Re: Questions about AORIST PASSIVE

Carl W. Conrad (
Thu, 31 Oct 1996 11:06:19 -0600

>At 3:14 PM -0600 10/30/96, Knox Mike wrote:
>>I am currently working through Mounce's BBG textbook (self-study), and I
>>have a few questions about the Aorist passive tense. Here are my
>All the examples you are citing here are confusing for several reasons;
>one of them is the fact that the NT Greek writers are not consistent about
>which forms of some of these verbs they use--i.e. one writer may use the
>middle-voice aorist form APEKRINAMHN while another regularly uses the
>passive-voice form APEKRIQHN; a second reason is that grammarians have a
>difficult time explaining these verbs that get translated into English in
>the active voice although in the Greek they are obviously not active in
>How to explain it. Perhaps it cannot be explained briefly, but here's a
>stab at it:
>Greek has numerous verbs with middle-voice forms that are translated as
>active in English; they are called "deponent" verbs, which name suggests
>that they are somehow "out of place," although it is only the English
>usage that is really at odds with the Greek. Many of these verbs are
>intransitive in English, such as Greek ERXOMAI, "I come." But in Greek
>they are actually "reflexive"--they involve a notion of the subject
>exerting himself/herself in performing the action, as if the real sense of
>ERXOMAI might be better understood as "I make myself go." Another common
>verb is POREUOMAI, which could also be translated "I go," although its
>more precise sense is "I make my way." By this I mean to say that it is
>really reflexive to the Greek-speaking mind, and that is why it is in the
>middle-voice form in the Greek. One of the verbs you list below is
>APOKRINOMAI, and that again is a verb which the Greek-speaker thinks of as
>reflexive, something like, "I make my reply."
>There's really a lot more that needs to be said on this subject, but in
>order to move quickly to the substance of your questions, we have to note
>that in the aorist tense of these verbs some authors regularly use the
>middle-voice form, e.g.: APEKRINAMHN, "I answered," while other authors
>regularly use the passive-voice form, APEKRIQHN, and this too will mean "I
>answered." This is not true of all of these verbs, however, and in fact
>most of them have settled into a pattern whereby some regularly use
>middle-voice forms in the aorist (and so we call them "middle deponent
>verbs" while others regularly use passive-voice forms in the aorist--and
>so we call them "passive deponent verbs." How can you tell the difference?
>You have to learn which are which when you learn vocabulary; you have to
>learn the "principal parts" or "tense stems" (Mounce does not really like
>the term "principal parts," but it is the term most Greek teachers and
>grammarians use, and I'm referring to the sort of list which you'll find
>on pages 371ff. of Mounce's _Basics of Biblical Greek_. At any rate, you
>have to learn which of these verbs are middle-voice in the aorist and
>which are passive-voice in form--while remembering also that they
>translate into English as ACTIVE. Almost every Greek grammatical reference
>work will have lists of such "principal parts," and the better ones will
>have a way of clearly indicating which of the verbs are "middle deponents"
>and which are "passive deponents."
>It's hard to explain this simply in writing, but I hope this helps a little.
>> (1) APEKRIQNV (Aorist passive of APOKRIVOMAI)
>>How should it be translated? as "I answered"? If so, then how would
>>APEKRIVAMNV (Aorist Active) be translated? Mounce says that this word is
>>deponent in all tenses, so I am unsure how to deal with this word in Aorist
>The problem with this verb is that it is passive in FORM, but its meaning
>is active: yes, "I answered." It is what is called a "passive
>deponent"---APEKRINAMHN would also be translated "I answered." This is an
>extremely complicated subject because some NT writers use the middle forms
>of this verb in the aorist tense while others use the passive forms--yet
>they mean the same thing.
>> (2) EPOREUQNV (Aorist passive of POREUOMAI). How should it be
>>translated in the following passage in John 7:53?
>> The NASB translation is : "Everyone went to his home". Why is it
>>translated as AORIST active?
>Because it is a "passive deponent verb" in terms of the normal grammatical
>terminology I outlined above. It is a deponent verb, meaning it is
>translated as active in English, and it's a passive deponent verb, meaning
>that its aorist is normally passive in form.
>> (3) NGEPQN (Aorist passive of EGEIRW). How should it be translated in
>>the following passage in Matt 28:6?
>> Would a proper translation be: "He is not here, for he was raised even
>>as he said."? (My understanding of Aorist Passive). The NASB translation
>>is: "He is not here, for he has risen just as he said".
>"He was raised" is actually the most literal translation of HGERQH,
>because it really is a passive verb. And this is how the earlier
>descriptions of Jesus' resurrection actually did read: it was understood
>as God's action of raising Jesus. Later the standard verb ANISTAMAI came
>to be used and you find ANESTH, "he rose (from the dead)." It has become
>so normal for us to speak of the resurrection as something that Jesus did
>rather than that God (the Father) did that we use the phrase "he rose" as
>NASB does above even when the Greek is clearly passive in form and points
>rather toward the action of God (the Father).
>> Since I am I only a beginner (not even a little Greek), I would
>>appreciate any insights anyone can give me on translating AORIST passives.
>You will probably get much clearer statements about these questions from
>others. I only hope that you will not end up more confused than you began!
>My own feeling is that this is a matter that most beginning Greek grammars
>do a very miserable job of explaining, and I have probably done that very
>thing myself just now. But I hope it may be a little helpful.

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