A Review of the Imperative Mood

When one thinks of the imperative mood, one associates it with being the mood of command. That is by and far the largest usage of the imperative. Modern scholarship, however, associates the imperative mood with intention instead of command. This association places a greater emphasis upon the subject as the source of a choice, decision, or determination as opposed to the one executing the choice. Such a distinction may seem trivial to the beginning student. To the grammarian, however, while it is a fine distinction it allows for additional nuances to be understood from the imperative. Wallace divides the imperative … Continue reading A Review of the Imperative Mood

Definite Attributive Adjectives

by Kevin Cauley If we are familiar with our English grammar, then we will be very well aware that an adjective is a word that describes a noun. An adjective specifies the quality of a noun by indicating is quantity or scope. An adjective specifies something about the thing named. In the classic Bugs Bunny question, “Would you like one lump or two?” the adjectives are the words “one” and “two.” Numbers, colors, sizes, descriptions –- these are the concerns of adjectives. In English, attributive adjectives generally come before the noun being modified. “The man has brown hair. The girl … Continue reading Definite Attributive Adjectives

What is SARX (flesh)? Part 2

The word SARX takes on more of a theological meaning in Paul’s epistles where the life of the flesh is contrasted with the life of the Spirit. In these passages, Paul’s usage of the word SARX signifies a lifestyle that makes decisions ungoverned by the Spirit solely to gratify the desires of SARX.
In the Hellenistic world, SARX is seen as the nest of emotions and more specifically, desire./1 Desire comes from SARX itself (specifically, from the belly, KOILIA, see Romans 16:18 and esp. Philippians 3:18-19) and if there is an opportunity to satisfy SARX, the life of SARX makes the choice to pursue SARX. In this sense, the word SARX doesn’t mean so much “flesh” in the physical sense, but rather, a profligate lifestyle unrestrained by authority where SARX acts as a catalyst for decision-making. Such a lifestyle is contrasted with the life of the Spirit (see Romans 8:1-13 and Galatians 5:16-26) which is a lifestyle based upon authority where SARX is placed in appropriate subjection to spirit and where SARX doesn’t act as the catalyst for decision-making.
Some translations have opted to translate SARX by the expression “sinful nature” (the NIV for example), but this is an over-simplification in a limited effort to communicate only one perception of its significance. It is also misleading because it conveys the idea that the concept of which Paul is speaking is genetically innate, or natural, within humanity. If such were the case, then Jesus would have had to have experienced such a condition as well since he was made like unto his brethren (Hebrews 2:17) yet we know that His nature was not sinful, hence, such an appellation could never apply to him, though, He was created SARX (John 1:14). Using the definition also has the additional un-pleasantry of granting to the Gnostics one of their premises, namely, that SARX is inherently sinful. Such need not be conceded at all. The word SARX can be translated by the English word “flesh” and still convey, in those contexts, the meaning that Paul intended.
What is that significance? The contexts in which Paul uses the word SARX are metaphorical. That is, it isn’t the literal flesh of skin, sinew, muscle, and blood concerning which Paul has reference, but rather, an unrestrained and ungoverned lifestyle dominated by satisfying the desires of SARX. This is a much more complicated concept than “sinful nature.” One may certainly have a fleshly desire yet not be dominated by a decision-making process that comes only from SARX. In other words, the satisfaction of a fleshly desire isn’t inherently sinful (which would have to be the case if SARX were equivalent with “sinful nature”), but solely when such desires are acted upon outside of the guidance of the spirit. Only without such restraint, i.e. in the absence of the direction of the spirit, can such a lifestyle along with its desires be categorized as being directed by SARX.
For example, in Galatians 5:19-21 the works of the flesh include such things as sexual sin, false worship, and division. It is clear, however, that not all sex is sinful such as sex in a marriage relationship (Hebrews 12:4), nor is all worship sinful (John 4:24), nor is all division sinful (consider Luke 12:51). When the spirit appropriately directs such desires, SARX becomes subservient to the spirit. It is the pursuit of the desires of SARX outside the boundaries set by the spirit that is sinful. In other words, SARX seeks satisfaction by fulfilling itself in ways unrestrained by authority (2 Peter 2:10). The ultimate authority is, of course, God. Hence, SARX does not seek to live by the law of God, but in defiance of it (Romans 7:25). That makes SARX not necessarily the mere desires of SARX, but the desires of SARX unfettered by God’s Spirit. Once the Spirit of God restrains SARX (by means of His word and the individual’s spirit), then SARX no longer has dominion (Romans 7:5-6), but the Spirit, and one no longer lives the life of SARX, but the life of the Spirit (Romans 8:1). The Christian is thus urged to walk according to the Spirit and not according to SARX (Galatians 5:16).
SARX is without a doubt a complicated concept in the New Testament. I hope that in the brief time we’ve spent discussing it, we’ve been able to help clarify its role both in its literal sense, its physical yet non-literal senses and its metaphorical senses as well. Let’s remember that SARX in and of itself is not sinful, but rather, it is a lifestyle dominated by decision-making based upon satisfying the desires of SARX that is sinful. Our life for Christ is certainly lived in the flesh (Galatians 2:20) but it doesn’t have to be lived for the flesh.
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1. TDNT, vol. VII, pp. 101-102.

