Is Παύσονται Deponent?

1 Corinthians 13:8 is a much disputed passage: “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” In Greek it reads, “Ἡ ἀγάπη οὐδέποτε πίπτει· εἴτε δὲ προφητεῖαι, καταργηθήσονται· εἴτε γλῶσσαι, παύσονται· εἴτε γνῶσις, καταργηθήσεται.” Not a few interpreters have pointed out that Paul switches verbs when he mentions tongues. Carson is convinced that we have nothing more than stylistic variation: “This view assumes without warrant that the switch to this verb is more than a stylistic variation” (Showing the Spirit, 66). I’m not so sure, but that’s beside the point of this post.

The real issue is that Carson argues that παύσονται is deponent: “The middle form may be used while the active force is preserved. At such points the verb is deponent” (Showing the Spirit, 66). But a deponent is not merely a verb that carries an active meaning in the middle voice. To prove a deponent middle, one must demonstrate the active voice has fallen out of use and that the middle has taken over the force of the active. Is this the case with παύσονται?

There are several instances of the future active of παύω in the LXX (Dt 32:26; Job 6:26; Ode 2:26). But there are no occurrences of the future active in the NT. Does this prove that it is deponent? I don’t think so. There is only one other occurrence of the future in the NT (Acts 13:10)—also a future middle. With such a small sampling, nothing can be proved. Turning to Philo we find no occurrences of the future active. Josephus, however, has seven.

Another point needs to be made: the LXX has 13 occurrences of the future middle compared to the three occurrences of the future active, Philo has six occurrences of the middle compared to no occurrences of the active, and Josephus has eight occurrences of the middle compared to seven of the active. As already noted the NT has two middle and no active. Clearly the middle is more dominant.

What are we to make of this? Is this evidence for a transition away from the active to the middle? Are we seeing παύω become a deponent in its future tense stem? I don’t think that’s the best way to handle the data. An analysis of the various occurrences shows a very clear difference in meaning between the active and the middle. The active is always transitive and carries the meaning “to cause x to cease.” The middle is always intransitive and carries the meaning “to cease.” Is there a middle force implicit in the intransitive? I think so. One can easily see how “causing oneself to cease” is roughly semantically equivalent to “ceasing.” Yet, this point should not be forced where it doesn’t fit. Context must be the final determiner. What is clear is that to consider παύω to be deponent is to interpret “the middle voice irresponsibly,” to borrow Carson’s own language and cautiously redirect it.

Out of curiosity, I decided to check to see if Wallace discusses this passage. Sure enough he does, and he agrees with me. It’s always nice to have someone on your side when disagreeing with someone of the caliber of Carson!

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