Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Sat Oct 20 11:34:55 EDT 2007

>From Iver:

It looks like I need to clarify my position which is based on an empirical analysis of all the NT
data plus a semantic theory of case frames.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Carl W. Conrad" <cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu>
To: "Iver Larsen" <iver_larsen at sil.org>
Cc: "BG" <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: 19. oktober 2007 18:05

(1) Are we agreed that the -QH- aorists and futures express both
middle and passive semantics, e.g. that APEKRIQH is identical in
sense to APEKRINATO and is the more common later Hellenistic form of
the aorist of APOKRINOMAI? I ask this because I rather think that
there are many instances of the BAPTISQH/E- stem -- even within the
GNT -- that are semantically middle and that were becoming or had
become standard replacements for the older middles in BAPTISA-.  I've
argued that specifically for those that have an accusative object (TO
adduced another example from Pap.Oxy. 840, lines 9-16:

Iver: We are agreed that the -QH- forms which are sometimes called passive morphology and the middle
morphology are at times skewed in relation to the semantics, whether the sense is middle or passive.
However, the situation varies with the particular word in question. For some verbs like APEKRIQH,
the -QH- forms have become common with an active sense, and there is no apparent difference between
an aorist middle and aorist passive of this verb. In the NT, 216 out of 231 (94%) use the QH. There
are others in this category, e.g. DUNAMAI.
For other verbs, there is a clear distinction between active, middle and passive.
Some verbs do not occur in the middle, only active and passive, others do not occur in the active,
others not in the passive.
So, we need to look at the particular word in question and its usage in context. What applies to one
verb does not necessarily apply to another.

Randall did dig up a clear example of a passive morphology BAPTIZW being used in a middle sense from
this papyrus, but there is nothing like it in the NT, and it did not have the sense of "baptism".
Mk 10:38 I'll discuss later.

(2) Unless I have misunderstood, Iver holds that BAPTIZW in the
cultic sense of "baptize" is strictly transitive and is used strictly
of an action performed by one person upon a second person or persons.
A direct reflexive usage of BAPTIZW in this sense, even with the
sense, "have oneself baptized (by another)" is not thinkable or not

Iver: Yes, I believe it is not thinkable, nor attested. In terms of case frame and semantics, if you
have yourself baptized by another, it is not reflexive. It is only reflexive if you do it to
yourself, or in semantic terms, if the agent and patient is the same.

Instances that we do find of middle usage of this verb in
the sense "baptize" are metaphorical (Mk 10:38) or to be explained
otherwise, as Acts 18:8:  KAI NUN TI MELLEIS/ ANASTAS BAPTISAI
Iver seems to think that the middle imperative is influenced by the
other adjacent middles APOLOUSAI and EPIKALESAMENOS. My own view is
rather that many of the 12 instances of middle forms of BAPTIZW/
BAPTIZOMAI are semantically middle and that they do fall into the
direct reflexive category in the sense "have oneself baptized" -- and
that this direct-reflexive usage may be in play even when there's a
hUPO + genitive construction indicating an external agent. How the
academic linguists choose to explain a distinction between the agent
of a direct reflexive of this sort and an external agent, I don't
know, but I think that such an expression as "have one's hair cut by
one's favorite barber" is perfectly intelligible and that it could be
expressed unambiguously in ancient Greek as KEIRESQAI hUPO TOU

Iver: Maybe what you are suggesting is that the subject could simultaneously fill the role of
patient and beneficiary? I have no quarrel with that, and one of the many usages of the middle is to
indicate that the subject is also the benificiary.  However, it is not reflexive, because the agent
is the barber, not the person whose hair is being cut.

Kimmo recently mentioned that James 4:3 has an interesting contrast between the active AITEITE and
the middle AITEISQE. In the second, middle form there is focus on the fact that the agent is also
the benificiary. Both forms can have up to two objects: The thing asked for and the person from whom
it is asked. In semantic terms the patient and the source. The source can for this verb be expressed
either as an accusative or with a preposition.
In James 4:2 we find the word MACESQE (fight). This word does not have an active morphological
paradigm, because it is inherently reciprocal and therefore middle. You only fight if you have
someone to fight with. It is normally, but not exclusively, used with a plural subject. In Danish,
we indicate such reciprocity by a final -s, e.g. "Han skændte på ham" (He rebuked (on) him), but "De
skændtes" (They rebuked one another, or they had an argument). "Han skændtes med hende" (He had an
argument with her).
So, the middle in Greek has several distinct functions, e.g. reflexivity, reciprocity,
subject-benefactive, subject as agent+experiencer.