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What is SARX (flesh)? Part 1

The Greek word SARX can be a complex word to define. Few Greek words are misunderstood more than this particular word. Countless scholars have attempted to define its theological meaning. (There are over fifty-five pages dedicated to doing just this in TDNT.) Many translators have resorted to less than literal translations for the word in an attempt to convey its significance. How ought we to understand this word as it is used in the New Testament? In this study we will look at the basic meaning of the word and then in a following study examine Paul’s specialized usage of … Continue reading What is SARX (flesh)? Part 1

Did Saul Baptize Himself?

In a standard sentence, there is a subject, verb, and object. The subject is the one who is acting. The verb is the action. The object is that which is acted upon. The relationship of the action to the subject is known as the voice of the verb. In the Greek language, there are three voices: active, passive, and middle. The active voice is where the action in the verb is projected by the subject onto an object other than the subject (Spot bit the mailman). When the passive voice is used, the subject is the object (The mailman was bitten on Tuesday). When the middle voice is used, the subject is acting upon himself, who is also the object (The mailman bit himself). In English we usually translate the middle voice with the reflexive pronoun, himself.
The middle voice in Acts 22:16 presents us with an interesting question. Ananias tells Saul, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” The word for “baptized” in this verse is BAPTISAI. The form is aorist tense, middle voice, and imperative mood. On this particular form, Robertson in his “Word Pictures” says that it is “not passive.”/1 The aorist passive form would be BAPTISQHTW (Acts 2:38). Given the definition of the middle voice, one might ask, “Was Saul commanded to baptize himself?”
The “mikvah” was a Jewish ritualistic immersion practiced in the first century. This involved immersing oneself in a vat of water for the purpose of ritualistic cleansing. Mark 7:4 alludes to this practice. In this ritual, the individual did, in fact, immerse himself in water. However, the custom among Christians in the first century was for baptism to be passive. That’s what we find in Acts 2:38, Acts 8:36, and Acts 10:47,48, namely, an aorist passive verb. Especially, however, note Acts 9:18 where the passive voice is clearly used. This indicates that someone else did the baptizing other than the person who was being baptized. So why did Ananias use the middle voice with Saul?
While in classical Greek the middle voice was often used to indicate the subject as the direct object of the verb, in Koine Greek this usage has faded in favor of the reflexive active./2 Instances of the direct middle in the New Testament are quite rare, and this would have to be the kind of middle that is needed for Saul to have been commanded to baptize himself. The direct middle is still used in the Koine period in reference to putting on clothing such as in Acts 12:21, but otherwise has fallen out of usage. So there’s no grammatical reason to think that Ananias was commanding Saul to baptize himself.
So, what is the significance of the middle voice in Acts 22:16? About the middle voice Wallace says, “It may be said that the subject acts ‘with a vested interest.'”/3 Robertson says, “The middle calls special attention to the subject … the subject is acting in relation to himself somehow.”/4 Three types of middle voice applications may be considered: the causative middle, the permissive middle, or the indirect middle.
In the causative middle Wallace states, “the subject has something done for or to himself or herself. As well, the subject may be the source behind the action done in his/her behalf.”/5 He then says that this usage is rare. In the permissive middle, “the subject allows something to be done for or to himself or herself.”/6 Wallace states that the permissive middle is also rare. In the indirect middle, which Wallace says is common in the New Testament, “the subject acts for (or sometimes by) himself or herself, or in his or her own interest. The subject thus shows a special interest in the action of the verb.”/7
There are good reasons to think that this middle could be any one of the three. It could be the causative middle because Saul was the one deciding whether or not he would submit to baptism. He was the cause of his own baptism because it was of his own volition that Ananias baptized him. With such an understanding, the verb would be translated, “Cause yourself to be baptized.” That would be consistent with Ananias’s previous question and command, “What are you waiting on? Arise! …”
The permissive middle also makes sense. This is the view that Wallace holds. In this regard, the permissive middle implies consent or permission. Saul was thus baptized because he allowed Ananias to baptize him. The verb would be translated, “Permit yourself to be baptized.” Such a view isn’t quite as consistent with Ananias’ previous question and command, however, nor is it consistent with the imperative mood in the context. It would be tantamount to Ananias saying, “You must do this, but only if you want to.”
However, this could be an indirect middle in that Saul’s decision to be baptized was for his own benefit, i.e. the washing away of his sins. That might be what Ananias was emphasizing. “Be baptized for yourself.” In other words, it was specifically for Saul’s benefit, and no other, that Ananias commanded him to be baptized. Such a view doesn’t conflict with Ananias’ previous question and command, and meshes quite well with the command to wash away his sins.
In the Grammar, Robertson says that Acts 22:16 is the causative or permissive middle./8 He says it is the causative middle in the “Word Pictures.”/9 However, his Baptist prejudice clearly shows through in his comments on this passage. Thus, his labeling this as a causative or permissive middle is suspect. Wallace also says, “The causative middle is thus an indirect middle or occasionally a direct middle as well,” implying that the causative is really a subcategory of the indirect or direct middle./10 So, it is likely not a causative middle.
Wallace lists this passage as a permissive middle, but relies heavily upon Robertson’s prejudiced comments. Robertson bases his comments upon the idea that one would have to translate the indirect middle here in an instrumental way. However, this is not necessarily true. The indirect middle could be translated in a dative way. Wallace says, “with the indirect middle it is as if the reflexive pronoun in the dative case had been used.” So, Robertson’s prejudiced comments are not necessarily valid./11
I’m inclined to view this as an indirect middle. The causative and permissive middles are rare, as Wallace said, and the indirect middle is common. Moreover, given what Ananias said would be the result of being baptized, namely, washing away Saul’s sins, we see a direct benefit for Saul’s being baptized, which is what the indirect middle is all about. The indirect middle is consistent with the imperative mood which is used consistently in the verse. The indirect middle is also more closely aligned to the basic concept of the middle voice in Koine Greek. And given the idea that the indirect middle may be understood as a dative, I don’t see that there would be any doctrinal reason not to translate it this way. I just don’t see any necessary reason to say that this is the causative or permissive middle (though it could be), and, given their rarity, I believe that that would have to be clearly demonstrated to conclude that it is.
In that regard, Acts 22:16 should be understood as follows: “And now, why are you waiting? Arise, and for your own benefit, be baptized and wash away your sins, calling upon the name of the Lord.”
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Footnotes
1/ Robertson, A.T., Word Pictures of the New Testament, see Acts 22:16 in E-Sword.
2/ Wallace, Daniel B., Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 416.
3/ Ibid, p. 415.
4/ Robertson, Grammar, p. 804.
5/ Wallace, Ibid, p.423.
6/ Ibid, p.425.
7/ Ibid, p.419.
8/ Robertson, Grammar, p.808.
9/ Robertson, Supra, n.1.
10/ Wallace, Ibid, p.424
11/ Robertson says, “If APOLOUSAI were an indirect middle, the idea would be ‘wash away your sins by yourself.’ -? also thoroughly unbiblical.” He bases his comments on BAPTISAI largely upon his beliefs about what APOLOUSAI couldn’t mean in this passage with the understanding that it be translated as an instrumental. But why couldn’t both BAPTISAI and APOLOUSAI have a dative connotation? i.e., “Be baptized for yourself and wash away your sins for yourself?” I don’t see any grammatical reason why it couldn’t.

