[B-Greek] Clarification re voice form: Acts 10:48

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Sun Apr 23 09:39:12 EDT 2006

In view of the ongoing thread on the question of BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI  
in the GNT the past few days, I think that I need to revise and also  
to explain a couple of the points I have argued.

1. I would agree with most of what Iver has most recently stated on  
this matter: that the baptism discussed by Paul in Rom 6:4 and  
interpreted along the same lines in a Jesus-saying in Mk 10:38-39 is  
different from the Hebrew baptisms described elsewhere, different in  
that it is a ritual act associated with the death (and resurrection)  
of Jesus.

2. It is true that Acts 8:38 (KATEBHSAN AMFOTEROI EIS TO hUDWR, hO TE  
of both BAPTIZWN and BAPTIZOMENOS into the water, but it does not  
tell us exactly what the BAPTIZWN actually did to the BAPTIZOMENOS --  
does not indicate the HOW of the BAPTISMA. It may be that the  
BAPTIZWN laid hands upon the BAPTIZOMENOS, either before or after the  
entry into the water. There is certainly no doubt that the use of the  
active BAPTIZW here and elsewhere in the GNT with a personal direct  
object indicates that the BAPTIZWN acted somehow efficaciously upon  
the BAPTIZOMENOS. I don't dispute that and I do not consent to the  
proposition that I seemed to be endorsing on Friday (Apr 21) that the  
BAPTIZOMENOI "performed the acts UPON themselves." What I did write  
was misleading: what I really intended to say, and should have said,  
is that the BAPTIZOMENOI underwent the BAPTISMA of their own accord,  
regardless of the fact that another person was involved as agent in  
the process.

3. Regarding voice-terminology: I regret having said that BAPTISQHNAI  
is aorist middle; I ought to have said that it is aorist middle- 
passive; I would prefer the term middle-passive be applied to every  
MAI/SAI/TAI/MHN/SO/TO aorist and future form and to every -QH- aorist  
and future form. I won't speak for Randall; I would like to think  
that by PAQHTIKH he is referring to the -QH- morphoparadigm; he  
seems, however, to be interpreting the form BAPTISQHNAI in Acts 10:48  
as distinctly "middle" semantically: "they acted for themselves" --  
i.e. without dependence upon the action of an agent. I think I would  
rather underscore the functional ambivalence of the middle-passive  
form: it indicates that the subject is engaged in a process, whether  
of one's own volition or involuntarily, whether self-actuated or  
actualized by an external force or agent.

4. The conviction I have gradually come to regarding the middle- 
passives of BOTH types (MAI/SAI/TAI,MHN/SO/TO and -QH-) is that these  
forms are inherently multivalent: not simply ambiguous as meaning  
EITHER middle OR passive but rather meaning simply that the subject  
is engaged in a process or experience which may be involuntary, self- 
initiated, initiated and carried out by an external force or agent,  
OR several of these possible actualizations simultaneously. What the  
verb form (which is essentially intransitive) actually means is that  
the subject enters into a state indicated by the particular verb in  
question. In many languages this notion is expressed by reflexive  
verb forms, in Hebrew (I think) by Niphal, Pual, and Hithpael forms,  
in Greek by the middle-passive. In English the most convenient way of  
expressing the middle-passive of Greek is with "get" + participle:  
"get drunk," "get sleep," "get killed," "get baptized." The  
convenience of the use of "get" with the participle as a verb form is  
that it is non-specific regarding the degree of participation of the  
subject or of some force or agent in the process of entering into the  
state in question.

5. That is the conviction to which I have gradually come. I think it  
is a more nuanced view of middle-passive voice function than what I  
was asserting when I first began exploring the implications of the  
word HGERQH in GNT usage several years ago. At that time I would have  
insisted that HGERQH is middle simply because it represented the  
aorist of the present-tense form EGEIRETAI, "he/she wakes up." I now  
think it is more appropriate to understand HGERQH as meaning "he/she  
entered into a waking state." Is that middle or is it passive? It's  
really intransitive and unqualified with regard to indicators of HOW  
the subject comes to be awake, whether with or without the assistance  
of some external force or agent such as a rooster crowing, an  
earthquake, or divine agency operant directly upon the sleeper.

