Semantics put to work on Galatians 5:6

There has been quite some discussion on various blogs over the post by Daniel Kirk (no relation of mine) suggesting that translations of Galatians 5:6 are “theologically manipulated”. First David Ker reported on it here at BBB. Then I posted about it on my own blog – and later corrected my post because I had taken David Ker’s summary of Daniel’s post as accurate, when in fact it wasn’t. Then Joel Hoffman posted twice on the same matter. See also interesting discussions in the comment threads.

But I still see something seriously lacking in all the discussion of this verse, and that is a proper understanding of the semantics here. Now I don’t claim to be an expert in semantics, or in how it can be applied to New Testament Greek. So what I write here should be taken as provisional, as a first attempt to find a proper semantic understanding of the phrase traditionally translated “faith working through love”.

We are looking in particular at the Greek verb, actually a participle, energoumene, a present participle, feminine singular nominative, of the middle or passive voice of the verb energeo.

One of the basics of semantics, of the kind I am considering, is that any action or state has various participants, and these participants fit into various roles. Typically but by no means always in actual language actions or states are represented by verbs and participants by nouns or pronouns. When the verb is a typical verb of action one of the participant roles is the agent, and this is usually represented by the subject of the active verb.

Let’s look at this first in English. Consider these example sentences (modified from “Syntax” by Van Valin and LaPolla, CUP 1997, p.87):

  1. Fred broke the window.
  2. Fred broke the window with a rock.
  3. The window was broken by Fred.
  4. The window was broken.
  5. The window broke.
  6. A rock broke the window.

In 1. there is an explicit agent, Fred, who is the subject of the active verb. There is also a patient, another semantic role, which is the window, and this is the grammatical object.

2. is the same as 1. except that an instrument is also specified, a rock, in a prepositional phrase.

3. is essentially synonymous with 1. (although it differs in its topic-focus structure), with agent and patient still specified. The verb is now passive and so the linguistic representation differs: the patient is the subject and the agent is in a prepositional phrase.

In 4. only the patient is specified, as the subject of the passive verb. But the English passive implies that there was actually some agent – or possibly a force, another semantic role, like the wind.

5. is almost synonymous with 4. except that it could also mean that there was no agent or force involved, that the window broke because of its own intrinsic weakness. But note how in English the verb is again active, but intransitive, with the patient as the subject. It is common in English, but not in many other languages, for active verbs to be used intransitively with a more or less passive meaning, with a patient as the subject. I note that one implication of the existence of this kind of sentence is that sentences like “*Fred broke” or “*A rock broke”, with “window” as an implicit patient, are not permitted in English – the object must be explicit, if only as “it” or “something”.

Finally in 6. the grammatical subject is the instrument, and the object is the patient. As in 4. an agent is implied. While sentences of this kind are quite common, they do come across as somewhat anomalous, as everyone knows that an inanimate object like a rock cannot be an agent.

Now let’s look at this in Koine Greek. I won’t try to translate the example sentences, but I will look at how they would come out. There is no problem with 1. and 2., where Fred would be the subject of an active verb (nominative case), the window would be the object (accusative), and the instrument in 2. would probably be in the dative. Similarly there would be no problem with 3. and 4., where the verb would be passive, and the agent in 3. would be in a prepositional phrase probably introduced with hupo. I’m not sure if a sentence like 6., with an instrument as the subject, would be allowed in Koine.

The difference from English comes with 5., as in Greek an active verb cannot be used in this way. According to traditional Koine grammar, the verb form here would be in the middle voice, which is distinct from the passive voice used in 4. But there is a difference in form between these two only in some tenses, and it has recently been realised that it is rare, if not completely unknown, for any one verb to have both middle and passive forms used with any distinction of meaning. So it is better to say that in Koine Greek there is one combined medio-passive voice. This means that in that language there is no simple way to distinguish between the senses of 4. and 5.

So let’s put this understanding to work on Galatians 5:6. Now in semantic terms “faith” is not really a participant, but an action “someone believes something”, expressed as an abstract noun, as quite commonly with actions especially in Greek. But let’s treat it for now as a participant, and energeo as an action verb like “break” in my examples. What would be the semantic role of faith?

For this we really need to examine how energeo is used in the New Testament. Here are the 21 NT occurrences of energeo:

  • Mt 14:2 || Mk 6:14: active, intransitive, subject is “powers” (powerful spiritual beings?)
  • Rom 7:5: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is “sinful passions”
  • 1 Cor 12:6: active, transitive, subject is God, object is gifts of the Spirit
  • 1 Cor 12:11: active, transitive, subject is the Holy Spirit, object is gifts of the Spirit
  • 2 Cor 1:6: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is comfort
  • 2 Cor 4:12: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is death (and life)
  • Gal 2:8 (twice): active, intransitive, subject is God, indirect objects are Peter and Paul
  • Gal 3:5: active, transitive, subject is God, object is miracles
  • Gal 5:6: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is faith
  • Eph 1:11: active, transitive, subject is God, object is “all things”
  • Eph 1:20: active, intransitive, subject is God
  • Eph 2:2: active, intransitive, subject is the devil
  • Eph 3:20: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is power
  • Phil 2:13 (twice): active, intransitive, subject is God
  • Col 1:29: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is “energy” (energeia)
  • 1 Th 2:13: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is the word of God
  • 2 Th 2:7: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is “the mystery of lawlessness”
  • James 5:16: medio-passive, intransitive, subject is prayer

Here we see a consistent picture in the NT, and one which isn’t quite consistent with Joel’s suggestion that energeo is “a light verb — a verb that gets its semantic content largely from the words around it”. I accept that Joel wanted to avoid being too technical. But sometimes there is no alternative to going into technicalities, as I am here.

In every one of the 12 occurrences of the active verb, the subject, which is also the agent, is either God or a powerful spiritual being, acting in a way which might be called supernatural. When the verb is transitive, in just four of the 12 occurrences, the object is a work done by the powerful being – strictly an action rather than a participant, but if considered as a participant it would be called a patient.

By contrast, in the nine cases where the verb is medio-passive the subject is never a powerful being or any kind of person, but always an abstract noun representing an action, and in most cases the kind of action which only a powerful being would do. That strongly suggests that the medio-passive verbs are in fact more passive than middle or reflexive in meaning, and that their subjects have the same semantic role as the objects of the active transitive verbs – but not the same role as the subjects. In this case that means that they are pseudo-patients and express works done by powerful beings – in the various contexts, generally by God but in some cases by evil powers.

On this basis we are led to the conclusion that in Galatians 5:6 “faith” is a work which God is doing, through love. Or perhaps there is a link with the previous verse and it is the Holy Spirit who is working here, causing believers to have the faith to wait. This goes against my Arminian theology, but it is what the text seems to say! On that basis I might suggest a rendering something like “faith put to work through love” (compare my post title), but perhaps it is necessary to make more explicit that it is not believers who are putting faith to work.

57 thoughts on “Semantics put to work on Galatians 5:6

  1. sidleejr says:

    William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon, 1993.

    1. Mark 6.14 – present, active, indicative, 3 plural. – they are working.
    2. Rom 7.5 – imperfect, middle, indicative, 3 singular. – imperfect, middle, indicative, 3 singular – he was working himself – M.V.
    3. 1 Cor. 12.6 – present participle. – noun – genitive, plural, neuter – and varities of workings.
    4. 2 Cor. 4.12 – present, middle, indicative, 3 singular. – on one hand, death in us he is working himself – M.V.
    5. Gal. 2.8 – aorist participle, was working. For the [one] having been working with Peter.
    6. Gal 3.5 – noun – genitive plural. [-TWN is known by all as genitive plural.]
    7. Gal. 5.6 – present, middle participle, – Extreme Love (agape) working herself – M.V.
    8. Eph 1.11 – present participle, genitive – the all [things] of working according to …
    9. Eph 2.2 – present active participle, genitive – of working now in the sons.

  2. Chaka says:

    Thanks for this post, Peter. The divide between active and middle/passive forms is striking, with spiritual powers always the subject when active and a nominalized action the subject when middle/passive.

    I’m trying to think of holes to poke in this, but I’m not succeeding very well. Someone might protest that in cases like 2 Cor 1:6, the participle doesn’t really have a grammatical subject.

    When I was studying Greek, I always wanted to find someone who could explain the middle voice in terms of participants as you do here (I think I was taught to call them “thematic roles”.) Never found anything–do you have some bibliography?

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    Thank you, Chaka. I always learned that the noun or pronoun agreeing with a participle was its subject, although not of course always nominative – it certainly works semantically as if it is the subject.

    I’m sure I have only touched on the complexities of the middle voice. I think the main point of the medio-passive, at least of verbs of action, is that the grammatical subject is the patient – and may also be the agent, in which case the verb is reflexive. Generally verbs without a specified or implicit agent, or where the agent is the same as the patient, are judged to be middle voice. But that’s based on my own observations more than on the literature.

    So sorry, I don’t have any bibliography for this. I hope other commenters (Mike Aubrey, where are you?) can help.

