In Romans 9:22, the perfect middle/passive participle κατηρτισμένα could be read in one of two ways:

  • κατηρτισμένα εἰς ἀπώλειαν

    • Middle: 'having prepared themselves for destruction'
    • Passive: 'having been prepared for destruction'

Grammatically, the verb is ambiguous. Historically, both Chrysostom and Pelagius have argued for middle readings of this verb, while virtually all contemporary translators such as Daniel Wallace seem to argue for a passive reading.1

What internal, external, and historical evidence exists for each reading? Based on this evidence, which reading do you recommend?

Good answers should respond solely from the Greek text(s) and not on the basis of a translation. Insights from extra-biblical Greek literature written within the relevant time period are also highly encouraged.

I'm already very familiar with Wallace's argument for the passive reading, so I'm mostly interested in hearing evidence for the middle reading since native Greek speakers in the late fourth century seemed to support this reading. However, it would be good to present Wallace's arguments for the passive reading for the sake of other readers as well (but please do not merely regurgitate NET footnotes or GGBB:ESNT, state the arguments in your own words and incorporate them into your response). I'd also be interested in learning about any native Greek speakers from this same or similar time period who argued for a passive reading (for more historical context).

1 Daniel Wallace. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 417-418.

The NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, KJV, ISV, NET, ASV, DR, and WEB all translate the verb as a passive participle.

2 Answers 2


Of the Possibility of the Middle Voice

As you note, Wallace argues against κατηρτισμένα (katērtismena) being a "direct middle," being translated as "having prepared themselves." Let's examine the validity of his arguments first:1


"The direct middle is quite rare" (418) — which to some extent is an assertion both begging to be proved and seeking relevancy. As to proved, he noted it "was frequently used in classical Greek" (416), and it may be demonstrable (I'll accept that it is) to show it being rarer in the NT, it still exists as a possibility (especially in light of classical usage). As to relevancy, because it is possible, then "rarity" means nothing as to whether this instance is one or not.

VERDICT — Irrelevant.


"With καταρτίζω: nowhere else in the NT does it occur as a direct middle" (418) - he footnotes (n.28) the other seven middle/passive uses, which his statement is worth quoting for discussion (emphasis added):

The verb occurs 13 times in the NT, seven as a middle or passive form. Of those seven, two are definitely middle, being aorist (Matt 21:16; Heb 10:5), and both are obviously indirect middles. The other four (Rom 9:22 being excluded from the count) are all almost surely passive (Luke 6:40; 1 Cor 1:10; 2 Cor 13:11; Heb 11:3).

For non-Greek readers, the reason the aorist is "definitely middle" is because the word form is different between the middle and the passive in the aorist tense. So there is no ambiguity like there is in the present tense.

But are the two aorists "obviously indirect middles"? An indirect middle is not as "direct" :-), having the idea of doing something for one's own interest. So the translation (if it is even brought out in the translation) would be "prepared for themselves" rather than "prepared themselves." Subtle, but significant. The two passages are Mt 21:16 and Heb 10:5, and yes, they are "obviously" indirect, because both passages have a direct object (praise and body, respectively) different from the subject, so it is not "direct."

However, what I find interesting that Wallace ignores is the fact that these are two incontestable examples of using the middle voice with this verb. That seems far more significant to me than had none existed. It shows that the middle voice is used with this verb.

Are the other four "almost surely passive"? (Does one detect a less than dogmatic statement here?) The passages are Luke 6:40, 1 Cor 1:10, 2 Cor 13:11, & Heb 11:3. I have to disagree on these passages:

Luke 6:40

Οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον αὐτοῦ· κατηρτισμένος δὲ πᾶς ἔσται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ. [1st αὐτοῦ is missing in minority texts.]

NKJV — A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.

Though Wallace says it is rare, I see no reason not to see this as possibly a "causative middle" where "The subject has something done for or to himself or herself" (423). That certainly captures the idea of a student being prepared by the teacher.

1 Cor 1:10

Παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ, ἵνα τὸ αὐτὸ λέγητε πάντες, καὶ μὴ ᾖ ἐν ὑμῖν σχίσματα, ἦτε δὲ κατηρτισμένοι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ νοῒ καὶ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ γνώμῃ.

