Re: Romans 12:2a translation

From: Stephen C. Carlson (
Date: Thu Aug 07 1997 - 00:19:26 EDT

At 04:57 8/6/97 -0500, Jim West wrote:
>At 03:53 PM 8/6/97 -0400, you [Carl W. Conrad] wrote:
>>I would deem both verbs middle/reflexive; as I have indicated in the past,
>>I would really rather not ever use the word "deponent." I can understand
>>why some might want to consider METAMORFOUSQE a passive, and I think it
>>almost comes out the same way as I view it, but nevertheless I think the
>>sense of METAMORFOUSQE is not "be transformed" but "let yourself be
>>transformed"--Yes, the transformation is God's doing, but the commitment is
>>on the part of the believers whom Paul is addressing.
>This excellent distinction might be valid for classical Greek; but Koine is
>not so consumed with attachment to particular grammatical rules. Koine was
>the language of the commoners and they wouldn't have known such sharp
>Here again we must remember that the writers of the NT used common terms in
>common ways because they wrote for the common people. The simplest meaning
>is generally the right one.

In general, this is an appropriate note of caution, but I simply fail to
understand how this point is being properly applied to this specific context.
No one here is relying on a "grammatical rule" for sharp distinctions. There
is simply *no* distinction between the middle and passive in the morphology
of METAMORFOUSQE. The reliance on grammar, therefore, ends here.

As to the semantic distinction, that too may not be sharp, and Carl's
treatment seems appropriate. I would agree that the "simplest meaning
is generally the right one," but what is the simplest meaning? Certainly
in English the passive is less marked than a middle construction, but
Koine Greek is not English. In general, it seems that the middle voice
in Greek is less marked than the passive. Thus, CETERIS PARIBUS I would
look for a middle semantic component every time I see a medio-passive form.
By the mere fact that an imperative is expressed, there must be some
middle or reflexive component in the verb, if only to permit the action,
unless the context calls for complete passivity. However, the context
does not call for complete passivity: PARASTHSAI TA SWMATA hUMWN "offer
your bodies" (v1). Therefore, I feel that Carl has superbly captured
the sense of the passage.

When the issue turns from semantics to translation, on the other hand, I
would have no qualms in rendering the Greek imperative as "be transformed,"
because in English the passive is less marked, allowing for the
component of the Greek verb to be inferred from the context. However, I
do not commend the "be transformed" rendering because the Greek verb is
passive, but rather because the English construction is not strictly passive.

>>I would understand TWi AIWNI TOUTWi as dative construed with the verb in
>>view of its prefix, and I would translate, "Do not conform yourselves TO
>>(the pattern of) this world-age ..." And I would take THi ANAKAINWSEI TOU
>>NOOS as instrumental: this is the MEANS whereby the transformation of
>>believers' selves is to be consummated. More below in response to the next
>again- case distinctions might have been sharply adhered to in classical
>greek- but in koine they were not. No one, to put it commonly, is "washed
>in the blood of the subjunctive mood".
>Be wary of attaching to great importance to precise usage of cases.

Again, I do not see here that Carl is not arguing for a sharp adherence to
classical case distinctions, as claimed. I also note that the author flatly
stated that the first dative is a "dative of reference, of course" -- which
appears to be a sharp adherence to a case distinction. On the other hand,
it is true that "the dative with compounds is very common." BDF $ 200.
However, I part company with Carl because BDF also states that with ANA this
phenomenon only occurs with ANATIQESQAI in early Christian literature. ANA
as a preposition regularly (except in some cases in classical poetry) takes
the accusative.

>>As I noted yesterday with regard to FRONHMA and FRONHSIS, nouns formed from
>>verbal stems with the suffix -SIS generally refer to the process,
>>performance, or action of the verb in question.
>again Carl makes an exceelnt point. But whether or not this point would
>have been recognized or even admitted by the NT writers is highly
>questionable. First year greek students learn the rules- and second year
>students learn that the rules are regularly broken by koine writers.

The extent to which "the rules" are broken depends on the writer (and on the
modern student!), of course. If we are talking about the writer of
one should be more wary. The Greek of Paul's MAGNUM OPUS, however, is another

>>There's one set of options, at any rate.
>I am not in disagreement with Carl. I would only suggest caution when
>dealing with koine; for the rules were ignored by koine writers when it
>suited them.

All languages have rules. It is just a question of knowing what they are.

Stephen Carlson

Stephen C. Carlson                   : Poetry speaks of aspirations,              : and songs chant the words. :               -- Shujing 2.35

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