  4. Tony Pope says:

    Nicely set out, Peter. Your analysis agrees with that of J. Armitage Robinson in his commentary on Ephesians, pp. 243-47 (against many other commentators!). He looks at usage of the verb outside the NT also, and says “so far as I am aware, there is no trace of a middle in any other writer”. He suggests for Gal 5.6 “faith is made operative through love”, by which he evidently means it is made (by God) to produce the appropriate result by means of love.

    Also to the same effect, for those who have access to a theological library, Kenneth W Clark, The Meaning of ἘΝΕΡΓΕΩ and ΚΑΤΑΡΓΕΏ in the New Testament, Journal of Biblical Literature 54 (1935) 93-101.

  5. Mike Sangrey says:

    Peter, I don’t want to take this far afield; however, your analysis fits quite well with the subjective genitive side of the controversy swirling around Gal. 2:16. That is, the whole “faithfulness of Jesus” discussion.

    I just did a quick scan of the other occurrences of ἐκ πίστεως (from the preceding Gal 5:5) in Galatians. There’s quite a few–nine, to be precise. There are only 20 in the entire NT, 7 of them are in Gal. 3:7-25 (which I take a single section of Paul’s argument summed up in 3:26-29).

    Here’s what I’m thinking.

    If each of those occurrences is thought of as “proceeding from the faithfulness [of Christ]” then Paul’s argument in a major section of Galatians is somewhat different than many have taught. It’s much more about God being faithful to a Covenant promise he made to Abraham (“the whole world will be blessed”) and the effect that is to have on the whole world. For example, Gal 3:8 would then refer to God justifying Gentiles as flowing out of his own faithfulness. We are to respond in faith, certainly. But, the foundation of our faith is in fact his faithfulness to the Covenant he made with Abraham and realized in Christ.

    What does this matter to your posting? (I said I didn’t want to take this far afield). Well, Gal. 5:5 then refers to God’s faithfulness. That is, it is out of Christ’s faithfulness that we respond with an eagerly expectant hope of righteousness. It’s hard for my English mind to place ‘hope’ and ‘expect’ in the same sentence where ‘hope’ is an object of the verb ‘expect’. But, I think what I’m saying captures the sense.

    So, what that ends up meaning here, as you have said, is that God’s faithfulness is put to work through [our] love to others. Love is the natural, fulfilled result, of his faithfulness, and the manner through which his faithfulness is realized throughout the world. [Though ‘love’ could also have God as its subject.]

    Well, obviously (to say the least), I’ve bitten off far more than I can chew. But, I couldn’t help but be struck by how your analysis is quite consistent with the subjective genitive understanding of Gal. 2:16.

    I must say that your observations of how ἐνεργέω works in its various occurrences has to be dealt with. It can’t just be ignored.

    Thank you!

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    Thank you, Tony and Mike.

    Tony, that is certainly an interesting article you linked to. It confirms that in the New Testament not only energeo but also all the cognate words are used only of divine activity or satanic counterfeit of it. It is good that the active and passive verbs are properly distinguished, and that the idea that Paul’s usage is middle rather than passive is dismissed on the good semantic grounds that the subject of the medio-passive is never a person. The conclusion is that the passive (at least in Paul, i.e. all but one occurrence) means not so much “to be carried out, effected, done” as “to be set in operation”.

    This makes me realise that my analysis of Phil 2:13 was inadequate: here the first energeo is transitive with the subject as God and the object is “to will and to work”, i.e. the second energeo (an infinitive) is part of the object. This second energeo is intransitive, and although the subject may formally be Paul’s readers the point of the verse is that it is God who is really doing the working.

    Mike, you suggestion makes a lot of sense of the passage, and no doubt of the whole of Galatians. But I don’t have time to go into the wider issues here.

  7. iver larsen says:


    I have been looking at these 9 middle (or passive) verbs for some time now. It is complicated when the subject is an abstract noun, but I cannot see that there is an implied divine agent nor that the verbs should be interpreted as passive rather than middle.

    I prefer to see the middle verb something like “is at work”. This work is going on in the believers. A transformation is taking place. It is not affecting an object outside the believer and therefore not grammatically active or transitive.
    The recipient of the work or the people being worked on are usually expressed explicitly, or if not, clear from context:
    Rom 7:5 in our members
    2Co 1:6 in you-plural
    2Co 4:12 in us
    Gal 5:6 us (implicit)
    Eph 3:20 in us
    Col 1:29 in me
    1Th 2:13 in us who believe
    2Th 2:7 in the world (implicit)
    Jas 5:16 righteous person

    Even though the agent is not a person, the action is performed by a personified idea. In this case, I prefer to talk about cause rather than agent.

    Rom 7:5 sinful desires
    2Co 1:6 event of encouraging you
    2co 4:12 death (being faced with death daily)
    Gal 5:6 faith
    Eph 3:20 power (of H.S. or Christ)
    Col 1:29 power (of H.S. and/or Christ)
    1Th 2:13 word of God
    2Th 2:7 the hidden lawlessness (or lawless person)
    Jas 5:16 prayer

    Sometimes an instrument is expressed, such as the law in Rom 7:5 or love in Gal 5:6.
    Sometimes the energizing power ultimately comes from outside (H.S., Christ, Word of God), but not always. Even in these cases it is grammatically the power that causes the transformation, not the people behind the power. The sinful desires are from within, the encouragement is not from an outside source, and I also think that the faith in Gal 5:6 is from within, although I do not want to exclude the power or influence of the Holy Spirit in the matter.

    I don’t have a good suggestion for translating Gal 5:6. It may not be clear English to say “faith is at work (in you) through love”. GNB, NIV and others use “be at work” for Rom 7:5, 2Co 4:12, Eph 3:20 (NIV), Col 1:29 (GNB), 1Th 2:13, and 2Th 2:7.
    So, in Gal 5:6 it is probably not so much that the faith has en effect on others as it has an effect on ourselves when we understand the love of Christ. But if our experience of faith and love grows it will naturally have an effect on others, too. Faith is primarily trust in Jesus.

    Since Tony quoted one commentator, let me balance it by quoting another:
    “It is better to construe ἐνεργουμένη as middle voice than as passive, as though the meaning were faith energized (produced) by love’. In every NT occurrence of a form of ἐνεργέω which might be either middle or passive, a good case can be made out for taking it as a middle (pace J. A. Robinson, Ephesians, 241–247)” (F.F. Bruce).

  8. Peter Kirk says:

    Thank you, Iver. But how do you explain that EVERY time the subject is an actual person the verb is active, and EVERY time the subject is “a personified idea” the verb is medio-passive? On what linguistic, rather than theological, basis do you argue that “the energizing power ultimately comes from outside … not always”, i.e. what evidence do you have that the power comes from within the energised human being? In Romans 7:5 it is theologically very doubtful, in the light of ta dia tou nomou, to suggest that “The sinful desires are from within”. And in the context of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 surely the comfort in v.6 also comes from “the God of all comfort” through Christ.

    As for Bruce’s comments, they are moot in the light of the work of Carl Conrad for example showing that in Koine there is no real distinction between middle and passive. But Bruce agrees with me that the meaning is more “faith energized” than faith doing work.

  9. Mike Sangrey says:

    Peter, you’re right to not “slide” into the “wider issues.” I actually don’t want to go there. I just tend to approach an issue from the top-down. For me, when I see a bottom-up analysis cohere well with a top-down approach, the potential validity of both explanations is increased. Essentially, it’s Occam’s Razor.

    If the use of ἐκ πίστεως in the earlier parts of the letter refer to God’s act of faithfulness, then its use in Gal. 5:5 would cognitively “relight” those references without the need for Paul to be fully explicit. The original text would appear to us (non-native speakers) as “dense”. And it would be rather difficult for us to translate (unless we adopt the same “relighting”).

    If we adopt the larger, big-picture flow, then the medio-passive use of ἐνεργέω in Gal. 5:6 would naturally reinforce, and the cognitive effect would be to reinforce, the meaning as you’ve presented here. That is, the thought process within the reader would naturally flow. That’s what intrigues me with what you’ve presented.

    In short, I’m thinking in terms of Information Flow at the Discourse level. Ultimately, I’m thinking about how to get the “stuttering” out of the translated text. To accomplish that we first have to get the “stuttering” out of our understanding of the original meaning. You’ve helped me do that. Thanks!

  10. Peter Kirk says:

    To respond further to Iver, and perhaps also to help Chaka: I see Michael Palmer has recently posted a link to Carl Conrad’s Active, Middle, and Passive: Understanding Ancient Greek Voice (PDF download) (2003). Chaka, this does not explicitly use the categories of semantic roles, but it does talk in similar terms. There are links to other papers in the paper, but I have not checked if they are still alive. Michael Palmer also links to a 2005 paper by Carl, which may also be helpful, and has some different links to other papers which may be more likely to work.

  11. Yancy Smith says:

    In support of Peter’s note, one might also note the close association of πίστις and God’s work as ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν in 1 Cor 12:6, 9, 11. Although it could be argued that the faith here is of a different sort, still the passage is illustrative of Paul’s thought about how faith “works” in the believer through divine agency. So there are διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν but one God who does this work in everyone. The way this is done is that the Spirit “gives” faith (9), that is, the Spirit πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἐνεργεῖ … διαιροῦν ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ καθὼς βούλεται. It is easy for me to wed this thought to the context in Gal. 5:6 where πίστις is worked/works with no expressed agent. The intimate connection of divine agency through the Spirit is explicitly given in 5:6 ἡμεῖς γὰρ πνεύματι ἐκ πίστεως ἐλπίδα δικαιοσύνης ἀπεκδεχόμεθα.

