Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

How do I work out the meaning of a Greek text? How can I best understand the forms and vocabulary in this particular text?
Forum rules
This is a beginner's forum - see the Koine Greek forum for more advanced discussion of Greek texts. Please quote the Greek text you are discussing directly in your post if it is reasonably short - do not ask people to look it up.

When answering questions in this forum, keep it simple, and aim your responses to the level of the person asking the question.
Post Reply
AndyBell
Posts: 2
Joined: January 2nd, 2015, 7:04 pm

Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

Post by AndyBell » January 2nd, 2015, 7:13 pm

Hi

In Rom 12:2 my interlinear states that συσχηματίζεσθε is middle or passive. It states that μεταμορφοῦσθε is passive. Yet, my parsing charts state that the endings for present imperative 2nd person plurals are identical.

Are there other morphological indicators that specify that μεταμορφοῦσθε is definitely passive?

Andy
0 x



cwconrad
Posts: 2112
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:52 pm
Location: Burnsville, NC 28714
Contact:

Re: Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

Post by cwconrad » January 2nd, 2015, 8:37 pm

AndyBell wrote:Hi

In Rom 12:2 my interlinear states that συσχηματίζεσθε is middle or passive. It states that μεταμορφοῦσθε is passive. Yet, my parsing charts state that the endings for present imperative 2nd person plurals are identical.

Are there other morphological indicators that specify that μεταμορφοῦσθε is definitely passive?
No, there aren't any. Traditionally we call this middle-passive because the form itself can bear either interpretation in a context and construction that's appropriate. It would be more accurate to say that the form is middle and that the middle form can also be used in a passive sense in the right circumstances.

However, ask yourself what a second-person plural passive imperative could mean: how do you tell people to be acted upon by some agent or instrument external to themselves? You can ask them to submit to a process wherein external agents or instruments produce some effect upon them -- but if you think carefully about this, you must see that the imperative form is telling people to submit themselves to a process: it's not "Don't be conformed" but rather, "Don't conform yourselves" -- or better, "Don't change yourself to take the shape of the world, but rather transform yourself -- give yourself over to transformation ... " Can you see how close the middle and passive senses actually are here? The subject is participating in a process in which external force(s) or instrument(s) are also playing a role in the process.
0 x
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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

Paul-Nitz
Posts: 495
Joined: June 1st, 2011, 4:19 am
Location: Lilongwe, Malawi

Re: Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

Post by Paul-Nitz » January 3rd, 2015, 9:35 am

Andy,

Voice is a grammatical category to refer to the interaction between the subject and the verb. In English a voice change in the verb can change a verb from the subject doing an action to the subject being the recipient of the action (active/passive voice). In various other languages, a voice change in the verb can show that the subject
  • causes the action,
    does the action for the advantage of someone,
    does the action to himself,
    does the action reciprocally with others, etc.
In Greek, a normal verb with a default voice (traditionally called "active"), nothing special is said about the subject in relation to the action (or state) of the verb. It is the "common voice."

In two sets of forms (1 -εσθαι, -(σ)ασθαι, -2 θῆναι) the subject is being seen as more affected or involved in the action of the verb. It is the "self-affected voice."

I'd recommend picking up the terms C.Conrad once coined here at B-Greek: κοινή διάθεσις & ἑαυτική διάθεσις - the common voice & the self-affected voice.

The forms that indicates a verb is ἑαυτική includes any form traditionally parsed as middle, passive, or deponent. These are essentially two sets of forms, for example:
  • 1. ομαι, -ομην, -ομεθα, -εσθε, -εται, -ετο, (indicative) -εσθαι, -ασθαι (infinitive) etc.
    2. -θην, -θη, θημεν (Indicative) -θηναι (infinitive) etc.
Carl, I hope you'll clarify where I might be off the mark. I've been recently wishing for a layman's explanation of voice (and other issues) and had hoped to find it in Decker's new primer. Alas, he starts out well with a "3 Form/ 2 Voice" type of explanation, but then reverts to 3 forms / 3 functions terms that are indistinguishable (to me) from the traditional view. Though he avoids mention of it, he leaves "deponency" as the only solution for verbs that don't fit his explanation.
0 x
Paul D. Nitz - Lilongwe Malawi

AndyBell
Posts: 2
Joined: January 2nd, 2015, 7:04 pm

Re: Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

Post by AndyBell » January 3rd, 2015, 9:48 am

Thank you, Carl. That makes sense.