For my part, I am not at all convinced that BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI in the
distinct sense of ritual baptism really does differ in grammatical
formation from the more basic verb BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI with the sense
of "bathe ritually." I cite the relevant parts of the BDAG entry:
1. wash ceremonially for purpose of purification, wash, purify, of a
broad range of repeated ritual washing rooted in Israelite tradition
(cp. Just., D. 46, 2) Mk 7:4; Lk 11:38; Ox 840, 15.—WBrandt, Jüd.
Reinheitslehre u. ihre Beschreibg. in den Ev. 1910; ABüchler, The Law
of Purification in Mk 7:1–23: ET 21, 1910, 34–40; JDöller, D.
Reinheits- u. Speisegesetze d. ATs 1917; JJeremias, TZ 5, ’49, 418–
28. See 1QS 5:8–23; 2:25–3:12; 4:20–22.
2. to use water in a rite for purpose of renewing or establishing a
relationship w. God, plunge, dip, wash, baptize. The transliteration
‘baptize’ signifies the ceremonial character that NT narratives
accord such cleansing, but the need of qualifying statements or
contextual coloring in the documents indicates that the term ß. was
not nearly so technical as the transliteration suggests.

The dictionary is rather confused between technical usage and different senses, and it fails to
account adequately for those different senses. Louw and Nida is somewhat better, but still

For this reason I cannot so readily dismiss the relevance to our
question of the clearly middle uses in the LXX cited above (4 Km
5:14; Sir 34:25; Jdth 12:7). I don't have the Irenaeaus 1.21.3 text
ready to hand, but I'd like to look at it. I don't understand why the
verb BAPTIZW/BAPTIZOMAI when referring to the distinctive NT baptism
should behave grammatically in a way different from its behavior in
other contexts of ritual purification.

In that case, I need to give a more thorough explanation of how the word is used in the NT.

First, there are three situations which can be lumped together, because they use the same case
frames and have a very similar sense: John's baptism, Christian baptism in water, and Baptism in the
Then there are a few cases where the word BAPTIZW is used in a sense different from any of the three
above. These are Mark 7:4, 10:38-39, Luk 11:38, 12:50 and 1Cor 10:2. These must be looked at
individually in their context and not confused with all the others. Mark 7:4 uses a middle form in a
reflexive sense - bathe oneself. Mark 10:38-39 use MP forms in the sense of going through en
experience of suffering. There is no agent mentioned, so it is not clear whether these are best
interpreted as middle or passive. I would think that it is most likely that they are passives,
because if you are given a cup to drink, then there is somebody else who gives it to you. And it is
probably God who is the implied agent for the suffering that Jesus has to go through.
Luk 11:38 is a passive form that is probably intended to be middle reflexive as it refers to Jewish
cleansing. Luk 12:50 is parallel to Mark 10:38-39, with God being the most likely implied agent in a
passive construction.
1Cor 10:2 is a metaphorical usage which is probably middle in sense, but we already discussed this

Now, let me list how the first three constructions above are used in the NT. I am going to list the
reference, the voice, the agent and the patient. A parenthesis indicates that the agent or patient
is not directly mentioned, but implied from context.

