From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Wed Mar 11 1998 - 01:33:16 EST

At 11:02 AM +0000 3/5/98, clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:
>Micheal Palmer wrote:
>> Do any of you know of a place where the verb APOLEIPW appears in a context
>> which marks it clearly as middle voice. Active voice examples are easy to
>> find (2 Timothy 4:13, 20; Titus 1:5). I know of a few passive voice
>> examples (Hebrews 4:6, 9; 10:26), but can't find any which are clearly
>> middle.
>It is true that BAGD gives Hebrews 4:6, 9; 10:26 as examples of APOLEIPW in
>the passive voice but I am not sure about this.

I'm not sure either. That's why I asked for examples which are CLEAR. I was
writing far too late at night when I made the comments above, though. I
should not have said that Hebrews 4:6, 9 and 10:26 ARE passive, but that
they CAN BE read as passive. I'm looking for a couple of good examples
where a middle reading looks like the only reasonable choice. I was not
aware of what BAGD says about these instances, but it appears to confirm my
impression that these are not CLEAR examples of middles.

Clayton went on to write:
>I have a simple (simplistic?) working model of the semantic passive voice. A
>verb is passive when the subject of the verb is the recipient of an action,
>where the agent performing this action is not the subject. This agent may not
>be explicit, but there must be an implied agent and the subject must be the
>recipient of some sort of action. If these criteria are not met then I don't
>call it a passive.

Your 'simple' working model is a good one. It will cover the vast majority
of undisputed cases. In fact, I can't really think of a context where it
wouldn't work (though that doesn't mean that there isn't one). I'm not very
sure that I understand why you call this a 'semantic' passive, though. Are
you trying to make some distinction between a semantic passive and a
syntactic passive? Or is this simply your way of acknowledging that
passives and middles are often morphologically identical, but the context
makes clear which is the preferred reading?

>With APOLEIPW a semantic passive would be a case where the agent is leaving
>and the subject is left behind. Now the Hebrews passages cited above do not
>appear to meet this criteria. I can see no agent either explicit or implied
>and there really isn't any action being suffered by the subject.

There is a reading which can see the Hebrews passages as passive, though it
requires the notions of 'AGENT' and 'PATIENT' to be applied rather loosely.
Let's take Hebrews 4:6 as an example:

        Since therefore [for] some to enter into it
        Since, therefore, it remains of some to enter it

The infinitival clause in brackets serves as the PATIENT--that which
receives the action of the verb--the thing that is left. It is
coreferential with the subject of APOLEIPETAI. The PATIENT is made the
subject in place of the AGENT in the passive construction of verbs which
have these two arguments. Since the PATIENT is coreferential with the
subject here, we need only look for a candidate for the displaced AGENT in
order to justify a passive reading. The AGENT can quite naturally be read
as the author's argument in the following sense (very loosely paraphrased
in an *active* voice statement):

        My argument has left the option open that some may enter God's rest

Here, the AGENT is the argument (an extension of the author) and the
PATIENT is the 'option,' that is, that some may enter. The passive
construction is often used precisely for the purpose of making the AGENT
difficult to recover, thereby shifting focus onto the PATIENT and away from
the AGENT. This is a fairly normal discourse strategy in many languages.
Paraphrasing a translation of the passive voice construction we get (again
loosely paraphrased using *active* voice English forms) something like:

        That some may enter God's rest remains an option.
        It remains possible that some may enter God's rest.

While these translations are not passive, they accomplish what a passive
often does in Greek: they eliminate any reference to the AGENT. This is
conventiently accomplished in English by choosing the verb 'remain' which
is intransitive and has an EXPERIENCER as its subject rather than an AGENT.
A Greek speaker could accomplish the same thing by using a passive voice
form of the verb, but it is hard for many English speakers to see it as
passive precisely because we have the word 'remain' which works so well as
a translation and is active. This makes us suspect--perhaps falsely--that
the Greek form is middle rather than passive, though clearly we should not
rule out a middle reading here.

Clayton also wrote:
>Why is APOLEIPW confusing?

Did I say that APOLEIPW was confusing? I don't find it confusing. I just
haven't seen any really good clear examples of a middle voice usage of this
verb and I would like to see one because of some research I am doing.
That's why I asked about examples outside the New Testament. I've already
looked at the ones in the New Testament and none of them seems like a
CLEARLY middle usage of the kind I would like to find.

In explanation of his question about why APOLEIPW might seem confusing,
Clayton wrote:
>I think that it is easy with compound verbs to get
>befuddled by the compound into thinking that the meaning of the word in all
>contexts is made up of the combination of these two separate words. This is
>clearly not valid for the majority of Greek compounds. Compounds loose their
>distinctiveness with time and APOLEIPW has been in use since Homer.

I agree with Clayton's comments here. Would anyone who knows much Greek
really disagree?

I also agree with Clayton when he writes:

>It is
>quite likely that the translation "leave behind" puts an unwarranted emphasis
>on the compound in many contexts.

I'm not quite as convinced, though when he says:

>This is clearly true in the Hebrews 4:6, 9;
>10:26 passages. There is no sense in these contexts that there is any agent
>leaving the subject behind.

Well, that depends on how you read them. It is certainly true that we have
a convenient translation in English ('remain') which allows us to capture
the sense of these verses without using a passive voice verb, but that does
not mean that APOLEIPW had a sense other than passive in these passages
for speakers of first-century Greek.

Of course a middle reading IS possible in these verses since the middle
voice is often used simply to render a transitive verb intransitive, and
this reading can easily work, say, in Hebrews 4:9, making 'remain' a
particularly good choice of translation. But I'm looking for a context
where a middle voice reading is clearly the only real possibility.

I overstated the case when I called these occurances of APOLEIPW passives
in my earlier note. What I should have said is that they CAN be read as
passive, and I'm looking for an example which can't.

Thanks, Clayton, for calling attention to my overstatement.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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