The Divine Passive

When I was going through grade school I would have never imagined that I would come to enjoy grammar as much as I do.  (This does not mean that I am good at it).  Grammar, like most things, did not become enjoyable until it became meaningful.

In wanting to learn another language one must learn grammar.  This is where many people fall away from learning Greek (and Hebrew).  It is the laborious building blocks which are necessary to learning any language that ultimately trip us up.  What I have learned, however, is that the more I understand the mechanics of the language the more I understand the complex beauty of Scripture even more.

This was my joy in learning about the use of the Passive Voice by the Greek New Testament authors.

In grammar the active voice works something like, “The boy throws the ball.” The passive voice functions like, “the ball is thrown by the boy.” My history professors hated, sincerely loathed the passive voice.  I thought it sounded artistic but sadly they won the day and I wrote mostly in the boring active voice.

The New Testament authors, however, enjoyed to write in the passive voice especially when God was the agent of the action.  Because of their Jewish heritage they did not want to frivolously use the Name of God. So, by employing the passive voice the agent of the action was not explicit but assumed to be God.  This is the Divine Passive.

An example I saw recently was when Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Mark 2:11-12. The ESV says, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home. And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God.” I think it is significant that when it says, “And he rose” Mark wrote that verb in the passive voice, so it should be read, “And he was raised.”  This only emphasized that fact that God was the Person who raised him.

Some even more significant examples include earlier in Mark when Jesus tells the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).  In 1 Corinthians 15:1,2 Paul says, “Now I would remind you, brothers of the gospel I preached to you…by which you are being saved.” Peter does not exhort believers to “humble themselves” (1 Peter 5:6) but rather “be humbled“. So God is the one who humbles, who saves, and who forgives.

Is this important?  Maybe not to a lot of people, but I can see huge theological implications between the active voice and the passive voice.  There is a greater trend now then ever that man can fix himself.  Self-Help books abound in book stores but truly the only way to be saved is by going to the Savior.  At the end of the day the LORD is the agent, the mover, the creator, the savior.  We are the objects; either objects of His wrath or objects of His mercy.

As a Christian, I have been called, saved, and justified.  I am also being sanctified and loved constantly.  One day I will be glorified.  I am thankful for the Divine Passive because He is the agent of all of those actions I could never do apart from His grace.  

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