But unfortunately, the full effect of his words has often been hidden, through incomplete translations, where passives are rendered as actives. Why this should be so is a mystery. We use passive verbs often in English, and so did the Greeks, but these passive Greek verbs are quite often rendered in Bibles as actives, and thus we lose the full meaning.
All of us are in some way sensitive, and animals are perhaps more so than we are. But very often human sensitiveness is due to mere pride or vanity or even fear. Some are very sensitive about their honour, or their appearance and dress. Many are most sensitive about their reputation and their good name.
But the kind of sensitiveness which Paul possessed was real, and quite unsophisticated. With his reputation he was not concerned, so long as he pleased God. So sensitive was he that he was always as humble as anyone he approached or wrote to. And we might add that the Lord was just as humble.
To the Corinthians Paul wrote "And I, in weakness and in fear, and in much trembling, came to be with you" (1. Cor. 2:3). How gently and sensitively he writes. He is very shy, canny, and retiring. He did not push himself on to them, as some people might do. He only "came to be" with them. "And I, brethren, was not enabled to talk to you as to spiritual ones, but as to fleshy ones." Here we come to the passives. He was not enabled, a very sensitive way of putting things in 1. Cor. 3:1. Even Rotherham's first edition does not give the full meaning, but reads "I . . . could not speak to you as to spiritual (men)." What a gentle method of approaching the Corinthians. Any other man might well have been much more blunt. But Paul was always very cautious.
Then in ch. 4:9, "for we were made to become a theatre (or spectacle) to the world, and to angels, and to human beings." The Corinthians did not make themselves that: they were caused to become that by God's Holy Spirit. But they were made something else: "as filth of the world were we made to become—off scouring of all things—even until now" (ch. 4:13).
In 1. Thess. this strain is continued. In ch. 1:5 we find that "the gospel of God was not caused to become to you in word only, but in power also, and in holy spirit and much assurance, according as you know what manner of men we were caused to become among you."
Here Paul does not say that he became something great through his own abilities. It was the divine influence which made him gentle and humble. Then in the next verse, "And you were caused to become imitators of us and of the Lord." But he does not claim that he was the cause of that. He was far too humble to make such a claim. He gives all the credit to his God.
Ch. 2:5: "For neither were we at any time caused to become flattering in expression." The Revised Standard Version seems here very bare, bald and brief: "For we never used either words of flattery, as you know. .." But Paul means something much deeper than that. Then in v. 7 he says, "But we were caused to become gentle in your midst." He does not even say that the gentleness was his own. Something caused him to become gentle. Then again in v. 10: "You are witnesses, and (so is) God, as it were benignly and righteously and unblamably we were caused to become to you." Once again he does not attribute these fine characteristics to himself. Very sensitively he avoids anything like a boast. Something caused these characteristics, but he lays no claim to them himself. Would that others today could copy him in this.
In fact, in verse 8, Paul praises the Thessalonians: "because loveable to us you were caused to become," the same expression as he uses for himself. Again in v. 14 does he praise them: "For you, imitators were caused to become, brethren, of the ecclesias of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus."
There must be a reason why Paul used this method of expressing himself, seven times in 1. Thess., seven times in 1. Cor., and twice in 2. Cor. No doubt Paul felt that he would require to be very cautious and very humble, in dealing with the Corinthians, as many of them seem to have been wild pagans at one time.
Paul even used his very expressive passives of the Lord: "Yet of Him YOU are in Christ Jesus, who was caused to become to us wisdom from God, besides righteousness and holiness and deliverance" (1. Cor. 1:30). What Paul means is that God used His Son to teach us human beings what is real wisdom, real righteousness, real holiness, and real deliverance. It was not as though the Lord was seeking to shew forth His own wisdom like the sages of the past. Most of the versions say the Lord "became wisdom," etc. But that is not the full sense. Some translators read "was made" (American Bible Union; Cunnington; Dewes; Rotherham, 1872; Sharpe, 1862). Darby reads "who has been made."
Again, in 1. Cor. 15:30 Paul uses the same kind of humble claim: "Yet by God's grace, I am what I am, and His grace, which was unto me, was not caused to become void."
At Eph. 3:7 we are told that Paul "was caused to become a minister" of the Gospel. That Gospel was not one of which he was the originator or owner. Then at Col. 4:11 we learn that certain fellow workers "were caused to become a solace" to him. Finally we have Titus 3:7, "being declared righteous by that One's grace, we may be caused to become inheritors, by way of expectation, of life eonian."
It has long been a puzzle to me why many translators do not render certain Greek passives as passives. To treat a passive as though it was an active is to hide some of the truth from us. Later on I hope to deal with other verbs of which the passives are often wrongly rendered, such as come (poreuomai), fear, afraid, frighten (phobeomai), be able (dunamai), turn (strephO) and its compounds, etc.
A.T. Last updated 9.11.2007