  12. iverlarsen says:


    I am trying hard to put aside theology and only look at the Greek text in light of the meaning and usage of the Greek middle-passive forms, or as Carl Conrad and others, me included, call them on b-Greek: MP-forms. I am not going to comment on “faith genitive Christ” or “righteouness genitive God/Christ” except to say that I thoroughly disagree with N.T. Wright on this topic.
    This Greek verb is not easy to get a handle on, partly because English has lost almost all middle verbs. Your example of “The window broke” is one of the few left. (We have many more in Danish). He broke the window is causative – he caused the window to break.

    Carl Conrad describes the MP forms as “subject-focused” and we have had discussions on b-Greek about how this ties in to semantic roles. He is reluctant to interpret any MP form as passive unless there is a clear agent expressed in the context. Since this is not the case for the verb we are discussing, I am pretty sure he would not agree with your analysis, but you might bring it up in his forum.

    BAGD refers to the following article which I do not have access to: “KWClark, The Mng. of ENERGEW and KATERGEW in the NT: JBL 54, ’35, 93-101”. The question whether this is middle or passive is not new. I agree that Bruce’s comment was not very helpful, but he quoted Robertson, who is a famous Greek scholar, and that is why I quoted Bruce.

    Now, in the NT only the MP forms of KATERGEW are used. There are a number of verbs in Greek that are basically middle in meaning, and I think that applies to both ENERGAZOMAI, KATERGAZOMAI and ERGAZOMAI. When an active form of ENERGEW is used, it then becames causative, and of these three related verbs only ENERGEW occurs in the active in the NT.

    The purpose of a passive form is to take focus away from the agent and focus on the patient. In that respect middle and passive are alike. The agent is out of focus, and if you want to pull the agent back into focus, that is not in accord with how MP forms are used in Greek.

    The MP forms of ENERGEW seem to indicate that something is in operation in somebody, whereas the active forms indicate that somebody or something has caused whatever it is to be in operation.

    It may be helpful to look at some of those 21 instances again rather briefly, first where the verb is active (and the subject is not necessarily a person):

    Mat 14:12 and Mrk 6:14 miraculous powers are in operation in him.
    Here Jesus was able to perform miracles, but Herod thought that something must have caused him to be able to do so, and his idea was that if a person came back from the dead, this would give a person powers to do miracles. The subject of the verb is miraculous powers and the verb is causative. It is the cause for the person to be able to do miracles.

    1Co 12:6 There are different kinds of powerful acts (ENERGHMATA) but it is the same God who causes all these acts to be in operation in all (of you).

    1Co 12:11 It is one and the same Spirit who causes all these things to be in operation (in you).

    Gal 2:8 the one who caused Peter to work/operate/function as an aspostle

    Gal 3:5 the one who is giving you the Spirit and causing miracles to happen among you

    Eph 1:11 the one who causes everything to happen/work/be in operation

    Eph 1:20 which he caused to be in operation

    Eph 2:2 the (evil) spirit which is causing (sin/disobedience) to be in operation among the sons of disobedience

    Php 2:13 God is the one causing you to both have the will and be able to do what he considers right.

    Now when the verb is MP and therefore not causative:

    Rom 7:5 The sinful passions which were in operation in your members through the instrument of the law.

    2 Cor 1:6 When we are encouraged, it is for the purpose of us being able to encourage you to operate/function/go through with endurance the same sufferings that we suffer. (Very complex grammar with lots of ambiguous genitives.)

    2Co 4:12 so that the (prospect of) death is in operation in us

    Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any import, but (the important matter) is a faith that is in operation through love (not a faith based on the law or outward things like circumcision).

    Eph 3:20 According to the power which is in operation in us

    Col 1:29 according to the working/operation of him who is at work in me with power.

    1Th 2:13 the word of God which is also at work in you who believe

    2Th 2:17 the hidden/mysterious lawlessness is already in operation/at work (in people/the world)

  13. iverlarsen says:

    Since middle verbs are rather complex, I thought it might be helpful with a few more examples from English, like what Peter started off with. I hope these examples are proper English. (If not, I might have to give you Danish examples, or Peter can give us better English ones.)

    1. The blue car was driving along the highway.
    2. The blue car was being driven along the highway by the old man.
    3. The old man was driving his blue car along the highway.

    Number 1 is middle. The focus is on the car moving, the wheels turning, but not on who or what caused it to move along, even if some driver is normally implied.
    Number 2 is passive. There is still major focus on the car moving along, but a secondary focus on the person who caused it to move along. In English (and Greek) you can explicate the agent which is otherwise not in focus in a passive sentence. You cannot add “by the old man” in sentence 1.
    Number 3 is causative. The old man caused the blue car to move along.

    Another example which is more parallel to Koine Greek verbs and one of Carl Conrad’s favorite examples:

    1. She stood up.
    2. He made her stand up.
    3. She was made to stand up.

    Number 1 is middle. (In Danish we would have to say: she raised herself. The borderline between middle and reflexive is fuzzy.) The focus in a middle sentence is on the semantic patient (car, lady), which is expressed as subject just as in a passive sentence.
    Number 2 is causative (would be active in Greek). You cannot say “He stood her up” without moving into an entirely different idiom.
    You cannot transform a middle sentence into a passive as in “She was stood up”. Only an active or causative sentence can be such transformed. For the car you can say “The car was driven”, but this is because the English “drive” like “break” can cover both middle and active/causative, and the passive comes from the active drive(1) rather than the middle drive(2).

    This may not solve the question of ENERGAZOMAI, but it should be useful as background. Is the English verb “to work” not essentially a middle verb?

  14. Dannii says:

    Iver, I think unfortunately that your English is lacking here a bit.

    Sentence one of your first set is of questionable grammaticality to me. I guess it could be unaccusative.

    Sentence one of your second set however is not in the middle voice. It is simply an intransitive sentence. The woman is an agent.

    Sentences two and three of your second set aren’t helpful as they have subordinate clauses. You can see this especially with the third sentence as it has an explicit “to”.

  15. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, you make a good point. Indeed “faith” is one of the objects of energeo (active) in 1 Corinthians 12:11, as well as being the subject of energeo (medio-passive) in Galatians 5:6. You also note another link between 1 Corinthians 12:9 and Galatians 5:5 in that in both cases the faith seems to be pneumati, through the Holy Spirit.

    In my church we recently looked at the spiritual gift of faith, although we were confused by the misinterpretation of Ephesians 2:8 which I mentioned here. I think we were right to distinguish the gift of faith, which certainly is a gift of God, from saving faith, which is nowhere in the Bible so described.

    I have also described how Galatians 5:6 is quite closely related to James 5:16, talking about prayer which is energoumene leading to miraculous results.

    So I can’t help wondering whether also in Galatians 5:5-6 the faith which is pneumati and energoumene could be not so much saving faith as the gift of faith for God to do extraordinary things. The trouble is, this doesn’t really fit the wider context in Galatians.

    Iver, I will look at your comments next.

  16. Yancy Smith, PhD says:

    Actually, in Galatians 3:1-5 Paul mixes up “saving” faith and “miraculous” faith in that the latter is used in defense of his argument in favor of salvation by grace through faith. God supplies the Spirit that operates miracles through “the hearing of faith” not by “works of the Law.” I assume the GNT translation is essentially the idea, “Does God give you the Spirit because you follow the law? Does God work miracles among you because you follow the law? No, God gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you because you heard the message about Jesus and believed it.” This appeal to the Galatians experience seems in Paul’s estimation to be a slam-dunk. The assumption is that if this is the case, why do you want to base your relationship on something that doesn’t work? I don’t see Paul making a hard and fast distinction between the two types of faith here. Perhaps here is a place where our concepts differ from Paul’s. Still, God is the one supplying the Spirit and ἐνεργῶν miracles in response to the Galatian’s faith. Which one comes first is not in view. That is a problem Paul that was not at issue, but it seems to me that God working in tandem through the Spirit and faith does not necessarily rule out the notion that the Spirit as divine agency energized the faith itself or “made it effective.” A similar notion can be seen in 2 Th 2:13 where “salvation is by sanctification by the Spirit through faith in the truth.” Again, a tandem action could be seen as God ἐνεργῶν their faith. I am Open Theist, but this creates no Calvinism problem for me.

  17. Peter Kirk says:

    Iver, don’t confuse energeo with ergazomai. The latter is a different verb with potentially quite different semantics.

    I can’t help thinking that a lot of the difference between you and me is over terminology. I don’t think we agree what is meant by a “middle” verb. Carl Conrad has demonstrated that this is not a helpful category in Greek, and I don’t think it is in English either, so let’s drop it. I am also confused by your use of “causative” for what I would consider to be the basic forms of verbs of action – perhaps “agentive” would be a better term, to make the point that their subject is an agent.

