Passive Imperative

Charlie Johnson
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Passive Imperative

Post by Charlie Johnson » June 1st, 2011, 7:08 am

I'm looking for some direction on interpreting the Greek passive imperative, particularly in the NT. I have trouble conceiving of it as a true passive, in which Subject1 is acted upon by Subject2. Presumably, the imperative would mean, "Subject1, allow Subject2 to act upon you." However, I find that usage does not conform to my presumption. Sometimes there does not even seem to be a second subject in view, implicitly or explicitly. For example, Mark 1:25 - καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων,Φιμώθητι καὶ ἔξελθε ἐξ αὐτοῦ. It's not really saying, "Allow someone to muzzle you," is it? Rather, it strikes me more like, "Shut up!"

Another passage is Eph. 5:18 - καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι. The second imperative could be construed as, "Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you" in the sense that the Holy Spirit performs the filling. However, the first one cannot mean, "Do not allow wine to make you drunk," at least not in the sense that real agency is ascribed to the wine. It seems to be just another way of saying, "Do not drink wine until you are drunk."

So, is the passive imperative a true passive? Or, perhaps better put, what is the significance of an imperative in the passive vs. the active?

cwconrad
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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by cwconrad » June 1st, 2011, 1:39 pm

CharlieJ wrote:I'm looking for some direction on interpreting the Greek passive imperative, particularly in the NT. I have trouble conceiving of it as a true passive, in which Subject1 is acted upon by Subject2.
And you are quite right. All these so-called "passive" imperatives are actually MIDDLE imperatives -- and yes, the θη endings are just like the μαι/σαι/ται,μην/σο/το endings, in that the verbs with both sets of endings may carry either middle or passie meaning, depending on the distinction usage of the particular verb in question.
For example, Mark 1:25 - καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων,Φιμώθητι καὶ ἔξελθε ἐξ αὐτοῦ. It's not really saying, "Allow someone to muzzle you," is it? Rather, it strikes me more like, "Shut up!"
The verb φιμοῦν in the transitive active means "muzzle" or "shut the mouth." When used in the middle it has a reflexive force, "shut one's own mouth" -- or, as you put it succinctly, ""shut up," or "put a lid on one's mouth," or to put it in the blunt terms of Archie Bunker, "stifle oneself" (Archie B always said "Stifle!" to Edith until the time that she said it to him.
Another passage is Eph. 5:18 - καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι. The second imperative could be construed as, "Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you" in the sense that the Holy Spirit performs the filling. However, the first one cannot mean, "Do not allow wine to make you drunk," at least not in the sense that real agency is ascribed to the wine. It seems to be just another way of saying, "Do not drink wine until you are drunk."
Here we are dealing with a distinct middle usage. The active μεθύσκειν is transitive and means "make drunk" or "get (someone) drunk." The middle is intransitive and means "get (oneself) drunk" -- particularly when one drinks with the expectation and intention of becoming drunk. So the sense of Eph 5:18 is, "Don't get high on wine, but rather get yourself carried away with Holy Spirit."
So, is the passive imperative a true passive? Or, perhaps better put, what is the significance of an imperative in the passive vs. the active?
What you need to do, I think, is to revise your understanding of middle voice; much of the difficulty of understanding passive forms in Biblical Greek and ancient Greek generally arises from misunderstanding of the Greek middle voice.

See my web-page: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/GrkVc.html
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Charlie Johnson
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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by Charlie Johnson » June 2nd, 2011, 1:35 pm

Alright, I understand now that the forms involved, even the aorists, are middle-passive. I can also see the middle imperative idea in several occurrences. However, you said that ALL the passive imperatives are middle. Perhaps my understanding of the middle is too narrow, but there are a few occurrences that still strike me as truly passive.

Matthew 6:9-10 οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς• Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς• ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου• 10 ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου• γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς•

In saying "your name be hallowed," is that not passive? Is not God the implicit actor and his name the receiver of the hallowing? I do understand that it can't be saying, "Name, allow yourself to be hallowed by God." In no way is "name" being addressed.

Acts 2:38 Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς• μετανοήσατε, [φησίν,] καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος.

Here, there is an active imperative, then a (seemingly) passive one. I find it easy to read this as, "Each of you, allow [someone] to baptize you..." Is that not passive?

I am also wondering if there is a difference in the meaning if the subject of the clause is also the one to whom the imperative is addressed, versus if not (as in "name"). How do I understand these passages if I take the imperatives as middle?

cwconrad
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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by cwconrad » June 2nd, 2011, 2:36 pm

CharlieJ wrote:...However, you said that ALL the passive imperatives are middle. Perhaps my understanding of the middle is too narrow, but there are a few occurrences that still strike me as truly passive.

