Recently, a member of the church where I preach asked me about Matthew 26:24, 45 and the use of paradidotai (lemma: paradidōmi). His specific question was whether paradidotai could be translated in the middle voice.
He wrote, “Sometimes the spelling of a passive verb matches that of the middle voice.” So as it related to Matthew 26:24, 45, he was wondering, “Can you tell me if a middle-voice translation of this word is possible?”
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed [paradidotai]! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
—Matthew 26:24 ESV
“Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed [paradidotai] into the hands of sinners.’”
—Matthew 26:45 ESV
The case for the middle voice
First, Wallace in Beyond the Basics presents seven different ways the middle voice can be translated:
- Direct middle (reflexive): the subject acts on himself/herself (“he hanged himself” [Matt 27:5]). The direct middle is quite rare in the New Testament. It is used almost exclusively with certain verbs with reflexive lexical nuance or idiomatic expressions.
- Redundant middle: same as direct middle but with explicit pronoun (“deceiving yourselves” [Jas 1:22]).
- Indirect middle (indirect reflexive): the subject acts for (sometimes by) himself/herself, viz., for his own interests (“He chose us for himself [i.e., for his own interests]” [Eph 1:4]).
- Causative middle: the subject has something done for or to himself/herself; the subject may be the source behind the action done in his/her behalf (“the one who conquers will cause himself to be clothed in white clothing” [Rev 3:5]).
- Permissive middle: the subject allows something to be done for or to himself/herself (best translated as passives) (“Get up, have yourself baptized and allow your sins to be washed away” [Acts 22:16]).
- Reciprocal middle: plural subjects interacting among themselves (“they resolved together” [Matt 26:4]).
- Deponent middle: middle voice verb with no active form results in active meaning (these abound in NT).
With this framework, let’s plug in paradidotai as a middle:
- “The Son of Man gives over himself … the Son of Man betrays himself into the hands of sinners.”
- Since no reflexive pronoun appears with paradidiotai, redundant middle is inapplicable.
- “The Son of Man is given over [for himself] … the Son of Man is betrayed [by himself[ into the hands of sinners.”
- “The Son of Man [causes himself] to be given over … the Son of Man [causes himself[ to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
- “The Son of Man [allows himself] to be given over … the Son of Man [allows himself] to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
- Singular subject prohibits reciprocation, therefore reciprocal middle is inapplicable.
- Not applicable because paradidōmi has an active form (paradidō).
So immediately we see that a few of the options are immediately off the table grammatically (2, 6, 7). (1) seems unlikely, given that paradidōmi does not have the lexical nuance/idiomatic usage other verbs have. (5) is also unlikely: since it is so passively understood, it may not be what you are after. (3) could be plausible if understood that he is acting “for his own interest,” those interests being what has been written about him contextually (more on the role of context with the middle/passive in a moment). (4) sounds most like what you are after: Jesus being the source of the action being done to himself. So taken in isolation, the middle voice is attractive.
It is true that in the present tense the middle and passive voices are spelled the same. It will be context which determines whether the form should be translated as middle or passive. Take Matthew 26:24: “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man [through] whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24 ESV).
On the one hand, you do have Jesus’s affirmation that the Son of Man “goes just as it has been written about him.” He himself no doubt not only knows full well what has been written, but as the second person of the Godhead, he was actively involved in the revelation of the Word of God. So one could argue that similarly he would take an active (or causative) role in its fulfillment. On the other hand, the Son of Man is given over/betrayed by “that man” who has a “woe” pronounced on him (i.e., Judas). It is “that man through whom” Jesus is given over/betrayed. Further, in the next verse, Judas is identified as “the one giving over/betraying him” (an active voice participle). Judas is “that man through whom” Jesus is betrayed.
Taken in isolation, it is tempting to see the middle voice in paradidotai. However, the context seems conclusive that the passive voice is intended. The mention of “that man through whom” the betrayal/giving over will take place in connection with Judas as “the one betraying/giving over him” identifies conclusively the active agent who gives over/betrays Jesus. It is therefore reasonable to grammatically take paradidotai as a passive voice verb in verses 24 and 45.