You are on page 1of 25

Deponency(in(Koine(Greek:(

The(Grammatical(Question(
and(the(Lexicographical(Dilemma

Jonathan(T.(Pennington
Jonathan'T.'Pennington'is'a'doctoral'student'at'St.'Marys'College,'University'of'St.'
Andrews,'St.'Andrews,'Scotland
Second/year!students!of!Koine!Greek!must!commonly!be!disabused!of!the!notion!that!the!
middle! voice! is!equivalent! to! the!English!reClexive.! Even!if!they!have!learned!their!Greek!
from!a! modern!grammar!that!has!avoided!making!this!error,!the!perception!is!quite!com/
mon.!The!reClexive!rope!seems!the!only!one!to!grab!when!trying!to!swing!across!the!unfa/
miliar! chasm! of! the! Greek! middle.! The!problem!is!exacerbated!by! the!use! of!!(or!
something!similar)!as!the!exemplar!for!comparing!the!three!Greek!voices!with!English:1!
!!active,!I!wash
!!middle,!I!wash!myself
!!passive,!I!am!being!washed
But!there!is!yet!another!disabusing!that!must!be!done!regarding!our!understanding!of!
the!Greek!middle!voice.!This!concerns!the!deCinition!and!classiCication!of!what!is!typically!
called!deponency.!Ostensibly,!these!are!verbs!which!are!middle!or!middle/passive!in!form!
but!whose!meaning!is!active.!Such!is!the!deCinition!given!by!nearly!all!introductory!gram/
mars.!
However,!this! is!a! case! where!the!complexity!of!the!matter!is!much!greater!than!it!at!
Cirst!appears.!Unfortunately,!grammars!simply! repeat!the!old! deCinition,!relying! on!each!
other,!without!realizing!the!great!inadequacy!of!this!formulation.!Some!of!the!older!gram/
marians! such! as! A.!T.!Robertson!and!C.!F.!D.!Moule!were!dissatisCied!with!the!handling!of!
deponency,! but!the!simplistic!deCinition!has!remained!intact,!as!is!seen!in!nearly!all!mod/
ern! grammars.! The! few! contemporary! exceptions! to! this! include! K.! L.! McKay,! Stanley!
Porter,!and!Daniel!Wallace.2!!The!latter!two!state!
1! This! is!the! example! used! by! J.! W.! Wenham,!The'Elements'of'New'Testament'Greek!(Cambridge:!CUP,!

1965),! 92.! Other! standard! grammars! use!different!lexemes!but!communicate!the!same!reClexive!idea!


for!the!middle.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!56

explicitly!the!need!for!more!work!to!be!done!in!this!area.3!!This!essay!attempts!to!make!a!
small!contribution!to!such!a!need.
This! article! will!challenge!the!normal!grammatical!conception!of!deponency!and!will!
go!on!to!examine!the!problems!intrinsic!to!it!lexicographically.!I!will!argue!that!the!validity!
of! the! notion! of! deponency! is! questionable! in! light! of!a! closer!look! at!the!function!and!
meaning! of! the!middle! voice! in!Greek.!Further,!I!will! offer!some! speciKic!suggestions!on!
how! lexicons! should!handle! middleLonly! forms!in!a! consistent!way.! Although! these! two!
categoriesgrammar! and! lexicographyare! organically! related! and! interwoven,! they!
will!be!treated!separately!for!maximal!clarity.

I.#The#Grammatical#Question
A.#The#History#of#the#Greek#Voices
One!of!the!most!unexpected!revelations!regarding!the!Greek!voices!is!that!originally!there!
was! no!separate! passive!voice.! The!language!existed! for! some! time!with!only! the!active!
and! middle! voices.! Most! grammarians! are! conKident! that! the! passive! voice! was! a! later!
development!that!stemmed!from!the!middle.!It!eventually!encroached!upon!the!middle!in!
form!and!meaning.!The!result!of!this!linguistic!evolution!is!that!Modern!Greek!has!no!midL
dle! forms! remaining,!but!only! active!and! passive.4!! In!the!NT!period,!this! evolution!was!
still!very!much!in!process.!It!is!only!in!the!aorist!that!separate!passive!forms!had!become!
fully! established! (and! to! a! lesser!extent! the!future!passive!which!is!based!on!the!aorist!
passive).5!! Meanwhile,!the!middle! form!is!losing!ground!on!its!way!to!obsolescence.!This!
2! Kenneth! L.! McKay,!A' New' Syntax'of' the'Verb' in' New' Testament'Greek:' An'Aspectual'Approach!(New!

York:!Peter!Lang,!1994),!2126;!Stanley!E.!Porter,!Idioms'of'the'Greek'New'Testament!(2d!ed.;!ShefKield:!
ShefKield! Academic! Press,! 1999),! 6373;! Daniel! B.!Wallace,!Greek'Grammar'Beyond'the'Basics!(Grand!
Rapids:!Zondervan,!1996),!41430.
3! Wallace! writes,! The! criteria! for! determining! deponency! still! await! a!deKinitive! treatment!(Greek'

Grammar,!430!n.!65).!And!Porter!states,!There!is!room!for!much!more!work!in!areas!related!to!Greek!
voice.!One!of!those!areas!is!deponent!verbs!(Idioms,!63).
4!James!H.!Moulton,!Prolegomena!(vol.!1!of!A'Grammar'of'New'Testament'Greek;!3d!ed.;!Edinburgh:!T!&!

T!Clark,!1908),!15253;!F.!Blass,!A.!Debrunner,!R.!W.!Funk,!A'Greek'Grammar'of'the'New'Testament'and'
Other' Early'Christian' Literature! (4th!ed.;! Chicago:!University!Press,! 1961),! 161;!Maximilian!Zerwick,!
Biblical'Greek!(trans.!Joseph!Smith!from!4th!Latin!ed.;!Rome:!Editrice!PontiKicio!Istitutio!Biblico,!1963),!
225;! A.! T.! Robertson,! A' Grammar' of' the' Greek' New' Testament' in' the' Light' of' Historical' Research
(Nashville:!Broadman,!1934),!332;!Porter,!Idioms,!6364;!McKay,!Syntax,!21.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

was!occurring!on!three!fronts.!First,!verbs!that!in!Classical!Greek!took!middle!form!in!the!
future!were!tending!to!adopt!future!active!forms!instead.6!!Similarly,!verbs!that!were!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!57

typically! aorist! middle! were! increasingly! occurring! in! the! aorist! passive! form,! yet! still!
with!a! middle! or!active!meaning.7!! The!two!most!common!examples!of!this!are!
instead!of!!and! !instead!of!.!In!both!of!these!instances,!some!
of!the!aorist!middle!forms!are!residual!in!the!NT.!Thirdly,!the!active!forms!plus!a!reMlexive!
pronoun! are! increasingly! used! where! Classical! Greek! would! have! used! the! middle.8
Understanding!this!development!will!help!us!get!a!better!grasp!on!the!Greek!middle,!and!
in!turn,!on!Greek!deponency.

B.#The#Meaning#of#the#Middle
Wallace!begins! his!discussion! of!the!middle! voice! with!this! warning:!DeMining!the!funcS
tion! of! the! middle! voice! is! not! an! easy! task! because!it! encompasses! a! large!and! amorS
phous!group! of!nuances.9!! There!is!also! another! reason!the!middle! voice! is!thorny.!It!is!
simply!difMicult!for!English!speakers!to!comprehend!this!category!of!meaning!because!we!
have!nothing!equivalent!grammatically.!English!speakers!can!do!approximately!the!same!
things! with! their! language! as! the! middle! form! does! in! Greek,! but! various! syntactical!
means! rather!than!a!single!expression!are!required.10!!English!requires!the!use!of!prepoS
sitional! phrases!and! reMlexive!and!other!pronouns!to!communicate!what!the!middle!morS
pheme!could!alone.!Due!to!this!signiMicant!difference!in!the!linguistic!framework!of!Greek,!
the!middle!voice!has!often!been!misunderstood.!
5!McKay,!Syntax,!24.!According!to!Robertson!(Grammar,!333),!Homeric!Greek!has!many!more!instances!

of! the! middle!than! the! passive!because! neither!the! future!nor! the! aorist!had! yet! developed!distinct!
forms!to!any!great!extent.
6! We!will! note!later!the! signiMicance! that! these! verbs! tended!to! be!ones!in!which!a!physical!action!or!

emotion! was! involved.! Examples! include! ! for! Classical! ! and! ! for!


.!In! the! latter!case,!however,!the!evolution!is!not!complete!in!that!both!forms!still!appear!in!
the!NT,!apparently!idiolectically.
7!Henry!St.!John!Thackeray,!A'Grammar'of'the'Old'Testament'in'Greek'According'to'the'Septuagint,!vol.!1:!

