[B-Greek] BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI

Carl W.Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu Oct 18 07:40:37 EDT 2007


I've changed the subject-header because the focus here is really upon  
this verb rather than upon larger issues of voice morphology and usage.

> On Oct 18, 2007, at 12:42 AM, Taylor Swendsen wrote:
>> I am a relatively new student to Greek, so please be gracious...

Frankly, I would hope that list-members endeavor to be gracious even  
to those like myself, who started out in ancient Greek sometime in  
the middle of the last century.

>>
>> On Tue 10/16/2007 at 3:16 PM Carl Conrad wrote:
>>
>>> ...why should we suppose that EBAPTISQHSAN is unconditionally
>>> semantically passive? Morphologically speaking, its form would
>>> represent middle or passive semantics -- or both: the subject may
>>> function as voluntary patient. For what it's worth, let me simply
>>> ask: if the subject of a baptismal process does not voluntarily
>>> undergo the process, can we conceive the action/process as having  
>>> any
>>> efficacy?
>>
>> Is the middle/passive semantic choice determined case by case, or  
>> should we expect universal application of this morphological  
>> presentation regardless of the context? How do you address the  
>> issue of inanimate objects being baptized?  Surely they are not  
>> willing participants...
>>
>> (I know the sense of the word in NT usage is cultic and not used  
>> with inanimate objects, but I think of the example given in  
>> Strong's Lexicon where he tries to give a comparison between BAPTW  
>> and BAPTIZW: "The clearest example that shows the meaning of  
>> baptizo (vs bapto) is a text from the Greek poet and physician  
>> Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making  
>> pickles and is helpful because it uses both words.  Nicander says  
>> that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be  
>> ‘dipped’ (bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ (baptizo)  
>> in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of  
>> vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second,  
>> the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change.")

Do we really talk about "baptizing a vegetable?" The fundamental  
sense of BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI is "wash" or "bathe." In the pickling  
process we might distinguish BAPTW "dip" from BAPTIZW "marinate."  
Moreover the verbs can certainly be used of inanimate objects. The  
washing/bathing may be cultic -- ritual cleansing, as it is most  
generally in Biblical Greek usage.

If Iver is right in asserting that BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI is essentially  
a transitive verb (and I don't think I'd argue with that assertion),  
I think nevertheless that its middle usage is distinctive, rather  
like that of LOUW/LOUOMAI "wash, bathe" (middle 38x/45 in LXX, GNT:  
Jn 13:10 LELOUMENOS, Acts 9:37 LOUSANTES {AUTHN}, Acts 16:33 ELOUSEN  
{AUTOUS}, Heb 10:22 LELOUSMENOI TO SWMA, 2 Pet 2;22 hUS LOUSAMENH EIS  
KULISMON BORBOROU), KEIRW/KEIROMAI ("cut one's hair," normally middle  
as a direct reflexive; Acts 8:32 KEIRANTOS of shearing a sheep, Acts  
18:18 KEIRAMENOS "have one's hair cut"; 1 Cor. 11:6 KEIRASQAI "have  
one's hair cut"), or XURAW/XURAOMAI, regularly middle as direct  
reflexive; Acts 21:24 XURHSONTAI, 1 Cor 11:5 2x EXURHMENHi, XURASQAI,  
all in the sense "shave, or have shaved.").

As a direct reflexive the middle BAPTIZOMAI belongs in a standard  
middle-voice category. One bathes, has a haircut, shaves one's self,  
but we don't add "one's self" in English even if the action is  
performed by another. I think we can describe these middle-voice  
usages as involving the subject as both agent and patient -- and even  
if an external agent is specified with a hUPO + genitive phrase, and  
we want to call the usage "passive," nevertheless the subject remains  
an agent willingly undergoing the ritual bathing.

If that analysis is correct, then we ought to understand the active  
BAPTIZW in a causative sense where the patient is another person or  
persons. Moreover, although the NT usage most commonly is in the  
sense of ritual bathing and specifically to baptism, it can refer to  
ritual bathing of other sorts, as in Mark 7:4 KAI AP' AGORAS EAN MH  
BAPTISWNTAI OUK ESQIOUSIN). Cf. 2 Kgs 5:14 KAI KATEBH NAIMAN KAI  
EBAPTISATO EN TWi IORDANHi hEPTAKI; Judith 12:7 EBAPTIZETO EN THi  
PAREMBOLHi EPI THS PHGHS TOU hUDATOS; Sir. 34:25 BAPTIZOMENOS APO  
NEKROU KAI PALIN hAPTOMENOS AUTOU TI WFELHSEN EN TWi LOUTRWi AUTOU?

