Re: Acts 17:28

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Feb 10 1998 - 06:35:08 EST

At 11:58 PM -0600 2/9/98, Micheal Palmer wrote:
>At 4:15 PM -0500 2/9/98, Jim West wrote:
>>At 02:21 PM 2/9/98 -0600, you wrote:
>>>The tone and tenor of this is more or less pantheistic, unless one would
>>>prefer to call it panentheistic. And I think that the author of Acts knows
>>>the poem.
>>I agree that the author knows the poem- but I tend to think that it is far
>>more Stoic than Carl or Mary would think.
>>But, leaving that aside, the passive is a much more natural and logical
>>reading than the middle. The middle, it seems to me, is forced.
>Well, it's forced if you read the middle as reflexive ("move ourselves").
>The middle can often be read simply as intransitive, however:
> "In whom we live, and move, and have being."
>This intransitive sense is a common function of the middle voice when used
>with a verb that would otherwise be transitive. That is, one of the uses of
>the middle voice can be to give an intransitive sense to a verb that could
>be understood as transitive in the active or passive voice. Read in this
>way, the middle here quite natural, and certainly not forced.

It's nice to have the support of a genuine linguist here. I did not want to
re-open my harangue about the traditional manner of teaching voice in the
Greek verb, but I will just note that I do believe the label "passive" is
assigned all too readily to Greek verb forms, and not only in the NT. I
suspect that it is done because it's easy enough to call all -QH- aorists
and futures passive, whether they really are or not because one wants to
identify the voice by the form. Calling verbs "passive deponents" is a
practice that at least shows an understanding that the force of such verbs
is not truly passive. But that's not the case with KINOUMEQA even to begin
with. I did look carefully at BAGD on KINEW and find it calls the MP forms
"passive" even while noting the close parallel of the middle forms with
Latin VERSARI, which is called "deponent" but never thought of as passive.
The common English for it, however, "be involved, be engaged" shows very
well that no external cause is envisioned here.

I wanted to raise a further question, however, about Jim's curious comment
regarding what I said about Aratus' Phaenomena:

>>I agree that the author knows the poem- but I tend to think that it is far
>>more Stoic than Carl or Mary would think.

I'm not quite sure what this "tendency to think" is meant to imply about
what "Carl or Mary would think." And I'm wondering whether your
understanding of Stoicism, Jim--particularly of the middle Stoa of
Panaetius and Posidonius--involves a notion that human beings are wholly
manipulated by a power outside of them and that this is the reason that you
think KINOUMEQA in Acts 17:28 must be passive. At any rate I don't think
that's consistent with the notion of "duty" as TO KAQHKON, that part of the
world's activity that "comes down" to the individual to perform, nor with
the characteristic distinction between what is in our power and what is not
(TA EF' hHMIN, TA MH EF' hHMIN), nor even with the notion of APAQEIA as the
willing "assent" (EQELEIN, not BOULESQAI) to one's destiny. To be sure,
Stoicism is fraught with the same paradoxes of determinism and human
freedom as is early Christian theology, but the way it was shaped in the
Roman era laid considerably more emphasis upon personal and social
responsibility and so became the philosophical orientation of Roman
statesmen who could no longer bear with Roman paganism. I really think,
moreover, that much of that same sense of personal responsibility and human
dignity is evident in the very early Stoic Hymn to Zeus of Cleanthes. And
this is why it seemed strange to me that you should refer to Stoicism as a
reason why KINOUMEQA in our passage must be passive.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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