Vol. 14 New Series February, 1952 No. 1
THE TRANSLATION OF ACTS 28:25.—The Editors

Conflicting voices assail our ears so often in these days that the need has become very great for some sort of test to distinguish between the true and the false. No infallible test is possible, but there is one which goes a long way towards certainty. It is a very simple rule: Distrust the person who does not write plainly.

Recently one who claims great authority has again declared that "English has no middle voice." By this rule he thus brings himself under suspicion; for it is impossible to discover from the statement as framed precisely what he means. If we interpret it as meaning "English cannot express the middle voice," it is false. If we interpret it as "English possesses no inflection of the verb specifically indicating the middle voice," it is true. From the context of his statement, it is evident that the former interpretation is intended to be conveyed to the reader, yet a loophole of escape into the latter interpretation is left open. How can we have con­fidence in a teacher who avoids committing himself to a plain statement in a matter vital to his whole case?

In those alternative interpretations we can substitute "passive voice" for "middle voice." There is no inflection of the verb in English which specifically indicates the passive voice. We can say "he dismissed the meeting" or "the meeting was dismissed by him"; the former active, the latter passive. The difference is solely in the way the sentence is constructed; the inflection of the verb itself is the same. So, by a parity of reasoning "English has no passive voice" either! Reference was made to the "unparalleled advantage" of the Concordant Version in this regard. Yes; but what a pity so little advantage has been taken of its advantage! In Acts 15:33 it correctly renders the Greek passive "apeluthEsan" by "they were dismissed," yet in Acts 28:25 it incorrectly renders the Greek middle "apeluonto" by exactly the same English words. And this in a supposedly concordant version! However, I have adequately dealt with this point in The Differentiator, Vol. 10, No.5, p. 18, which so far remains unanswered.

Further confusion has now been introduced. by this Authority. The genitive in Acts 28:25 is part of the construction known as the Genitive Absolute; and it is incorrect to declare as he does that it shows the source. For example, in Acts 10:9 the "journeying and drawing near" was not the source of Peter going up to the house-top; and in the next verse the preparation of food was not the source of his ecstasy, which derived from spirituality, not greed. What is indicated primarily is the sequence of events, not the source of what occurred. This will become even more clear on examination of Acts 10:44. The falling of the Holy Spirit followed on Peter talking. His speech was the occasion chosen by God for it; but Peter was not the source or origin of the Spirit falling. 2 Peter 3:11 supplies an instructive example: "In view of all these, then, disintegrating; what manner of persons ought you all the while to be ...?" Here It is a sequence, not in time, but in thought: Other illustrative examples are Matt. 1:18, 20; 2:1, 13; Luke 13:49; 9:34,37,42,43,57; 11:14,29,53; 15:14. An ideal concordance would list the occurrences of such constructions as this, and also important phrases.

We are then told that "the genitive may fix the force of the middle voice of the verb." But in Greek the voice is fixed by the form of the verb itself, not by auxiliaries as in English, still less by context.

The sequence in the closing verses of Acts is plain enough except to those who wilfully shut their eyes. The assembled Jews could not agree together and Paul's disclosure precipitated a crisis so that their meeting dissolved or broke up. The meeting having dissolved, the Jews then departed, having much discussion among themselves (v. 29). Then we learn what happened to Paul. The account becomes plain and highly instructive.

I am not making out that the misleading statement I have been criticizing necessarily comes from want of candour. It may be due to lack of a real understanding of and sympathy with the English language. The tongue of Shakespeare and Milton is certainly not defective in expressiveness. Its real weakness (if it be a weakness) is quite different; and now it has become an international medium (for which it is wholly unsuited, being far too delicate and subtle for such coarse purposes) this weakness is rapidly ruining it. This is that English is at once very easy to write badly and exceedingly difficult to write well. So in practise all its finer points are blurred and blunted by the clumsy tongues and pens of people who have never really got to the heart of it; till the last debasement of "Basic English" appears in all its hideousness. The writer I am criticizing would not have found it so easy to be misleading if he had written of and in an inflected language. Perhaps he thought in one. If so, his blunder is understandable, if not excusable; for the middle voice of English is certainly one of its most subtle features. Owing to the decay of the language through shameful misuse the most characteristic form of the middle voice has become archaic. Some beautiful examples are to be found in Ecc. 2:4-8 in the A.V. or King James's Version.

Even so it is still possible to devise some way of expressing the middle voice where necessary, though often at the cost of strict concordance. . . In Acts 28:25 "they dissolved" brings over the exact sense of the Greek middle voice. We can, and do, say "The meeting dissolved" or "Parliament will dissolve at the end of this session." The allocation of "dissolve" to another Greek word in 2 Peter 3:10-13 makes no difference, for "disintegrate" fits better, and even appears in the definition in the C.V. Concordance. Admittedly "dissolve" does not fit other occurrences of this verb; but even the C.V. itself is not strictly concordant with it. Do let us retain the sense of proportion over this matter of concordance! Its sole purpose is to enable us to translate as exactly as possible, but it is a means, not an end in itself. The moment it hinders accuracy it must go on to the scrap-heap, for it has ceased to serve us. Though "they were dismissed" in Acts 15:33 and 28:25 seems concordant in English, it is utterly discordant as a representation of Luke's Greek.