6. There are two or maybe three important points here, in my  
(a) In terms of morphology both the MAI/SAI/TAI,MHN/SO/TO forms and  
the -QH- forms are middle-passive in essential meaning. In the course  
of the development of ancient Greek the -QH- forms gradually became  
more standardized in the aorist and future tenses for indicating  
middle-passive functionality;
(b) Whether or not a particular verb-form should be understood as  
middle or passive in semantic force has much to do with the  
idiosyncracies or the Aktionsarat of the verb in question: some verbs  
are clearly transitive and will involve a primary antithesis of  
active and passive, while others, especially those traditionally  
termed "deponents" are essentially verbs of process with lemmas in - 
MAI/MHN/QHN -- and if these verbs have active forms (e.g. EGEIRW)  
they are really causative forms of what is essentially an "ergative"  
or middle-voice form;
(c) I think it is a mistake to insist in the case of every middle- 
passive verb (whether MAI/SAI/TAI,MHN/SO/TO type or -QH- type) that  
it should be interpreted as EITHER middle OR passive. According to  
their Aktionsart that may be appropriate for several verbs, but for  
several others it is NOT appropriate -- precisely because an action  
indicated by the verb may be voluntary and deliberate while at the  
same time it is performed by another person; that's the case with  
KEIRETAI, "he gets his hair cut" and I think it is also the case with  
BAPTIZETAI, "he gets baptized."

Further to (c): I have often in this forum complained about the  
insistence on EITHER/OR interpretation of adnominal genitives  
qualifying verbal nouns as being necessarily EITHER subjective OR  
objective genitives when the morphological linkage of two words does  
no more than indicate association; Wallace's category of "plenary  
genitive" as a term indicating deliberate multivalent usage of an  
adnominal genitive with a verbal noun at least acknowledges the  
multivalency of these genitives. Sometimes we can clearly discern  
"subjective" or "objective" semantic force in one of these genitives,  
but often enough we can't, however much we may imagine that it MUST  
be either one or the other. These adnominal genitives are inherently  
multivalent, and our determination to categorize them instance-by- 
instance has more to do with how we interpret and convey such phrases  
into a target language than with how the Greek text itself works.  
Middle-passive forms are similar to such adnominal genitives in that  
they are inherently multivalent; while the Aktionsart of some verbs  
will enable the reader to discern unmistakably a middle or passive  
semantic force, others are not so readily forced into a middle or  
passive interpretation. Some may recall our lengthy thread last year  
on GENHQH- forms in the GNT and the dubious endeavor there to show  
that all such forms must be "passive." Ambivalence and multivalence  
are hard things to cope with generally in life; it's no wonder that  
we find it difficult to cope with in language.

On Apr 21, 2006, at 2:16 PM, Carl W. Conrad wrote:

> On Apr 21, 2006, at 1:44 PM, Harold Holmyard wrote:
>> Dear Randall,
>>> Culturally, the person "baptising someone else" is functioning as a
>>> witness and a teacher. Contrary to endless debates, they did not  
>>> dunk
>>> or pour (or sprinkle). The person being baptised went down with  
>>> their
>>> own motor skills while the teacher was a witness. Now many people on
>>> the list will read Acts 8:35ff as putting Phillip in the water
>>> itself, but that is not a necessary reading if one starts with  
>>> the cultural
>>> pictures just described. As for the Greek here, the PAQHTIKH
>>> experiencer/passive would be naturally read as MESH middle.
>> HH: Do I assume correctly that this implies an idea like: "And he
>> ordered them to get baptized . . . "?
> Better: "get themselves baptized" (text: PROSETAXEN DE AUTOUS EN TWi
> aorist MIDDLE sense. That is, as Randall explained it, they were to
> perform the acts for themselves.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad2 at mac.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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