I think that the second-person imperatives with "passive" forms all do involve voluntary submission to the process indicated by the verb. I think that's often demonstrably the case even with a third-person imperative.

Matthew 6:9-10 οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς• Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς• ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου• 10 ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου• γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς•
In saying "your name be hallowed," is that not passive? Is not God the implicit actor and his name the receiver of the hallowing? I do understand that it can't be saying, "Name, allow yourself to be hallowed by God." In no way is "name" being addressed.
No, but this is a third-person imperative and the verb is not addressed to God's name. But think about what it means: WHO is to make God's name holy? For one thing, the expression "your name" really means "YOU" in Hellenistic Judaism. I think the fulfillment of this petition requires the interaction of God and creation: "May your name -- May you yourself, God, be sanctified by all creation here below as it is even now by your heavenly subjects." "May your name win for itself the status of holiness for the reason that all creatures acknowledge who You are!" How does the "Name" gain sanctification? through the behavior of God's subjects, isn't it?

Acts 2:38 Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς• μετανοήσατε, [φησίν,] καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος.
Here, there is an active imperative, then a (seemingly) passive one. I find it easy to read this as, "Each of you, allow [someone] to baptize you..." Is that not passive?
Some grammars call this a "permissive passive"; others call it a "permissive middle." Yes, there is an active transitive βαπτίζω that takes as a subject the person performing the rite and as an object the person undergoing the rite." But the intransitive middle βαπτίζομαι means "undergo baptism" or "submit to baptism." Clearly there's a role for the performer of the rite but it isn't usually expressed with βαπτίζομαι and furthermore, the initiand who undergoes baptism does so deliberately and purposefully. Thus βαπτισθήτω in Acts 2:38 means "each of you should undergo baptism ... " Doesn't this clearly involve the consent and intent of the person undergoing baptism? You might consider the problematic text of 1Cor. 15:29 Ἐπεὶ τί ποιήσουσιν οἱ βαπτιζόμενοι ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν; εἰ ὅλως νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, τί καὶ βαπτίζονται ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν; Surely βαπτιζόμενοι and βαπτίζονται here are middle rather than passive. Whatever understanding of the ritual efficacy of such baptisms might be, the persons undergoing those rituals surely undergo them of their own intent and purpose.
I am also wondering if there is a difference in the meaning if the subject of the clause is also the one to whom the imperative is addressed, versus if not (as in "name"). How do I understand these passages if I take the imperatives as middle?
As I've noted above, "God's name" is a distinctive Hellenistic Judaistic periphrasis employed to avoid pronouncing the tetragram. Thus ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου in effect means ἁγιάσθητι σύ, πάτερ ἡμῶν! At least, that's what I think is involved here.
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

Stephen Carlson
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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by Stephen Carlson » June 2nd, 2011, 6:57 pm

CharlieJ wrote:However, you said that ALL the passive imperatives are middle. Perhaps my understanding of the middle is too narrow, but there are a few occurrences that still strike me as truly passive.
I think you may have misunderstood. It's not that all passive imperatives are middle, but that all the ones in the original post were. That other occurrences may strike you as truly passive is a different issue.

Stephen
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

Charlie Johnson
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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by Charlie Johnson » June 7th, 2011, 4:21 pm

Two (sets of) questions. First, Carl, did you mean that all m/p imperatives are really middle, or just the ones I listed?

Second, concerning Eph 5.18, I had considered the datives to be expressing agency (metaphorically for οινω), but if the verbs are indeed middle, would that render the datives as expressing means? Is it possible to have datives of agency with middle verbs? Also, I think I remember reading somewhere that datives of agency occur only with perfect passive verbs, but I also remember reading a refutation of that. Any comments there?

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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by cwconrad » June 7th, 2011, 7:58 pm

Charlie Johnson wrote:Two (sets of) questions. First, Carl, did you mean that all m/p imperatives are really middle, or just the ones I listed?
I would say that imperatives as such must express an urgency for someone or something to happen; I think that has to mean that the imperative to act must rest upon the subject of the imperative verb, and therefore, yes, I do think that so-called "passive" imperatives are best understood as reflexive or permissive middles, often reflexive.
Charlie Johnson wrote:Second, concerning Eph 5.18, I had considered the datives to be expressing agency (metaphorically for οινω), but if the verbs are indeed middle, would that render the datives as expressing means? Is it possible to have datives of agency with middle verbs? Also, I think I remember reading somewhere that datives of agency occur only with perfect passive verbs, but I also remember reading a refutation of that. Any comments there?
In Eph 5:18 (αὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι) I do think that οἴνῳ and πνεύματι are instrumental datives, the means whereby the persons addressed in the imperative verbs are urged to "get drunk" and "fill up."
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

williamted
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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by williamted » April 17th, 2015, 12:12 am

What about 1 Peter 2:17: 17 πάντας τιμήσατε, τὴν ἀδελφότητα ἀγαπᾶτε, τὸν θεὸν φοβεῖσθε, τὸν βασιλέα τιμᾶτε.