The issue cannot be set aside as trivial, for a whole dispensational system hinges on whether the Apostle Paul pronounced sentence on these Jews or whether their meeting broke up of its own accord at the disclosure of certain facts by him. I therefore challenge the Compiler of the C.V. to refute me or candidly to admit his error.
R. B. WITHERS.

All good Greek Grammars will tell what the Middle Voice means—that in some way the action is related to oneself. We are asked, in "Concord with Contexts," in "Unsearchable Riches" for September, 1951, page 250, "Could a divorced woman dismiss herself?" and "Could Paul release himself?" Is it true of the Jews in Rome that "they dismissed themselves" (Acts 28:25)? I would answer, Yes and No. The divorced woman did undoubtedly "get a release for herself." If the husband divorced her, is it improbable that there was on her part, some reason for this action? Might not the woman be the real cause of the divorce? Nor do we require to imagine that Paul released himself. Let us approach all the passages cited (Luke 16:18; 13:12; Acts 26:32; Heb. 13:23) warily, with our slippers off, but with our microscope handy. Let us read carefully just what Agrippa said to Festus—This man could have got off—could have gotten himself off—if he had not appealed to Caesar. In other words, release lay within Paul's own hands, as he was "Not Guilty." Agrippa, Festus, and Veronica all agreed that Paul was not deserving death or bonds. How then could they hold him further?

In the three examples first cited, Matt. 5:32; 19:9; and Luke 16:18, the Greek word for "her who has been dismissed" is a Middle form (apolelumenEn). "Whoever should be marrying a released-woman" is as good sense as any. Whoever should marry a woman who has obtained release for herself.

   At Luke 13:12 the C.V. renders "Woman, you have been released from your infirmity." Any Greek person would understand from this, you have got release for yourself. Does not the Concordance of the C.V. itself lay down the law on page 41, under the word BIND—"Mid. beseech for one's self; Pass. beseech"? Why does it not say simply, "beseech oneself"? We do not make the Middles any more reflexive than the C.V. Concordance does. We could hardly say, in Luke 13:12, Woman, you have been dismissed from your infirmity. The article states that the woman was released by Jesus when He placed His hands on her and said, "You have been released." This, however, is to reverse the story completely. It may have been one glance of faith that she shewed, but first of all she gets release (in promise), then the Lord sets His hands on her, and at once, upon that, "she-was­-made-erect-again" (anorthOthE, a thoroughly Passive term this time).

                                     Put in another way, we may say that she thought, or shewed or did, something which brought release nigh to her, but she had nothing to do with the Lord's action of making her erect again. One action was entirely Middle (done by herself), while the other was entirely Passive (she did nothing).

Hebrews 13:23 does not need to detain our attention. The translation given (our brother Timothy has been released) is not translation at all, as I have pointed out for years. What the Greek does say, is, "Be getting to know (or, You are getting to know) our brother Timothy-one-having-gotten­his-release." Or is it possible the writer to the Hebrews had dismissed Timothy? At any rate, the absence of the word for "that" (hoti) ruins the common translations. The writer wanted these Hebrews to make the acquaintance of Timothy, who had got his release.

It will be observed that the brief article in "U.R." fails to explain why the Greek word apeluonto in Acts 28:25 is rendered in the C.V. exactly the same as the Passive form, apeluthEsan, found in Acts 15:33. We could hardly expect this, because such explanation would of necessity utterly deny and overthrow the basic principle whereon the entire Concordant system is founded. 

                 By hook or by crook, it must be proved that these Roman Jews (who treated Paul with profound respect, raised no storm, hearkened for a whole day patiently, sought to commit no murder— so utterly different from other bodies of Jews Paul had encountered), were dismissed by Paul, and judicially, through Holy Spirit. The argument is that "They could not dismiss Paul," therefore it was Paul that dismissed them!

Two versions support the rendering of the C.V., "they were dismissed," namely, the Diaglott and Panin. At least twenty other independent versions render the Middle as a Middle, as follows :—they departed, they went away, they broke up, they withdrew, they began to depart, they left. It may be argued that the majority here speaks the mind of The Apostacy. But let us not forget that all God's chosen and competent scholars have not belonged to the present century. Great scholars who have loved and served God do not belong to the Apostacy. But those who with their eyes open corrupt the Scriptures certainly do. They should be avoided.