NKJV — Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

What is it that is to cause them to "be perfectly joined together" (ESV — "united," NASB — "made complete"), or rather, "you be prepared in the same mind..."? Is it not that they "speak the same thing"? The verb κατηρτισμένοι is a plural, so the "you" is a "ye" in older English, a plural "y'all" (in the southern USA). To me, this is clearly a "reciprocal middle" (427), of which Wallace says:

The middle voice may be used with a plural subject to represent interaction among themselves. There is an interchange of effort among the subjects.

Again, he pulls the rarity card in his discussion of whether reciprocal middles exist, saying "It is quite rare in the NT, most of the examples being disputed" (427). Yet the grammatical form and the context almost demand that it have that meaning here. They are to be "preparing themselves" by the interaction of speaking the same to one another to come to a meeting of the minds.

2 Cor 13:10

Λοιπόν, ἀδελφοί, χαίρετε· καταρτίζεσθε, παρακαλεῖσθε, τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖτε, εἰρηνεύετε· καὶ ὁ θεὸς τῆς ἀγάπης καὶ εἰρήνης ἔσται μεθʼ ὑμῶν.

NKJV — Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

I am amazed Wallace considers this even questionably as being passive. The word is a middle/passive imperative (a command). That of itself means that the ones commanded are to do the action to make it come about, and so it has to be middle.

Heb 11:3

Πίστει νοοῦμεν κατηρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ῥήματι θεοῦ, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τά βλεπόμενα γεγονέναι

NKJV — By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

This is probably passive. It is a perfect infinitive form ("to have been framed") and so the accusative case of τοὺς αἰῶνας seems certainly acting as the subject (192), and were not participating in the process themselves.

So 2 uses are clearly middle, 3 uses contextually lean heavily toward a middle, and only 1 is clearly passive. In fact, the only usage that seemed clearly passive was the one that did not involve a human element.

VERDICT — Inconclusive, but leaning heavily to middle being standard usage


"In the perfect tense, the middle-passive form is always to be taken as a passive in the NT (Luke 6:40; 1 Cor 1:10; Heb 11:3)" (418) — considering the above analysis, I disagree. Only the Heb 11:3 appears to be certainly a passive form.

VERDICT — False, or at least not certain


"The lexical nuance of καταρτίζω, coupled with the perfect tense, suggests something of a 'done deal.' ... complete preparation" (418) — this could have validity, except for one small factor. First, what Wallace is saying is that with the perfect tense (indicating a completed action with present consequences) and the idea of the verb καταρτίζω being a "preparation," it is thus a completed action. Fine. But what does it take for a person to be a vessel of wrath that is completed for destruction? One sin (James 2:10)2, making one unrighteous (Rom 3:10-18), or (depending upon one's view, and I take this view) simply being a child of Adam (Rom 5:12-14; Eph 2:3). So this idea of a completed action of preparing hardly disqualifies it from being a middle voice.

VERDICT — Inconclusive


A block quote is in order here:

The context argues strongly for a passive and completed notion. In v 20 the vessel is shaped by God’s will, not its own (“Will that which is molded say to its maker, ‘Why have you made me this way?’”). In v 21, Paul asks a question with οὐκ (thus expecting a positive answer): Is not the destiny of the vessels (one for honor, one for dishonor) entirely predetermined by their Creator? Verse 22 is the answer to that question. To argue, then, that κατηρτισμένα is a direct middle seems to fly in the face of grammar (the normal use of the voice and tense), lexeme, and context. (418)

There is strong merit here for Wallace's point. Verses 20-21 are putting God in the position of the potter, who is the one that prepares (i.e. determines the design of) the vessels as he sees fit. This at least points strongly toward God being involved in the preparation in some way.

VERDICT — appears to rule out the direct middle as Wallace argues

Why No Other Middle Considered?

Wallace argues against a "direct middle" idea in v.22. But he fails to discuss at all the possibility of other types of middle voice nuances to the passage. As noted in the previous section, there appears to be a strong argument that of the other six uses of the middle/passive form of καταρτίζω in the NT, only 1 is certainly passive, 2 are certainly middle, and the other three strongly lean to other middle ideas than the direct middle.

