Re: passive verbs/middle function

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Feb 17 1998 - 06:29:25 EST

At 4:57 AM -0600 2/15/98, clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:
>This subject has been discussed at length and Carl has submitted numerous
>thought provoking posts on the topic, but my thinking is still rather muddy on
>In Acts 9:8a we have two verbs, an unambiguous aorist passive HGERQH and an
>ambiguous middle/passive ANEWiGMENWN. Friberg's and Guillemete tag the
>ambiguous participle *passive.*
>My question is simple. Both of these verbs seem to involve the participation
>of the subject in the action. I was under the impression that participation of
>the subject in the action was a characteristic of the middle voice. So it
>would seem that both of these verbs are functioning as middles. If this is the
>case then an unambiguous morphological passive is not always passive in
>function. Correct?

This really is correct. I'm not sure I'd agree with you on the analysis of
both these forms, however. I think that ANEWiGMENWN really is PASSIVE in
sense: "having been opened" = "completely open", but I rather think HGERQH
really is intransitive--i.e. that it is a simple non-thematic aorist form
here. The problem with EGEIRW is that it does appear in all three voices,
and I think that when we have a clear agent construction (hUPO + genitive)
we ought to recognize it as a genuine passive form. I know that we had
quite a discussion of forms of this verb several months back and the
question was whether there's any real difference in meaning between HGERQH
and ANESTH when referring to resurrection from the dead. At that time I
wanted to argue that HGERQH was really passive and involved a notion that
Jesus "was raised" by God rather than "rose." The upshot of that discussion
undermined my confidence in that distinction however because it is clear
that HGERQH may be used in the intransitive sense of "awakened." So I think
that the facts of Greek usage are not so simple--in short, that in the case
of -QH- aorists there is the same ambiguity of meaning as there often is in
the case of present and perfect tense middle-passive forms.

>If this is the case then why do Friberg's and others tag the ambiguous
>participle as passive?
>As you can see, I am still confused on this issue.

Clayton, this subject is confusing in itself and most Greek grammars make
it even more confusing. Let me recap one point from my long post last May:
The -QH- aorist forms originated, it appears, as a type of non-thematic
aorists in intransitive verbs of the type of which EBHN and ESTHN are the
best-known examples. But at some point -QH- became a regular element for
forming distinctive passive aorists, and surely most -QH- aorists really
are passive. But enough of them are not that grammar reference books refer
to them as "passive deponents," by which they mean that these verbs
generally have middle forms in the present system and -QH- aorists--but
that they don't ever really have a passive sense.

I think that what Friberg and others too have done in tagging NT verb forms
is to mark as passive any -QH- aorist by virtue of its FORM, regardless of
its actual meaning. That way one can speak about the morphology in a
consistent way, even if one needs to know the individual verbs and their
idiomatic usage to be comfortable judging whether a particular form really
is passive in meaning.

I fear that's not very helpful, but I think that Greek in this respect
doesn't have the sort of neat relationship between form and meaning that we
might wish it to have.

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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