Re: PARAGETAI in 1 John 2:8, 17

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Mar 06 1997 - 09:39:00 EST

At 8:32 PM -0500 3/5/97, Jim West wrote:
>At 07:11 PM 3/5/97 -0500, [CWC] 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...
>(much snipped)
>Perhaps this is true of Attic and other classical forms- but Koine is not
>the same thing as classical, any more than High german is the same as Swiss
>Perhaps what is absurd is confusing the two and levelling them into one
>(i.e., Koine and Attic).

I beg to differ emphatically but respectfully, as I think that the analogy
offered as well as the concluding suggestion are misleading and that the
latter may be a serious impediment to understanding the grammar of Koine

But let me first (in response to Ronald Ross) revise what I stated too
emphatically in my post on this subject last night; Jim has cut my citation
off just a few words too early; what I actually wrote is:

"We MUST NOT talk of passive voice where we don't have a subject
that is acted upon [by] an agent or at least an instrument by whom or whereby
that action is executed."

This is perhaps misleading, and later in my post I definitely made a
misleading statement in suggesting that a verb-form that may be read as
middle or passive should NOT be read as a passive unless there's an agent
or instrumental construction showing it to be passive. That was an
overstatement, although I would still insist that an agent or instrument is
implicit; nevertheless it is obvious that the agent need not be stated
where the identity of the agent is of no particular concern to the writer,
as in Col. 4:16, where the two instances of ANAGNWSQHi are both
unquestionably passive despite the fact that no agent or instrument is
stated in either instance. In these instances, however, it is clear that
the identity of the person or persons who perform the public reading
referred to by the verbs is of no interest to the writer.

Moving on then to Jim's reply:

>Perhaps this is true of Attic and other classical forms- but Koine is not
>the same thing as classical, any more than High german is the same as Swiss
>Perhaps what is absurd is confusing the two and levelling them into one
>(i.e., Koine and Attic).

(1) The phrase "same thing" in the first paragraph above is used in a way
that implies a false conclusion. Obviously it is true that Koine and
classical Greek are not "the same thing," but they ARE the same language,
despite the very significant differences between them. Similarly
Hochdeutsch and Schywzerdeutsch are not "the same thing" but they are
unquestionably dialects of the same language, which means, among other
things, that the student of German will find significant differences in
phonology, orthography, and, to some extent, even in morphology (High
German diminutive in -CHEN, Swiss German in -LE), but he/she will find a
much more substantial congruence between the two dialects such that there's
no impediment to recognizing that they are forms of one identical language.

(2) I attempted to say something helpful about this in my post from last
Sunday (3/2/97) entitled "Diachronic syntactical change." I do have to
confess that I am one of those who will assert emphatically and shamelessly
that a student of NT Greek who neither knows nor endeavors to learn
anything about the broader context and history of the Greek language will
be crippled in his/her understanding of NT Greek--not helpless or
incompetent, by any means, but nevertheless well short of fully vital
understanding. I confess that I am probably excessively given to the
diachronic perspective on the Greek language because I am obsessively
fascinated by the continuity and transformations that can be documented in
the history of this wonderful language from the second millennium B.C.E.
(Mycenean Linear B) to present-day Modern Greek. But at least I DO
recognize the validity of the synchronic perspective on Koine and the
importance of understanding the functional categories of this distinctly
discernible epoch of the Greek language. And I would really hope that there
are few hold-out partisans of that strange 19th-century fairy-tale that NT
Greek is a language all its own, a sacred dialect that ought to be
recognized in its uniqueness and distinctness from any secular form of
Greek, contemporary or of other eras.

(3) My most recent obsessional outburst (nowhere else in grammatical
discussion am I more likely to have a temper tantrum, I confess) concerned
the matter of grammarians who identified the form PARAGETAIin 1 Jn 2:8 & 17
as a passive voice. Now I can readily understand how someone might suppose
that the clause, hH SKOTIA PARAGETAI really does imply the literal or
metaphorical routing of darkness or of The Forces of Darkness by Light,
although it seems easiest to conceive of that if one accepts a fully
mythological perspective and imagines the goddess Aurora or Helios in his
chariot or even Apollo chasing away the goddess Night. And if that's the
way one wants to understand these verses, it will work, but not nearly so
adequately as will understanding PARAGETAI here as a middle voice.

And yet once more shall I reiterate the old refrain: To consider the
phenomenon of voice in the Greek verb in terms of a quaint notion that
voice is to be understood in terms of the antinomy of active and passive is
linguistically erroneous and pedagogically an invitation to grief and
confusion. One NEEDS to understand the morphological priority of the two
categories of voice, ACTIVE and MIDDLE/REFLEXIVE. While the student of NT
Greek may never ask the question why the aorist passive uses active
personal endings (and suffer not at all from not knowing), he or she will
sooner or later come across that strange beast termed "the passive
deponent," a form such as EPOREUQH ("traveled," "took passage") which never
had a passive meaning and which does not even have--for all that one may be
taught otherwise--a genuinely passive form. I grant that one may learn the
lists of "deponents" and the sublists of "middle deponents" and "passive
deponents" and manage reasonably well with reading the GNT just as we learn
our multiplication tables and manage to make the necessary daily
calculations of cost or time and distance to be traveled without thinking
about how multiplication works. But at some point the student has to come
to terms with the kind of verb that can take all three voices and
understand the distinction between an active verb with a direct object and
a middle verb with a direct object. And I think that it would be better
pedagogy to explain the voice-system of Greek "the way it is"--and it is a
mistake to imagine that the voice system of Greek in Koine is an altogether
different thing from the voice system of classical Attic, because the voice
system is one of the things that has changed LEAST, if at all, in the
development of Koine from the older classical Attic and Ionic dialects of

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

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