    You describe a category of English intransitive verbs which you call “middle verbs”, but you say that English has lost almost all of them. But there may be more of these than you realise. In your second comment you use “drive” in this way in your first sentence 1., but actually this one is not good English at least in my dialect. But in your second sentence 1. “stood” is also an example, because “stand up” also has a transitive agentive use – more commonly with an inanimate object, but “He stood her up” is acceptable if “she” was incapable of standing without help – as well as meaning that he didn’t turn up for a date with her.

    The problem with the rendering “working” in Galatians 5:6 is that the English verb “work” only marginally works in this way. There is an agentive transitive use of the verb, as in “He worked miracles” and “He worked the machine”, but this use is rare. Much commoner is the intransitive agentive e.g. “He worked hard”. There is also a non-agentive intransitive of the kind you would call “middle”, such as “The machine is working”. But this is only really used of mechanical and electrical devices, and of procedures in sentences like “The strategy is working” – and of words etc, but that usage is rather colloquial.

    So what does it mean to say that faith, or prayer (James 5:16) is “working”, intransitive? As I see it, this can have two quite different interpretations. It could mean that faith or prayer is working like a machine or a strategy. Indeed with “prayer” as the subject that probably is how it would be understood: “His prayers worked! She recovered!” But there is an alternative interpretation, which is probably more natural when the subject is “faith”, and that is that the subject is a personified agent and the verb “work” is being used in its intransitive agentive sense. This is how I think Daniel Kirk originally understood Galatians 5:6, based on the fact that he wrote that

    ἐνεργουμένη means “working” or “being at work”.

    To me “being at work” clearly suggests this agentive sense.

    But to get back to the Greek, surely this is what it cannot mean. I see a clear correspondence between the active of energeo and the agentive senses of English “work”, usually intransitive but sometimes transitive, and between the medio-passive of energeo and the non-agentive intransitive sense of English “work”. The problem is that English does not make a distinction of form between these senses, and that leads to the wrong sense of “work” being selected by at least some readers of Galatians 5:6, in versions with “working”.

    I can suggest another English word which might work (non-agentive intransitive) better here than “work”, and that is “operate”. This verb has the same agentive transitive and non-agentive intransitive senses as “work”, but (except in the medical sense: “The surgeon operated on him”) no agentive intransitive sense. So if we read “faith operating through love”, this will not be misunderstood in terms of personified faith as an agent. Perhaps that is a better rendering.

    But this still leaves open the question of who is the implicit agent here. Now I accept that there is no focus on the agent here, as with any Greek medio-passive verb at least unless the agent is specified. Nevertheless logically all activity has to have some agent. And it remains true that wherever in the New Testament an agent of energeo and its related words is specified or implied, that agent is divine or superhuman. To me that continues to strongly suggest that the implied agent in this verse is divine. Indeed I think it is the agent which is specified in the previous verse with pneumati, i.e. the Holy Spirit, who “works” or “operates” faith to cause believers to “wait for the hope of righteousness”.

  18. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, thanks for pointing out the link with Galatians 3:1-5, which is surely important background for 5:5-6. I’m not sure I see the “gift of faith” in these verses. It could be behind “the hearing of faith”, but I would understand that as GNT does: “you heard the message about Jesus and believed it”, i.e. saving faith.

  19. Yancy Smith, PhD says:

    I clearly understand that we parse “saving faith” and “gift of faith” but still, I see Paul hopelessly confusing these two, e.g. Rom. 13:3 Λέγω γὰρ διὰ τῆς χάριτος τῆς δοθείσης μοι παντὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐν ὑμῖν μὴ ὑπερφρονεῖν παρ᾽ ὃ δεῖ φρονεῖν ἀλλὰ φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν, ἑκάστῳ ὡς ὁ θεὸς ἐμέρισεν μέτρον πίστεως. Again I quote the GNT, “And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you.” But “μέτρον πίστεως” could just as well be translated simply “faith,” leaving the bothersome μέτρον aside, as the ERV (WBTC) does. Why does Paul not observe our neat categories? We must speak with him.

  20. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, that’s a good point, but of course you mean Romans 12:3. I note also the analogia tes pisteos, the proportion of faith, in verse 6. In this passage faith seems to underlie all the gifts (charismata), which can be exercised only as the gifted one has faith – and there is no mention of the Holy Spirit. But in 1 Corinthians 12 the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts (charismata – but actually here this is only one of several terms used), but a very different list of them, and here faith is one of the gifts.

    Why the difference? I don’t think Paul was being inconsistent. More likely he was feeling his way towards an understanding of phenomena beyond his complete comprehension. The word of God resists our feeble attempts to systematise it.

  21. iverlarsen says:


    Thanks for your detailed comments. I don’t thnk we are that far away from each other if you can accept a word like “operate” or “be in operation”. I have no intention of defending the English “work” in this verse.

    I mentioned ERGAZOMAI because both ENERGAZOMAI/ENERGEW and KATERGAZOMAI are derived from it by addition of a preposition, and they are semantically very close. They function in similar ways. My main point was that two of these are only used in the MP forms and this suggests that for these verbs – ENERGAZOMAI included – the basic form is the MP.

    If you you are not familiar with the causative derived function of the Greek active forms of a basically MP verb, then you cannot have followed closely the discussiona Carl Conrad, I and others have had on this topic on b-Greek. If you have time you can revisit it in the archives, a couple of years back.

    The terms transitive and intransitive are pure syntactical terms and are not very helpful if we want to understand the semantics or function of MP verbs. The Greek middle is not easy to explain, and I can see that my attempt at explaining it with English examples was not particularly succesful. The “drive” example works well in Danish, but apparently not in English.

    I am not denying the underlying and essential work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian nor in how we live out our faith, but I see no need to import this idea into the Greek phrase we are discussing.

    When Paul says that “faith operates through love” I think he is using the common feature of metonymy rather than personification. Faith here seems to stand for the person who has faith and does things “in faith” and “through love”. In my experience many Greek metonyms are not easily understood, because English does not use metonyms to the same extent that Greek does.

    So, it looks like our disagreement is on the implied agent. I am saying that the implied agent is the person who lives out his faith in Jesus in the environment and under the direction of love, which ultimately comes from God, Jesus and the H.S.

    I am not sure how English speakers would interpret “faith operating through love”. Would they not understand that Paul is not just talking about an abstract faith doing something, but a person doing something while motivated and driven by faith? Maybe it is easier to follow in the CEV translation: “All that matters is your faith that makes you love others.”

  22. iverlarsen says:

    I have not seen anywhere that Carl Conrad thinks that middle is not a helpful category in Greek. What he says is that the concept of deponency (An MP form with supposedly active meaning) is not helpful. He has also noted that the focus on the morphological differences between middle and passive is not helpful, because many verb forms morphologically belong to the passive paradigm, but are in fact middle in function, like the common πορεύομαι (go, move), or the also common φοβοῦμαι (I am afraid). The verb in Μὴ οὖν φοβηθῆτε αὐτούς (So you should not fear them – Mat 10:26) is passive in form, but middle in function. As can be seen here a middle verb can be transitive, so one should not think that middle is the same as intransitive. The active form FOBEW does not occur in the NT, but it is the causative “to frighten, cause to be afraid”.

    Another point he has made is that when there is no expressed agent, the difference between a “passive” and “middle” is probably irrelevant. In these cases the writer is not talking about “who did it”, but what was done. Like the famous passive-form-middle-function “he got up” (ἠγέρθη), the focus is not on whether he got up on his own or someone else made him get up. It would be considered irrelevant.

  23. J. K. Gayle says:

    “But how do you explain that EVERY time the subject is an actual person the verb is active, and EVERY time the subject is ‘a personified idea’ the verb is medio-passive?”

    Peter, You’ve done a remarkable thing identifying a fantastic NT pattern. But do you think the pattern holds beyond this corpus of texts?

    Below are just 3 examples of several in Chariton’s Callirhoe, (what some say is) a first-century Greek text. It’s a novel (but perhaps of the same time period, roughly, as the NT but with none of the theological implications). I’m showing here in bold “medio-passive” verbs of the same form as are in your NT examples. (I’ve translated the clauses into English, trying to use your principles, while looking at G. P. Goold’s English rendering and Alain Meurant’s French translation to help).

    Διονύσιος γὰρ οὐχ ὑπὲρ γυναικὸς ἐγκαλεῖ κατὰ νόμους αὐτῷ γαμηθείσης, ἀλλὰ πωλουμένην ἠγόρασεν αὐτήν·

    Dionysus is not bringing suit on behalf of a wife legally married to him. Rather [when] offered [for sale] he bought her.

    Book 5 7.3.5

    παρέξει γάρ σοι Διονύσιος ἡδέως αἰτουμένῃ χάριν πρώτην.

    Dionysus will be glad to grant you [the] asked for favor first.

    Book 2 7.3.2

    οὔτε ἐγκαλοῦσαν οὔτε ἐγκαλουμένην αὐτήν.

    when she is neither [the] accuser nor [the person who is] accused.

    Book 5 4.11.1.

  24. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, I thought I had made it clear that I was referring to the verb energeo only. I know my rule does not apply for all verbs even in the NT – for example, it doesn’t even apply to ergazomai.

