Re: Middle/Passive in Ro 9:22

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri May 01 1998 - 09:45:36 EDT

At 5:19 PM -0500 5/1/98, Mark O'Brien wrote:
>I had a quick question which may have already been addressed before, so
>please point me to the archives if this is the case.
>I have a question regarding KATHRTISMENA in Ro 9:22... is this one of
>those cases (and I guess I'm really looking to Carl here for comment, given
>his regular reminders to us on this issue), where we should read this as a
>middle rather than a passive, given the lack of an explicit reference to an
>agent? (I suppose one could say that agency is perhaps suggested by the
>context, but it certainly isn't explicit.)
>In which case, if this should be understood as a middle, perhaps a valid
>rendering might be "vessels which had prepared themselves for destruction",
>in contrast to those "vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand
>[PROHTOIMASEN] for glory".
>I'm not too sure of the inner workings of Gramcord, but I note that
>KATHRTISMENA is labeled as passive, but does get picked up in a search for
>middles, as is expected. I'm sure there is something in documentation
>about this, but I haven't had time to take a look.

Mark, if there's anything I'd want to emphasize in what I have said
previously about Greek middle and passive morphology, it is that one ought
to be careful about ASSUMING that, because a Greek verb form has MP endings
or -QH/QE- markers normally called "passive", the form itself must
necessarily bear a middle or a passive sense. One needs to consider other
factors, some of them in the nature and usage of the verb itself:
        --Is it fundamentally an intransitive verb? If so, then the
morphology should most likely be read in a middle sense.
        --Is this verb in normaly usage middle ("deponent")? If so, then
the form in question should most likely be read in a middle sense.
        --Does this verb have a regular active form, and do the lexical
entries show middle and genuinely passive usage also? If so, the form may
well be passive in meaning.
        --Is there an adverbial modifier indicating agent (hUPO + gen.) or
instrument (dat.)? That may help to indicate an intended passive sense.
        --Yet that is not the whole story, either, because an ACTIVE verb
(in morphology) may have a passive sense and even have those modifiers:
EPAQEN hOUTOS hUPO TWN DIWKONTWN--"This man was ill-treated by his
persecutors." So one has to pay close attention to the particular verb as
well as to contextual factors.

Now with regard to KATHRTISMENA, I really think the context points toward
its having a passive sense: 9:19-21 provides the image of the potter and
the clay, and it seems difficult to me, considering the image of the
craftsman, to suppose that the clay is assuming its shape of its own
volition. If that's the case, isn't it more reasonable to undertand
KATHRTISMENA as passive?

So far as Gramcord and Accordance are concerned, I rather think that the
most appropriate tagging of such forms is to label all the MP forms as MP
and all -QH/QE- forms as Passive rather than attempt to differentiate each
instance in the NT precisely: there's still interpretation to be done even
when the morphology has been parsed accurately.

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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