Salvation, Destruction, and Voice (LONG!--was Re: 1Co 1.18)

Carl W. Conrad (
Mon, 6 May 1996 10:31:19 -0600

At 2:44 AM -0600 5/6/96, Shaughn Daniel wrote:
> David:
> >> But, more importantly, how
> >> does one demonstrate what is middle and what is passive in the
>context? I'm
> >> leaning toward the position that BOTH forms are PASSIVE because of 1.19
> >> APOLW par APOLLUMENOIS and MWRIA par EMWRANEN. Both transitive verbs,
> >> hence, transitive participles, hence, passive objects, hence, one active
> >> person/thing being GOSPEL/CROSS/GOD.
> > Part of the reason for taking APOLLUMENOIS as middle and
> >SWZOMENOIS as passive
> >is that the lexicons classify them in these voices for the sorts of
> >contexts we have
> >here. (Cf. BAGD, s.v. APOLLUMI, #2; and s.v. SWiZO #2,b; L&S s.v.
> >APOLLUMI B; and
> >s.v. SWiZW #1.)
> The discussions have been going in two directions: a. the middle voice and
> the relative reflective nature of such and b. whether APOLLUMENOIS is
> transitive or intransitive. As far as I recall, everyone wants it to be
> middle (German "medium"). If it is middle, then what does that signify? Is
> the middle signifying that it has lost all reflexive meaning in Paul and/or
> never contained reflexive meaning for Paul (too long to go into now and
> perhaps beyond the interest of this list, but Paul's theology in Ro
> supports the idea that "all", both Jew and Gentile, with law and without
> law, are culpable)? If it is middle and NOT passive, then what does that
> signify?
> BAGD (I'm using the latest German version: the 6th edition reworked by Kurt
> and Barbara Aland), has divided the word APOLLUMI into 1. Active and 2.
> Medium and they gloss v. 18 with "d. Verlorenen" ("the lost ones"), which
> is the highest abstraction in language we get, I guess. The simple active
> statement has been transformed into a middle/passive participle. I'm trying
> to reconstruct the simple passive sentence of an ambiguous middle/passive
> participial construction to get to the simple active sentence. That would
> provide three possibilities:
> 1. "the lost ones": people are/become lost as a result of internal cause(s).
> 2. "the lost ones": people are/become lost as a result of external cause(s).
> 3. Both 1 and 2.
> Which result in these active sentences:
> 1. People lose themselves by depending on their own wisdom.
> 2. God destroys people by destroying their wisdom.
> 3. Both 1 and 2.
> > Shaun's insistence on a purely reflexive meaning for the middle
> >voice is to take
> >too far the idea of the middle's calling special attention to the subject
> >(Robertson,
> >804). In fact, Turner indicates that, in Hellenistic Greek, the reflexive
> >middle is
> >relatively rare - especially so in the NT (Moulton, III:54).
> "Insistence" is too strong here. I believe I said that I was "leaning
> towards" the idea that APOLLUMENOIS is PASSIVE in the context as well. What
> I am insisting upon at the moment is that: a. APOLLUMENOIS is ambiguous in
> voice (EITHER middle OR passive as Friberg etal have) AND b. its idea of
> transitiveness/intransitiveness is best found in the context (APOLLUMENOIS
> being construed by vv. 19f) AND c. these participles can be expanded to
> their natural simple active states. APOLW is transitive in v. 19 and has
> GEGRAPTAI GAR which explains the ambiguous intransitive (?) APOLLUMENOIS of
> v. 18. The gloss "to perish" v. "to destroy" has been thrown around.
> "Perish" is "to pass away completely" or "to become destroyed or ruined".
> Webster categorizes that as "intransitive". Etymologically, they have the
> Latin perire, from per "to destruction" + ire "to go". That aside, "to pass
> away completely" and "to become destroyed or ruined" still entail the
> questions: why and by what means do they pass away and/or are becoming
> destroyed or ruined?
> > About the context in v. 19 and its influence on our understanding
> >of v. 18: Paul
> >is not saying here that God is destroying the wise-of-this-world but that
> >He is
> >destroying the worldly kind of wisdom by establishing a new kind of wisdom.
> I would formulate the statement as such: Paul is really saying that God has
> destroyed the worldly-wise (hence, they are APOLLUMENOIS, v. 18) by
> destroying (APOLW, v. 19) their wisdom. Of course, there are fluctuations
> here. Maybe "destroy" is too strong. The ideas range from "bringing to
> nothing" to "frustrate" to outright "destruction" (ranging from immediate
> to delayed or over time).
> > This
> > brings about the downfall of the worldly-wise, since their base of wisdom
> >is taken away.
> > But does that make God the cause of their destruction?
> Yes, in my opinion, it does make God the cause because the message is
> claimed to be of God and in turn destroys the means (worldly wisdom) by
> which the worldly-wise judge themselves, the world, and others. And, btw, I
> wish to express my appreciation for your interaction with me on this
> thread. It is definitely stimulating! =)