On Oct 18, 2007, at 1:45 AM, Iver Larsen wrote:

> A few comments below from Iver:
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Kimmo Huovila" <kimmo.huovila at helsinki.fi>
>>
>> How do you define subject-affectedness?
>>
>>> It would, I think, be better to speak of "agentive" and "non-
>>> agentive" verbs and to note whether the action/process indicated by
>>> the verb is voluntary or involuntary (spontaneous). I would
>>> personally say that EBAPTISQHSAN ought not to be understood as a
>>> "passive verb" in the sense that the subject is solely the patient;
>>> rather I agree with Kimmo that willing participation in the process
>>> is clearly involved here. The difference between the form  
>>> EBAPTISANTO
>>> and EBAPTISQHSAN lies in the fact that the former indicates the
>>> subjects performs the action of baptism upon persons other than
>>> themselves, whereas the latter indicates that the subjects have
>>> themselves undergone the action of baptism, presumably voluntarily
>>> (for if not, what validity would the baptism have?).
>>
>> If EBAPTISQHSAN is semantically passive, the willing participation  
>> is only
>> assumed based on context. It is not stated. If it is semantically  
>> middle, the
>> participation is more foregrounded in the expression. Either will  
>> do in at
>> least most contexts, so there is some room for argument. However,  
>> the fact
>> that usually the verb is morphologically passive may be an  
>> indicator that the
>> Greeks did not care to make the distinction here (the middle was  
>> not a common
>> option, so it is much more marked; perhaps the passive did double  
>> duty). The
>> middle is found in Mark 7:4, where it is quite clearly middle  
>> semantics (and
>> the object is not another person). I do not know where else the  
>> middle is
>> found (but I have not really searched much). You must have thought of
>> different examples.
>
> It is useful to separate syntax, semantics and pragmatics.  
> Transitivity belongs to syntax.
> Intransitive verbs have only a subject, transitive verbs have both  
> a subject and object in their
> basic forms, and ditransitive verbs have both subject, object and  
> indirect object.
> Corresponding to this in semantics is valency. A mono-valent verb  
> has only one semantic role in its
> case frame, a di-valent verb has two in its basic and full case  
> frame, while a tri-valent verb has
> three arguments in its basic case frame.
> Whether an action or process is voluntary or not has IMO nothing to  
> do with either syntax or
> semantic case frames, but is a matter of pragmatics. It is  
> something that is not marked in the
> syntax or derived from the semantic case frame of a verb.
>
> In the case of BAPTIZW as used in the NT for baptism, it is  
> syntactically a transitive verb which
> would take both a subject and an object in its basic form. At times  
> the object is left implicit, but
> that does not imply that it has no object slot. Semantically it is  
> divalent, with two arguments in
> its case frame, agent and patient. In all examples in the NT, agent  
> is different from patient, which
> means that it cannot be interpreted as semantically middle.
>
> The instance in Mark 7:4 has nothing to do with baptism, but  
> involves people cleansing themselves
> with water before eating when returning from a religiously  
> contaminated market place. This is
> related to various Jewish forms of "baptism/cleansings" where the  
> sense is reflexive and the agent
> coincides with the patient, a typical case for middle usage.  
> However, these are all different from
> John's baptism and Christian baptism which is either active or  
> passive, because the agent is always
> different from the patient, at least according to the evidence and  
> practice of the NT.
>
> There is one other middle form in the NT:
> Act 22:16 ANASTAS BAPTISAI KAI APOLOUSAI TAS hAMARTIAS SOU
>
> The middle may be used because it is an imperative and because it  
> is coordinated with another middle
> verb. The focus is on the active role of the patient in getting  
> this event accomplished, in English:
> Get up and get baptized and get your sins washed away. It does NOT  
> mean: Get up and baptize
> yourself.
>
> So, I am afraid I disagree with Carl and Kimmo here. EBAPTISANTO  
> does not occur in the NT among the
> 77 examples of this verb and the sense suggested by Carl for this  
> form is non-existent, unless you
> think of Jewish cleansing ceremonies.

