Voice and Mood: A Linguistic Approach

by | Oct 26, 2021 | Book Review | 2 comments

Voice and Mood: A Linguistic Approach by David L. Mathewson is the first book out in Baker Academic’s Essentials of Biblical Greek Grammar series edited by Stanley E. Porter. This book covers two important areas of NT Greek study that are often overlooked. 

Part 1 is on voice. Part 2 is on mood. The chapters on voice cover recent scholarship, linguistic models, and an argument for three voices. The chapters on mood cover recent scholarship, an overview of the mood system, and treatment of infinitives and participles. 


Mathewson surveys the standard grammars and cites weaknesses such as basic models, limited understanding, and the multiplication of questionable labels based on context and interpretation. He summarizes the work of Rutger Allan and Rachel Aubrey on the middle and passive voices. Bryan Fletcher’s work is noted for incorporating Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). Mathewson then analyzes voice by adapting SFL to propose insights using the terminology of transitivity, medium, agent, and ergativity. Transitivity considers “who does what to whom.” Medium is “the thing through which the process is actualized.” Agent is the “external cause of action.” And ergativity is “the cause of the action internal or external to the verbal process.” 

According to the author’s analysis, causality is the primary semantic feature of voice. And as a result, he argues for three voices (active, passive, and middle) because causality is the distinguishing feature between the middle and passive. 


Mathews again surveys the standard grammars and finds fault with them for multiplying labels, little progress on evaluating the semantics of the indicative and nonindicative, and a failure to incorporate the findings of modern linguistics. 

Mood is defined as “the speaker’s commitment with respect to the factual status of what he is saying.” It’s the perspective of the author/speaker’s conception or portrayal of the action (not reality). The semantics of the indicative and nonindicative are then considered in terms of assertion and nonassertion respectively. Infinitives merely “refer to the action of the verb” without presupposing anything about said verb. Participles do the presupposing by grammaticalizing the author’s portrayal of an action’s reality. 


Mathewson offers a technical overview of two overlooked areas of Greek grammar. He identifies weaknesses in our standard grammars and points to scholarly advances, and his application of SFL offers promising methods for a more robust understanding of voice and mood. Hopefully other grammarians will test his findings and offer simpler presentations that would benefit students. I look forward to reading more books in this new series. 

Special thanks to Baker Academic for a free digital review copy of this book. This did not affect my thoughts in any way so far as I know.

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


  1. Stephen Brown

    While in general I’d like to see more awareness of linguistics among NT commentators, I wonder whether there might need to be some gentle push-back where at times there seems it seems to be implied that not (fully) accepting Stanley Porter’s views on verbal aspect will land one with the label “not linguistically informed.”

    In any case, a very accessible work by the same author (with another) is “Intermediate Greek Grammar.” He also has a handbook on Revelation in the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series.

    • Brent Niedergall

      Well put, Stephen. Porter is portrayed as the hero throughout this book. And I also enjoyed Mathewson and Emig’s Greek Grammar!

Brent Niedergall