So consider two other likely options:

  • Reciprocal middle: This would be translated much like a direct middle "the vessels of wrath having prepared themselves for destruction." The difference is that a direct middle is reflecting one for one, a vessel prepares itself for its own destruction, whereas a reciprocal middle is reflecting a one another relation, where the vessels of wrath feed off one another in preparing themselves for destruction. This fits the same idea as Rom 1:32.
  • Causative middle: In short, this middle nuance allows for the vessels of wrath to be partakers in their own "cause" of destruction, while also still leaving more exegetical space for God's also being involved in their destruction (it is, after all, His wrath against them that is also a "cause" of their destruction).

Both ideas would allow for a joint idea of "preparation" coming from both God and the vessels themselves, and both would reflect truth about why these vessels of wrath are so prepared, but it seems the "causative middle" allows for it better. The point here, however, is that while the "direct middle" is probably not in view, some other middle voice idea appears to be likely.

Lack of Subject

It must be remembered that the word here is a participle, and is being used to describe "the vessels of wrath." As such, there is no subject to the verb itself stating who is doing the preparing. This is part of the apparent ambiguity of the passage. The one preparing could be God (as implied by the parallel from v.20-21), or the vessels themselves (as implied by what it is that brings God's wrath — each one's unrighteousness).

If it is merely passive, then it would only be pointing to God as the active preparer, and it leaves mankind's actions completely out of the picture. While that may be true of the illustration of the potter (the pot has no responsibility for its "action" of use to honor or dishonor), it is not true of human beings, who are responsible.

Thus, the middle idea of dual participation seems all the more probable because the nature of mankind as a responsible entity is different than that of a pot (so the picture breaks down at this point). It is God who has determined what makes a person a vessel of wrath or mercy (i.e. the promise of v.8), just as a potter determines what makes a vessel one of honor or dishonor; but just as the clay all has the same properties, so too, mankind all has the same responsibility, and so mankind's nature is part of what determines the preparation.

Historical Witness

Wallace noted the "direct middle" had its "roots in Chrysostom, and is later echoed by Pelagius" (417). He does not give a direct reference for locating that information, just that the argument is made in "[C. E. B.] Cranfield, Romans (ICC) 2.495-96" (418 n.27). It may be they are not actually arguing for a "direct middle," but some other middle voice idea.

A witness that seems to take it as a middle voice as well is Irenaeus. While no full Greek manuscript exists of his Against Heresies, he was a Greek speaker, and in that work he makes allusions to a middle voice interpretation in Book 4, ch. 39 (Latin here; I do not read Latin), specifically paragraph 2 here in English (emphasis added):

How, then, shall he be a God, who has not as yet been made a man? Or how can he be perfect who was but lately created? How, again, can he be immortal, who in his mortal nature did not obey his Maker? For it must be that thou, at the outset, shouldest hold the rank of a man, and then afterwards partake of the glory of God. For thou dost not make God, but God thee. If, then, thou art God’s workmanship, await the hand of thy Maker which creates everything in due time; in due time as far as thou art concerned, whose creation is being carried out. Offer to Him thy heart in a soft and tractable state, and preserve the form in which the Creator has fashioned thee, having moisture in thyself, lest, by becoming hardened, thou lose the impressions of His fingers. But by preserving the framework thou shalt ascend to that which is perfect, for the moist clay which is in thee is hidden [there] by the workmanship of God. His hand fashioned thy substance; He will cover thee over [too] within and without with pure gold and silver, and He will adorn thee to such a degree, that even “the King Himself shall have pleasure in thy beauty.” But if thou, being obstinately hardened, dost reject the operation of His skill, and show thyself ungrateful towards Him, because thou wert created a [mere] man, by becoming thus ungrateful to God, thou hast at once lost both His workmanship and life. For creation is an attribute of the goodness of God; but to be created is that of human nature. If, then, thou shalt deliver up to Him what is thine, that is, faith towards Him and subjection, thou shalt receive His handiwork, and shall be a perfect work of God.3

The language of the clay seems certainly an allusion to the Romans 9 passage by Irenaeus, and yet he is referring to the person hardening their own moist clay (showing some responsibility for their problem, for "by becoming thus ungrateful to God, thou hast at once lost both His workmanship and life").


There seems to be strong evidence for some type of middle voice interpretation (though a direct middle appears out of view) on (1) contextual usages, (2) grammatical grounds, (3) theological grounds, and (4) historical/native speaker grounds.


1 All quotations are taken from Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999), page numbers parenthetically noted.