    Iver, that’s the point I also want to make for you. First of all, you have twice mentioned a verb energazomai which doesn’t exist in the New Testament. And you suggest that energeo is derived from ergazomai by the addition of a preposition, but it is not. There is no reason to think that energeo and ergazomai should have the same semantics, and in fact good evidence that they do not. For example, ergazomai is commonly used with a human agent as its subject, and for ordinary forms of human work e.g. in Acts 18:3; but none of these things are true of energeo in either active or middle/passive forms. So I completely deny that “they are semantically very close. They function in similar ways.” Have you actually looked at the evidence for this statement?

    It is true that I have not been following all the b-greek discussions, and don’t know all of Carl Conrad’s ideas about the Greek middle. He has clearly demonstrated that it is not useful as a morphological concept. Maybe it is useful as a semantic one, but if so in a very different semantic framework and terminology from what I introduced in this post.

  25. J. K. Gayle says:


    Sorry about that. Yes, now I see how you’ve focused your claim. This makes it even more fascinating. The closest to Iver’s form is ergazomai [not energazomai] in Jn 5:17 and Acts 13:41.

    I can’t find energoumene anywhere outside the NT.

    Chariton’s work does contain the verb energo, but it’s the adjectival energesteras:

    Ὁ δὲ Ἀκραγαντῖνος διαπεπτωκυίας αὐτῷ τῆς πρώτης τέχνης ἥπτετο λοιπὸν ἐνεργεστέρας.

    The Acragite foiled in his first technique set out with another [“more drastic” / “plus efficace”] one.

    Book 1 4.1.1 [Goold’s and Meurant’s renderings in the brackets above] the rest is my translation.

    Do you think this rare form energoumene is Paul’s and/ or James’s neologism?

  26. Yancy Smith says:

    If you are using Diogenes or other TLG search engine, set your search for ενεργουμεν no diacritics and you will find quite a few instances of the midial-passive participle. Just skip all the finite forms.

  27. Peter Kirk says:

    I want to draw readers’ attention to the comment I just made on the post on my own blog on James 5:16-17, in reply to a comment from Tony Pope linking to a commentary on James by J.B. Mayor. Mayor writes that energeo “in the N.T. is always used of some principle or power at work, whether in the soul or elsewhere” (p.172), and that both Abbott and Hort understand energoumene in both James 5:16 and Galatians 5:6 to be passive rather than middle. So some big guns of a past era took the same position as me.

  28. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, Mayor (thanks to Tony Pope for the link) lists lots of examples of energeo in the middle or passive, many of which are present participles. But the only other example he gives of the precise form energoumene is from Clement of Alexandria, and so later than Paul and James.

  29. iverlarsen says:

    Hi, Peter,

    First, for some reason it is common to cite a Greek word in the 1st person active present form rather than the infinitive. If a verb only occurs in the MP forms in the New Testament, it is common to cite it in 1st ps. middle-passive form.
    That is why ἐνεργέω is cited in the active, because it occurs both in active and MP forms. For verbs that do not occur in active in the NT, the base form is listed in the MP present, for instance:

    ἐργάζομαι ERGAZOMAI (41 times in the NT, all in MP forms). This word is normally translated “work, be active” when used intransitively and “do, accomplish” when transitive.

    κατεργάζομαι KATERGAZOMAI (22 times in the NT, all in MP forms). It is normally translated “do, accomplish, produce”.

    As a language develops it happens that active forms of a particular verb go out of use and only MP forms remain. When LJS states for κατεργάζομαι that “in pass. sense, to be effected or achieved,” this is an indication that an active form katergew once existed, because only active forms can be transformed to passives. For ἐργάζομαι LSJ says “but some tenses take a pass. sense”, again that is a vestige of active forms that was in use at one time.
    In the case of φοβέω (I frighten), BART is not giving the base form as φοβοῦμαι (I am afraid), even though the active forms of φοβέω do not occur in the NT. I suppose the reason for φοβέω is that the active forms do occur outside the NT.

    When I mentioned energazomai I was citing the 1st ps MP form as a shorthand for all the MP forms of this verb. I am sorry if that was not clear. My point is that you have MP forms of katergazomai, but the active forms of katergew have gone out of use. The same for ergazomai. The active forms of ergew have gone out of use. However, the active forms of energazomai, which are referred to by the base form energew, are still in use. These three verbs are closely connected semantically, and yes, I have checked the data. Energew is commonly translated “work, produce”. If you look at the dictionary entries for these three words you will see a lot of semantic similarity.

    Now, I agree with you that to get a handle on these verbs and especially the concept of middle verbs in Greek, one has to look at semantic roles. A middle verb in Greek normally has an Experiencer role as subject, although it may have an Agent role in addition so that it has two roles simultaneously. This is where middle and reflexive intercept.

    Let me go back to Μὴ φοβηθῆτε αὐτούς (You should not fear them). φοβοῦμαι is a common verb in MP forms in the NT (95 times), but as I said the active form is not used. In the sentence above the subject is you-plural and it functions in the role of Experiencer. Fear is not something you do, but something you feel. The object is the Cause, which is a wider role than Agent. The middle idea correspond to “Do not be afraid/fear”, the passive idea would be “Do not be frightened.” In the passive form, it is possible to add an Agent: “Do not be frigthened by them”, but this is not possible in the middle form: *”Do not fear by them”.

    People are used to the active-passive transformation where the object-Patient becomes subject (but stays as Patient), and the subject-Agent is suppressed or possibly re-introduced as a secondary Agent role by way of a preposition (usually hypo in Greek).

    People are not so used to the middle-active transformation. In this case the object is again transformed to become subject, and the semantic roles remain. The active form corresponding to “You should not fear them” is “They should not frighten you.” The former subject becomes the object, but retains its role as Experiencer. The Greek verb to be used here is the active form FOBEW.

    Now, let us go back to Gal 5:6. You are suggesting that this should be interpreted as passive rather than middle. (BART has all forms of ergazomai in the NT listed as middle rather than passive, but that does not necessarily solve the issue. It is only an opinion.)
    If it were passive, then I assume that the subject pistis would have the role of Patient, and there would be an implicitg Agent somewhere. If God is the Agent, the idea would be that God is instilling or producing faith in us though (his) love. I am not saying it is impossible, only that it is unlikely and does not fit the context. I can see how followers of N.T. Wright might like this interpretation (I don’t know if you are one), but I am pretty sure that Paul would not agree with bishop Wright.
    The other option is to take it as middle as it seems to be in all other cases in the NT. There is never any explicit Agent for energazomai, and one has to stretch the imagination to supply an implicit Agent.
    The idea that faith is to operate though love is common enough in the NT, both in Paul and outside. A faith that is not in operation is dead, says James. But faith, even miraculous faith, without love is worth nothing, says Paul in 1 Cor 13:2.

  30. Peter Kirk says:

    Iver, usually I have great respect for you and for your scholarship, even when I disagree with you. But here I have to say that you continue to be just plain wrong about the facts, although I have tried twice before to alert you to your error.

    Your most obvious error is when you write:

    When I mentioned energazomai I was citing the 1st ps MP form as a shorthand for all the MP forms of this verb.

    But the MP form of energeo found in the New Testament is not energazomai but energoumai, contracted from energeomai.

    These are two quite different forms. One has a verbalising suffix -azo/-azomai and the other the verbalising suffix -eo/-eomai. These two suffixes have different functions and different meanings. I rather think that the -azo form was originally causative in meaning (in the sense I would use the term, “I cause someone to do work”) (compare hagiazo “I cause to be holy”), implying that the MP -azomai forms which are more common are non-causative but simply agentive (“I do work”). But the -eo suffix is not causative, just agentive (“I do work”).

    Similarly you imply that katergazomai is the MP form of an earlier katergeo. It is not – it is the MP form of a supposed katergazo.

    Your last paragraph does make sense (except for “There is never any explicit Agent for energazomai”, with which I must agree because the verb does not exist in the NT). I am not pushing Wright’s interpretation, on which I am undecided. But I noted in a previous comment that many older scholars agreed with my passive understanding. But I disagree that “one has to stretch the imagination to supply an implicit Agent” – there is an appropriate agent made explicit in the previous verse, linked with “faith”, as well as the parallel in 3:5.

    I don’t want to insist on an explicitly passive meaning for energoumene. But I do think it has a rather different meaning from ergazomene or (cf. James 2:17) echousa erga.

  31. Tony Pope says:

    Iver, first as regards the inflected forms, the relevant MP form for the verb we are discussing, ἐνεργέω, would be ἐνεργοῦμαι. The one you cite, ἐνεργάζομαι, is a different verb.

    In an earlier post you make the point that many Greek forms that are morphologically passive are to be interpreted as if they were middle, i.e. there is no implication in the author’s mind of an Agent. That is fine, but when you go on to claim that “when there is no expressed agent, the difference between a “passive” and “middle” is probably irrelevant” it seems to me this is pushing a good rule too far. It would mean that whenever an author wanted to use the MP form to express a passive meaning, he would be obliged to make the Agent explicit, and this would become clumsy whenever the Agent is easily retrieved from the surrounding context.

