SBLGNT Rom 10:10

καρδίᾳ γὰρ πιστεύεται εἰς δικαιοσύνην, στόματι δὲ ὁμολογεῖται εἰς σωτηρίαν·

In most modern English translations, the grammatical subject is a generic person who believes and confesses. However, both verbs are passive (or middle)1, woodenly, "for with the heart (it/he) is believed unto righteousness; with the mouth (it/he) is confessed unto salvation.”2

It seems like a peculiar construction to me. When πιστεύεται shows up in the passive voice elsewhere in the NT, it generally means "he is entrusted with" rather than "he is believed".3 The exception is 1 Tim 3:16 where the subject is a relative pronoun referring to θεός.4 This example seems to be the only usage somewhat similar to the text in question. I found no instances of ὁμολογέω in the passive elsewhere in the NT.

  • Is there any chance these are middles?
  • If passive, what is/are the subject(s)?

A few options I have considered for the latter question:

1) The subjects of πιστεύεται and ὁμολογεῖται are the objects of belief and confession from the previous verse, to preserve the parallelism, something like: 5,6

 καρδίᾳ γὰρ πιστεύεται ὅτι ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ἤγειρεν ἐκ νεκρῶν εἰς δικαιοσύνην, 
 στόματι δὲ ὁμολογεῖται ὅτι κύριος Ιησούς εἰς σωτηρίαν

 for with the heart it is believed that God raised Him from the dead unto righteousness;  
 with the mouth it is confessed that Jesus is lord unto salvation. 

2) An alternative that doesn't preserve the parallelism but is simpler and more similar to the 1 Tim use of the passive πιστεύεται: 5,7

 καρδίᾳ γὰρ πιστεύεται Ιησούς εἰς δικαιοσύνην, 
 στόματι δὲ ὁμολογεῖται Ιησούς εἰς σωτηρίαν

 for with the heart Jesus is believed on unto righteousness; 
 with the mouth Jesus is confessed unto salvation.

3) Another possibility is “the word” that is located in the mouth and in the heart in v. 8:5

 καρδίᾳ γὰρ πιστεύεται τὸ ῥῆμά εἰς δικαιοσύνην, 
 στόματι δὲ ὁμολογεῖται τὸ ῥῆμά εἰς σωτηρίαν

 for with the heart the word is believed unto righteousness; 
 with the mouth the word is confessed unto salvation.
  • Is there anything in the text that might help us determine whether one of these options -- or something else -- reflects the intended subject(s) of this sentence?

  1. I initially thought both must be middles since they are nearly always translated as active. However, everywhere I've looked parses them as passive, and I didn’t find another instance of either being used in the middle voice.

  2. My own translation. Please edit liberally; my Greek isn't great.

  3. I found 8 passives among the 217 instances of πιστεύω in the SBLGNT. In addition to the passage in question: Romans 3:2,1 Cor 9:17, Gal 2:7, 1 Thes 2:4, Titus 1:3, 1 Tim 1:11, 1 Tim 3:16. All except the last are usually translated as “he is entrusted with” (in various persons).

  4. Arguably, due to both textual and interpretive issues, but good enough for this context I think

  5. My paraphrases of possible intended meanings and translations of the same. Please edit liberally; my Greek isn’t great.

  6. In v. 9 there is no ὅτι following ὁμολογεῖται in the SBL (rather an accusative κύριον Ἰησοῦν, text var. ὅτι + nom.), but translations generally indicate that the meaning is similar.

  7. "Believed on" in the tradition of 1 Tim 3:16 translations (KJV, ESV, NIV, NASB, NET...)

  • I queued up a comment in this video by the Greek professor that seems relevant, about the fact that in the Koine period the distinction between middle and passive "melges" into a "mediopassive": vimeo.com/301318256#t=140s It is the same point made in the article I left on Scott's excellent (as usual) answer.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 28, 2018 at 17:22

2 Answers 2


May Viably Be Construed as Either Middle or Passive Voice

Your observation about the grammar of the verb compared to the English translations is very astute. Unfortunately, I do not think grammar itself will entirely answer this question. And context fits either option as being viable.

If Passive, then in a Sense, All Three of Your Ideas are Correct

The topic of the passage here is in v.8, being "the word of faith" (τὸ ῥῆμα τῆς πίστεως), which itself is the means of righteousness by faith (v.6-7) not by law (v.5). Note that in v.9, the ὅτι clause is clarifying the content of this "word of faith which we preach."1 That is, Paul and those proclaiming the gospel preach the message of v.9, which is a personally directed call for individuals ("you") to believe and confess the work of God in Jesus in order to be saved.

