From: Ronald Ross (
Date: Thu Mar 06 1997 - 00:00:34 EST

Carl W. Conrad wrote:
> 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?

Ron Ross wrote

> >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.
> >
> Jim West wrote:
> >
> >It is taken as a "divine passive"- thus, God is the one who brings the
> >passing away to be.

 Carl Conrad wrote:

> 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.

Of course the agent need not be expressed. In fact, probably 80% of the
passives found in texts are non agentive in the sense that the agent is
not expressed. But there COULD be an agent expressed. And there are
languages that have ONLY non-agentive passives. What this means is NOT
that there is no agent, but that in those languages the passive voice
obligatorily demotes the agent right into oblivion from a syntactic

>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.

Carl, perhaps this inaccurate view of voice is due to an overemphasis
placed by many traditional Greek grammarians on morphology, while
ignoring the semantic (and functional) requisites of the genuine passive
voice that I referred to in my last post. It is well known that Greek
and many other languages permit passive morphology to apply to
intransitive verbs, but the semantic situation is not passive. In
Latin, the form "curritur" is morphologically passive, but the meaning
is probably impersonal, and I doubt it would occur to us to translate it
as a passive. It should be pointed out, as well, that in a number of
languages (if not most) the morphological means used to express the
passive voice have other functions as well, sometimes reflexive, as in
the case of Spanish (and I imagine other Romance languages). And this
can be seen clearly in Greek, where the passive and middle voices often
coincide morphologically.

Carl Conrad wrote

> 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.

I too have wondered about this. Talmy Giv—n (Syntax II, 1990) lists the
various reasons why the passive agent is so often supressed rather than
just demoted (unknown, anaphorically predictable, cataphorically given,
unimportant, universal, etc.). The last reason he mentions is, "There
may be personal, interpersonal, social or cultural reasons proscribing
the mention of the responsible agent." So the concept is not totally out
of the question. However, the notion that to pronounce (or write) the
name of God was socially or culturally proscribed for NT writers is, as
Porter points out, not very defensible, given the frequency of its

>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.

Cross-linguistically at least: active, passive, antipassive, inverse,
middle . . . And the passive is just one of many de-transitivization
devices that languages have recourse to.

Ron Ross

I too have wondered about this.
> Carl W. Conrad
> Department of Classics, Washington University
> One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
> (314) 935-4018
> OR
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