    This of course assumes that the particular verb in question was in use with a passive meaning. Just because several stock examples can be quoted that are generally accepted as never used with passive meaning, we must not assume that is the case with ἐνεργοῦμαι. One difficulty we have is that the New Testament is a small corpus and there is not much literature that was written in the same century. In the case of ἐνεργοῦμαι we do have examples of MP forms used with a ὑπό phrase. I don’t have access to the full TLG collection, but Mayor on James gives two clear examples from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (c. 150AD) and the demo TLG gives numerous examples from later church fathers. The Agents that are expressed in Christian literature are usually supernatural powers, either God, the Holy Spirit or the devil, etc.

    BAGD quote examples that they claim are middle. I was able to check the first of these, from Diodorus Siculus. It is about the Carthaginians attacking the city of the Acragantini. The standard translation on the Perseus site says “when the inhabitants of the city would not entertain these terms, the siege WAS BEGUN at once”, whereas BAGD translates “went into effect, began”. It seems to me that the Agent is easily retrievable, and so I don’t see why BAGD regard it as middle. Sieges don’t just happen without the invading army making them happen.

    Unless you want to insist that no evidence from outside the NT is admissible, it seems only reasonable to allow that the NT writers could well have intended to communicate a passive meaning, the Agent being retrievable from the context. Of course it is possible that not all the NT examples are to be regarded the same way.

    There’s no doubt that taking the forms in Paul and James as middle makes for a simpler translation in English but that may well be missing something. That is the burden of the K. W. Clark article that I mentioned in my first post. He complains that the English versions are undertranslating, making the texts of Paul and James “humanistic” when they should be “supernaturalistic”.

    I suggest that in an English translation in each passage the Agent should be easily retrievable. This does not necessarily mean an English passive has to be used in every case, but something needs to be done to ensure the Agent is correctly identifiable. The fact that translators and many commentators have not appreciated the existence of an implied (usually supernatural) agent may, it seems to me, be due to the rendering in the Latin Vulgate, where the so-called deponent “operatur” is used. Mayor claims the support of early Greek and Latin commentators for the passive interpretation.

  32. iverlarsen says:

    Thanks, Peter,

    I had not realized that this was the error I made. You don’t need to be apologetic about correcting me. It is nice once in a while to admit that I was clearly wrong, and you were clearly right – at least on the point of morphology.

    To Tony, I would just say that I agree that the statement you refer to is pushing things too far. This is the kind of statement that Carl has made, and I have at times disagreed myself with him about it. You have found examples outside the NT where an MP form of ENERGEW is used as a passive, and that is fine. But in the case of Gal 5:8 I do not see how it could be passive.

  33. Yancy Smith says:

    As others have noted on this thread MP ένεργεῖν used modifying faith is a Pauline formulation and shows up almost exclusively as a comment on Gal. 5:6 in Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, John of Damascus, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Didymus the Blind, Theodore Studites, Maximus the Confessor, Theodoret,
    But, here is an example of ένεργεῖν MP attributive participle used to describe faith outside Biblical Greek that isn’t directly dependent upon Gal. 5:6, though it may be indirectly dependent. Of course this usages is Christian, but may show the ideology of “faith” working as a power in the human condition. Here is Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel, 9.13.9 applying the exhortation “Be strong” (given to Moses) to Christian believers:

    Πίστις δ’ ἂν γένοιτο ἐναργεστάτη τῆς τοῦ προφητευομένου
    σωτῆρος ἡμῶν ἐνθέου δυνάμεως, δι’ ἧς ἀληθῶς χωλοὺς καὶ τυφλοὺς
    καὶ λεπροὺς καὶ παρειμένους ἰάσατό ποτε λόγῳ κατὰ τὰς περὶ αὐτοῦ
    γραφάς, ἡ καὶ εἰσέτι νῦν ἐνεργουμένη πρὸς τῆς αὐτοῦ θεότητος καθ’
    ὅλης τῆς ἀνθρώπων οἰκουμένης ἀρετή, δι’ ἧς αὐτοῖς ἔργοις ὁποῖός
    τις ἦν καὶ τότε τοῖς οἵοις τε συνορᾶν ἐπιδείκνυται

    Faith would [eventually] be most manifest in the divinely inspired power of our prophetically foretold Savior, through which truly he healed the lame and blind and leprous and the paralyzed when with a word according to the Scriptures, the virtue operative even now in demonstration of his divinity throughout the world and through which some such work then appeared to be in view … [my translation]

    Eusebius sees faith is a divine energy of grace operating supremely in Christ. That may seem a thousand miles from Paul in Galatians 5:6. But is it? A native Greek speaker would easily hold in her mind a general impression of the instances and activities of πίστις in Galatians. Paul also speaks of faith in the same way, even personifying it in Galatians 3:23, faith does some odd things is Paul, “faith comes.” You can’t say that in many languages. And if you try to say it, people will not understand you. But Paul could say it, because his formerly polytheistic audience (Gal 4:8,9) know all about personifying virtues and psychological powers. I would submit that for Paul faith came with Jesus and Jesus left faith as something operative (with divine support) among believers, it is what makes them children of God (Gal. 3:27). Now, I think in translation this is often a problem of “our spaces are not their spaces” as seen elsewhere on this blog. I know in Indonesian we couldn’t use the word faith because it was likely to be misunderstood as some undefinable mystical quality. One heretical group in Papua thought the word translated “faith” was something like “endurance” so the way they tested for faith was to stand a young man in front of a naked woman. If he got an erection, then he didn’t have faith. Interestingly enough, when a Bible translator friend of mine was in Indonesia a while back he asked a group of translators if they had faith, only one or two out of over a dozen dared raise their hands.
    When Paul says “faith working through love” a native Greek speaker who can hold the whole letter in mind (in Greek) should be forgiven for not atomizing the text and sensing, perhaps, a usage similar to Gal. 3:23. But I think the notion that it is exclusively a human activity in 5:6 should be questioned, the passive idea with implied agent is a real possibility. Thanks for this post.

  34. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, thank you. Thanks especially for the mention of 3:23 in which faith is something which “came” because God revealed it. This clearly shows at least one way in which God is the agent of faith. But I’m not sure how that ties up with 5:6.

  35. yancywsmith says:

    Well, our difficulty in translating the Bible often, as in this case, stems from dealing with an ad hoc concept, “faith/PISTIS” as if it were a tighter, more controlled modern theological concept. Metaphor (or, conversely, as Iver suggested, more specifically metonymy) is a type of loose talk. The boundaries of the concept are fuzzy and defy precise definition as the author works his persuasive power on the audience. Alot of this fluidity or fuzziness stems from Paul’s interpretation in 3:11 of Hab 2:4 the linguistic ambiguity of which allows Paul quite a bit of wiggle room in reshaping the OT concept. So, in Galatians Paul
    “preaches as good news the faith (PISTIS) he formerly tried to ruin” (Gal 1:23),
    human beings are “made right by means of the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (2:16),
    the life that Paul lives in the flesh he lives “by faith in the Son of God” (2:20),
    the Spirit is given “by the hearing of faith” (3:5),
    Abraham believed and consequently “those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (3:7),
    the faith foretold in Scripture brings life (3:11)
    but the law has nothing to do with this faith, it is an alternate source of life (3:12),
    law kept us until “faith came” (3:23),
    “faith” justifies us (makes the determination that we are free, no longer under the paedagogue) (3:24, 25)
    “All are sons of God through the faith that is in Jesus Christ” (3:27)
    “We, by the Spirit because of faith have the hope that comes from this justified (i.e. free) status” (Gal 5:5)

    So, in 5:6 what remains of the forgoing mentions of “faith?” That is not strictly a grammatical problem, but a conceptual one.
    When Paul opposes the ineffectualness of either uncircumcision or circumcion–“οὔτε … οὔτε ἰσχύει”–he is contrasting such ineffectualness with the effectualness of “faith” (his ad hoc concept that “came” with Christ and made FREE sons of God of human beings who formerly like children or slaves. It is “πίστις δι᾽ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη” that ἰσχύει. Now ἡ ἐνεργουμένη πίστις as an ἐνθέος δύναμις is what Eusebius in the Preparation of the Gospel passage I quoted above said was the basis of Moses’ being able to ἰσχύειν or “to be strong.” I am suggesting that, in some of the passages of Galatians a similar conecption of πίστις as a divinely activated power “is at work,” so to speak, and that would be the connection of Gal 5:6 with Gal 3:23. Some languages may not be alble to speak of faith in this way. What happens to the fabric of the argument when in every case you have to turn “faith” into an active verb?

  36. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, that’s interesting, but moving away from the subject of the post. In fact you seem to be edging towards the New Perspective on Paul, Wright’s perspective which Iver “thoroughly disagree[s]” with. But I don’t think this is the place to discuss it. Perhaps more to the point is that biblical concepts resist the kind of systematisation which some scholars try to force upon them.