So the conceptual subject of "the word of faith" is set up for in v.5-7, named in v.8, and more specifically clarified (quoted/paraphrased) in v.9.

So if the passive voice is intended, the subject of v.10 is what was named in v.8 and expanded on in v.9 (NKJV with two additions in brackets):

       v.8                                v.9
the word of faith = if   you  confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus 
(which we preach)   and [you] believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, 
                    [then] you will be saved.

The entire concept (named as "the word of faith") is what is being referenced by the expansion of v.9. But v.10 is also expanding upon the concept, for it is reiterating the means already noted in v.9 (heart for belief; mouth for confession), but v.10 is linking specifically belief as resulting in righteousness (thus continuing to expand upon the meaning of v.6, "the righteousness of faith"), which true belief should manifest in having the same confession about Jesus that they are preaching, and if so, one is guaranteed the result of salvation.2

So because "the word of faith" is the topic, it includes the concepts of all three of your possibilities, because all of v.9 is contained in "the word of faith" named in v.8.3 The "it" of the verbs in v.10 then refer back to this concept.

If Middle, it Justifies English Translations' General Person, Active Idea

The immediate topical context of the act of believing finishes with v.11-13, in which is found a generic "ὁ πιστεύων ἐπʼ αὐτῷ" (the ones believing upon him, v.11), and "πάντας τοὺς ἐπικαλουμένους αὐτόν" (all the ones calling upon him, v.12), and v.13:

Πᾶς   γὰρ        ὃς ἂν     ἐπικαλέσηται    τὸ  ὄνομα κυρίου       σωθήσεται.
Each, therefore, whosoever might call upon the name  of the Lord, will be saved

So the generic ideas found in v.11-13 are no doubt what prompt the English translators to make v.10 have a subject generically stated of "man" (KJV), "one" (ESV/NKJV), or "a person" (NASB).4 It considers the 3rd person singular contained in the verbs of v.10 either in a proleptic sense,5 where the later verses clarify the subject, or simply generically of themselves in that the "he" subject contained in the verbs, being in third person, is to be understood as anyone (generically) that does these acts of believing and confessing.

Making the subject personal with the middle voice of course does then demand a switch of the passive voice to an active voice for translation, from "is believed" to "believes" and "is confessed" to "confesses." This switch is only clearly viable for translation on the basis of taking it as a middle voice (even if parsing information then incorrectly indicates only the possibility of a passive voice parsing).

This switch to an active translation based on a middle voice is okay, as it could be a middle voice idea because:

  1. In the context of v.8-13, it does not do any violence to the idea being expressed (since v.9 is fairly clear on its own what is needing to be believed/confessed by those being preached to).
  2. Certainly there is contained within the results of the believing/confessing that it would be for the benefit of the one doing so (salvation is the result), therefore the concept inherent in the middle voice is clear in the passage.
  3. It would fit either the indirect middle or causative middle ideas for the use of the middle voice.6

So while parsing of the words is regularly given as passive, the fact that they are present tense verbs does leave that parsing ambiguous and thus able to be grammatically considered a middle voice. A few online resources parse the ambiguity correctly (not making an interpretive choice of displaying only as a passive).7 So there is justification for the English translations being as they are.


So technically, a literal rendering (1) sticking with the passive voice in the English, (2) but not reinserting the whole content of v.9 into the mix, yet (3) isolating the key idea being referred to in v.10 could be (my translation):

For with the heart [the word of faith we preach] is believed unto righteousness, and with the mouth [the word of faith we preach] is confessed unto salvation.

That word of faith being believed and confessed consists of the concepts in v.9 (with v.12-13 also), which refer to the person/identity (recall "name," v.13) of Jesus Christ and the work demonstrated to be done by God's resurrecting Him from the dead, and trusting the same person by calling upon Him (v.12).

However, one cannot rule out (grammatically) the possibility of the middle voice idea, and thus justify all the English translations (except NIV, see note 4 below) putting a proleptic subject into the verse.

There is enough reiteration of the ideas in v.8-13 that either a passive voice or middle voice translation does not remove either (1) the concept that the word of faith is critical to be believed and confessed (emphasized by passive voice translation), or (2) that the one's so believing will be benefited thereby (emphasized in a middle voice translation)—both concepts remain intact for the whole passage with either type of translation.


1 For the use of a ὅτι clause to indicate reported speech (such as what was being preached here), see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999), 456-458. I believe it is also possible to consider the clause as appositional or epexegetical (458-460), but since it is referring to the message of what is preached, all three amount to indicating the same thing, that v.9 is stating/renaming/clarifying "the word of faith which we preach." That it uses the 2nd person in the statement makes it more of an indirect quote idea, showing the content of what is preached, hence why I lean toward that.

