These valencies are like arms that go out from the
verb nucleus and are able to grab one to three nominals in various roles.
The primary or basic semantic roles are: 1) agent (with subclasses:
experiencer and cause), 2) patient or undergoer, 3) beneficiary or location.
There are many secondary semantic roles like: Instrument, goal, path etc.,
but these are normally attached to the verb nucleus by secondary binding
forces that in Greek and English as a norm are expressed by prepositions.
The genitive is a morphological case, but not a semantic case. It functions
to bind two nominals together.
The syntactical passive corresponds to making the agent role implicit. This
means that either the patient or beneficiary becomes the grammatical

I agree with Carl that the word "active" is not the best term because one
can be tempted to equate "active" with "transitive". This does not hold for
Greek since several intransitive verbs are "active" in their morphology.
Nor do I think it is helpful to connect "middle" morphology too closely with
"intransitive verbs". Many middle forms are transitive verbs.
Carl has suggested new names for the "active" paradigm such as default,
normal or standard. I would prefer "basic", because I would still like to
see the passive as derived from a basic form. Carl has stated that there are
a number of verbs in Greek with "passive" morphology that are not passive in
meaning. If I understand him correctly, he prefers to lump the middle and
passive together into one group which he calls "subject-intensive". I am not
too happy with this term nor with lumping the two into one. I think the vast
majority of the morphologically passive forms are genuinely passive in that
they are derived from a basic form of the same verb. On the other hand, it
seems that some passive aorist or future forms could well function as
middles, and a few even as active. I am not sure a form like BALLETAI is
middle in sense. It seems to be passive in KOINE.

The "middle" forms are the most tricky to understand and describe. It would
be useful to make a study of all the verbs that have both "active" "middle"
and "passive" forms to try to see a general pattern, if there is one. In
KOINE Greek there seem to be few verbs with a middle as well as passive
paradigm in either future or aorist. So, is there a standard description of
the voice differences in Classical Greek, one that does not equate "active"
with transitive and "middle" with intransitive?

Since Kimmo mentioned EPISTRAFEIS in John 21:20 I looked at that. There are
5 aorist "passive" examples of this verb in the GNT, no middle forms and a
good number of basic forms. Some of the basic forms are transitive in the
sense that the agent is different from the patient, e.g
James 5:20 hO EPISTREYAS hAMARTWLON he who has turned a sinner back (also
Jms 5:19)
But most seem to have the agent and patient combined so that the agent turns
himself. I am not sure if this is what Carl calls "subject-intensive", but
with this verb the active forms are used, not the middle.
When looking at the active as opposed to middle-passive it seems to me that
the MP forms suggest a turning around oneself or a passive sense of being
returned to a former position by another agent. The active forms suggest a
change of direction, a turning of oneself, but turning towards some other
person or in a certain direction, not just turning around on the spot. I
cannot list all the examples, just a few, first the active forms:

Mt 12:44 EIS TON OIKON MOU EPISTREYW 	 to my house
Mt 13:15 EPISTREYWSIN 	- they might turn to me (to me is implied)
Mt 24:18 MH EPISTREYATW OPISW - let him not turn behind - back to his house
Lk 17:4 EPISTREYHi PROS SE - if he turns to you
Acts 9:35 hOITINES EPISTREYAN EPI TON KURION -who turned to the Lord
Acts 15:36 EPISTREYANTES DH EPISKEYWMEQA - having turned to where we came
from, i.e. returned.
Rev 1:12 EPESTREYA BLEPEIN THN FWNHN - I turned (towards the one speaking)

Then the MP forms:
Mt 10:13 hH EIRHNH hUMWN PROS hUMAS EPISTRAFHTW - let your peace be returned
to you
Mk 5:30 EPISTRAFEIS EN TWi OCLWi ELEGEN - having turned around (himself)
inside the crowd he said
Mk 8:33 EPISTRAFEIS KAI IDWN TOUS MAQHTAS AUTOU - having turned around
(himself) and having seen his disciples...
Jn 21:20 EPISTRAFEIS hO PETROS BLEPEI - Peter having turned around (himself)
he sees
1 Pe 2:25 ALLA EPESTRAFHTE NUN EPI TON POIMENA - but now you have been
(re)turned to the shepherd

I would consider the first and last ones passive, and the three middle ones
middle with the specific sense of turning around on the heels. The last one
is interesting to me as a translator. NIV and NRSV translate in an active
sense: "you have (re)turned to the shepherd" but GNB translates "you have
been brought back". As far as I can see GNB is correct. The NIV translation
would have required the active form, turning oneself to a certain direction.

So, my tentative conclusion is to agree with Carl that an MP form may be
passive or it may be "active" in a special sense. Often, I think the middle
forms give a different sense to the verb than the active form, but it is not
directly connected to transitivity, nor can it in my opinion be adequately
described as subject-intensive.

In another post I may study a word like TIQHMI which is a standard trivalent
verb "to put/place something somewhere" with an agent, patient and location
role. In the middle forms it seems to be used as a divalent verb with a
different meaning, either "appoint" if the object is human or "decide" with
a non-human object. Either of these can be derived to form a passive since
they have two or three valencies. The middle is also used in other senses,
such as "place in custody".

All for now,
Iver Larsen

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