Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

Exegetical Insight (Chapter 24)

The biblical writers are so open and direct in speaking of God’s actions for us and for our salvation, that it may come as a surprise to students of New Testament Greek that sometimes God’s sovereign grace is hidden in grammatical expressions that do not contain the name of God at all. This is the case with the construction Max Zerwick has called the “theological passive.” Jewish reticence about speaking of God directly shows up quite often in Jesus’ use of the future passive indicative—perhaps as a kind of understatement for rhetorical effect.

There are four classic examples in the Beatitudes, where Jesus says of those he pronounces “Blessed” that “they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4), “they will be filled” (5:6), “they will be shown mercy” (5:7), and “they will be called children of God” (5:9). The meaning is that God will comfort them, fill them, show them mercy, and call them his children. In a promise of answered prayer, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given you ... knock and it will be opened” (Luke 11:9). Clearly, God is the One who gives and who opens the door.
The aorist passive is used less often in this way, yet Peter speaks of the prophets to whom “it was revealed” (that is, to whom God revealed) that their prophecies were for us (1 Peter 1:12). God’s sovereignty embraces even the terrible judgments in Revelation, where four horsemen were “given” (ejdovqh) power to kill by sword, famine, and disease (Rev 6:8), and John himself was “given” (ejdovqh) a reed to measure the temple court for judgment (11:1). Here too God is the unexpressed Giver.

In English the passive voice is often considered a sign of weak style, but in Greek it can be a clear signal that God is at work.

J. Ramsey Michaels