The verb FROM-LOOSE (apoluO) is found only four times in the Greek Old Testament. Two times it is in the Middle Voice. Exodus 33:11, A.V. "And he turned again (Hebrew, shub, he returned) into the camp." The LXX renders this by Kai apelueto eis tEn parembolEn, which Bagster's LXX translates "and he retired into the camp," (i.e. Moses). Gen. 15:2 A.V. Abram said "seeing I go childless." In the LXX this is, egO de apoluomai ateknos, which Bagster's render by "whereas I am departing without a child." The Hebrew word for GO is the common halak. This destroys the idea that perhaps Abram said, "I am being dismissed childless." Nor could we say of Moses that "he was dismissed into the camp." Abram would merely have gone, or gone away, childless. This proves beyond dispute that in the time of the LXX, the Middle Voice of apoluO meant nothing more than GOING OFF, GOING AWAY, exactly the sense in which it is found at Acts 28:25.

But it is also argued that the dismissal of the Roman Jews issued OUT OF what Paul said to them. "The dismissal came OF, or at his saying what he did." That is, Paul's pronouncement actually dismissed these Jews. The Genitive Absolute construction of the Greek, found here, consists of two or three words all in the Genitive case. That is, each word begins with OF. A very literal rendering would be OF Paul's saying. Yet in the C.V. at Rom. 5:6 the same construction is introduced by the word WHILE, "while we are still infirm." Is it possible that the Lord's death ISSUED OUT OF our infirmity! In verse 8 the C.V. renders by "WHEN we are still sinners, Christ died." This is the same construction. In other words, as a subsequence of our weakness of our being sinners, Christ dies. But Paul is not here stating that our sins and our weakness were the CAUSE of His death.

In Rom. 5:13 the C.V. reads "WHERE there is no law" for the Greek, OF-law not being. As a subsequence of there being no law at one period, sin is not being taken into account. At Rom. 7:3 the C.V. for the same construction uses IF. "Consequently then, IF the man is living, she will be styled an adulteress. .." Could her proper husband's continuing in life be the CAUSE of her being an adulteress? No; the Greek says that as a consequence of the man's living, she would become that, should she become another man's.

Similarly at Rom. 7:9, where the C.V. reads, "yet at the coming of the precept Sin revives." The Greek reads, OF the precept's coming, the Sin comes to life again. It was subsequent to the coming of the precept that Sin revived. It will not do to make the precept the CAUSE of Sin reviving. The precept is "holy and righteous and good." Rom. 3:20 has been grossly misunderstood. Does it not say that "through law is fuller-knowledge (epignOsis) of sin"? Law magnified Sin by shewing it up. Sin revived as a consequence of the coming of the precept, but a law holy and righteous and good could never create Sin.

Acts 23:12 presents another fine example of the Genitive Absolute. "Now ON the coming of day, making a conspiracy, the Jews anathematize themselves..." Literally, OF day coming to be. But surely daybreak never could create a conspiracy! The conspiracy was a mere consequence, something which followed in order of time.

Or Acts 24:20, "Or let these themselves say what injury they found, WHEN I stood (literally, OF my standing) in the Sanhedrim." Could we aver that the injury was CAUSED by Paul's standing in the Sanhedrim?

One final example, Mark 16:2. "And very early in the morning. . . they are coming to the tomb AT the rising of the sun" (literally, OF the sun's upbreaking or uprising). But would we say it was the rising of the sun that CAUSED them to proceed? Would their own legs not suffice for the brief journey? They went subsequently to the daybreak, not through the effect of the sun's rising.

There are numerous cases of the Greek Genitive Absolute in the New Testament. Luke's Gospel alone has at least forty-six, while in Acts he has another ninety-one cases. Every case in the Scriptures has been examined and supports our contention.

Corresponding to the Passive found at Acts 15:33, we should compare Acts 13:43, "Now the synagogue being broken up, many of the Jews. . . . follow Paul and Barnabas." Literally, Now OF the synagogue being loosed. In this case there was obviously pressure put on the gathering. The caretaker must have announced that time was up. This proves that in Acts 28:25 there was no such outside pressure.

Paul's conference at Rome has been grossly misunderstood. According to the Greek, Paul may have made as many converts as those who did not believe. If you found ten converts out of a gathering of one hundred you would say Holy Spirit was working. Paul told them what had already happened in the Land and in Asia, and how "this the means by which God saves" (as the New World Version, 1950 so accurately renders) had already been sent to the Gentiles, who would hear for themselves (apart from Israel). How easily could Paul have said "Ideally the Holy Spirit talks through Isaiah the prophet to YOU," but he did not. Holy Spirit could not pronounce sentence of doom on the Roman Jews simply because Jews elsewhere had apostatized. Never elsewhere has Holy Spirit doomed a man who has only heard the truth for the first time, right on the spot.

ALEXANDER THOMSON. Last updated 27.9.2005

Return to Differentiator Revisited