Having been bumped from B-Greek yesterday by the shutdown of our receiving
machine for several hours ( is not very tolerant of
rejected messages, but it least it warns subscribers that they've been
unsubscribed); fortunately I get a digest at a different address, so that I
have been able to retrieve messages on this thread that I missed after
posting my own yesterday.

There are two issues I want to address here: (1) the "Shaughn-Daniel
hypothesis"; and (2) the chaotic state of our accounting for transitive,
intransitive, active, middle, and passive--a topic that is secondary to
Shaughn's original question but one that I find far more interesting

(1) Salvation and Destruction through (a) God's agency or (b) the gospel's

You, Shaughn, were confused about what I was actually affirming about the
interpretation of the passage in 1 Cor 1:18 (TOIS MEN APOLLUMENOIS MWRIA

In my earlier note I was saying that I agreed with the conventional view
that APOLLUMENOIS was middle while SWZOMENOIS was passive. I'm still
inclined to believe that, but what I came to realize from your response was
that my objection to reading APOLLUMENOIS as passive had less to do with
theological interpretation than with understanding the exegetical
implications of the morphology--the fact that there is no (morphologically)
passive form of APOLLUMI/APOLLUMAI. I then, upon reflection, came to
realize that the forms of APOLLUMAI, which verb can indeed have an
intransitive sense, i.e. "spoil" (as meat or unrefrigerated produce),
"perish" (the same meaning when applied to persons?), are in fact also used
as what the textbook I use for teaching classical Attic (_Reading Greek_)
playfully terms "quasi-passive," (e.g. FAINW, "I illuminate," FAINOMAI, "I
appear in 'x' light," EFANHN, "I was made to appear (in 'x' light)." I went
on to note the peculiar fact that PIPTW serves as a functional passive for
BALLW, and I might add that in classical Attic, at least, APOQHNiSKW ("I
die off" = "I am executed") serves as the functional passive of APOKTEINW
("I kill off" = "I execute"). And this is why Schmoller's Handlexikon can
refer to forms of APOLLUMAI as being in "vi passiva" = having passive
sense. I want to go on to this problem in section (2) below.

At any rate, after reconsideration, Shaughn, I decided that your conception
of BOTH dative participles in the phrase in question being PASSIVE in
meaning was plausible indeed, whether or not one agrees with your exegesis.

