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The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread (Luke 4:3, NIV) (NA28) εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ διάβολος· εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰπὲ ⸂τῷ λίθῳ τούτῳ ἵνα γένηται [a] ἄρτος⸃

I have seen some exegete the middle voice as found at γένηται to mean that it means someone else is not acting on the subject, it performs the action on itself.

I know it sounds ridiculous when applied at Luke 4:3, and so why was the middle voice used?


[a] Verb, Aorist, Middle, Subjunctive, 3rd Person, Singular

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  • Some say of deponent verbs that they are reflexive. Neither active nor passive, they represent, it is said, a response to another activity. In which case the usage would be very understandable in this case. Jesus commands 'Be bread !' And the stones respond, and become bread, as a reflexive response to the uttered command.[I cannot present this as an official 'answer' because there is not whole-hearted acceptance of this view of deponency.]
    – Nigel J
    Apr 11 '20 at 13:15
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γίνομαι is what's called a Deponent verb - a verb that always occurs in the middle voice (except when it is perfect). So there is nothing unusual about it being middle in this verse, it's completely unmarked.

Now there is a huge debate about deponent verbs, why they behave as they do, and what meanings they carry. It's often said that they are "middle/passive in form but active in meaning", which probably isn't the most accurate description, but it makes some sense to people who aren't fluent in Greek and speak a language like English with neither a Middle voice nor deponent verbs, including me. Perhaps more accurate would be to say that while for normal verbs the active form is unmarked and the middle form is marked and therfore carries a particular meaning, for deponent verbs there is only one form, which matches the middle form of other verbs, and as there's only one it is unmarked.

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  • I searched the NT for γινομαι and the first instance is Mt 1:22 and it is Active (not middle) perfect. What say you?
    – user33125
    Apr 10 '20 at 16:18
  • @ThomasPearne Wallace in Beyond the Basics explains that deponents are verbs that have lost (or never had) an active form in at least one principal part, and lists γίνομαι as a true deponent "(but active in the fourth principal part [γέγονα])", (p430), i.e. for anything other than the perfect it is deponent.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 10 '20 at 23:46
  • I've seen you reference Wallace several times before so I presume you have a copy. Do give pages 428-430 a read, it's quite informative.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 10 '20 at 23:48
  • Yes, I do. Thanks. So how does this inform your view as to this text or even other texts that use γινομαι?
    – user33125
    Apr 11 '20 at 15:21
  • My understanding is that the middle is about the involvement of the subject. "Becoming" is very much about the involvement and the subject is the one affected. Sometimes affected and sometimes involved is more prominent. Many actions are intrinsically both active and involve the subject, such as "stand" and "sit" and "go" and "come" etc. so though the subject is active, the word form is middle.
    – Ruminator
    Sep 8 '20 at 0:17
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Luke 4:

3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

At Luke 4:3, why was the middle voice used?

Actually, using the middle voice there was not directly related to the verse Luke 4:3 but due to the word "become".

become
γένηται (genētai)
Verb - Aorist Subjunctive Middle - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's 1096: A prolongation and middle voice form of a primary verb; to cause to be, i.e. to become, used with great latitude.

Why does γένηται belong to the middle voice?

G1096 appears 671 times. It is used with great latitude.

https://ancientgreek.pressbooks.com/chapter/21/ :

MIDDLE VOICE: The subject is part or all of the action. In other words, the subject is both the cause and the focus, the agent and experiencer, of a verbal action.

Now apply this to Luke 4:3. The stone may become bread. The subject is the stone. The stone may experience change within itself of reconfiguration from a matrix of stone to become a matrix of bread at the command of Jesus.

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