Re: Divine passives

From: Jim West (
Date: Mon Apr 19 1999 - 12:47:48 EDT

At 12:25 PM 4/19/99 -0700, you wrote:
>I am interested in the debate I found over the legitimacy of the divine
passive in some of the recent entries. But I was a little confused by
something. Most of the debate seemed to center around whether the Greek
language influenced the Jews enough for them to utilize this convention.
Blass and Debrunner in their A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other
Early Christian Literature attribute the origin of the divine passive to the
Aramaic. In fact, they claim it is typical for the Aramaic to use the
passive for the actions of divine beings. My knowlege of Aramaic is
insufficient to comment on this. Can someone enlighten me?

Aramaic does indeed use the passive voice to describe events associated with
the activity of God. The passive is used as a mark of respect for the
Divine Name and the Glory of God. Put briefly, instead of saying "God does
X", Aramaic will tend to use the phrase "And X was done to Y". In this way,
God's name is avoided, but the implication is that God has done something to Y.

The writers of the NT sometimes use the "divine passive" as this phenomenon
is called, in order to show reverence for God. Likewise, in Rabbinic
material you will often find the "divine passive".

One more thing- it is not that the Greek language influenced this usage, as
you suggest above, but the semitic heritage of the Christian writers which
led them to use of this convention. That is, at heart, precisely my point.
Where some see the influence of Greek culture, I perceive the weight of
Semitic culture.




Jim West, ThD
Petros Baptist Church- Pastor
Quartz Hill School of Theology- Adjunct Prof. of Bible

fax- 978-231-5986
web page-

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