Re: [Fwd: Re: PARAGETAI in 1 John 2:8, 17]

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 05 1997 - 19:11:34 EST

At 5:11 PM -0500 3/5/97, Ronald Ross wrote:
>S. M. Baugh wrote:
>> Question: Why is PARAGETAI ("is passing away") in 1 John 2:8 and 17
>> evaluated as passive by BAGD and LSJ? Its meaning seems so middle to me
>> unless there is some causation: "is led off," "is forced to disappear."
>> Curiously, the active form has both an active and intransitive meaning
>> (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:31). Is this just another sign of AGW's flexibility? Any
>> ideas, Kratistoi Grammateis?
>It seems to me that in Greek there are quite a few verbs that undergo a
>semantic shift when they undergo a voice shift. PARAGW, according to
>BAGD and even the UBS GNT dictionary, is apparently one of those cases.
>Both include as meanings of the passive 'to disappear, to pass away',
>neither of which is really passive sounding.
At 4:36 PM -0500 3/5/97, Jim West wrote:
>It is taken as a "divine passive"- thus, God is the one who brings the
>passing away to be.

To call this form "passive" in the first place is one of the absurd
consequences of stuck-in-the-rut traditional notions of the voice of the
Greek verb (which, could it REALLY become "active" would scream "bloody
murder!"). We MUST NOT talk of passive voice where we don't have a subject
that is acted upon an an agent or at least an instrument by whom or whereby
that action is executed. PARAGETAI is indeed Middle/Reflexive (my preferred
term), there is not an iota of passive in it. The compound is a simple one
of the very important verb which in the active voice means "make go
forward" or "keep in forward motion." PARAGW may be used in an intransitive
sense even in the active-voice form, as in those early narratives of Jesus
by the lake in Galillee, "KAI PARAGWN, EIDEN ... " In the middle voice,
however, it means simply "go by"--or to be pedantic--"take oneself away."
It isn't passive, and even less is it a "divine passive" unless you clearly
see a hUPO TOU QEOU used with it. English doesn't have a way to express
this sense that doesn't sound silly: "it moves itself away." French does it
neatly by saying "cela s'en va," which is utterly untranslatable (you like:
"it goes itself hence"?). The usage is exactly like that of GI(G)NETAI, "it
comes to be." As a genuine passive PARAGETAI would have to mean "is driven
off-course" or something like that, and it would have to have an agent or
instrumental construction with it to give it that sense.

I mean no disrespect to Jim West whatsoever, but could you tell me where
that category, "divine passive" originated, if you know? It strikes me as a
perfect example of the principle of explanation termed "ignotum per
ignotius," explaining something not understood by appealing to something
that is even less understood. It is an explanation that could not have been
dreamed up except on the assumption that a verb like PARAGETAI really is
passive--but it isn't, and probably never would have been so conceived if
grammarians had not supposed that there are only two real verb voices, and
that they are active and passive.

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

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