Andy
0 x

cwconrad
Posts: 2112
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:52 pm
Location: Burnsville, NC 28714
Contact:

Re: Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

Post by cwconrad » January 3rd, 2015, 11:43 am

Paul-Nitz wrote:Andy,

Voice is a grammatical category to refer to the interaction between the subject and the verb. In English a voice change in the verb can change a verb from the subject doing an action to the subject being the recipient of the action (active/passive voice). In various other languages, a voice change in the verb can show that the subject
  • causes the action,
    does the action for the advantage of someone,
    does the action to himself,
    does the action reciprocally with others, etc.
In Greek, a normal verb with a default voice (traditionally called "active"), nothing special is said about the subject in relation to the action (or state) of the verb. It is the "common voice."

In two sets of forms (1 -εσθαι, -(σ)ασθαι, -2 θῆναι) the subject is being seen as more affected or involved in the action of the verb. It is the "self-affected voice."

I'd recommend picking up the terms C.Conrad once coined here at B-Greek: κοινή διάθεσις & ἑαυτική διάθεσις - the common voice & the self-affected voice.

The forms that indicates a verb is ἑαυτική includes any form traditionally parsed as middle, passive, or deponent. These are essentially two sets of forms, for example:
  • 1. ομαι, -ομην, -ομεθα, -εσθε, -εται, -ετο, (indicative) -εσθαι, -ασθαι (infinitive) etc.
    2. -θην, -θη, θημεν (Indicative) -θηναι (infinitive) etc.
Carl, I hope you'll clarify where I might be off the mark. I've been recently wishing for a layman's explanation of voice (and other issues) and had hoped to find it in Decker's new primer. Alas, he starts out well with a "3 Form/ 2 Voice" type of explanation, but then reverts to 3 forms / 3 functions terms that are indistinguishable (to me) from the traditional view. Though he avoids mention of it, he leaves "deponency" as the only solution for verbs that don't fit his explanation.
Paul, I'd just add a note that it's hard to be both clear and brief when talking about the "polysemy" of Greek middle voice or ἑαυτικὴ διάθεσις. I've made a couple tiny emendations to your chart. The chief thing I'd emphasize in response to Andy's original question is that these middle-passive imperatives have to be understood as permissive: the addressee is urged to cooperate with others performing an action upon the addressee, to submit to the procedure indicated by the verb.
0 x
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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

Thomas Dolhanty
Posts: 401
Joined: May 20th, 2014, 10:13 am
Location: west coast of Canada

Re: Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 3rd, 2015, 1:48 pm

cwconrad wrote:However, ask yourself what a second-person plural passive imperative could mean: how do you tell people to be acted upon by some agent or instrument external to themselves? You can ask them to submit to a process wherein external agents or instruments produce some effect upon them -- but if you think carefully about this, you must see that the imperative form is telling people to submit themselves to a process:
Would you apply this reading to a perfect passive infinitve? I am thinking specifically about "καὶ αὐτὸς διὰ τὸ κεκακῶσθαι οὐκ ἀνοίγει τὸ στόμα" from Isaiah 53:7. The Hebrew וְה֣וּא נַעֲנֶה is treated as a niphal reflexive by John Oswalt and others (e.g. Motyer and Young), yielding “it was he who was humbling himself” (Oswalt, NICOT, vol II, pg 389ff). The Greek then would read something like, "... and he, because he had submitted himself to affliction, did not open his mouth...".