2 The hermeneutic I use assumes a unity of the texts of Scripture based off God as the Author behind the human authors' words. Hence the notation of James in this argument regarding (primarily) Paul's texts.

3 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Vol. 1. The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 522-523, translating Irenaeus' Against Heresies 4.39.2.

  • 2
    OUTSTANDING! I am awarding this with a bounty (I have to wait 24 hours before the system lets me). I hope you don't mind my nitpicky edits. Your analysis of the Greek is impeccable. My only critique would be that you pulled in James to make a theological point without in any way showing work for the connection (I can follow citing other works of Paul). I'm of the mindset that Paul and James are not in agreement. However, with the rest of the answer being superb, it didn't stop me from giving a +1 and awarding a bounty for your considerable effort. Great job and thank you!
    – Dan
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 22:30
  • Tremendous work -
    – Joseph
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 23:08
  • 1
    Wallace would have been quoting Chrysostom's own commentary on Rom. 9:22, the English translation of which is accessible via sites such as CCEL.org. The Greek text is available via Migne's Patrologia Graeca. There doesn't appear to be a Greek text of that particular book/ chapter of Irenaeus though: textexcavation.com/documents/images/ah4p081.jpg
    – user862
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 1:09
  • 1
    @Daи: As you know, I consider the whole of Scripture a unified work of divine inspiration, so pulling James over to note that only one sin is needed to make one a vessel of wrath required no extra "work" to show it in my view (the verse itself is self-explanatory that one sin makes someone guilty as if they broke all of the law). I'm thankful my analysis was useful to you.
    – ScottS
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 19:56
  • @ScottS thanks for the edit, this is an exceptional answer. Bounty awarded.
    – Dan
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 22:10

The following is based on internal evidence from within the Greek New Testament.

First, in the Greek New Testament the middle voice and the passive voice are conjugated exactly the same in the perfect tense (non-deponent verbs), so to suggest that the particular verb in question is "middle" or "passive" is the opinion of the one interpreting the passage. Such an opinion stems from the context of the passage and/or theological bias, and therefore well-educated scholars disagree on the interpretation of such verb forms. Thus citing "academic" sources adds to the confusion; one therefore must look to internal evidence for answers.

Secondly, scholars disagree about the middle and passive voice, since in some cases there are no objects of the verb in view which would force an interpretation and thus eliminate any and all ambiguity. (Remember: the Greek verb καταρτίζω is non-deponent, which means it is a "normal" verb in conjugation, so when the middle/passive forms of the verb forms appear, we know that either the middle or passive voice must be at hand.) For example, the following passage indicates an obvious passive voice where there is no ambiguity.

Heb 11:3 (NASB)
3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.

The Greek verb here is the perfect passive infinitive, and so we believe the literal ages (not worlds) "to have been prepared by the word of God." So here the passive voice is obvious with no ambiguity.

The following example is where the rub comes into play. The following form of the Greek verb is middle in form when we would expect the active voice. In other words, the middle voice is used even though the active voice could have conveyed the same idea. The nuance of the middle voice however implies personal involvement or benefit. The following verse will illustrate.

Heb 10:5 (NASB)
5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,
“Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me;

In Greek, the word σῶμα (body) is the object of the verb καταρτίζω, which is not in the active voice (which we would expect and anticipate) but is in the aorist middle. (In the aorist tense there is no ambiguity between the conjugated forms of the middle and passive, so there is no confusion here that the verb form is middle.) In other words, the Greek verb here is NOT in the active voice, which would be translated, "You have prepared .... a body," but the middle voice, which would be translated, "You have prepared ... a body (for your own benefit and self-interest)." The nuance of the middle voice (in non-deponent Greek verbs) is the participation in owns own activity with the idea that the end result is to your own benefit. So unlike English, Greek conveys this slight nuance in the middle voice.

Now the passage under consideration is Romans 9:22, which does not have an object but the question is: Does the verb form (participle) occur in the passive voice, or --like the verses detailed below-- does this verb form (participle) carry connotations in the middle voice?

Romans 9:22 (NASB)
22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

Remember, as we saw in the verse from Hebrews 10:5, above, the middle voice can appear even though the expected active voice would have worked. So there are no hard rules. This phenomenon appears to be at work in Romans 9:22, where we would expect the passive voice, but the middle voice appears to be at work. For example, the following verses use the same perfect passive of the same Greek verb in Romans 9:22, but the middle voice seems to eclipse the passive meaning.