Is that a middle as well? Cause yourself to fear God?

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by Stephen Hughes » April 19th, 2015, 1:22 am

cwconrad wrote:
CharlieJ wrote:...However, you said that ALL the passive imperatives are middle. Perhaps my understanding of the middle is too narrow, but there are a few occurrences that still strike me as truly passive.

I think that the second-person imperatives with "passive" forms all do involve voluntary submission to the process indicated by the verb. I think that's often demonstrably the case even with a third-person imperative.

Matthew 6:9-10 οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς• Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς• ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου• 10 ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου• γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς•
In saying "your name be hallowed," is that not passive? Is not God the implicit actor and his name the receiver of the hallowing? I do understand that it can't be saying, "Name, allow yourself to be hallowed by God." In no way is "name" being addressed.
No, but this is a third-person imperative and the verb is not addressed to God's name. But think about what it means: WHO is to make God's name holy? For one thing, the expression "your name" really means "YOU" in Hellenistic Judaism. I think the fulfillment of this petition requires the interaction of God and creation: "May your name -- May you yourself, God, be sanctified by all creation here below as it is even now by your heavenly subjects." "May your name win for itself the status of holiness for the reason that all creatures acknowledge who You are!" How does the "Name" gain sanctification? through the behavior of God's subjects, isn't it?
As I've noted above, "God's name" is a distinctive Hellenistic Judaistic periphrasis employed to avoid pronouncing the tetragram. Thus ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου in effect means ἁγιάσθητι σύ, πάτερ ἡμῶν! At least, that's what I think is involved here.
I take that ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου as "For your own sake allow those (of us) who are called by your name to be holy."
williamted wrote:What about 1 Peter 2:17: 17 πάντας τιμήσατε, τὴν ἀδελφότητα ἀγαπᾶτε, τὸν θεὸν φοβεῖσθε, τὸν βασιλέα τιμᾶτε.

Is that a middle as well? Cause yourself to fear God?
LSJ wrote:Middle/Passive
5. c. acc. pers., stand in awe of, dread, “δαίμονας τοὺς ἐνθάδε” A.Supp.893; “στρατὸν Ἀχαιῶν” S.Ph.1250; “τοὺς ἄνω θεούς” Pl.Lg. 927b, cf. Isoc.1.16, etc.; “τὰς κύνας” X.Cyn.5.16, etc.
It seems to be a special usage with the accusative of person.
Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

scottj7801
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Re: Passive Imperative

Post by scottj7801 » April 16th, 2017, 7:48 pm

Hi, just stumbled on this forum question and wanted to inquire about your thoughts on the 2 Aorist Passive Imperative of 2 Cor 5:20? I would follow what Thayer's Lexicon says and translate like this "καταλλάγητε τῷ Θεῷ, allow yourselves to be reconciled to God; do not oppose your return into his favor, but lay hold of that favor now offered you, 2 Corinthians 5:20" ( http://biblehub.com/greek/2644.htm ) I have had no formal training in Greek, my pastor teaches from the greek in almost every lesson. This passage has troubled me in the past because so many Bible translations say " you be reconciled " (http://biblehub.com/greek/2644.htm ) when in fact Paul clearly teaches in 2 Cor 5:18-19 that God is the one performing the reconciling act as He judges the entirety of sin on the cross in his Son - something that clearly has occurred at a point of time that has continuing repercussions before and after the deaths, burial, and resurrection of our Savior. None of us were actors in reconciliation. This was the new covenant being enacted by God in the very same way that God enacted His covenant with Abraham - God in the person to the Son took all the actions on His own - Abraham was prevented from participation in that covenant. With this in view, the command "you be reconciled" seems contradictory to what really happened. There is in my understanding, nothing for anyone to do other than to simply grasp or not refuse the reconciliation God has offered the world. The imperative or the pleading by Paul speaks to or demonstrates the advantage in this life in time when we do not refuse this reconciliation - because it results in becoming a "new creation in Christ" that is we are adopted into the very Family of God. All that comes with that status is available for us to us now in this life in time enabling us not to have to "perish" or be destroyed in this life waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ at his 2nd Advent when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord of Lords, King of Kings. When I had to opportunity to speak on this passage at my Church I translated it like this: "allow yourselves to be reconciled to God; do not oppose your return into his favor, but lay hold of that favor now offered you" - please lend me your thoughts on how it should be translated

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