[B-Greek] 1 Corinthians 7.10 question

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Wed Jul 25 06:12:24 EDT 2007

On Jul 24, 2007, at 11:56 PM, Sam Gibby wrote:

> Greetings!  This is my first email on the B-Greek list, so please  
> forgive me
> if I am doing this incorrectly.
> A friend of my asked me about the correctness of modern  
> translations of 1
> Cor 7.10, specifically the second part stating the "wife should not  
> separate
> from her husband".

(With regard to transliteration, in our BG scheme we distinguish Eta  
(H) from Epsilon (E) in a manner similar to the distinction between  
Omega (W) and Omicron (O) -- so that this should read rather


> His question is in regards to the proper translation of the  
> aorist passive infinitive.  If this is correct, then shouldn't the  
> proper
> translation be "a wife is not to be separated from her husband"?

Our concern in this forum is first and foremost with understanding  
the Greek text in its own terms and only secondarily determining how  
that text should best be converted into a target language. In any  
case a good translation ought, in my judgment, to express the MEANING  
of the original text in the appropriate IDIOMATIC USAGE of the target  

Traditional grammars tend to represent the voice forms as more  
strictly expressive of semantic voice than they should -- except in  
the case of what traditional grammars speak of as "deponent  
verbs" (middle-only or middle-passive-only verbs, i.e. verbs that  
don't have active forms). BDAG indicates (sense #2) for CWRIZW: "to  
separate by departing from someone, separate, leave, pass., freq. in  
act. sense" Rather than speaking of "passive in active sense" I would  
prefer to speak of the middle-passive forms of verbs of this sort  
(and there are many verbs of this sort) as middle-intransitive forms  
indicating action undertaken by the subject in regard to him/herself  
-- as opposed to active-transitive-causative forms indicating action  
undertaken by a subject upon an object. That is to say: CWRIZW  
(active) is used of someone causing someone or something else to be  
separated (from something or someone), while CWRIZOMAI (and all other  
middle-passive forms) is used of someone separating or separating  
himself/herself (from something or someone). Thus CWRISQHNAI is not  
really passive in meaning but rather intransitive and indicative of  
an action undertaken by the subject; you could call it reflexive:  
"separate oneself" but this action of separation is not really  
passive: it's not like someone removing one half of an item from  
another half of an item but more like oil and vinegar poured into a  
container: they separate from each other, form distinct layers --  
that is the intransitive middle -- or some have called it the  
"ergative" sense of verbs.

> I noticed in Fee's commentary on this passage, he notes that some  
> MSS reads
> the present passive because the aorist passive is much more  
> difficult.  Can
> you clear this up for my friend and me?

Yes, and any critical text (UBS4, NA27, Tischendorf) will show in the  
apparatus which of the manuscripts have which of the two readings  
(CWRISQHNAI or CWRIZESQAI). The earlier manuscripts tend to show the  
aorist form rather than the present. What's the difference in  
meaning? Well, perhaps we could say that MH CWRISQHNAI means "should  
not separate from a husband" -- separation as a definitive action --  
while MH CWRIZESQAI means "should not maintain a separation from a  
husband" -- separation as a sustained life-style. Or, one might say  
that the aorist points to permanent separation, the prsent to ongoing  
or temporary separation.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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