Introduction,' Orthography' and' Accidence! (Cambridge:! Cambridge! University!Press,! 1909),! 231;! ZerS
wick,!Biblical'Greek,!225;!McKay,!Syntax,!2.5.5;!BDF!161.
8!BDF!307,!310.
9!Wallace,!Greek'Grammar,!414.
10!Porter,!Idioms,!66.

Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

Most! grammarians!today!are!careful!not! to! equate!the!middle!voice!with!the!English!


re?lexive.! It! seems! this! was!not!always!the!case.!Writing!originally!in!1953,!Moule!states,!
Grammars! sometimes!describe!the!Middle!as!primarily!re?lexive.!Whether!or!not!this!is!
true!for!certain!periods,!it!is!manifestly!not!true!of!N.T.!usage.11!!Now!this!view!is!univerN
sally!accepted!and!rightly!so.!
Thus,!modern!grammars!are!much!more!circumspect!in!their!de?initions.!Wallace,!relyN
ing!on!A.!T.!Robertson!and!Herbert!Smyth,!de?ines!the!middle!thus:
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!58

In!the!middle!voice!the!subject!performs!or!experiences'the'action!expressed!by!the!
verb! in!such! a! way! that!emphasizes'the'subjects'participation.!It!may!be!said!that!
the!subject!acts!with!a!vested!interest.12!!
Porter,!says,!
Voice! is! a! formNbased!semantic! category!used!to! describe!the!role!that!the!gramN
matical!subject!of!a!clause!plays!in!relation!to!an!action..!..!The!Greek!middle!voice!
expresses! more! direct! participation,! speci?ic! involvement,! or!even!some! form!of!
bene?it!of!the!subject!doing!the!action.13!
At! a! more!rudimentary! level,!J.!W.!Wenham! (in! obeisance!to! his!elemental! purpose)!
defers!the!whole!matter!with!the!cautious!comment,!No!attempt!will!be!made!to!give!any!
generalised!explanation!of!the!meaning!of!the!Middle..!..!The!meaning!in!fact!varies!from!
verb!to!verb.14!!Probably!the!most!succinct!and!lucid!de?inition!is!from!the!pen!of!McKay:!
the!middle!voice!represents!the!subject!as!acting!on,!for!or!towards!itself.15!
Several!uses!of!the!middle!are!typically!discussed.16!!Some!grammars!have!six!or!seven!
different!categories,!but!all!emphasize!two!main!functions:
a)!Direct!Middle!!subject!acts!directly!upon!itself!with!re?lexive!force
11!C.!F.!D.!Moule,!An'Idiom'Book'of'New'Testament'Greek!(2d!ed.;!Cambridge:!Cambridge!

University!Press,!1971),!24.
12!

Wallace,!Greek'Grammar,!414!(italics!original).

13!Porter,!Idioms,!63,!67.
14!Wenham,!Elements,!92.
15!McKay,!Syntax,!21.
16! In! addition! to! the!grammars!already!quoted!above,!other!works!reviewed!include!James!A.!Brooks!

and! Carlton! L.! Winberry,! Syntax'of' New' Testament'Greek! (Lanham,!MD:! University!Press! of!America,!
1979);!David!Alan!Black,!Its'Still'Greek'to'Me!(Grand!Rapids:!Baker,!1998);!and!James!W.!Voelz,!FundaE
mental'Greek'Grammar!(2d!ed.;!St.!Louis:!Concordia,!1993).
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

b)!Indirect!Middle!!subject!acts!for!itself!or!in!its!own!interest
All! the! other! subcategories! used,! like! Reciprocal! and! Causative/Permissive,! can! be!
subsumed!under!these!two!broad!categories.!It!is!the!Indirect!Middle!that!is!most!typically!
used!in!Hellenistic!Greek!(including!the!NT).!The!Direct!or!ReNlexive!Middle!is!considered!
quite!rare!in!the!NT,!thus!the!danger!of!using!this!as!the!standard!deNinition!of!the!meanS
ing!of!the!middle! voice.! Moulton!allows!only! one!ReNlexive!Middle!in!the!NT!(Matt!27:5),!
though!others!discern!slightly!broader!usage!than!this.!Either!way,!it!is!clear!the!Direct!or!
ReNlexive! Middle! is! not! the! predominant! one! in! the! Hellenistic! period.17!! This! also!
reveals! the! generally! unsatisfactory! nomenclature! of! the! voices,! as! middle! communiS
cates!some!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!59

halfway! point!between! active!and! passive,!but!only! the!Direct! Middle!Nits!this!bill.!Thus,!


the!term!is!hardly!descriptive!of!the!voice!as!a!whole.18!
So!far!we!have!seen!that!the!middle!voice!is!not!a!later!development!striking!a!balance!
between! the!active!and! passive!(as!English!speakers!would!tend!to!assume),!nor!is!it!priS
marily!reNlexive.! Rather,!it! is!the!medium! of!communicating!the!subjects!involvement!in!
the!action!on,!for,!or!towards!itself.!None!of!this!is!new;!it!can!be!found!in!any!intermediS
ate! grammar.! But! it! is! an! important!review! as! we!move!in!to! the!more!difNicult!area! of!
deponency.

C.#The#De(inition#of#Deponent#Verbs
The!way! introductory!grammars!speak!of!deponency,!the!deNinition!seems!quite!straightS
forward.!Typical! is!Wenham:! A!deponent!verb!is!one!which!is!Middle!or!Passive!in!form,!
but!Active!in!meaning.19!!Or!Machen:!Many!verbs!have!no!active!forms,!but!only!middle!
or! passive! forms! with! active! meaning.! These! verbs! are! called! deponent.20!! This! correS
sponds!with!the!traditional!Classical!Greek!deNinition!as!found!in!Smyth:!Deponent!verbs!
have!an!active!meaning!but!middle!(or!middle!and!passive)!forms.21!
17!

Porter,!Idioms,!67.

18! Wallace,! Greek'Grammar,!415.!Or!as!Robertson!puts!it,!There!is!very!little!point!in!the!term!middle!

since!it!does!not!come!between!the!active!and!the!passive!(Grammar,!331).
19!Wenham,!Elements,!93.
20! J.!Gresham!Machen,!New'Testament'Greek'for'Beginners!(reprint;!Eugene,!OR:!Wipf!and!Stock,!1998),!

61.!Similar!are!the!deNinitions!of!N.!Clayton!Croy,!David!A.!Black,!William!D.!Mounce,!and!others.
21!Herbert!Smyth,!A'Greek'Grammar'for'Schools'and'Colleges!(New!York:!American!Book,!1916),!

319.c,!p.!90.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

Others!are!more!careful!in!their!formulation.!Wallace!begins!with!the!same!de=inition!
as!above,!but!quali=ies!it.!A!deponent!middle!verb!is!one!that!has!no!active!form!for!a!parD
ticular!principal'part!in!Hellenistic!Greek,!and!one!whose!force!in!that!principal!part!is!eviD
dently! active.22!! He! then!goes!on!to! specify!that!it! is!not! enough! to! note! merely!that!a!
verb! lacks! an! active!form!throughout!its! history;! it! must!also! be! demonstrated! that!the!
middle! force! is! absent.23!! This! de=inition! is! a! considerable! improvement! because! it!
reminds!us!to!be!cognizant!of!the!complexities!of!the!meaning!of!the!middle!voice.!A!good!
example! is! ,!which!is!usually! considered! deponent!because!the!extant!forms!are!
middle/passive,!and!we!de=ine!it!as!I!receive.!However,!Wallace!is!right!to!point!out!that!
there! is! clearly! a! true! middle! meaning!inherent! in!this! lexeme.24!! Therefore,!it! is!a! misD
nomer!to!classify!this!as!a!deponent!verb;!the!middle!force!of!the!verb!is!not!absent.!SimiD
larly!judicious!is!Porter!who!points!out!that!presence!of!an!active!form!eliminates!a!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!60

verb!from!being!considered!deponent,!although!it!is!not!necessarily!deponent!even!if!
there!is!no!active!form.25!
Among! those!who! more!carefully!nuance!deponency! there!is!also!debate!about!what!
exactly!is!laid!aside.!All!are!agreed!that!the!grammatical!term!comes!from!the!Latin!verb!
deponere,! to! lay! aside,! which! is! also! used! in! discussion! of! Latin! grammar.! But! what!
exactly! is! laid! aside! is! debated.! Is! it! the! active! forms! or! the! passive! meaning?26!! Most!
Greek! grammarians! speak! of! the! active! forms! being! laid! aside,27!! but!others,!including!
Wallace!and!several!Latin!grammars,!say!it!is!the!passive!meaning.28!
Further! along! the! spectrum! are! others! who! are! totally! dissatis=ied! with! the! term!
deponent! and! think! it! should!be! eliminated.!Such! proponents!include!Robertson!who!
says!quite!strongly,!The!truth!is!that![the!term]!should!not!be!used!at!all29!!and!Moulton!
22!Wallace,!Greek'Grammar,!428.
23!Ibid.,!429.
24!Ibid.
25!