  37. iver larsen says:


    I see these interactions as a learning tool where we together try to gain a better understanding of a difficult passage, and we are bound to make some statements once in a while that we haven’t thought through.
    I was backtracking a bit to see why I took the wrong path and had problems realizing it.
    I think it all started with the title of the article by CLARKE: The Mng. of ENERGEW and KATERGEW in the NT.
    Now, there is no word KATERGEW in Greek, so I jumped to what I thought he might have intended, namely, KATERGAZOMAI. Not having read the article, I don’t know why he wrote KATERGEW or whether this is a mistake in BAGD.
    Then I was overwhelmed with the long lists of derivations from ergazomai (work, do, perform,accomplish):
    apergazomai (finish off, come to completion)
    diergazomai (make an end of, finish off)
    energazomai (make or produce in)
    exergazomai (accomplish, work out)
    epexergazomai, epergazomai, katergazomai, periergazomai, prodiergazomai, proergazomai, prosexergazomai, prosergazomai, sugkatergazomai, sunapergazomai, sunergazomai, hupergazomai.

    In contrast there are only two verbs with a preposition before -ergew:
    energew, sunergew.

    In Danish we translated Gal 5:6 “Det eneste, der betyder noget, er den tro, der leves ud i kærlighed.” In English this comes out as: “The only thing that really matters is the faith that is lived out in love.” The Danish word “leve-s” is “to live” plus a middle suffix -s that has no equivalent in English.
    I have not heard anybody having problems understanding “faith comes by hearing” as “somone can/may start believing based on what (s)he has heard.”
    But in some languages, abstract nouns are not common. In Sabaot we often had to change a noun to a verb, so Gal 5:6 came out as follows in an English backtranslation: “Whether a person is circumsised or not circumcised is nothing when it comes to the Saviour Jesus. But what is of importance is for a person to entrust himself to the Saviour and have love.”

  38. iver larsen says:

    Just realized another of my mistakes. Because of the rather small print and my not perfect eyesight, I misread Clarke’s KATARGEW for KATERGEW. KATARGEW is a perfectly good word in Greek.

  39. John Hobbins says:


    Thanks for this. However, I’m quite unconvinced by your conclusions. You say:

    “Galatians 5:6 “faith” is a work which God is doing, through love. Or perhaps there is a link with the previous verse and it is the Holy Spirit who is working here, causing believers to have the faith to wait. This goes against my Arminian theology, but it is what the text seems to say.”

    You base this on statistical study of the use of one of the words in Gal 5:6, but I submit that statistics is a relatively poor guide to determining the meaning of a word in context. Context is far better.

    In Gal 5:6, these three items form a semantic chain:

    faith working through love

    The usual interpretation is also the most natural: a human action (or lack of action) is at stake in each instance.

  40. Yancy Smith says:

    Grammatical analysis and discourse decoding can only go so far in solving the sort of translation problem Peter exposed on this post. At some point one has to have recourse to unexpressed assumptions and conceptual analysis. That involves theology and understanding unexpressed cultural assumptions. Paul says “X” because it will persuade them of “Z” because of “Y.” Our problem is discovering “Y” because it is unexpressed. It is just too obvious or assumed by writer and audience. This is a growth area in translation studies often unaddressed in either Biblical transaltion or study Bible note-writing, as my friend Harriet Hill argues in _The Bible at Cultural Crossroads: From Translation to Communication_. I see John attempting a rudimentary conceptual approach. He proposes that Peter’s reading is disqualified on the grounds that “circumcision” “uncircumcision” and “faith” fall under the category of “human actions” pure and simple for Paul. But, I wonder. Is Paul’s argument to the Galatians about how they adopted the wrong human action that results in salvation? I don’t think so. Rather, it is about how they have aligned themselves through trust in symbols that constitute the present evil age (Gal 1:4): the Law, cirucumcision, etc. that keeps Jews and Gentiles in two separate families–rather than with the faith inaugurated in Christ (Gal 2:16; 3:1-5, 23) that propells them by the Spirit toward the New Creation (Gal 6:15). But this is probably way off the topic of the post.

  41. John Hobbins says:


    My take on the passage is consonant with the concepts you associate with it (it=my take), but is also tied up with a Gestalt reading of the entire epistle and the entire Pauline corpus. For that reason, for example, I cannot follow your alternative conceptual analysis in which the Law, circumcision, and (necessarily, though you don’t mention it) uncircumcision are “symbols that constitute the present evil age.” That’s a bridge too far, it seems to me.

    And no, none of this is off-topic because the meaning of a particular passage can only be determined in relation to a larger macrosemantic whole. What is the immediate larger macrosemantic whole? For starters, that’s Galatians 5. The consistent theme of Gal 5, I submit, is not the divine initiative, though that is the premise, but the human response or “therefore” which follows therefrom (5:1). The semantic chain continues – and here, really, I am partially on the same page as Peter, who intuits the importance of the Holy Spirit:

    faith working through love
    running well
    obeying the truth
    use your freedom
    through love serve one another
    walk by the Spirit

  42. J. K. Gayle says:

    “what I write here should be taken as provisional, as a first attempt to find a proper semantic understanding of the phrase” — Peter

    “But in some languages, abstract nouns are not common. In Sabaot we often had to change a noun to a verb,” — Iver

    “You [Peter] base this on statistical study… Context is far better…. My take … is also tied up with a Gestalt reading of the entire epistle and the entire Pauline corpus.” — John

    “Grammatical analysis and discourse decoding can only go so far …. At some point one has to have recourse to unexpressed assumptions and conceptual analysis. That involves theology and understanding unexpressed cultural assumptions.” — Yancy

    The very important thing that you introduce in your post, Peter, is that here’s an anomaly not only in a very limited corpus of the Greek texts (i.e. if including all extant NT but also LXX variant mss) but also in our entire extant corpus of pre-NT texts. The writers Paul and James in fairly distinct contexts each uniquely use the same unique word(form) ἐνεργουμένη. Why? How do we find (or even “make”) meanings of neologisms and coinages? I appreciate your using linguistic analogies to start to get to semantics here. Your helping us begin to think about how phrases such as Lewis Carroll’s “the slithy toves” might work for English readers for more than a century now. But for Paul and for James to write such a unique form gets at something even more rhetorical, perhaps, akin to Michael Young’s 1958 coinage of “meritocracy.” Immediately, the word had (or was ostensibly to have) a negative connotation, but was not longer after appropriated by those who wanted to promote whatever “meritocracy” had become. I’m bringing up a political-rhetorical example because — especially for Paul — PISTIS is a huge word. In the context of Greek rhetoric, which Paul seems facile in, the word has distinctly non-Christian and even proto-religious meanings. (See James L. Kinneavy’s Greek Rhetorical Origins of Christian Faith: An Inquiry). I don’t know if we can be as certain as Yancy wants us to be that Paul may have intentionally understood a problem, assumed a few things with his audience, and set out to solve it. We might also conjecture that Paul (and James) wrote things unconsciously, were unaware of the effect that their neologism might have on readers and in which direction(s) the immediate and later readers would appropriate or “make” meanings. What I’m trying to say is that a word coinage is salient. A word coinage is wordplay in the senses that there is not only playfulness, not only hermeneutic wiggle room and evolution, but there is also performance (as in a play). If there were blogging among Paul’s and James’s first readers, then I imagine they’d have been as vigorous in their discussions about this new Greek phrase as we are twenty centuries later. The original authors would either have the choice to “correct” the readers or to be interested in what Kenneth Pike used to call “radical relativism within rigid restraints.” The linguistic observer, semantically, has choice between “particle,” “wave,” and “field.” This works in L1 and, in translation decisions, in L2 as well. Translators do violence when they decide all and only what a neologism in L1 must mean. Doesn’t mean we translators shouldn’t attempt that. It just means we tempt ourselves with a naive or intentional arrogance when we assume that we can — retrospectively — determine meaning. I really like this post, and what you’ve only got us started with here — with your refreshing humility I must add!

  43. Yancy Smith says:

    The reason I affirm that πίστις is ἐνεργουμένη by the action of the Spirit and not a strictly human activity as I understand you to be doing is that Paul uses and describes πίστις in ways that make me think he must conceive of faith as a human-divne activity activated by the Spirit through the love of the Son of God (Gal 2:20) so “faith comes” (3:23) and faith “gets energized/activated” by love. Indeed, the love he speaks of is also a divine-human activity. That is why Paul goes on to call πίστις and ἀγάπη and a whole host of other seemingly human activities “the fruit of the πνεύματος” (5:22-23).
    As for the Law constituting the present age–in all the evil of the age–I don’t mean, of course, that the Law itself is evil or that it was given for an evil purpose. Rather, that purpose is to serve precisely what Deuteronomy 30-32 says it serves, to mark the peope of Israel as God’s unique possession. It constitutes the present age as a division, a dividing wall, if you will, between Jew and Gentile for a good purpose, I think Paul would say, it is like a good παιδαγωγός or “child minder slave” wh keeps a young boy out of trouble by keeping him away from the riff-raff, to use a homely example. However now that “faith has come” if beleivers continue to submit to the divisive tactics of the Law, what was meant for good now becomes evil. It cuts one off from Christ and grace (I would call that evil and hideous.) The evil age is what it is, in part, because of the sort of divisions the law creates overcome by faith to create the one family in Christ (Gal 3:26-27). It was always God’s intention to overcome those divisions, since he is one God and he must have as his ultimate goal one human family (Gal. 3:19). The Law (and the prophets) do serve a good purpose once faith comes, by showing that the gospel (the message that the Gentiles would be included in God’s blessed family) was preached beforehand to Abraham (Gal 3:8). I am purposely trying to avoid bringing in concepts from Romans and Paul’s other letters because it is just possible that Romans develops some of these thoughts in more nuanced ways that a translator should differentiate somewhat in the act of translation.

