When Word-for-Word Is Ambiguous (John 9:7) – Mondays with Mounce 279
I have been sensitive lately to finding passages in which a word-for-word translation is not clear but is ambiguous and perhaps even misleading. I am finding lots of examples.
The one that jumped out to me this morning is John 9:7. Jesus tells the man born blind, “‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam [τὴν κολυμβήθραν τοῦ Σιλωάμ]’ (which means Sent [ὃ ἑρμηνεύεται ἀπεσταλμένος]).” The ESV here is traditional and is reflected in the CSB (the new edition of the HCSB), NET, NRSV, and KJV.
So why then does the…
Clarity or Ambiguity? (John 1:13) – Mondays with Mounce 278
This is another way of asking the age old question, do you err on the side of word-for-word translation or on the side of meaning? Do you want clarity of meaning, or do you want to stay closer to the Greek and be less meaningful and more ambiguous?
You can’t have it both ways. Period.
Look at John 1:13. My interlinear reads that children of God “were born (ἐγεννήθησαν), not from human stock or from a physical impulse (οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς) or by a husband’s decision (οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ), but by God.” But even that is moving toward clarity.
If you really want transparency to the Greek and to be as little interpretive as possible, you would write, “who were born not out of bloods nor out of…
What Is Worse? Removing from Scripture or Adding to Scripture? (Matt 18:11) – Mondays with Mounce 277
I was asked why all modern translations “omit” Matt 18:11. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (KJV). The form of the question betrays the basic problem, that people think modern translations omit verses rather than other translations add verses.
There are probably two reasons for this assumption. One is that the verse is in the KJV. The second is that in modern translations the verse number is skipped.
The first Bible to have verse numbers was the Geneva Bible (1557). Verse numbers allowed readers to cross-reference passages (see Wikipedia). This was 54 years before the KJV; but like the KJV, the Read more
If Only We Knew What μόνον Means (2 Thess 2:7) – Mondays with Mounce 276
I don’t know what kind of mood Paul was in when he wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, but it is remarkable how many grammatical incongruities there are.
Read, for example, 2 Thess 2:7. Paul writes, τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας· μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται. He has just said that something (τὸ κατέχον) — and will later say someone (ὁ κατέχων) — is restraining the coming of the antichrist. However, despite this restraint, the mystery of lawlessness (τὸ μυστήριον τῆς ἀνομίας) is already at work (ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται), a mystery that will some day (ἐν τῷ ἑαυτοῦ καιρῷ) give way to the obvious truth…
The Ambiguity of Substantival Adjectives (1 Cor 15:53-54) – Mondays with Mounce 275
When an adjective is used as a noun, it is usually clear what it is referring to. But every once in a while the ambiguity is unclear.
Take, for example, 1 Cor 15:53. “For this corruptible (φθαρτὸν τοῦτο) must be clothed with incorruptibility (ἀφθαρσίαν), and this mortal (θνητὸν τοῦτο) must be clothed with immortality (ἀθανασίαν)” (HCSB, see also NIV, NASB). φθαρτός, ή, όν is an adjective meaning “subject to decay/destruction” (BDAG), hence perishable. The TEV moves the statement fully into the theoretical.” For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die.”
The Challenges of Apposition (Acts 3:20) – Mondays with Mounce 274
Apposition is when you want to use a substantive to qualify another substantive. One way to do this is by putting the second substantive in the same case as the first.
In Acts 3, Peter calls for repentance so that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the one appointed for you, Christ Jesus (τὸν προκεχειρισμένον ὑμῖν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν).”
What does τόν modify? If it goes with χριστὸν (NAS8 uses lower case), then we have the construction, article (τόν) – modifier (προκεχειρισμένον ὑμῖν ) – noun (χριστόν), and Ἰησοῦν is in apposition to χριστόν. The Christ (Messiah) who was appointed is in fact Jesus.
It is also technically possible that τὸν προκεχειρισμένον is…
Is “He is Risen” Passive? (Matt 28:6) – Mondays with Mounce 273
The other day in class we translated what Herod said about John. “This is John the Baptist; he has risen (ἠγέρθη) from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him” (Matt 14:2; NASB). ἠγέρθη is an aorist passive and a student asked why the NASB didn’t translate it as a passive.
This becomes a more important question when we realize that passives are used of Jesus being raised from the dead. “He is not here, for He has risen (ἠγέρθη), just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying” (Matt 28:6). The NIV also uses “he has risen,” which is transitive but I am not…
More on Aktionsart and How Words Convey Meaning – Mondays with Mounce 272
I have been thinking more these days about how words convey meaning. The challenge in any first year Greek class is to create a solid, accurate base of learning, simplified enough so students don’t get discouraged, but not so simple that they have to relearn their grammar in second year.
One area where this is especially sensitive is in translating verbal tenses. Teachers are divided in choosing the perfective or imperfective aspect as the default translation of the present tense. However, since Greek has the two past tenses that are clearly imperfective (imperfect) and perfective (aorist), we are generally pretty strict at always translating the imperfect as continuous and the aorist as undefined. Makes sense.
But what I am considering is that perhaps we need to be more nuanced even in first year Greek. Aktionsart describes all the factors that…
Is Celibacy the “Right” Thing? (1 Cor 7:37)
Does καλῶς mean “right” or “well”? This is one of those situations where I would think we hear things differently.
Paul has been arguing for celibacy, the gift that no high school or college student wants. His basic argument is that it is better to remain celibate so as to be able to focus on ministry, but it is only right for those with the spiritual ability to do so. (And all students sigh a sigh of relief.)
Within that context Paul says, “However, the man who stands firm in his resolve is under no compulsion but has control over his desire, and has determined this in his heart to keep her as his virgin, he will do well” (v 37).
The problem surfaces in the NIV 1984, which says,…
When is Greek Grammar Bad English Grammar? (1 Cor 9:6) – Mondays with Mounce 270
This blog can be placed in the category of the inconsistencies of formal equivalent translations, which try to keep Greek word order if possible. But what if the word order isn’t really incorrect grammar, but poor style?
Paul writes, “Or is it only I and Barnabas (ἐγὼ καὶ Βαρναβᾶς) who have no right to refrain from working?” Do you see the problem? Paul writes, “I and Barnabas,” but English style requires “Barnabas and I.”
The Many Faces of γάρ (1 Cor 14:23) – Mondays with Mounce 269
We all know that a word has a range of meanings. In fact, I am not sure there is a word that only means one precise thing. And while a word may have a dominant meaning, that doesn’t preclude it having secondary meanings that are sometimes used. After all, what’s the point of a secondary meaning that is never used?
We also know that Greek wants to start sentences with a conjunction that indicates the relationship of the second sentence to the first.
For example, δέ can mean “and” or “but.” It can also be translated by a period. After all, with the way English works, if you have two sentences in the same paragraph, we naturally read the second sentence as being in relationship to the first.
Take γάρ. Its dominant meaning is “therefore.” BDAG gives this as its…
Idioms and Context (1 Cor 2:7) – Mondays with Mounce 268
Idioms are notoriously difficult to translate. When they occur in isolation, they are a little easier since you can just find an English expression that carries the same meaning. But when they fit into the context of the passage, they are more difficult.
To most English readers, “before the ages” is meaningless. What ages? The Ice age? Which one?
To someone who understands the linear nature of the Jewish concept of time, it is…