The Grammar of Resurrection

Icon of the Women at the Empty Tomb

“He is not here, but was raised.” (source)

What does grammar have to do with resurrection? A lot. It is theologically significant. It answers the “who” question. Hidden within the grammar is the power of God. Sometimes this is easier to see in the Greek than in the English translations we often read or hear.

This year we heard from the gospel according to St. Luke, “He is not here, but has risen” (24:5, NRSV). The Greek word that is translated “has risen” is ἠγέρθη (ēgerthē). St. Matthew (28:6) and St. Mark (16:6) use the same word in their accounts.

How this verb is translated makes a difference. “Has risen” can be heard or interpreted as Jesus simply got up. He did it himself. That, however, is neither grammatically nor theologically correct.

Here is where we need to get into the grammar. Greek verbs like English verbs have tense, voice, and mood. In Greek ἠγέρθη is aorist tense, passive voice, and indicative mood.

The aorist is a past tense in Greek. The indicative mood is a statement of fact, of certainty. Together the aorist indicative means this really happened. The passive voice is what gives theological significance to this verb.

Remember in school learning the difference between the active voice and the passive voice? They are descriptive of how the action of the verb relates to the subject. The subject can either act or be acted upon. A verb in the active voice indicates that the subject is performing the action of the verb. A verb in the passive voice indicates that the subject is the recipient or receiver of the action described by the verb.

The passive voice of ἠγέρθη means that Jesus did not simply rise on his own but was raised by and through a power other than his own. A more literal translation of Luke 24:6 would be “He is not here, but was raised.” We are not told who was the power that raised Jesus. The implication is that it was God. This use of the passive voice is sometimes called the divine passive.

The power of God rolled the stone away from the tomb. The power of God resurrected Jesus. The power of God emptied the tomb. The power of God that did all that is doing the same in each of our lives. The Divine Passive is always active, doing for and giving to us that which we cannot do for or give to ourselves.

12 thoughts on “The Grammar of Resurrection

  1. …Awesome post,Well done. I love the nuance that you so eloquently gleened for us.
    ” He is not here:he has been raised.” (The Complete Jewish Bible)

    Like

  2. Thank you Fr. Mike for sharing with us such inspring relections on the Word. Often because we heard the Gospel so many times befor we fail to reflect on the hidden nuances that deepen our faith in God.
    I thought it was by chance that landed on this Web site but now I realize it was God’s passive work all along.
    Many from our parish are benefiting from you writings as I share the Word with them.
    Thank you and may God be always with you.
    Jane

    Like

    • Jane, thank you for reading and sharing my blog. I am glad it has been helpful. I think you are correct that we hear the stories so often that we are deafened by familiarity. I suspect God often hides in the details of what seems most familiar not only in our reading of scripture but in our lives.

      Peace be with you,
      Mike+

      Like

  3. Pingback: Struggling to Believe the Resurrection, John 20:19-31 | Interrupting the Silence

  4. I struggled with the interpretations to find out which one was correct. This was a brilliant analysis. Oh, how important is the resurrection is, is just weighing on me. To deny it is to deny the Sonship, to deny His diety, to deny that he was sinless and thus our penalty for sin was not paid- He would have died for his own sin. Your analysis of this fits like a puzzle piece with Romans 10:9 and Romans 1:4 in such a beautiful picture of it’s importance. I have been blessed by the Holy Spirit revealing truth to you and to me via you. Thank you

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s