This makes quite a difference in the reading of this verse, and I’m wondering if the Greek perfect passive infinitive in the LXX reflects the Hebrew niphal reflexive?
0 x
γράφω μαθεῖν

cwconrad
Posts: 2112
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:52 pm
Location: Burnsville, NC 28714
Contact:

Re: Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

Post by cwconrad » January 3rd, 2015, 3:07 pm

Thomas Dolhanty wrote:
cwconrad wrote:However, ask yourself what a second-person plural passive imperative could mean: how do you tell people to be acted upon by some agent or instrument external to themselves? You can ask them to submit to a process wherein external agents or instruments produce some effect upon them -- but if you think carefully about this, you must see that the imperative form is telling people to submit themselves to a process:
Would you apply this reading to a perfect passive infinitve? I am thinking specifically about "καὶ αὐτὸς διὰ τὸ κεκακῶσθαι οὐκ ἀνοίγει τὸ στόμα" from Isaiah 53:7. The Hebrew וְה֣וּא נַעֲנֶה is treated as a niphal reflexive by John Oswalt and others (e.g. Motyer and Young), yielding “it was he who was humbling himself” (Oswalt, NICOT, vol II, pg 389ff). The Greek then would read something like, "... and he, because he had submitted himself to affliction, did not open his mouth...".

This makes quite a difference in the reading of this verse, and I’m wondering if the Greek perfect passive infinitive in the LXX reflects the Hebrew niphal reflexive?
Please take care to note that I was speaking specifically of an imperative form whereby a command is issued to a person enabled to carry out that command. A person told to have his hair cut, unless he's a do-it-yourself freak, will make an effort to get to a barber. My response to the original question thus had to do with what has often been called the "permissive" usage of the middle-passive imperative.

The LXX text that you cite doesn't necessarily involve that permissive characteristic -- but it does allow for that possible interpretation. That is to say, the infinitive form κακῶσθαι can be interpreted either as a middle ("having submitted to abusive treatment") or as a passive "having been treated abusively." It's worth noting, however, in this context, that there's something to be said for the middle "permissive" interpretation in that the figure being described has assumed a submissive stance in face of those who abuse him. Again, however, I would emphasize that it is the context here that suggests that the suffering of abuse here is voluntary and agentive: if we read the text this way, we understand the text to mean that this person is by no means a purely passive victim. But it is the context that would seem to confirm this reading; the verb-form allows this interpretation but does not require it.

You raise the issue of the Hebrew niphal form here as a reflexive regularly employed in a passive sense. The point to be noted here is that many languages (notably Romance languages, among others) employ reflexive morphology to express either a middle or a passive sense (e.g. French s'en aller = ἀπαλλάσσεσθαι). My grasp of Hebrew is not adequate to judge the extent to which middle-passive usage in Greek is comparable to Hebrew niphal, hiphil, or hithpael usage. Suzanne Kemmer in The Middle Voice (1993) distinguishes between authentic reflexive verbs and reflexive verbs employed to express middle-passive sense. This is a larger issue, and I would think that further discussion of this issue should probably be moved to the "Syntax and Grammar" sub-topic in "Language and Linguistics."
0 x
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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

Thomas Dolhanty
Posts: 401
Joined: May 20th, 2014, 10:13 am
Location: west coast of Canada

Re: Romans 12:2 Distinguishing middle/passive

Post by Thomas Dolhanty » January 3rd, 2015, 4:01 pm

A person told to have his hair cut, unless he's a do-it-yourself freak, will make an effort to get to a barber.
I am such "freak". :D I figure the barber has less than 10% of what he was cutting 30 years ago, so why doesn't his price reflect this?

Thank you for a measured and very helpful answer. Yes, I understand that your remarks were specifically directed to the imperative passive, and I should have made that a bit clearer. But the Greek middle/passive/deponent is still a bit fuzzy to me, and so I wasn't sure whether κεκακῶσθαι in this context is limited to a simple passive, or whether it would bear a reflective sense.

This really makes my day:
the verb-form allows this interpretation but does not require it.
I have done a lot of work on the Hebrew of Isaiah, and have taken an advanced course in the Hebrew poetry of Isaiah 40-55. Although I'm no Hebraist (and my Hebrew is in hibernation these days) I am confident that the Niphal of Isa. 53:7 is just as easily read as a reflexive as it is as a simple declarative, though I would not likely have thought of it except for Oswalt and company. That the Greek will "permit" such a reading is very nice!
0 x
γράφω μαθεῖν

Post Reply

Return to “What does this text mean?”