In English, our verbs are usually in the active voice or the passive voice. You
may not be totally comfortable analyzing the voice of verbs, but you can automatically think of the best way to express an
Active verbs -- the subject does the action: John hit Mike.
Passive verbs -- the subject receives the action: Mike was hit by John.
In Greek, however, there
is a third option: the middle voice. This is a "voice" which has no exact equivalent
in English. Greek uses the middle voice to show that the subject is participating in the action in some way. There
is a double emphasis on the subject, and this emphasis can show up in a variety of ways. Typically, we translate a middle
voice by adding the word "self."
I saw myself
I myself saw
I saw for myself
Here are some of the shades of meaning that Greek grammar books discuss:
translations are mine, phrased to bring out the probable thought of the middle. You should note that there is a certain
element of interpretation whenever you choose a particular type of middle and say that it is the meaning of a verse.
Grammarians agree that these categories are legitimate, but you should check the context to see which use fits best.
Direct Middle -- the subject does something to himself.
Matthew 27:5 -- "Going
forth, he hanged himself."
2. Indirect Middle -- This use emphasizes the subject doing the action;
it is the most common use.
Hebrews 9:12 -- "He himself secured eternal redemption."
Permissive Middle -- Here the subject allows something to happen to him.
6:7 -- "Why not rather let yourselves be wronged?"
4. Reciprocal Middle -- A plural verb in
the middle voice can show an interchange of effort between participants.
John 9:22 -- "The
Jews had agreed with one another."
5. Causative Middle -- The subject arranges for or causes someone
else to do something for him.
Acts 22:16 -- "Get yourself baptized and get your sins
6. Personal Middle -- The middle can emphasize a person's individual part in an
2 Timothy 2:4 -- The middle verb strateuo means "to serve as a soldier."
The active voice would have meant "to conduct a campaign."
7. Purpose Middle --
The middle can show that the subject performed an act for his own purposes.
-- "Whom God set forth [for his own purposes] as a propitiation."
8. Subjective Middle -- The
middle can show that the subject is emotionally or subjectively involved in the action.
Luke 15:14 -- "And he began to be in want [and to feel it]." In contrast, the rich young ruler in Matthew
19:20 used the same word in the active voice, with no indication that he felt any lack.
All of these are simply illustration
of the variety of meanings that are possible for the middle voice. And there is much more that could be said.