Porter,!Idioms,!71.

26! This! point!is!taken! from!a!revised!version!of!the! paper! given! by! Bernard! Taylor,! Deponency! and!

Greek! Lexicography,!at!a!joint!session! of!the! International!Organization! for! Septuagint! and!Cognate!


Studies!and!the!Biblical!Lexicography!section!at!the!Society!of!Biblical!Literature!Annual!Meeting!held!
in!Denver,!Colorado,!November!17D20,!2001.
27!So!Robertson,!Croy,!Black,!Voelz.
28! Wallace,!Greek'Grammar,!428;!Frederick!M.!Wheelock,!Latin:'An'Introductory'Course'Based'on'Ancient'

Authors!(3d!ed.;!New!York:!Harper!&!Row,!1963),!161!n.!1.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

who! calls!the!name!unsatisfactory.30!!My!own!study!has!led!me!to!sympathize!with!this!
view.
One!other!treatment!of!deponency!should!be!mentioned!here.!In!the!appendix!to!their!
Analytical' Greek' New' Testament,! Barbara! and! Timothy! Friberg! spend! some! time! disI
cussing!the!difJiculties!of!deJining!deponency.31!! Their!work!in!tagging!every!form!in!the!
NT!led!them!to!exclude!from!deponency!many!verbs!that!would!normally!be!classiJied!as!
such.!But!their!discussion!on!this!point!is!far!from!sufJicient.!Even!their!ten!Rules!for!JudgI
ing!Deponency,!prove!inadequate.! The!problem!is!that!the!authors!deal!with!deponency!
mainly! from! the! morphological! perspective.! That! is,! they! asked! the!question,! based' on'
extant' forms,! when! are! we!justiJied! to! classify!a! verb! as! deponent?!But!their!treatment!
does! not! engage! deeply! enough! the! more! fundamental! grammatical! question! of! depoI
nency.

!D.!Challenging!the!De-inition!of!Deponency
The!contention! of!this! article! is!that!we!need!to! look!more!closely!at!the!arguments!preI
sented! against! deponency! (older! and! contemporary)! and! adjust! our! conception! of!the!
term.!I!want!to!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!61

challenge! the! common! deJinitions! and! use! of! the! grammatical! category! of! deponency!
with!this!thesis:!most!if!not!all!verbs!that!are!considered!deponent!are!in!fact!truly!midI
dle! in! meaning.! Therefore! our! use! of! deponent! and! our! assumption! about! the! wideI
spread! occurrence!of!deponent!verbs! needs!to!be!reevaluated.!If!this!thesis!is!true,!the!
example!of!!above!is!the!rule,!not!the!exception.!
How! has! this! misunderstanding! come! about?! I!can! discern! two!wrong!turns! taken.!
First,! our! unfamiliarity! with! the! Greek! middle! voice! and! our! tendency! to! think! about!
Greek! through! the! lens! of! English! has! clouded! our! judgment.! Second,! the! category! of!
deponent,!borrowed! from!Latin,!has! unduly! inJluenced!our!approach!to!the!Greek!midI
dle,!and! has! in!turn! boxed!us!in!to!a!way!of!viewing!the!middle!that!is!misleading.!Let!us!
unpack!these!allegations.
29! Robertson,! Grammar,!332.!Disparaging!comments!are!also!made!on!pages!811ff.!Notable!is!the!fact!

that!all!throughout!this!massive!volume!Robertson!invariably!puts!deponent!in!quote!marks,!thereby!
diminishing!its!status!as!a!valid!term.
30!Moulton,!Prolegomena,!153.
31!Barbara!Friberg!and!Timothy!Friberg,!eds.,!Analytical'Greek'New'Testament!(Grand!Rapids:!

Baker,!1981),!81116,!840.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

1.#Greek#Through#the#Lens#of#English
It!is!inevitable!that!English!speakers!tend!to!think!about!Greek!through!the!lens!of!English!
grammatical! structures!and!lexemes.!Theoretically,!native!bilingualism!would!seem!to!be!
the! only! way! out! of! this! quandary.! But! our! chronological! distance! from! Koine! Greek!
makes!this!an!impossibility.!Not!even!a!brilliant!child!running!the!streets!of!Athens!today!
could! surmount!this! difJiculty!as! Modern! Greek!is!far!removed!from!Hellenistic!Greek!as!
well.32!!
When!it! comes! to! deponency,!the!problem!is!acute.!To!deJine!a!deponent!verb!as!one!
that! is! active! in! meaning! but! middle/passive! in! form! begs! the! question! about! what! it!
means! for! a! verb! to! be! active! in! meaning.! According! to! whose! conception! does! this!
apply?!Just!because!the!gloss!in'English!looks!like!an!active!meaning!this!does!not!mean!it!
was!so!for!the!Greek!speaker.!Take!again!the!example!of!.!I!receive,!take!looks!like!
an!active!voice!in!English,!but!it!is!not!difJicult!at!all!to!see!the!indirect!middle!force!inherS
ent!in!the!lexeme,! hence!the!middle/passive!form.!Because!English!lacks!a! middle! voice!
we!do!not!consider!this!as!an!option!when!classifying!how!the!subject!relates!to!the!verb.!
Therefore! we!assume! it! is!active!in!meaning!and! force'upon' ourselves'a'seeming'discrep8
ancy' between' meaning' and' form.! As! I! have! told! my!Greek!students!when! encountering!
some! construction! or! idiom! that! seems! quite! odd! to! us,! this! is! our! problem,! not! the!
Greeks.!Evidently,!the!average!Greek!speaker!lived!his!or!her!life!happily!never!considerS
ing!how! their!native! constructions!might! strike!the!ear!as!odd!to!someone!living!twenty!
centuries!later.
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!62

This! is! another! example!of!the!principle!that!translation! is!treason.33!! That! is,! it! is!


impossible!not! to! lose! something!when!comparing!and!translating!languages.!It!is!unforS
tunate! that! teachers! of! Greek! miss! this! obvious! point! of! contrast! between! Koine! and!
English.! Grammars! glibly!speak! of!the!oddity!of!deponency.! They!make!unqualiJied!comS
ments! that! speak! of! the! laying!aside! of!active!forms!when! the!meaning!is!active,!to! be!
32!

Indeed!one!could!argue!that!Jluency!in!Modern!Greek!could!in!some!ways!be!more!disadvantageous!

because! the! temptation! (conscious! or! unconscious)!to! use!familiar!categories! and! meanings!would!


easily! override!the! less!familiar!meanings!in!Hellenistic! Greek.! The!perception!that!something!is!forS
eign!forces!one!to!think!hard!about!meaning.!If!this!were!veiled!by!familiarity!with!Modern!Greek,!conS
ceivably!more!misunderstanding!could!occur.
33! D.! A.! Carson,! The' Inclusive' Language' Debate:'A' Plea' for'Realism! (Grand!Rapids:!Baker,!1998),! 47.!

Chapters! 3!and! 4!of!this! book!provide! one! of!the! best! introductions! to! the!problems!of!translation!I!
have!seen.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

sure.34!! Careful! thought,! however,! reveals! that! in! the! majority! of! cases! the! meaning!is!
active,!to!be!sure!only!from!the!perspective!of!English.!
McKay!observes!that!the!category!of!deponent!is!useful!in!some!respects,!but!is!not!
entirely! necessary! in! terms! of!ancient!Greek!itself.! He! goes!on!with!the!insightful! comI
ments!and!example:
The!reason!for! a! writers! choice! of!the!middle! rather! than!the!active!of!a!verb!in!
which! both! have!similar! meanings!is!sometimes!not! clear! to! us,!and! many! depoI
nent! verbs! have! an! obviously! middle! or! passive! element! in! their!meaning!or!in!
their!history.! In!comparison!with!,!I'send,!the!middle! force!of!the!deponent!
verb! ,! I' send' for' (I' am' having' sent' to' me),!is!obvious.!On!the!other!
hand,! in! the! case! of! ,! I' journey,! whose! aorist! is! passive! in! form!
(),!there!was! in!earlier!Greek!an! active!,!I'convey,!so!the!passive!
would!be!natural!enough!for!journeying!on!horseback!or!in!a!vehicle,!but!its!meanI
ing! had! long! been! extended! to! all! kinds! of! journeying,! including! marching! by!
infantry.! We! have!no!real!evidence! that!speakers! and! writers!of!ancient!Greek!in!
general!were!conscious!of!an!anomaly!in!their!use!of!this!and!similar!verbs.35!
So!again,!the!point!is!that!we!have!foisted!upon!ourselves!the!category!of!deponent!
through! our!propensity!to! evaluate!lexemes!according!to!their!English!counterparts!and!
through!our!unfamiliarity!with!the!Greek!middle.