That's true, the aorist middle of BAPTIZOMAI doesn't appear in the  
GNT; nevertheless, I think something comparable may be seen in 2 Kgs  
5:14 KAI KATEBH NAIMAN KAI EBAPTISATO EN TWi IORDANHi hEPTAKI. Does  
Naaman here wash himself -- or is he attended by one or more  
servants? It's curious how much like a description of a baptism this is!

> Only in the imperative do we have a rare example of
> contrastive forms of middle and passive with no significant  
> difference in meaning (Acts 2:38 and
> 22:16). Of course, there are some morphologically ambiguous present  
> and imperfective forms, but the
> general usage of this verb, the fact that the verb is basically  
> active and the meaning of baptism as
> used in the NT indicate a passive sense for all MP forms, mainly  
> because one does not baptize
> oneself. I would expect it to be voluntary, since that is the NT  
> practice, but that goes beyond the
> realm of syntax and semantics, and moves into pragmatics,  
> hermeneutics and theology.

Of course I have argued (1) that -QH- forms may represent both middle  
and passive semantics, depending on the verb in question, and (2)  
that the absence of any clear morphological distinction between  
middle and passive usage argues against any too precise  
interpretation of a usage as middle or passive: it really does depend  
very much on the nature of the verb being interpreted.

Of the MP forms of BAPTIZOMAI in the GNT, the following would  
normally be interpreted as passive:
Mt 3:6 EBAPTIZONTO hUP' AUTOU (John); Mk 1:5 EBAPTIZONTO hUP' AUTOU  
(John); Jn 3:32 PAREGINONTO KAI EBAPTIZONTO (by John?) -- but even  
here I would have to say that the subject is an agent as well as a  
patient: they undergo the baptism by John of their own accord.
Mk 10:38 ... DUNASQE ... TO BAPTISMA hO\ EGW BAPTIZOMAI  
BAPTISQHNAI? .. TO BAPTISMA hO\ EGW BAPTIZOMAI BAPTISQHSESQE.   
Insofar as the "baptism" which the sons of Zebedee are to undergo is  
one that they would not at the time of the incident undergo  
voluntarily, they will in time do so. I have argued that the  
accusative object hO\ of BAPTIZOMAI and BAPTISQHSESQE depends upon  
middle semantics of these forms of BAPTIZOMAI; "baptism which I  
undergo" as a direct reflexive.

The following are very much like Jn 3:32: no external agent is named,  
although presumably there is one: believing and voluntary submission  
to baptism go hand-in-hand.
Acts 8:12 hOTE DE EPISTEUSAN, EBAPTIZONTO ANDRES TE KAI GUNAIKES
Acts 8:16 BAPTISMENOI hUPHRCON EIS TO ONOMA TOU KURIOU IHSOU
Acts 18:8 POLLOI TWN KORINQIWN AKOUONTES EPISTEUON KAI EBAPTIZONTO

MK 7:4 has been dealt with above as a matter of ritual hand-washing;  
it is clearly middle semantically.


Acts 22:16 ANASTAS BAPTISAI KAI APOLOUSAI TAS hAMARTIAS SOU  
EPIKALESAMENOS TO ONOMA AUTOU. Iver noted above that there's no  
significant difference in meaning between the QH imperative  
BAPTISQHTW in Acts 2:38 and the middle imperative BAPTISAI in Acts  
22:16. I would agree, but I think the adjacent imperative APOLOUSAI  
in Acts 22:16 argues for interpretation of BAPTISAI also as a direct- 
reflexive middle.

Finally there's 1 Cor 15:29 ... TI POIHSOUSIN hOI BAPTIZOMENOI hUPER  
TWN NEKRWN? EI hOLWS NEKROI OUK EGEIRONTAI, TI KAI BAPTIZONTAI hUPER  
AUTWN? However strange we may deem this procedure of undergoing  
baptism for the sake of the dead, it is certainly a matter of  
voluntarily undergoing the process. Surely it's a matter of "those  
who have themselves baptized." Here too the usage of BAPTIZOMAI seems  
very much like that of LOUOMAI, KEIROMAI, and XURAOMAI -- and NIPTOMAI.

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




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