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I recently found out that the middle voice in koine can cause a word to change its meaning completely for example a passive word in koine may mean "to rule" but the middle version of the same word may mean "to begin". Is this the same for other grammatical parts? Such as tenses, cases, ect? What other aspects of koine can completely change the meaning of a greek word in the Bible?

Here are two verses ‎both containing the word αρχω one is in the middle and another in the active:

1 Peter 4:17 (WEB)

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God. If it begins first with us, what will happen to those who don’t obey the Good News of God?

ὅτι ὁ καιρὸς τοῦ ἄρξασθαι τὸ κρίμα ἀπὸ τοῦ οἴκου τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰ δὲ πρῶτον ἀφʼ ἡμῶν, τί τὸ τέλος τῶν ἀπειθούντων τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίῳ;

Mark 10:42 (WEB)

Jesus summoned them, and said to them, “You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.

καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς· Οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ δοκοῦντες ἄρχειν τῶν ἐθνῶν κατακυριεύουσιν αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ μεγάλοι αὐτῶν κατεξουσιάζουσιν αὐτῶν.

Why is it the middle means one thing and the active means another? I read about the middle changing the meaning of the word in the article "Making Sense of the Middle Voice in Greek".

*Greek from: Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition. Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature.

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  • In, short, no - they only change the tense. Middle voice is when the person/object produces an action upon themselves. Please indicate what verb you have in mind and a specific Bible passage.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 8:30
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    Deponent verbs may be viewed as 'responsive'. They are not an initiative, but they are an action which responds to another. An example (and an important one to be aware of) is logizomai which features in the text 'Abraham believed God and it was logizomai to him unto righteousness', Romans 4:3. A response to Abraham's faith was made . . . unto righteousness. Up-voted +1, but I suggest an edit in order to conform to the site requirements. Please see the Tour and the Help, bottom left, as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. Welcome to SE-BH.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 8:42
  • @Dottard Thank you, I have updated my post to include verses and the source of where I heard about the middle changing the meaning.
    – Kira M
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 13:26
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    You have raised a fascinating issue and it has been discussed for decades on Koine forums. Carl Conrad has written about it sites.wustl.edu/cwconrad/ancient-greek-voice Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 15:13
  • Welcome and lovely question! @NigelJ is right about the Tour. I'll add that questions need a specific Bible passage; in this situation a few passages is okay because it qualifies as a word study. But, just expect answers to be somewhat focused on using specific passages. Love this question because it is an important consideration in studying Greek. I would argue that the difference in meaning may be more about connotation than etymology.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 0:01

1 Answer 1

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This is not as strange as it appears. We have several similar English examples as well. For example, the English word-element "princ" creates several words that all have the fundamental meaning of "first" such as:

  • principle = first idea
  • prince = first person in a Principality
  • principal = first teacher that "rules" a school

In Greek the same obtained for the verb ἄρχω which fundamentally means "be first". Its cognate nouns have the same meaning, for example:

  • ἄρχων (archon) = ruler or first person among the people (like our English "principal" = first teacher in a school)
  • ἀρχηγός (archegos) = one who initiates something or has pre-eminence such as a prince.
  • ἀρχή (arche) = start/beginning of something (eg John 1:1), or, one with whom a process begins (Col 1:18), or, the first cause (Rom 3:14), or, the corner, the place where surfaces begin (Acts 10:11, 11:15), or, elementary first principles (Heb 5:12), etc

In the case of ἄρχω (archo), some lexicons (like Thayer and Strongs) will list ἄρχομαι (archomai) as a separate but related verb but is correctly the middle voice of ἄρχω (archo). However, as with all this class of cognate words (whether nouns or verbs) it can mean either "to start" or "to rule over" in the sense of being the first or initiator. We note that ἄρχομαι (archomai) only ever appears in the middle voice and always means

  • to initiate an action, process or state of being, begin (BDAG), eg, Matt 11:7, 20, 24:49, etc.

With only a slightly different but very closely related idea, ἄρχω (archo) means to rule in the sense of being the initiator of governing actions, eg, Mark 10:42, Rom 15:12.

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  • Thank you, is change that present in the other voices or just the middle voice? Can tenses and moods alter the meaning of a word in a sentence?
    – Kira M
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 23:22
  • @KiraM - my answer above showed that the middle voice does not change the meaning. "Ruler" means to initiate or begin something in order to govern.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 1:34
  • Thank you I admit I am still slightly confused. I believe you are saying that the middle can streamline a meaning of a word. But the article I read made me wonder if any other parts of greek grammar can as well. I read in other blogs that certain words when combined with for example the genitive vs the dative can produce slightly different meanings. How can one tell if the proceeding or preceeding words in a text alter the meaning of the word in the middle?
    – Kira M
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 20:06
  • @KiraM - now you are talking about a different scenario when a NOUN (which are declined) is used in the dative or genitive, etc, then different meanings are possible. The above discussion is about VERBS (which are conjugated).
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 20:13
  • Thank you that explains alot for me.
    – Kira M
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 21:14

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