MIDDLE AND PASSIVE VOICE
Bryant J. Williams III
bjwvmw at com-pair.net
Sat Oct 27 02:42:10 EDT 2001
Dear Iver, Ward, Carl:
Thank you for your responses on the voice of the verb forms. But, I
wonder..... If it is possible, how about taking a verb like DECHOMAI
(DEXOMAI?)? My main reason for this word, especially with the intensive form
EISDECHOMAI in II Cor 6:17d, KAGW EISDECHOMAI hUMAS. Friberg's ANLEX list
this word group as Middle Deponent. My question is, then, if a word is
Middle in form, which by definition means that the subject is in someway
acting upon itself or is the source of the action, how can it be translated
as active? II Cor 6:17d (quoting the LXX), I would translate as, "and I will
receive you myself," or "and I myself will receive you."
Rev. Bryant J. Williams III
----- Original Message -----
From: Iver Larsen <iver_larsen at sil.org>
To: Biblical Greek <b-greek at franklin.oit.unc.edu>
Sent: Friday, October 26, 2001 3:06 PM
Subject: [b-greek] RE: MIDDLE AND PASSIVE VOICE
> 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
> > LELOUMENOS;
> > 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
> > 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
> > participle form, the other two are imperatives): ANASTAS, PETRE,
> > QUSON KAI FAGE.
> In order to hopefully avoid confusion, let me just briefly state the terms
> 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
> 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
> to bind two nominals together.
> The syntactical passive corresponds to making the agent role implicit.
> 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
> Greek since several intransitive verbs are "active" in their morphology.
> Nor do I think it is helpful to connect "middle" morphology too closely
> "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
> a number of verbs in Greek with "passive" morphology that are not passive
> 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
> too happy with this term nor with lumping the two into one. I think the
> majority of the morphologically passive forms are genuinely passive in
> 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
> be useful to make a study of all the verbs that have both "active"
> 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
> the voice differences in Classical Greek, one that does not equate
> with transitive and "middle" with intransitive?
> Since Kimmo mentioned EPISTRAFEIS in John 21:20 I looked at that. There
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> middle with the specific sense of turning around on the heels. The last
> 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
> would have required the active form, turning oneself to a certain
> 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
> forms give a different sense to the verb than the active form, but it is
> 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
> verb "to put/place something somewhere" with an agent, patient and
> 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"
> 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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