Ref:                Voice            Agent                Patient

Mt 3:6            Pass           John                    people (Also Mk 1:5)
Mt 3:11a        Act              I (John)               you (also Mk 1:8a,Lk 3:16a, Jn 1:26)
Mt 3:11b        Act              He(Jesus)            you (also Mk 1:8b, Lk 3:16b)
Mt 3:13          Pass           John                    Jesus
Mt 3:14          Pass           you(Jesus)           me(John)
Mt 3:16          Pass           (John)                 Jesus
Mt 28:19        Act              you(disciples)      them (people/believers)
Mk 1:4           Act              John                    (people)
Mk 1:9           Pass           John                    Jesus
Mk 6;14,24     Act             John                    (people)
Mk 16:16        Pass           (disciples)           believers
Lk 3:21a         Pass           (John)                 people
Lk 3:21b         Pass           (John)                 Jesus
Lk 3:7            Pass            him(John)           crowds
Lk 3:12          Pass            (John)                tax collectors
Lk 7:29          Pass            (John)                tax collectors
Lk 7:30          Pass            him(John)           Pharisees
Jn 1:25          Act               you(John)           (people)
Jn 1:33a        Act               (John)                (people)
Jn 1:33b        Act               he(Jesus)           (people) (Spirit baptism)
Jn 3:23a        Act               John                   (people)
Jn 3:23b        Pass            (John) they          (people)
Jn 3:26          Act               he(Jesus)           (people)
Jn 4:1            Act               (Jesus/discip.)    (people)
Jn 4:2            Act               (disciples)           (people)
Jn 10:40        Act               John                   (people)
Act 1:5a        Act               John                   (people)
Act 1:5b        Pass             (Jesus)               you(disc.) (Spirit baptism)
Act 2:38        Pass             (apostles)           you (people)
Act 2:41        Pass             (apostles)           believers
Act 8:12        Pass             (Philip)                men and women
Act 8:13        Pass             (Philip)                Simon
Act 8:16        Pass             (Philip)                believers
Act 8:36        Pass             (Philip)                me(eunuch)
Act 8:38        Act               (Philip)                eunuch
Act 9:18        Pass             (Ananias/disc.)    (Paul)
Act 10:47      Pass             (Peter et al.)       these(believers)
Act 10:48      Pass             (Peter et al.)       them(believers)
Act 11:16a    Act                John                   you
Act 11:16b    Pass             (Jesus)               you(disciples) (Spirit baptism)
Act 16:15      Pass             (Paul et al.)         she (Lydia)
Act 16:33      Pass             (Paul et al.)         he and his people
Act 18:8        Pass             (Paul et al.)         Cor. believers
Act 19:3        Pass             (disciples)           12 Eph. believers
Act 19:4        Act                John                   (people)
Act 19:5        Pass             (Paul et al.)         12 Eph. believers
Act 22:16      MP                (Ananias/disc.)    Paul
Rom 6:3a,b   Pass              (disciples)           believers
1Co 1:13       Pass              (disciples)           you(Corinthians)
1Co 1:14       Act                (Paul)                 you(Corinthians)
1Co 1:15       Pass              (disciples)          you(Corinthians)
1Co 1:16a     Act                 I(Paul)               house of Stephen
1Co 1:16b     Act                 I(Paul)               others
1Co 1:17       Act                 me(Paul)           (people)
1Co 12:13     Pass               (Jesus)             we all (Spirit baptism)
1Co 15:29a,b Pass             (disciples)          they(people)
Gal 3:27        Pass              (disciples)         you(believers)

In all of these cases we clearly have one person or group of people acting as agent and another
person or group of people filling the slot of patient. That is why none of these can possibly be
reflexive. Nor is it relevant to talk about benefactive, since the person who baptizes someone does
not benefit from it.

There is one unusual form, Act 22:16, but in this case what is morphologically a middle is
apparently used just like a passive. This verse actually quotes 9:18 where a passive is used. In
both cases Ananias or some other local church leader(s) are the baptizers and Paul is the baptizee.

So, the data indicate that we are dealing with a case frame consisting of two roles: agent and
patient. The agent may be left unspecified, in which case a passive is used rather than an active.
It is possible to re-introduce the agent in a passive construction by using hUPO.

How the baptism actually took place, whether the baptizer went into the water together with the
baptizee or not, is not specified anywhere in these texts. Maybe the baptizer only oversaw the
confession of the baptizee and his immersion without himself being in the water. I cannot deduce
anything about that from either the syntax, morphology or semantics. In the case of Spirit baptism,
the baptizer (Jesus) is not visibly present, but he still remains the agent.

> IL: I said above that in Danish we would have to say "I washed me",  there is no way we could say
> "I baptized me".

CC: How might you say, "they had themselves baptized"?

IL: That is impossible to say in Danish. If I were to translate it, I would first have to analyze
the underlying semantic structure which is "they caused someone to baptize them." Then I can
translate it.

> Since you mention 2 Kgs 5, let us look at it a bit. In verse 10,  the LXX has "Go and wash"
> LOUSAI with a middle aorist imperative of LOUOMAI. Many English  versions say "Go and wash", but
> several express the implied reflexive overtly: "go and wash yourself".

They're not very good English translations if they do that. NET has
'Elisha sent out a messenger who told him, “Go and wash seven times
in the Jordan; your skin will be restored and you will be healed.”'
KJV has "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times."

TEV: "Elisha sent a servant out to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River"
NIV: "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan"
NLT: "Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River"
GW: "Wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River"

There are several native speakers of English who disagree with you whether this is good English or
not. These translations are normally considered to use better and more natural English than NET and

Iver Larsen

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