2.#The#Undue#In,luence#of#Latin
But!the!problem!stems!not! only! from!the!constructs!of!English,!but!also!the!inTluence!of!
Latin! grammatical! structures.! With! increasing! frequency,!scholars!are!pointing!out! that!
the! structures! of! Latin! grammar! have! improperly! formed! the! grid! through! which! we!
interpret!Greek.!For!example,!the!former!debate!over!whether!Greek!is!a!TiveIcase!or!eightI
case! system!reTlects! the!inTluence!of!Latin.!Another!wellIknown!area!where!this!observaI
tion!has!sparked!a!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!63

changing!perspective!concerns!verbal'aspect.36!!It!appears!that!Latin!has!had!a!similar!
impact!on!our!concept!of!deponency.
In!his!paper!Deponency! and! Greek!Lexicography,37!! Bernard!Taylor!tells!of!his!own!
34!Black,!Its'Still'Greek'to'Me,!95.
35!McKay,!Syntax,!2526.
36!Most!wellIknown!are!the!works!by!Stanley!Porter,!K.!L.!McKay,!and!Buist!Fanning.

Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

linguistic!journey!through!Latin!to!Greek.!He!explains!the!source!of!the!deponent!idea!as!
the!term!used!to! describe!the!phenomenon!of!Latin!verbs! passive!in!form!but!active!in!
meaning.38!!He!points!out!that!
At!least!by!the!Renaissance,!Latin!grammar!and!terminology!had!become!the!norm!
and!were!used!to!describe!and!delimit!other!languages..!..!In!the!interface!between!
Greek! and! Latin,!at!least!one!Latin!notion! was! transferred! to! Greek!that!had! not!
existed!in!that!language!before:!the!notion!of!deponency.
Western!European!students!of!Greek,!many!of!whom!had!Nirst!learned!Latin,!began!to!
use! this! term!to! explain!the!Greek!middle!forms!which!appeared!to!have!an!active!meanO
ing.! The!handiness!of!the!label!in!Latin!became!the!perceived!reality!of!what!deponent!
Greek! verbs! were.!But!the!problem!is!the!same! as! when! one!evaluates!Greek!in!light! of!
English.! In!Latin!there!is!no!formal!distinction!between!middle!and!passive.39!!Therefore,!
Latin!grammar!stands!in!no!better!position!of!categorizing!the!Greek!middle!than!English.!
Taylor!points!out!that!
The! Greeks! themselves! never! found! recourse! to! the! concept! [of! deponency]!
despite!their!close!attention!to!the!form!and!function!of!their!language..!..![W]hat!is!
needed!is!to!go!back!to!the!point!prior!to!the!Late!Latin!grammarians..!..!and!work!
from!there!to! understand!the!function!of!the!three!different!voices,!especially!the!
middle.40!
This!is!certainly!right.
Modern!scholars,!even!if!their!own!training!did!not!begin!with!Latin,!have!adopted!the!
category!of!deponency!as!if!it!were!part!of!the!Greek!linguistic!structure.!But!is!there!any!
evidence! that!a! Greek!person! would! have!ever!conceived!of!a!verb!as!being!deponent?!
Taylor!points!out! how! conspicuous! it! is!that!A.!T.!Robertson,!who!provided!Greek!terms!
for! all! of!his!grammatical! terminology,! fails!to!do!so!for!deponency.41!!Is!this!not!a!case!
where!we!have!taken!a!Latin!grammatical!category!and!applied!it!backwards?!Is!this!not!
another!example!of!the!pitfalls!of!comparative!linguistics?
So!again,!the!unfamiliarity!of!the!Greek!middle!and!the!ready!concept!of!Latin!
deponency!combined!in!an!unfortunate!way.!There!
37!See!n.!26!above.
38!Taylor,!Deponency!and!Greek!Lexicography,!4.
39!Robertson,!Grammar,!33233.
40!Taylor,!Deponency!and!Greek!Lexicography,!9.
41!Ibid.,!5.

Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

10

TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!64

was! little! incentive! to! examine! the! real! function! of! the! Greek! middle! in! verbs! which!
appeared! exclusively! or! primarily! in! that! form.! They! were! typically! explained! away! as!
deponent.!

E.#Greek#Words#Affected
If!the!thesis!presented!above!is!accurate,!we!should!be!able!to!turn!to!speciJic!words!that!
are! usually! considered! deponent! and! see! in!them!a! true! middle! sense.! Following!the!
more! careful! deJinition! of! deponency,! even! if! all! the! forms! extant! are! middle! or!
middle/passive,! this! does! not! guarantee! a! particular! verb! is! deponent.! If! a! word! is!
shown!to!have!a!middle!sense,!then!it!should!not!be!classiJied!as!deponent.
Both! Robertson!and! Wallace!provide! such! lists.!One!of!the!most!interesting!observaQ
tions!is!that!many!of!the!lexemes!in!question!denote!mental/emotional!activity!or!physical!
state,!especially!in!the!case! where!the!future!is!middle! (more!on!this!below).42!!Wallace!
puts!together!a! group! bearing!the!title,! Some! verbs! that!look! deponent!but!most!likely!
are!not,!though!it!is!not!clear!by!which!criterion!this!decision!is!made;!i.e.,!because!a!true!
middle! sense! can! be! found! or! because! active! forms! are! extant!in!Hellenistic!Greek!(or!
both).43!!From!Wallaces!list,!as!well!as!that!given!by!Robertson,!we!can!offer!the!following!
words!which,!although!typically!considered!deponent,!seem!to!have!a!true!middle!sense!
(the!subject!acting!on,!for,!or!toward!itself):
!!notice,!understand
!!answer,!reply
!!deny
!!greet,!welcome
!!resolve,!decide
(cf.!the!related!)
!!take,!receive
!!speak!conJidently,!insist
!!choose!(for!oneself)

42!Robertson,!Grammar,!812;!Smyth,!Grammar,!1057,!1060;!Porter,!Idioms,!71.
43! Wallace,!Greek'Grammar,!430.!He!is!right!in!requiring!both!of!these!criteria!to!pass!the!deponency!

test,!but!for!this!particular!list!it!is!not!clear!which!criterion!is!at!work.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

11

!!command,!give!orders
!!forget,!neglect
!!pray,!wish
!!think!(in!the!active,!lead)
!!boast,!pride!oneself
!!reckon,!think
!!be!mad,!out!of!ones!mind
!!Bind!fault!with,!blame
!!remember,!remind!oneself
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!65

!!stop!(oneself),!cease
!!summon,!call!to!oneself
In! each! case! it! takes! little! imagination! to! discern! the! middle! voice! (rightly! underI
stood),!even!though!in!English!these!are!unavoidably!rendered!with!the!active!voice.!Thus,!
at!least!these!verbs!should!no!longer!be!considered!deponent.
But!even!more!words!fall!into!this!category!than!one!might!expect!as!has!been!shown!
by! Neva!Miller.!Nearly!twenty! years! after!their!initial! work! on!the!Analytical'Greek'New'
Testament,! the! Fribergs! have! completed! the! fourth! volume! in! their! series! of! analytical!
works.44!! In! this! new!lexicon,!coIeditor! Neva!Miller! revisits!the!issue! of!deponency! and!
does!a!much!better!job!than!the!original!treatment!in!the!Analytical'Greek'New'Testament
(see! comments! above).45!! Her! brief! essay! questions! the! traditional! deBinition! of! depoI
nency! and! gives!an! extensive!list!of!verbs,!usually! considered! deponent,! that!are!in!fact!
true! middles.! She! points! out! that!inherent! in!many! of!these! words! the!subject!remains!
centered! in! the! action,! even! though! in! English! the! form! appears! active.!This! applies!to!
verbs!like!answer,!try,!doubt,!fear,!touch,!and!Bight.!She!writes:
If! we! accept! the! theory! that! soIcalled!deponent!verbs! express!personal! interest,!
selfIinvolvement,! or!interaction!of!the!subject!with!himself!or!with!others!in!some!
44!Barbara!Friberg,!Timothy!Friberg,!and!Neva!F.!Miller,!eds.,!Analytical'Lexicon'of'the'Greek'New'

Testament!(Grand!Rapids:!Baker,!2000).
45!Appendix!2:!A!Theory!of!Deponent!Verbs,!42330,!in!Analytical'Lexicon'of'the'Greek'New'

Testament.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

12

way,!we!will!be!better!able!to!accept!that!the!non8active!form!of!the!verb!is!valid!for!
communicating!a! meaning!on!its! own,!and! we!will! be! challenged!to!look!for!that!
meaning.46!
Miller! concludes! her! essay! with! a! long! list! of! NT! deponent! verbs! in! a! schema!
designed!to!show!the!various!ways!in!which!the!middle!sense!is!used.!Her!classiHication!is!
outlined!below:47!
Class!1:!Reciprocity!!where!two!parties!are!involved!and!the!removal!of!one!party!
would!render!the!verb!meaningless!and!no!action!possible
A.!Positive!Interaction
B.!Negative!Interaction
C.!Positive!and!Negative!Communication
Class!2:!ReHlexivity!!the!verbal!concept!inheres!in!the!subject!and!is!not!deHlected!
away!from!it
Class!3:!Self8Involvement!!the!verbs!involve!the!self!in!the!processes!going!on!
within!the!action
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!66

A.!Intellectual!Activities
B.!Emotional!States
C.!Volitional!Activities
Class!4:!Self8Interest!!the!verbs!show!the!subject!acting!in!his!own!interest
Class!5:!Receptivity!!the!subject!is!the!center!of!emphasis,!the!receiver!of!sensory!
perception
Class!6:!Passivity!!the!verbal!concept!alludes!to!involuntary!experiences
Class!7:!State,!Condition!!the!subject!is!the!center!of!gravity
This!impressive!outline!covers!a!remarkable!number!of!verbs!with!great!deftness!and!
reveals!the!fruit!of!her!more!than!thirty!years!of!teaching!Greek.!Though!not!an!exhaustive!
list,! some! eighty8Hive! deponent!verbs! are!classiHied!here! in!a! way! that!is!quite!convinc8
ing.! Millers!presentation,! even!though!it! is!not! highly!technical! grammatically,! goes!far8
ther!to!explain!the!real!usage!of!deponent!verbs!than!any!other!work!I!have!seen.!

46!Ibid.,!426.
47! Ibid.,!427829.!This!outline!is!directly!from!Miller.!The!deHinitions!of!the!classes!are!close!paraphrases!

of!her!deHinitions.!Under!each!class!and!subclass!she!gives!numerous!examples.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

13

One! of! the!most!striking!aspects! of!her!work! is!its! comprehensive!nature.!The!most!


common! and! well?known!deponent!words! as! well! as! many! more!obscure!ones!are!all!
classiDied!here.!Also!remarkable,!she!has!provided!a!workable!solution!for!what!could!be!
seen!as! exceptions!to! the!theory!proposed!here.!She!shows!how!even!a!verb!like!
(and!its!many!compounds)!can!be!understood!as!a!true!middle,!with!a!reDlexive!notion!of!
moving!oneself!in!one!direction!or!another!(Class!2).48!!
She!concludes!her!survey!concurring!with!the!same!thesis!argued!above:!If!the!verbs!
in! the! above! classes! are! understood!as! true! middles.!..!then!it! may! be! that!categorizing!
such! verbs! as! deponent! is! no! longer! relevant.! This! concurs! with! Porters! concluding!
thoughts,! On!the!basis! of!this! evidence.!..!one!might! be! justiDied! in!seeing! some! middle!
sense!with!virtually! all! verbs! with!middle?voice! form,!regardless!of!whether!they!can!be!
analyzed!as!deponent.49!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!67

F.#Some#Potential#Dif0iculties
While!I!am!conDident!of!our!need!seriously!to!question!the!traditional!view!of!deponency,!I!
am!under!no!illusion!that!all!the!difDiculties!and!questions!will!then!have!gone!away.!Two!
of!the!more!troublesome!phenomena!are!(1)!verbs!with!an!active!present!and!future!mid?
dle;!and!(2)!passive!deponents,!i.e.,!deponent!verbs!whose!aorists!are!passive!in!form,!
not!middle.

1.#Future#Middles
There!are!several!frequently!occurring!verbs!which!have!only!a!middle!form!in!the!future!
but! whose! other! tense?forms! are! active.! This! list! includes! ;
; ; ; ;! and! others.50
Apparently,! there!were!even!more!such! verbs! in!Classical! Greek,!but!due! to! the!gradual!
48! When! we!recall!McKays!discussion!of!s!cousin!,!we!gain!insight!into!how!

might!have!similarly!evolved.!Porter!gives!!as!an!example!of!a!deponent,!but!then!qualiDies!this!
and!admits!that!there!are!many!verbs!where!further!analysis!is!required!to!determine!if!the!meaning!is!
truly! active.! It! is! also! very! interesting! to! note! that! the! Dirst!gloss! given! in!BDAG! (3d!ed.)!reads,!of!
movement!from!one!point!to!another,!with'focus'on'approach'from'the'narrators'perspective!(empha?
sis!mine).!Is!this!in!any!way!related!to!an!inherent!middle!voice?!This!additional!note!did!not!appear!in!
BADG!(2d!ed.).
49!Porter,!Idioms,!72.
50!I!can!count!at!least!twenty!relatively!common!verbs!which!fall!under!this!category.

Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

14

elimination!of!the!middle! voice,! by! the!time!of!the!NT,! future!active!forms!had! replaced!


many! of! these! future!middles.51!! Nevertheless,!many! still!remain.!However,!the!explanaD
tion! of! this! phenomenon! is! not! clear.52!! It! has! been! observed! that! most!of!these! verbs!
denote! bodily! functions! or! intellectual! or! emotional! activity.53!! This! would! explain! the!
true!middle!sense!of!the!future,!but!not!why!the!present!forms!are!regularly!active.!
It! is!quite!intriguing!to!notice!that!the!majority!of!these!activeDpresent,!futureDmiddle!
verbs!have!a!stem!change!in!the!aorist!(a!second!aorist!form).!This!sometimes!occurs!via!a!
totally!separate! root! (i.e.,!relative!to!the!present!root),!as!in!,!,!.!At!other!
times!it!is!simply!a!stem!variation,!such!as!with!,!,!.!The!minority!of!
these! future!middle! verbs! form!the!aorist! normally! as! in!,!,!.!The!
preponderance! of! this! future! middleDsecond! aorist! connection! seems! too! strong! to! be!
only!a!coincidence,!yet!the!exact!connection!eludes!us.!Maybe!this!is!one!place!where!the!
term! deponent! could! be! salvaged,!but!there!are!enough! intriguing! links! to! cause!hesiD
tancy!even!here.
These! words! are! actually! a! subset! of! semiDdeponent! or! partially! deponent!
wordsverbs! that!are!deponent!in!one!or!more!tense! form!but!not! all,! e.g.,! ,!
,!.!These!are!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!68

often!but!not!always!suppletive!verbs,!where!one!root!has!Silled!in!the!paradigm!for!a!
defective!verb.54!

2.#Passive#Deponents
Typically!a!passive!deponent!is!a!verb!which!is!deponent!(according!to!the!traditional!
deSinition)!and!whose!aorist!is!passive!in!form,!as!opposed!to!having!an!aorist!in!the!midD
dle! form.55!! Taylor!calls!this! category!potentially! the!most!troubling.56!! The!most!comD
51!

McKay,! Syntax,! 23;! Zerwick,! Biblical' Greek,! 226,! p.! 72;! Moulton,! Prolegomena,! 154;! Thackeray,!

Grammar,!231;!Robertson,!Grammar,!813;!BDF!77,!79.
52!

Robertson! says,! the! matter! remains!unexplained!(Grammar,!813),! and! Moulton! describes! these!

verbs!as!an!abnormality!for!which!no!reason!could!be!detected!(Prolegomena,!155).
53! Thackeray,! Grammar,! 231;! Moulton,! Prolegomena,! 155;! Smyth,! Grammar,! 1057;! et! al.! This! pheD

nomenon! has!been! called! the! Attic!future! because! Attic! Greek! often! employed!a!future!middle!for!
verbs!that!expressed!an!emotion!or!physical!action.
54!Porter,!Idioms,!70!n.!4.
55! So! Smyth,!319,! et!al.! One!will!recall!that!it!is!only!in!the!aorist!(and!the!subsidiary!future)!that!all!

three!voices!are!distinguishable!morphologically.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

15

mon! examples! are! ,! ,! and! .! The! question! is! simply! this:! do!
these!words!give!us!a!true!example!of!a!verb!that!is!middle!or!passive!in!form!but!active!in!
meaning?! If! so,! this! would! conEirm! the! traditional! deEinition! of! deponency,! at! least! in!
these!cases.
I!propose!that!even!these!lexemes!are!true!middles!and!therefore!provide!no!evidence!
for! the! existence! of! Greek! deponency.! The! reasoning! is! as! follows.! We! have! already!
observed! that! during! the! time! of! Hellenistic! Greek,! the! middle! voice! form! was! losing!
ground!to! the!passive.!In!fact,!even!Homeric! Greek!did!not!distinguish!sharply!between!
these! forms![the!middle!and!the!passive].57!!Thus,!we!have!an!increasing!number!of!pasP
sive! forms! without! a! distinctive! passive! idea.58!! Instead! they! are! simply! replacing! the!
older!middle!forms.59!!But!this!is!merely!a!morphological,!not!a!semantic!shift.!When!one!
examines!the!passive!deponent!verbs! in!question,! they!are!a! subset! of!the!eightyPEiveP
plus!verbs!that!we!have!argued!are!true!middles,!not!deponents.!In!addition!to!,!
,!and!,60!!we!Eind!examples!like!!and!.!Indeed,!in!the!
case! of!most!of!these!verbs,!some!middle!forms!are!still!extant!(apparently!idiolectically)!
because! the! takeover! of! passive! forms! is! not! yet! complete.61!! So! I! would! suggest! that!
again,!deponent!is!a!misnomer!in!that!the!verbs!in!question!are!truly!middle!in!meaning!
and!not!active.
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!69

G.#Summary
56!Taylor,!Deponency!and!Greek!Lexicography,!10.
57!Robertson,!Grammar,!333.
58! BDF!(78)!points!out!that!Koine!preferred!the!aorist!passive!in!the!case!of!deponents!(where'a'real'

passive'meaning'is'at'best'a'possibility)!(emphasis!mine).!This!conEirms!my!point!here;!these!passives!
do! not! have!a!passive!meaning.!However,!this!does!not!prove!that!the!meaning!is!truly!active!in!these!
verbs! (thereby!conEirming!deponency).! This! would! only!be!the!case!if!one!accepts!the!deEinition!of!
deponency! as!stated;! it!is!at!least! possible! that! the! verbs!in!question!have!a!true!middle!sense!as!we!
have!argued!above.
59!Ibid.!So!also!Thackeray,!Grammar,!238.
60!According!to!Millers!classiEication,!these!fall!into!the!categories!of!Reciprocity,!Passivity,!and!

State,!Condition!respectively.
61! This!understanding!of!the!evolution!in!process!from!middle!to!passive!forms!contradicts!those!who!

would! try! to! Eind! a!clear! and! consistent! difference! in!meaning!between! the! middle!and! the! passive!
aorists!for!verbs!like!!and!.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

16

In!sum,!from!a! grammatical! perspective,!deponency!is!a!category!that!does!more!harm!


than!good! for! Hellenistic!Greek.!It! has! come! about!through! the!undue!inDluence!of!Latin!
and!has!been!perpetuated!by!confusion!over!the!middle!voice!by!English!speakers.!Most!if!
not!all!of!the!soHcalled!deponent!verbs!in!Koine!Greek!can!be!seen!to!have!a!true!middle!
sense! (usually! indirect)! and! thus! the! deDinition! of! deponencyactive! in! meaning! but!
middle/passive!in!formdoes!not! apply.! These! verbs! are!in!fact!middle! in!form!and!in!
meaning.
This! reformulation!is!not!as!avantHgarde!as!it!may!at!Dirst!appear.!It!merely!draws!out!
what!has! been!more!or!less!latent! or!suggested!by! a!number!of!grammarians,!older!and!
contemporary.! What! I! am! arguing! here! has! no! claim! to! complete! originality! (though! I!
hope!I!have!pulled!together!various!arguments!and!added!to!them).!However,!this!knowlH
edge!needs!now!to!be!applied!to!the!writing!of!Greek!grammars!and!the!teaching!of!Koine!
Greek.!Just!as! occurred!in!the!move!away!from!deDining!the!middle!as!reDlexive,!it!is!time!
for! a! paradigm! shift! regarding! the! grammatical! understanding!of!what!has! been!called!
deponency.
At!the!very!least,! deponency!needs!to! be! deDined! much!more!carefully.!Teachers!of!
Koine!Greek!must!be!more!cautious!in!using!the!category!of!deponency.!In!Dirst!and!secH
ondHyear!classes,!it!is!far!better!to!take!the!extra!time!to!elucidate!the!basic!meaning!of!the!
Greek! middle;! this! will! go!far!to! explain! why! some! verbs! appear! in!this! form!regularly.!
Further,! we! need! to! recognize! there! are!far!fewer!deponent!verbs! (if!any)! than!previH
ously!thought.!Statements!such!as!verbs!in!the!middle!are!usually!deponent62!!prove!to!
be!quite!misguided.!

II.#The#Lexicographical#Dilemma
We! can! now! turn!more!brieDly!to!a!related!matter.!Whether!or!not!one!accepts!the!thesis!
above! challenging!the!concept! of!deponency! from!a! grammatical! perspective,!there!still!
exists!for! us! a! lexicographical!dilemma.!That! is,! even!if!deponency!were!to!be!entirely!
abandoned!as!a!category!for!Koine!Greek,!the!fact!remains!that!many!words!exist!primarH
ily!or!exclusively!in!middle!and/or!passive!forms.!Yet,!the!standard!form!of!headwords!for!
Greek!lexicons! is!the!present!active!indicative.!How! then!should!deponent!(or!middleH
only!occurring!verbs)!be!listed!in!a!lexicon?
I! have! chosen! to! treat! these! matters! separately! so! that! both! elements! could! be!
62! Wenham,!Elements,!93.! He! is!far!from!alone!on! this! sentiment.! Mounce!gives!the!Digure!of!approxiH

mately! seventyHDive! percent!of!the! middle!forms!in!the!NT!should!be!classiDied!as!deponent!(Basics'of'


Biblical'Greek,!149).
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

17

explored!without! the!con7lation! of!categories.!Moving! beyond!the!grammatical! idea,!the!


lexicographical!issue!deals!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!70

more! speci7ically! with! the! pragmatic! question! of!how! lexicons! (and! grammars)!should!
cite! words.! (Of! course,! at! many! points!this! still!involves! the!question! of!meaning.)! Is!it!
indeed! best! to! list!!instead!of!!because!no!examples!of!the!active!form!exist?!
Probably! so.! But! the! matter! quickly! gets! more!complicated!in!many! cases.! What! about!
words! that!occur!only! in!middle/passive!forms!in!the!NT,!but!which!have!active!forms!in!
the! LXX! and/or! broader! Hellenistic! Greek! (e.g.,! /)?! What! corpus! should! be!
used!to!determine!extant!forms?!What!about!words!that!seem!to!have!two!different!meanU
ings!in!the!active!and!middle!voices!(e.g.,!!and!)?
Here!we!will! examine!a! solution! proposed! by! Bernard!Taylor!and! then!look! at!a! criU
tique!of!BAGD/BDAG!in!this!regard.!Finally,!in!light!of!these!thoughts!I!will!offer!some!tenU
tative!suggestions!for!how!to!handle!middleUonly!verbs!lexicographically.!

A.#One#Proposed#Solution
I!was!forced!to!revisit!the!whole!matter!of!deponency!because!of!my!own!work!in!producU
ing!a!book!for!Greek!vocabulary.63!!When!I!began!to!examine!how!various!authors!give!the!
headword!form!of!deponent!verbs,!there!proved!to!be!a!fair!amount!of!inconsistency.64
Apparently,! Bernard! Taylors! experience! was! similar.65!! While! continuing! to! work! on!
updating!the!CATSS66!! morphological!database!for! the!LXX,!he! has! run!into!a!number!of!
problems! that!have!complicated!the!work.!Previously!he!had!presumed!that!when!a!lexiU
con! gives!the!headword!in!the!middle/passive!form,!this!indicates!deponency!(traditionU
ally!understood).!However,!Taylor!found! that!the!LustUEynikelUHauspie! LXX! Lexicon! and!
LSJ! at! times! would! list!a! word!in!the!passive!because!all! its! extant!forms!were!passive,!
even! if!deponency! was! not! the!issue.!After! wrestling! with!the!lexicographical!issue! and!
rethinking! the!de7inition!of!deponency,!he!recommends!this!straightforward!solution!for!
lexicons:!
63!Jonathan!T.!Pennington,!New'Testament'Greek'Vocabulary:!Audio'CDs'and'Booklet!(Grand!Rapids:!

Zondervan,!2001).
64! I!was! surprised!to! 7ind!the! BAGD/BDAG! listed!many! words! in!an!active!form!which!NT!grammars!

regularly!listed!in!their!middle/passive!forms.!See!discussion!below!and!Appendix.
65!Taylor,!Deponency!and!Greek!Lexicography,!12.
66! Computer!Assisted!Tools!for! Septuagint! Studies,!produced! at!the!University!of!Pennsylvania!under!

the!leadership!of!Robert!Kraft!and!Emanuel!Tov.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

18

If!a! verb!occurs!regularly!in!the!active!or!passive,!then!that!is!indicated!by!the!use!
of!a!present!active!lexical!form/headword;!and!if!not,!then!the!middle/passive!form!
is!used!for!verbs!occurring!in!the!middle.67!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!71

This!eliminates!deponency!from!the!discussion!and!attempts!to!communicate!by!the!
headword!whether! the!lexeme!occurs!most!commonly!in!the!middle!or!in!the!active!and!
passive!forms.!This! is!helpful,!even!though!for!NT!Greek!it!does!not!solve!the!dilemma!of!
what!body!of!literature!should!be!used!to!determine!which!forms!are!most!regular.68!

B.#A#Critique#of#BAGD/BDAG
While!grappling!with!deponency,!both!the!Fribergs!and!Wallace!make!passing!comments!
criticizing!Bauers!standard!lexicon.69!!Their!critiques!are!quite!similar.!Wallace!points!out!
the!potential!problem!that!the!headword!given!is!apparently!based!only!on!extant!forms!
in'the'NT'and'early'patristic'literature.!However,!on!occasion,!a!verb!that!is!only!middle!or!
passive!in!the!NT!(and!subsequent!literature)!does!appear!in!an!active!form!in!other!HelW
lenistic! Greek! and/or! the! LXX.! Examples! include! ,! ,! ,! and!
.!Thus!again!we!run!into!the!problem!of!deciding!what!corpus!of!literature!should!
be!used!in!determining!the!limits!of!extant!forms.
More!pointed!are!the!Fribergs!comments.!While!recognizing!BAGD!as!the!^inest!
lexicon!available!for!NT!Greek,!they!observe!this!
disturbing! shortcoming:! It! does! not! explain! in! the! introduction! the! criteria!
employed!for!selecting!lemmas!(i.e.,!the!citation!form!of!words).!Do!they!date!from!
the! classical! period,! the! Septuagint! era,! or! that! of!the!New!Testament! and! early!
church?70!
I!myself!have!scoured!the!introductions!to!both!BAGD!(2d!ed.)!and!BDAG!(3d!ed.)!tryW
ing!to! answer!this! question.! While!the!Fribergs!are!technically!correct!that!BAGD/BDAG!
67!

Taylor,!Deponency!and!Greek!Lexicography,!1011.

68! Taylor!is!dealing!speci^ically! with! LXX!lexicography,!though!he!does!go!on!to!suggest!that!the!dataW

base!for!research!into!this!should!be!opened!to!a!wider!body!of!literature,!comparable!to!the!practice!of!
BDAG.
69! F.!W.!Gingrich!and!Frederick!W.!Danker,!eds.,!A'Greek7English'Lexicon'of'the'New'Testament'and'Other'

Early'Christian' Literature! (2d!ed.;! [BADG];!Chicago:!University!of!Chicago!Press,!1979).!Their!critique!


applies!equally!to!the!more!recent!third!edition!(BDAG).
70!Friberg!and!Friberg,!Analytical'Greek'New'Testament,!814.

Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

19

does!not! make!explicit!the!source!for! their!lemmas,! it! seems! reasonable!to!assume!that!


they! have! based!these! on!the!New!Testament! and! Other!Early! Christian!Literature,! as!
their!title!indicates.!While!the!editors!do!regularly!reference!the!LXX!and!other!Hellenistic!
(and!classical)!Greek,!they!seem!to!use!our!literature!consistently!to!refer!to!the!NT!and!
Christian!literature!that!immediately!follows.!For!example,!under!the!entry!for!
in!BDAG!we!have!the!comment,!in!Greek!outside!our!literature!and!in!LXX!predominately!
middle,!in!our!literature!exclusively!middle.!This!seems!to!distinguish!the!LXX!from!our!
literature.!Other!similar!examples!can!be!found.!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!72

Yet!it!must!be!admitted!that!the!introductory!essay!written!by!Bauer!leaves!one!a!little!
confused!as!to!why!this!decision!was!made.!In!more!than!one!place!he!speaks!of!the!great!
importance!of!the!LXX.!For!example,!As!for!the!inWluence!of!the!LXX,!every!page!of!this!lexX
icon!shows!that!it! outweighs!all!other!inWluences!on!our!literature.71!!Does!it!not!seem!a!
bit! odd,! then,!that!the!LXX! is!intentionally!excluded! from!our!literature?!In!addition!to!
the!interesting!discussion!given!in!Bauers!essay,!we!could!wish!for!a!clear!explanation!of!
how!deponency!was!treated!and!handled!in!the!headwords!of!the!entries.

C.#Tentative#Suggestions
In!light!of!Taylors!proposed!solution!and!the!critique!of!BDAG!given!above,!I!can!now!offer!
some! tentative! suggestions! for! how! to! handle! deponent! or! middleXonly! forms!lexicoX
graphically.!These!could!be!adopted!whether!one!retains!deponency!as!a!valid!grammatX
ical!category!or!not.

1.#We# should#base#our#decision#on#extant# forms#on#all#of#Hellenistic#Greek,#as#


well#as#the#LXX,#not#just#on#the#NT#and#subsequent#literature.
Because!the!Greek!of!the!NT!was! not! isolated!from!the!Hellenistic!world,!we!are!right!to!
use!the!data!from!the!papyri!and!other!Hellenistic!Greek!to!help!us!understand!the!Greek!
of!the!NT.! Looking!at!what!forms!words! existed! in!(e.g.,! whether! middle!forms!predomiX
nate)!is!certainly!one!of!the!ways!we!can!beneWit!from!examining!this!broader!body!of!litX
erature.! This! corresponds!with!Rule!1!of!the!Fribergs!10!Rules!for!Judging!Deponency.!
They!state!that!if!any! active!form!of!a!verb!is!found!in!WirstXcentury!Greek,!or!if!it!can!be!
inferred! for! it! (because!it!is!found!in!both!earlier!Greek!and!later!Koine),!then!such!midX
dle!forms!(built!on!the!present!stem)!should!not!be!considered!deponent.72!!Here!they!are!
71!BDAG,!xxii.
72!Friberg!and!Friberg,!Analytical'Greek'New'Testament,!813.

Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

20

correct.!Just!because!an! active!form!doesnt!exist!in!the!relatively!small!corpus!of!the!NT,!
this!is!no!reason!to!deem!a!verb!deponent!(or!even!middleBonly).
But!neither!BDAG!nor!the!Fribergs!go!far!enough.!Our!lexicographical!decisions!should!
also!take!into!account!the!LXX.!No!matter!with!whom!one!sides!in!the!battle!over!the!HelB
lenistic! versus! Semitic!nature!of!NT!Greek,!we!must!admit! some! important!connections!
exist!between! the!NT!and! Septuagintal! literature.! Silva,!who! basically!agrees!with!DeissB
man,!still!speaks! of!the!appropriateness! of!bringing!the!LXX! and! NT!together!under!the!
rubric!of!biblical!Greek.73!!We!saw!in!the!quote!from!Bauer!above!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!73

that!even!he,!who!also!evidently!tended!to!side!with!Deissman,!put!great!stock!in!the!inWluB
ence!of!the!LXX.!It!seems!reasonable,!then,!to!pay!sufWicient!attention!to!the!LXX!in!our!lexB
ical!work.!This!should!not!only!affect!our!decisions!on!semantics,!but!also!on!morphology.!
When! the! LXX! and! broader! Hellenistic! Greek! are! excluded! from! our! literature!(as! in!
BAGD/BDAG),! this! compromises! the! reliability! of! decisions! on! extant! forms! and! headB
words.!

2.#If# a#verb#occurs#exclusively#or#predominantly#in#the#middle/passive#and/or#
passive#forms#(according#to#the#corpus#of#Hellenistic#Greek#and#the#LXX),#then#
the# headword# should# be# given# as# a# present# middle/# passive# lemma.# A# note#
should# accompany# the# entry# commenting#on#the# frequency#of#occurrence,#as#
BDAG#has#done.
This! rule! is!straightforward! enough,!but!differs!slightly!from!Taylors!suggestion.!He!sugB
gests!listing!passiveBonly! verbs! with!an! active!headword!also,!but!it!seems!best!to!me!to!
let! the!morphological!emphasis! stand.!That!is,!for!passiveBonly!verbs,!regardless!of!their!
supposed! active!meaning,!they!should!be!listed!with!a!passive!headword.!This!is!because!
even! from! a! semantic! viewpoint,!it! is!possible! that!many! of!these! passive!forms!have!a!
latent!middle!meaning!(rather!than!truly!active)!due!to!the!passives!takeBover!of!the!midB
dle.!Further,!with!all!forms!except!the!aorist!and!future,!we!are!not!able!to!tell!whether!a!
verb!is!middle!or!passive.!Therefore!it!seems!best!to!keep!these!two!forms!together!where!
they!are!ambiguous!morphologically.!
Of!course,!the!difWiculty!remains!as!to!how!often!a!middle/passive!form!must!occur!for!
it!to!be!called!predominant.!I!would!surmise!that!in!nearly!every!case!either!active!forms!
or! middle/passive!forms!make!up! a! clear! majority.!Therefore,!the!decision!about!which!
73! Karen!H.!Jobes!and!Moises!Silva,!Invitation'to'the'Septuagint!(Grand!Rapids:!Baker,!2000),!184.!Pages!

18389!provide!an!evenBhanded!summary!of!the!debate.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

21

form!to!use!should!not!be!dif7icult.!The!only!exceptions!would!be!words!that!seem!to!have!
two!different!meanings!in!the!middle!and!active!(see!below).!
This!suggestion!does!differ!from!the!practice!of!BDAG!at!several!points.!As!mentioned,!
because!the!editors!do!not!spell!out!their!methodology,!it!is!not!easy!to!discern!why!they!
have!made! the!decisions! they!have.!To!take!the!example!of!!again,!we!see!that!
BDAG!lists!this! with!the!active!form,!yet!they!comment,! in!Greek!outside! our!literature!
and! in!LXX! predominately!middle,!in!our!literature!exclusively! middle.! Why!then!is!the!
headword!active?!Presumably!because!they!deem!the!word!to!be!deponent,!the!meaning!
is! active! (at! least! according! to! German! and! English),! yet!the!forms!are!middle/passive.!
Similarly,! under!!we!7ind!the!comment,!in!our!literature!only!in!passive!and!with!
active!sense.!Apparently!this!too!would!be!a!deponent!verb.!Notice!that!in!both!of!these!
cases!we!have!a! deponent!verb!that!appears!exclusively!in!the!middle!or!passive!in!the!
literature! in! question,! but! whose! headword! is! active.! But! now! compare! a! word! like!
.!This!wellS
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!74

known! deponent!(or! more! accurately,! semiSdeponent,! cf.! aorist! )! also! occurs!


exclusively! in!the!middle/passive,!yet!it!is!listed!with!a!middle/passive!headword,!unlike!
the!two!previous! examples.!This! seems!inconsistent.!Words!that!occur!predominately!or!
exclusively! in!the!middle! form!should!consistently!be! listed! as! such.! It! is!dif7icult!to!disS
cern!what!consistent!methodology!(if!any)! has! led!the!editors!to! list!some! words!in!the!
middle,!like!,!and!others!in!the!active,!like!.
I!have!found!several!such!examples!(see!Appendix).!Similarly,!the!Fribergs!list!twentyS
six!verbs! which!they!consider!to! be! truly!deponent!or!semiSdeponent!yet!are!listed!with!
active! lemmas! in! BAGD.74!! Conversely,! they! 7ind! 7ive! words! which! are! listed! with! nonS
active!lemmas!in!BAGD!but!that!have!active!forms!in!7irstScentury!Greek.75!
It!seems!a!lexicographical!method!that!is!based!on!the!morphology!is!superior!in!that!
it! lets! the! words! stand! as! they! are! in'Greek.!Then,!no!matter!which!understanding!of!a!
word!were!adopted!semanticallydeponent!or!truly!middlethe!method!would!be!conS
sistent.

3.#When#a#verb# seems#to#have# two#distinct#meanings#in#the#active#and#middle#


forms,#list#these#as#separate#meanings#but#under#the#same#entry#(given#in#the#
present#active).
74!Friberg!and!Friberg,!Analytical'Greek'New'Testament,!840.
75!Ibid.

Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

22

Here! I! am!in!agreement!with!BDAG.! Examples! include!A!(to! light,!kindle;!to!


touch)! and! A! (to! shine;! to! appear).! In! these! cases!there!are!a! number!of!
occurrences! in! each! form! that! seem! to! have! a! different! meaning! in! English;! therefore,!
some!way!to!distinguish!them!in!the!lexicon!is!needed.!Listing!them!as!separate!headings!
under!one!entry!(given!in!the!active)!is!best.!If!we!were!instead!to!list!a!separate!word!in!
the!middle/passive,!this!would!either!communicate!deponency!(in!the!current!system)!or!
predominantly!middle/passive!forms!(in! my!suggested!system).!Therefore,!it!is!better!to!
keep!the!headword!active!and!note!the!middle/passiveAform!meaning!under!a!secondary!
deMinition.76!
Yet!even!though!this!is!the!best!solution,!there!is!an!important!caution!to!sound!here.!
The! Fribergs!make!the!astute!observation!that!we!must!be! careful!not! to! assume! someA
thing! odd!is!at!work! when! we!discern! two!different!meanings!based!on!form,!for![t]wo!
meanings! that! seem! radically! different!to! us! may! not! have!seemed! so!to! a! MirstAcentury!
GreekAspeaking!person,!who,!after!all,!perceived!the!world!quite!differently.77!!That!is,!the!
two!meanings!of!!that!
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!75

to!us!seem!distinct!in'English!may!not!have!been!so!distinct!within!the!world!of!Hellenistic!
Greek!semantics.!Therefore!it!would!be!a!mistake!to!classify!the!middle/passive!form!of!a!
word!as! deponent!relative!to! the!active!form.!It! could!be!that!a!true!middle!sense!is!at!
play!again,!though!it!is!hard!for!us!to!discern!it.

III.#Conclusion
In!the!conclusion!to!his!paper!on!deponency!and!lexicography,!Bernard!Taylor!quips,!For!
Greek,!then,!what!needs!to!be!laid!aside!is!the!notion!of!deponency.78!!From!a!grammatiA
cal!perspective,!I!am!in!agreement.!The!arguments!presented!above!suggest!that!this!cateA
gory!is!one!we!have!created!and! with!which!we!have!unduly! burdened!Greek!grammar.!
The!result!is!that!we!have!misinterpreted!many!words!and!have!blurred!the!genius!of!the!
Greek! middle.79!! At! the! least! it! is! necessary! that! we! reevaluate! how! we! have! treated!
76! In!the!case!of!,!BDAG!lists!the!headword!in!the!middle/passive!but!then!proceeds!to!give!the!

Mirst!meaning!as!lead,'guide;!in!our!lit.!only!pres.!ptc.!It!seems!the!second!meaning,!think,'consider,!
which!is!a!true!middle!should!have!been!listed!Mirst!in!light!of!the!headword.
77!Friberg!and!Friberg,!Analytical'Greek'New'Testament,!816.
78!Taylor,!Deponency!and!Greek!Lexicography,!10.
79! We! have! not! touched! on! the! impact! on! exegesis!that! an!elimination!of!deponency! would! have.!

There! are! many! passages! in!which! seeing! a!true! middle!voice!(rather!than!assuming!an!active!sense!


Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

23

deponency!so!as!to!handle!it!more!carefully.!
Once!we!have!done!this,!we!must!also!turn!our!attention!to!how!we!catalogue!forms!in!
lexicons! and! other! reference! works.! Whether! we! retain! deponency! or! not,! we! must!
develop! a! consistent!method! for! listing!headwords.!Ideally,!this! would! be! a!morphologiF
callyFbased!system!with!a!view!to!the!extant!forms!in!contemporary!Hellenistic!Greek!and!
the!LXX.
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!76

Appendix
Sample'Listing'of'How'BDAG'Treats'Certain
Middle'or'Deponent'Words
and'New'Suggestions'for'Their'Headword'Forms
Listing!in!BDAG

Comment!in!BDAG

New!Suggested!
Headword

!in!our!lit.!only!middle

in!our!lit.!only!middle
yet'compare'related!

in!NT!(and!LXX)!only!in!pass.

in!our!lit.!exclusively!mid.!deponent

in!our!lit.!only!in!pass.!and!with!act.!sense

second'heading'has'comment,!pass.!most!freq.!
in!act.!sense

in!Gk.!outside!our!lit.!and!in!LXX!predom.!mid.,!
in!our!lit.!exclusively!mid.

no'comment'given'but'no'act.!in'NT'and'only'one'
in'LXX

Iirst'main'heading'lists'assorted'later'sources'in'
active;'second'heading'lists'biblical'and'nonKin'
middle

in!our!lit.!only!passive

because!of!deponency)!might!alter!the!interpretation.
Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

24

deponency!so!as!to!handle!it!more!carefully.!
Once!we!have!done!this,!we!must!also!turn!our!attention!to!how!we!catalogue!forms!in!
lexicons! and! other! reference! works.! Whether! we! retain! deponency! or! not,! we! must!
develop! a! consistent!method! for! listing!headwords.!Ideally,!this! would! be! a!morphologiF
callyFbased!system!with!a!view!to!the!extant!forms!in!contemporary!Hellenistic!Greek!and!
the!LXX.
TrinJ!24:1!(Spring!03)!p.!76

Appendix
Sample'Listing'of'How'BDAG'Treats'Certain
Middle'or'Deponent'Words
and'New'Suggestions'for'Their'Headword'Forms
Listing!in!BDAG

Comment!in!BDAG

New!Suggested!
Headword

!in!our!lit.!only!middle

in!our!lit.!only!middle
yet'compare'related!

in!NT!(and!LXX)!only!in!pass.

in!our!lit.!exclusively!mid.!deponent

in!our!lit.!only!in!pass.!and!with!act.!sense

second'heading'has'comment,!pass.!most!freq.!
in!act.!sense

in!Gk.!outside!our!lit.!and!in!LXX!predom.!mid.,!
in!our!lit.!exclusively!mid.

no'comment'given'but'no'act.!in'NT'and'only'one'
in'LXX

Iirst'main'heading'lists'assorted'later'sources'in'
active;'second'heading'lists'biblical'and'nonKin'
middle

in!our!lit.!only!passive

Trinity'Journal!24!(2003).
Exported)from)Logos)Bible)Software,)7:16)AM)April)21,)2014.

25