Deponency in Koine Greek: The Grammatical Question and the Lexicographical Dilemma -- By: Jonathan T. Pennington

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 24:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Deponency in Koine Greek: The Grammatical Question and the Lexicographical Dilemma
Author: Jonathan T. Pennington


Deponency in Koine Greek:
The Grammatical Question
and the Lexicographical Dilemma

Jonathan T. Pennington

Jonathan T. Pennington is a doctoral student at St. Mary’s 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 reflexive. Even if they have learned their Greek from a modern grammar that has avoided making this error, the perception is quite common. The reflexive rope seems the only one to grab when trying to swing across the unfamiliar chasm of the Greek middle. The problem is exacerbated by the use of ἐνδύω (or something similar) as the exemplar for comparing the three Greek voices with English:1

ἐνδύω — active, “I wash”

ἐνδύομαι — middle, “I wash myself”

ἐνδύομαι — 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 definition and classification 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 definition given by nearly all introductory grammars.

However, this is a case where the complexity of the matter is much greater than it at first appears. Unfortunately, grammars simply repeat the old definition, relying on each other, without realizing the great inadequacy of this formulation. Some of the older grammarians such as A. T. Robertson and C. F. D. Moule were dissatisfied with the handling of deponency, but the simplistic definition has remained intact, as is seen in nearly all modern grammars. The few contemporary exceptions to this include K. L. McKay, Stanley Porter, and Daniel Wallace.2 The latter two state

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 spec...

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