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The Meaning of the Word "Adultery"

Language is quirky; words can have multiple meanings and nuances of meaning within the meanings. It becomes incumbent upon those who study language to ensure that the meanings of words are represented correctly if we are going to understand other languages. And, in religious matters, there is more than a tendency to fixate upon one meaning of a word to the exclusion of others. This is because the natural tendency of learning is to seek to simplify. Language, however, is anything but simple and not handling it correctly can result in dangerous error. The word “adultery” is a word that … Continue reading The Meaning of the Word "Adultery"

That Pugnacious Participle (Part 3)

Not only does the Greek participle have verbal features (as we have discussed in our previous two articles), it also functions as a noun or adjective (adjectivally) as well. Like all nouns and adjectives, the preposition can have number, gender, and case. At times, the Greek participle is used as a substantive in place of a noun and “can function in virtually any capacity that a noun can, such as subject, direct object, indirect object, apposition, etc.”/1 In that regard, the participle works independently of the other parts of speech. However, the participle may also be dependent as well, functioning … Continue reading That Pugnacious Participle (Part 3)

That Pugnacious Participle (Part 2)

In our previous article, we looked at the work the participle may do in explaining more detail regarding the action in the main verb. However, the participle may also describe events that are occurring independent of the main verb, but in relationship to the time of the main verb. We mentioned that such events could be prior, contemporaneous, or subsequent with the main verb and that the tense of the participle as it relates to the main verb plays a large role in understanding that action. Let’s look at a few examples. A good example of a participle, the action … Continue reading That Pugnacious Participle (Part 2)

That Pugnacious Participle (Part 1)

The New Testament Greek participle can be a difficult concept to understand. As in English, the participle is a mixture of both verb and noun. As such, the participle has qualities of each. For example, the participle will have tense and voice of a verb, but then it will also have the case of a noun as well. For this reason, participles can be difficult to translate into English. Sometimes the participle may be translated by a simple English gerund./1 Other times, however, it is best to use a relative pronoun such as “who,” “which,” or “that” and sometimes even … Continue reading That Pugnacious Participle (Part 1)

The Perfect Translation (Part 4)

In this last part of our study, we will look at some additional words translated “perfect” in some of our versions. These words are DIASOZW, hOLOKLHRIA, and PLHROW./1 We find the word “perfect” in English associated with DIASOZW in Matthew 14:36 in the KJV. The translation reads, “?and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.” The word DIASOZW is a compound word comprised of the preposition DIA (which means “through”) and SOZW (which is a verb meaning “to save). When DIA is compounded with a verb, the action of the verb takes on the additional quality of being thoroughly … Continue reading The Perfect Translation (Part 4)