2 One common use of εἰς is for showing result (Wallace, 369). That result is the intention is seen from v.9, as the result of the call to believe and confess was salvation. So v.10 is just looking deeper into how salvation comes, by gaining the righteousness that is by faith (v.6), not by law (v.5; i.e. not by "works," cf. Rom ch. 4)

3 (NOTE: reference to note #3 in the comments below is actually to what is now note #4.) It is worth noting that the entry on πιστεύω in William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) supports more your #1 parallelism, stating (emphasis added showing support of that parallel):

Pass. καρδίᾳ πιστεύεται with (or in) the heart men believe (it=that Jesus was raised fr[om] the dead) Ro 10:10.

4 (NOTE: this was note #3 when referenced in comments below.) The NIV oddly carries the 2nd person subject of v.9 into v.10, saying "your" and "you" in v.10. This is incorrect, as it not only changes the voice (which may be justifiable) but the person of the verb as well; plus it makes v.10 specific, when it is indeed a general reference.

5 Wallace, 318. Proleptic means the pronoun comes before the noun which it refers to, which is the postcedent of the pronoun (normally a pronoun comes after the noun, which is then antecedent of the pronoun).

6 See Wallace for the middle ideas—as an indirect middle would be the subject acts for the benefit of self by means of belief from heart/confession from mouth for his/her salvation (419-423); a causative middle would have a similar idea as the indirect middle, but also include the fact that the subject is "the source behind the action done in his/her behalf" (423-425). Probably one's view on election would influence which of these ideas is taken.

7 Online resources that do show the parsing as Middle/Passive not just Passive (as of 6/19/2014) are (1) Biblehub.com, (2) Perseus (click on πιστεύεται). The few commentaries I have found so far that note anything at all about it simply state the "impersonal construction" of the verbs (generally taking them as passive; "it is believed/confessed"); for example, Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 3:115; A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Romans 10:10.

  • Extremely helpful, thanks! A peripheral comment: Regarding footnote 3, is using 2nd rather than 3rd person really more different than only changing the voice given that the person of the passive verb reflects its patient, not the semantic agent? It seems to me that there's no information in a passive verb about what the person might be if it were active (barring an "agency" clause). I accept your points about the intended generality and the 3rd person postcedent, though, so no real disagreement.
    – Susan
    Jun 19, 2014 at 6:38
  • @Susan I just edited the answer because there is a big difference, namely, that there is no clear reason that it could not also be considered a middle voice, and thus translated actively for the verb (whereas there is no grammatical justification to switch to 2nd person for 3rd person... one would have to make that argument purely by context, and that would seem weak here given the other two viable options for subject).
    – ScottS
    Jun 19, 2014 at 10:18
  • Thanks for the edits. The footnote makes more sense to me now. I had figured you were discounting the middle voice possibility, but that was my first instinct and I like it despite the fact that I haven't found any commentary or parsing apparatus that agrees (let me know if you have). πιστεύω seems like kind of a middle-y concept even in the active as it's used elsewhere, but it's interesting if there's some extra middle-y subtlety here.
    – Susan
    Jun 19, 2014 at 15:48
  • @Susan No, I just was answering late last night and forgot to consider the middle (so I sort of had discounted it, but not for any grammatical reasons... more brain fog in needing sleep).
    – ScottS
    Jun 19, 2014 at 15:57
  • 1
    @fdb: If middle voice, the "he" contained in the verbs themselves become the subject of the middle voice (the individual who is believing/confessing). The verse becomes a transition from the 2nd person of v.9 to the generic believers discussed in v.11-13 by the use of the 3rd person. So it is a generic "he" (i.e., anyone that is believing and confessing) that is the subject, hence why many of the English translations interpolate a subject generically as man/one/person.
    – ScottS
    Apr 4, 2016 at 15:36

Because by the heart one is pledged faithful to righteousness, and by the mouth one confesses oneself unto salvation. (passive for first verb/ middle for second).

(1) If pisteuo means 'believe/trust' then, it gives the sense 'one is believed/trusted' to righteousness. Even in the sense 'trust': one is trusted to righteousness, one can see the idea of fidelity surfacing.

(2) The problem isn't the passive voice. It's the interpretation of the meaning of the verb drained of the idea of fidelity.

(3) 1Tim. 3:16 isn't an exception. Jesus was confirmed faithful in the world.

  • Hi Daniel and welcome to the site.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 28, 2018 at 16:41

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