Now, to continue, what are the objections to such an exegesis? It seems to
me that they are primarily theological rather than textual: one does not
want to think of God deliberately destroying sinners. Dare I say that "we"
want to be Arminian rather than Calvinist on this point? (I do, if I'm
using the terms rightly!) One can understand this theologically,
philosophically in more than one way, I suppose; my own preference is to
understand it in what I take to be the Johannine way: those endowed with
vision come to the Light and are saved by it while those who are blind shun
the Light and are separated from it and consequently their doom is
effected: the Light shining thus exercises KRISIS between the blind who are
doomed and the seeing who are saved. Of course this leaves unresolved the
question, "Did God make the blind to be blind?" I'd rather not answer this
question, as it seems to me that the endeavor to to postulate negative
assertions about God's action generally leads to bad theology--to affirming
what we cannot know and then to making judgments and acting on the basis of
what we cannot know. HOWEVER, it seems to me that there may indeed be
points at which Paul (and perhaps John also?) DOES make that negative
postulate: God "has created vessels for destruction." (Rom 9-11?) But I
suppose one could argue that this whole section is tentative and
hypothetical argumentation on God's intentions for an Israel that has not
yet come to belief in Christ.

But to conclude, I don't see any GRAMMATICAL grounds why Shaughn's
hypothesis that both participles are PASSIVE IN SENSE should be excluded
(granting that the forms of both participles are really MIDDLE, even though
traditional interpreters want to argue that SWZOMENOIS is here IN FACT
PASSIVE. I now think that it would probably be more honest to say that
SWZOMENOIS is morphologically MIDDLE but capable of being understood in a
passive sense. Which brings me to the matter that interests me more than
Shaughn's original question.

(2) The Inadequacy of our Descriptive Terms for Voice

I may be a voice crying against a majority or a voice crying in the
wilderness (but I am not the herald of any savior from the quandary I
perceive in this matter!) but I've come to the conclusion that there is
something dreadfully inadequate about the way we identify verbs as
"transitive" and "intransitive" or "absolute" and "active," "middle," and
"passive." The absurdity of the terms "deponent," "quasi-deponent," "middle
deponent," "passive deponent" and "quasi-passive" OUGHT to indicate to us
that something is wrong with our categories and our descriptive
terminology. I'm inclined to think that even the adoption of the term
"deponent" derives from some naturalistic notion that, because the language
WE use (be it English, French, German, or some other) employs a verb like
AISQANOMAI in the ACTIVE voice and translates it with an object in a phrase
like AISQANOMAI AUTON = "I notice him," "je le sens," "ich merke ihn," that
for this reason there's something "out of place" in the Greek verb
AISQANOMAI, that if it were behaving normally it too would be in the active
voice. Am I wrong about this, or is there some other explanation of the
term, "deponent?"

Going on then, what about "transitive" and "intransitive?" I think that
"WE" THINK that "WE" KNOW what these terms mean when we say that the verbs
"be" and "go" and "come" are intransitive; but how do we account for such
perhaps-archaic English verb forms as "we are come" and "he is gone?" Shall
we say that "come" and "gone" in these expressions are just participles
used as predicate adjectives? Or shall we say that they are PERFECT PASSIVE
PARTICIPLES used with an auxiliary verb analogous to, perhaps even modeled
upon what is still normal French or German "nous sommes venus"/"wir sind
gekommen" or "il est alle'"/"er ist gegangen?" Is Greek POREUOMAI
"intransitive?" If so, why is it "middle" voice? Or what does "voice"
really mean?

When I alluded yesterday to the notion that these terms are the product of
what a feminist theory calls "phallogocentrism," evidently referring to
logical fallacies deriving from the mind-set of a gender that thinks with
its penis, there was no reaction, either because no one was interested or
because the expression appeared too shocking to ponder (was mir zwar ganz
unwahrscheinlich scheint!). I was told that a new way of looking at these
issues in terms of a category termed "ergative" and "non-ergative" was to
be found in a book which I believe Rod Decker referred to in response to a
different enquiry on B-Greek, a work by B. Comrie on proto-Indo-European
linguistics. I want to look at that, now that the semester is over and
there's some time free at last from the press of semester-ending rush.

My thanks to Shaughn for persisting with his question about the voice of
APOLLUMENOIS, if only for the mighty provocation I've found the question to
be. I would welcome any reactions, be they of the stripe of what I
yesterday heard called "the last seven words of a dying church"--"But we've
never done it that way", or any level of concurrence that our understanding
of these matters and our terminology are grossly inadequate.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR