The Voices of the Greek Verb

The system of three voices of the verb – active (transitive), passive (instransitive), and middle (i.e. transitive with the reference to the subject) – remains on the whole the same in the New Testament as in the classical language. In the former, as in the latter, it frequently happens in the case of individual verbs that by a certain arbitrariness of the language this or that voice becomes the established and recognized form for a particular meaning, to the exclusion of another voice, which might perhaps appear more appropriate to this meaning. It is therefore a difficult matter to arrive at any general conception for each of the voices, which when applied to particular cases is not bound at once to become subject to limitation or even contradiction. The active does not denote in all cases an action, but may equally well denote a state, or even being affected in some way or other – ideas, which would be more appropriately expressed by the passive.

χαιρω means “I rejoice,” but the opposite is λυπουμαι; accordingly in the aorist εχαρην we actually have the passive form as in ελυπηθην. In θαυμαζω, “I am astonished” (wonder), the active voice is at most only correct with the meaning “to see with astonishment”; it has a middle future θαυμασομαι, compare θεωμαι θεασομαι; but the verb of similar meaning αγαμαι has ηγασθην and accordingly (as a verb expressing emotion) is passive, and the later language creates the corresponding forms θαυμαζομαι deponent (being a verb of active meaning but passive or middle form), and aorist (a past tense of Greek verbs, denoting an action without indicating whether completed, continued, or repeated) εθαυμασθην. We may therefore assert that the active voice is quite unlimited in the meaning which may be attached to it, except where a passive (or middle) voice exists beside it, as in τυπτωτυπτομαι. It must further be added that certain verbal forms unite an active formation with a passive (intransitive) meaning, particularly the 1st and 2nd aorists passive in -θην and -ην, and frequently perfects in , -κα (απολωλα, εστηκα). On the other hand, the middle can be only imperfectly differentiated from the passive, with which in the forms of the tenses, with the exception of aorist and future, it entirely coincides. We may adhere to the rule of giving the name of middle only to those forms which share the transitive meaning of the active, as ισταμαι εστησαμην beside ιστημι εστησα; but if no form exists, or if the meaning of the active form does not correspond to that of the passive or middle, then it is difficult to distinguish between the two last mentioned voices.

‘Aποκρινομαι, “answer,” is a deponent verb when it has this meaning; since it is transitive, in Classical Greek it takes the forms απεκριναμην αποκρινουμαι; the later language, however, regardless of the meaning which elsewhere attaches to aorists in -θην, regularly uses απεκριθην αποκριθησομαι. Θαυμασομαι from θαυμαζω should be called middle, since it is transitive, and the Classlical language processes the additional form θαυμασθησομαι with a passive meaning; the same applies to τεξοσομαι from τικτω and many other such futures; but αποθανουμαι from αποθνησκω, θρεξομαι from τρεχω (δραμουμαι from εδραμον), being intransitive, and having no additional future forms, must certainly be classed as passive in the same category with the later θαυμασθησομαι, if the conception of passive is extended, as it must be, so that it becomes equivalent to intransitive. It is, in fact, quite a rare occurence for the language to draw a distinction between intrasitive and passive, such as in Attic is drawn between εστην “placed myself” and εσταθην “was placed,” or between στησομαι “shall place myself” and σταθησομαι “shall be placed.” In the language of poetry and the later language this distinction hardly exists at all: there εσταθην is equivalent to εστην and φαανθην to εφανην (while in Attic εφανην means “appeared,” εφανθην “was informed against” [juridical term]).

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