Re: Observations on Ancient Greek Voice (LONG!)

From: Randy Leedy (
Date: Wed May 28 1997 - 09:08:16 EDT

I'll add my thanks to Carl for expressing his ideas so lucidly. I
have enjoyed a brief personal exchange with him on this subject over
the past couple of days, and reading the not-really-so-LONG! post has
brought me closer to accepting his ideas. His view seems to have far
fewer holes in it that the traditional one.

I haven't taught first- or second-year Greek in more than 10 years,
and I always taught the deponent verbs according to the traditional
scheme. Next Spring I am scheduled to teach a first-year course, so I
must think carefully about this issue. I think I'm ready at least to
take an intermediate step and, instead of saying "middle or passive
in form but active in meaning," to say "the Greeks had a reason for
using the 'middle' [better not change that term just yet] form for
this verb, but the best English glosses are active." (This casts the
issue in terms of English-Greek correspondence rather than an
inconsistency within the Greek verb system.) I'm not sure I can call
these verbs reflexive rather than middle across the board; what about
those that are clearly transitive, such as LHMYOMAI (future of
LAMBANW)? I'd be interested to know whether Carl thinks this is a
helpful step in the right direction or whether it simply makes
matters worse by failing to nail anything down at all.

My reasons for being reticent to go the whole way with him include
the fact that I would have to fight against the textbook (at least
until Carl's comes out :-)) and that the extended explanation of
these things to first-year students, I'm afraid, would detract from
the really crucial things that must be taught in a limited space of
time. I'd enjoy reading any input on these concerns that anyone with
experience can share. Is this point really crucial?

One matter of clarification that I put into a personal message to
Carl and, since the subject arises in his post, I think I should
mention here as well:

Carl wrote:
>>>Here, for instance, belongs Randy Leedy's ambivalent HGERQH which
may be "was raised" (i.e. genuinely passive) IF one finds an explicit
or clearly implicit hUPO TOU QEOU in the form HGERQH. Randy might be
able to assert that HGERQH is BOTH intransitive ("he arose") and
passive ("he was raised") in this instance, on grounds that "the line
between intransitive and passive is so thin as to be evanescent," but
I see no reason to fudge the difference between what is clearly
passive and what is clearly intransitive (although I'll grant that
one may have no clear grounds for deciding in some cases whether
HGERQH is intransitive or passive, I certainly wouldn't try to affirm
that it is BOTH).

I agree that the difference in meaning between passive and
intransitive is quite clear. What is sometimes less clear is the
theological significance of that difference in a given passage. I do
not think that a writer who says that hO IHSOUS HGERQH APO NEKRWN
intends his verb to be simultaneously intransitive and passive, but
rather that he is content for the reader to take it either way,
except in cases where the writer gives a clear contextual indication
of which meaning he intends.

A final nagging question. I accept the view that there are many
SURFACE FEATURES of a language that do not necessarily correspond to
a particular underlying WAY OF THINKING. They are merely conventions;
the convention could have developed differently with no difference at
all in meaning. I'm suggesting, for example, that LAMBANW could just
as easily have developed an active-voice conjugation in the future
rather than middle-voice forms that it actually has. I can't see
anything in the meaning of the verb that requires the future to be
middle/reflexive. We can't decide exactly where to draw this line,
but somewhere a line must be drawn beyond which we stop trying to
divine an underlying difference in thought corresponding to a
difference in surface features. Any thoughts out there about how this
idea relates to the issue of voice at hand? Certainly it would be a
mistake, wouldn't it, to try to impose "a notion of self-projection"
upon the historical development of EVERY verb that has a middle-voice

In Love to God and Neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC

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