Luke 6:40 (NASB)
40 A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.

The pupil is trained (passive), but is not the middle voice apparent here in that the pupil is participating in the training (to his own interest and benefit) by his own will? In other words, the student must comply in order to be fully trained.

1 Cor 1:10 (NASB)
10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.

2 Cor 13:11 (NASB)
11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

The brethren are made complete (passive), but is not the middle voice apparent here in that the brethren are participating in fellowship (to their own interest and benefit) by their own will? In other words, the obedient brother must submit in order to be made complete in Christian fellowship.

Here are five more example, where the perfect passive participle (accusative plural) occurs in the Greek New Testament, but where the passive meaning is eclipsed by the middle voice. In other words, is it passive or is it middle voice (self-acting)?

John 11:52 (NASB)
52 and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

Were they scattered by someone or something (passive voice), or did they "get" themselves scattered (middle voice)?

Rev 19:19 (NASB)
19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.

Were they assembled by someone or something (passive voice), or did they "get" themselves assembled together (middle voice)?

Heb 5:14 (NASB)
14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Are the senses trained by someone or something (passive voice), or do the mature "get" themselves trained (middle voice)?

Heb 12:12 (NASB)
12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble,

Here are two perfect passive participles (accusative plural) in the same verse. Are the hands and knees made weak and feeble by some someone or something (passive voice), or do believers "get" themselves weak and feeble (middle voice = spiritual laziness)?

Rev 3:2 (NASB)
2 Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.

Are the deeds completed by someone or something (passive voice), or do the believers in Sardis "get" their deeds completed (middle voice)?

In conclusion, the preponderance of evidence does not exclude the middle voice in Romans 9:22, which suggests that the condemned participate in their own (self-)destruction. The idea is not that these people were not appointed (or "marked out") to eternal destruction in the eternal mind of the Lord (see 1 Pet 2:8 and Jude 1:4, respectively), but that their appointment was not to receive eternal life. The nuance here is that while the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was for the entire world, and therefore all are eligible to receive the message of the Good News, not all are called. Thus the "eternally damned" are NOT judged because their sins were not judged on the cross, but because they had not received the eternal life of God, which is why their lives evidence the pattern of works based on the "middle voice" of being spiritually dead. Please click here for further discussion. This further discussion is necessary, because the understanding of Romans 9:22 is contingent on understanding Romans 5:12-21.

  • 1
    Your opening statements about context and bias were good. Your analysis fell apart in the next section. Mt 41:21 and Mk 1:19 are not valid examples, as they are active voice participles, and even if it had been a middle, a translation of "nets repairing themselves" would also be middle voice (you say it would be passive), only "nets being repaired" would be a passive meaning.
    – ScottS
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 11:02
  • 1
    In Rom 9:22, you have the occurrence of the word in a passive participle form (not indicative), meaning it is being used as an adjective to describe the vessels. The vessels were already the direct object (accusative case) of God's endurance. Hence the ambiguity, the word would be in the same form (also accusative) if it is intended to see the accusative "vessels" also as a subject for the participle's action (middle voice), or as a mere adjectival descriptor of God's action (passive voice). So thus far you have not made your case with these "error" and "omission" in your analysis.
    – ScottS
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 11:04
  • 2
    I am not arguing they would repair themselves, I was only pointing out that if it were taken as a middle with the nets as the subject, that would be the translation (which I agree is clearly wrong). But my point was that example is not even a mid/pass form, it is an active form, so it is "James and John repairing the nets" and no middle idea at all, because it is not middle in form. Thus invalid for your argument.
    – ScottS
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 13:31
  • 2
    @Daи - Thanks for the feedback - I am editing with more relevant verses to reinforce the points. Finally, while there are Greek scholars among us, I prefer to write in simple and plain language so that more than just a few may understand "what is written."
    – Joseph
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 14:27
  • 2
    @H3br3wHamm3r81 - It is not my eyes, but my memory of Greek that fails me - I deleted the passaged concerned, and I hope that the remainder of the post holds water! I need to just go back to Hebrew :) Like research papers, sometimes several iterations are necessary to clarify what you-think-you-thought-you-wrote.
    – Joseph
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 19:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.