    May your faith and mine be energized and made fruitful by the Spirit and the love of God so that we can exhibit Christ’s faith and love to the glory of God the Father!

  44. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk and Yancy, you make interesting points.

    I can’t help wondering if energoumene was early Christian jargon, a bit like “anointed” is jargon at least among Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. I can imagine Paul saying that faith should be “anointed” and James saying that prayer should be “anointed”, meaning that God was working through them. Of course someone trying to understand “anointed” in contemporary Christian literature wouldn’t get very far by examining how the word is used in secular literature, as the few examples which could be found, e.g. of oil being smeared on kings at their coronation, would not be very helpful.

  45. yancywsmith says:

    I know that some will chaffe at bringing in patristic foreground, but sometimes knowing a bit about how concepts later developed can give a clue as to earlier meaning. It may be a quirk of mine, but I believe “background” and “foreground” are often crucial in the translation process. Your suggestion is wonderful and a strong case can be made,in view of later Christian development of the concept of divine energies and operations that was, in the NT period, an example of Christian jargon. Several Church Fathers use the term (I picked out one case among many, one that equate πίστις with a divine-human energy in Eusebius.) In the fathers, the active presence of God is discerned through these operations. I.e. God’s word or promises create “faith” and believers thus share in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:3). For example, Gregory of Nyssa used this concept to explain his docrine that the essence of God is beyond human conprehension, but that believers can “know” God by contemplating his operations (energeiai) in the phenomena of nature and the activity of divine grace. This dynamic concept of divine activity was a Christian transformation of a non-Christian, static Hellenistic (middle and neoplatonic) concept of divine logoi. For orthodox Christians, God was present in the world through divine-human operations like “faith” constantly at work transforming creation through his operations as creation moves toward New Creation.
    Don’t mistake my intention. I certainly don’t think Paul’s starting point implies the developed apophatic theology of Gregory, but if we begin with “faith working through love” in Paul as something in which both God and humans participate, it is far easier to explain how men like Gregory ended up where they did. This is probably way off topic. So I will shut up.

  46. Peter Kirk says:

    Yancy, that’s interesting. I wouldn’t want to suggest that Paul’s thinking was in any way neo-Platonic. But I can see how what he wrote in Galatians 5:6 might have been one of the starting points for theological developments in this direction. It might be interesting to see if any of these Fathers, especially those who were native speakers of Koine Greek, explicitly interpreted this verse along those lines.

  47. yancywsmith says:

    Here are a few representative Greek discussions, which may explain why some of the older, heavy hitters in exegesis take your option. They were more aware of exegetical history (all the patristic quotes in Alford, for example). And modern interpreters just skip everything from the first to the twentieth century, for the most part. Perhaps a tradition of primitivism is operative in that choice. I don’t pretend to know why we do what we do. Anyway, here goes.
    Clement of Alexandria (2nd century) quotes Gal 5:6 in the context of discussing the highest good (a common topic in Hellenistic philosophy). He defines the highest good, quoting Plato, as “assimilation to God so that as far as possible a person becomes righteous and holy with wisdom.” He thus “lays down the aim and goal of faith as that restitution of the promise which is effected by faith.” σκοπὸν τῆς πίστεως ὑποτίθεται, τέλος δὲ τὴν ἐπὶ τῇ πίστει τῆς ἐπαγγελίας ἀποκατάστασιν.
    This he says is the goal of “faith” energized by love.
    Gregory of Nyssa (late 4th century) has this comment on God’s love and faith in the context of his Commentary on the Song of Songs:
    ἐπεὶ οὖν συνέστησεν ἑαυτοῦ τὴν ἀγάπην ὁ καλὸς ἐραστὴς τῶν ἡμετέρων ψυχῶν, δι’ ἣν καὶ Ἁμαρτωλῶν ὄντων ἡμῶν Χριστὸς ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἀπέθανε, διὰ τοῦτο ἀντερασθεῖσα ἡ νύμφη τοῦ ἀγαπήσαντος δείκνυσιν ἐν ἑαυτῇ ἐγκείμενον διὰ βάθους τῆς ἀγάπης τὸ βέλος, τουτέστι τὴν τῆς θεότητος αὐτοῦ κοινωνίαν· ἡ γὰρ ἀγάπη ἐστὶν ὁ θεός, καθὼς εἴρηται, ἡ
    διὰ τῆς κατὰ τὴν πίστιν ἀκίδος τῇ καρδίᾳ ἐγγενομένη. εἰ δὲ χρὴ καὶ ὄνομα τοῦ βέλους εἰπεῖν τούτου, ἐροῦμεν ὃ παρὰ τοῦ Παύλου ἐμάθομεν ὅτι τὸ βέλος τοῦτό ἐστι Πίστις
    δι’ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη.
    “Since therefore the Good Lover of Our Souls established his own love, on account of which also ‘Though we were sinners yet Christ died for us’ on account of this the rival bride of the Lover demonstrates that there is within her a arrow on account of the depth of her love. That is on account of her sharing in his divine nature. “For God is love,” even as it has been said, this is the dart that that has been inserted into her heart. But if there is need to name the arrow, we will say what we learned from Paul, that the arrow is “faith working through love” (Πίστις δι’ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη).

    Photius (9th century) gives a nifty statement of what Paul meant by “sharers with me in grace” in Phil 1:7 that points to this more developed understanding of faith as a grace energized by the Spirit. (It needs to be born in mind that the Greek Fathers at the same time had a robust concept of “free will” that was not understood as contradicting, but co-operating with grace.) Phil 1:7
    φησί, εἰσιν· ἢ τῆς διὰ πίστεως ἐπιχορηγουμένης αὐτοῖς πνευματικῆς δωρεᾶς ποικίλως αὐτοῖς ἐνεργουμένης τότε, ἢ ἁπλῶς χάριτος τῆς διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος παλιγγενεσίας καὶ υἱοθεσίας. (Photius, Frag. On Philippians, from the Cataena).
    “‘who share with me in grace’ means: The faith then supplied to them being energized/made operative in many ways by spiritual gifts, is the faith singularly operative from the grace given through baptism, regeneration, and adoption.”
    Here, of course, Photius does not distinguish between faith as a gift for spiritual gifts and conversion faith, but that is beside the point.

  48. Rick Ritchie says:

    No problem with any of the conclusions. But looking at your English examples (e.g. “Fred broke the window.), I can see how the idea of locating “various participants” could get tricky. Let’s say someone said something like “Animosity broke the window.” According to grammar, “Animosity” would be the participant. But we could then ask from context whether there was an actual participant. There might be a clear one. Perhaps the one party filled with animosity threw a brick through the window. But you could also ask whether the author was referring to animosity in the broader situation.

    I don’t suggest an immediate parallel with “faith” here. (Many parties might have animosity. Probably one party is seen as believing here.) But I do think this brings out something that was argued by the early analytic philosophers. Logical grammar does not ALWAYS match linguistic grammar. When someone says “The whale is the largest of mammals,” a simplistic glance at the definite article might lead some to think that only one whale is in view.

    All this to say that once I saw a metaphor in a sentence, I would slow down. The very helpful rules for how these elements of the sentence work might be made more complicated in application than first appears. I don’t think any errors were made in the post in this arena, but it seems like a good time to mention how this is the kind of place an error can easily be made.

  49. David Gregg says:

    Either way, I don’t understand the argument here, for three reasons:
    1) The statement begins with “In Christ Jesus…” which indicates to me that Paul isn’t trying to make a statement about Salvation (in context, he’s speaking to Christians about *their* faith)–which you might say is the process of moving from “not in Christ Jesus” to “in Christ Jesus”. Here Paul is talking about life *in Christ Jesus.*
    2) What is the difference between saying that faith “works” through love, or that faith “expresses itself” through love? Practically speaking, how are people going to interpret those two statements any differently? Both mean, roughly, “I have confidence in Christ and that causes me”–you might say “energizes me”–”to love people.”
    3) Even if my first point isn’t true, and Paul were trying to make a point about salvation, it still doesn’t make “working through” or “expressing itself through” mean any different from each other on a functional level, and it still depends upon the reader to decide whether Paul is saying that Salvation is dependent upon the *faith* that “works through love”, or upon the “working through love” that faith does.
    I mean to offend no one when I give my opinion that the only problem here is that we have come to the place in western Christianity where buzz words like “work” and “obedience” have become saturated with negative connotations and saddled with unnecessary meanings. Obviously, love does stuff. You do things because you love someone. Obviously, faith does stuff. You do things because you have faith in someone. Does it make it any better or worse for me to say “love expresses itself” or “love works”–”faith expresses itself” or “faith works”? –I don’t know why we can’t just let Paul say that, without assuming he’s trying to lay down a soteriological edict.

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