Mounce Archive 15 – Play on Words (John 15:2-3)
Everyone needs a break once in a while, and Bill Mounce is taking one from his weekly column on biblical Greek until September. Meanwhile, we’ve hand-picked some classic, popular posts from the “Mondays with Mounce” archive for your summer reading and Greek-studying pleasure.
In today’s post, Mounce opens up John 15:2-3, where Jesus explained the Vine and the Branches – a fine example of word play in the original Greek. Though translation is often tricky, Mounce clearly describes and believes that the Word is clear.
Let the excerpt below encourage you to read the original post here.
I suspect that there is nothing harder to bring into English than a play on words. When that play on words branches (pun intended) into metaphors (and the question of how hard to push the imagery), and into the relationship between justification and…
Are There Mistakes in Scripture?
This excerpt taken from Greek for the Rest of Us by William D. Mounce serves as a primer for understanding why Greek manuscripts differ and how the Bible has come down to us through the centuries.
The History of the Bible and Textual Criticism
In my opening discussion, “What Would It Look Like If You Knew a Little Greek?” (pp. xi–xvii), I give two examples of different translations. The first was what the angels said to the shepherds, and I pointed out how these two are substantially different.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (KJV)
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased. (RSV)
I also talked about how some translations…
Ellipsis’ Ugly Head (John 12:7) —Monday’s with Mounce 254
We don’t talk much about ellipsis in first year Greek, but it is a grammatical fact that occurs more than you might think.
An ellipsis is when words are left out, and the assumption is that the context is sufficient to fill in the gaps. It especially happens in the second of two parallel thoughts, words from the first assumed in the second.
But John 12:7 gives us a good example of ellipsis when there is no parallel. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, Judas objects, and Jesus responds, “Leave her alone…. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” (NIV). ἄφες αὐτήν, ἵνα εἰς τὴν ἡμέραν τοῦ ἐνταφιασμοῦ μου τηρήσῃ αὐτό. In other words, the words “It was intended” is the NIV’s guess as to what “should” have been before the ἵνα.
Did Jesus “Accept” Human Testimony? (John 5:34) — Mondays with Mounce 253
Semantic range can be a pesky fellow. Take for example the range of meaning held by λαμβάνω.
In John 5:31 Jesus starts by saying, “If I bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true.” Then two verses later he says, “You have sent messengers to John, and he has borne witness to the truth” (5:33). So it sounds like Jesus is pointing people to what John said about him.
Jesus then concludes, “Not that I accept (λαμβάνω) human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved” (NIV).
Wait minute. Jesus just cited John as witnessing to him, so why then would he say, “Not that I accept human testimony.” Of course he does! He just did.
The NLT gets amazingly expansive: “Of course, I have no need of human witnesses.” It’s not what Jesus said. The…
Where are the blind pastors? (1 Cor 12:22) —Mondays with Mounce 252
I just attended the Global Access Conference hosted by Joni and Friends. Everybody needs to attend something like this because it will make you sensitive to things that you might not otherwise see.
If you are not aware of Joni and Friends, you need to check them out. They are the main Christian disability ministry, helping the church understand how to serve and be served by people with disabilities.
One of the things that I saw this week was exegetical. Paul is talking about the different gifts in the body (i.e., the church). He writes, “those members of the body that seem (δοκοῦντα) to be weaker are indispensable (ἀναγκαῖα)” (1 Cor 12:22).
Who are the weaker members, and what does it mean that they are ἀναγκαῖα? Fee writes that by analogy Paul is referring to the internal organs…
Divine Passives and Seminary Education (Eph 3:19) — Mondays with Mounce 247
I came across a great “divine passive” that has some interesting implications for how we study the Bible and train our seminarians and preach to our people.
“Divine passive” is more of a theological category than grammatical. In form and basic meaning, it is simply a passive, but when God is the author of the verb, we call it a “divine passive.”
Paul prays for the Ephesians that God “may grant (δῷ, active) you to be strengthened (κραταιωθῆναι, divine passive) with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (3:16). God does the granting and the empowering.
The desired result is that “Christ may dwell (κατοικῆσαι) in your hearts through faith, rooted and grounded in love” (v 17).
The ultimate purpose (ἵνα) is that they “may be empowered (ἐξισχύσητε) to grasp with all the saints what is the breadth and…
The Joys of Ellipsis (John 12:7) — Mondays with Mounce 246
When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, Judas objected to the extravagant waste of money. Jesus responds, “‘Leave (Ἄφες) her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended (ἵνα) that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial’” (NIV).
One of the interpretive challenges of the verse is ἵνα. The NIV (above) keeps the normal force of the ἵνα to indicate purpose, but in doing so it makes it sound as if Mary really had no choice in the matter. It removes the value of her choice and makes it sound like she was simply responding to God’s preordained plan.
The ESV has, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” This keeps the full force of the ἵνα but, in my mind, makes no sense. Mary didn’t keep the perfume for the day…
Ellipsis (What Is Missing in Luke 2:49?) – Mondays with Mounce 245
Here is a great example of why translation involves interpretation, and why a “word-for-word” approach can often fail.
When Jesus’ parents finally find Jesus, he responds, “Didn’t you know I had to be (δεῖ εἶναί με) in my Father’s house (ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου)? (NIV).
As you can see from the Greek, there is no word for “house,” and yet every modern translation supplies “house.” The KJV is alone in suggesting another interpretation. “I must be about my Father’s business?”
One of the things you will learn as you get further into Greek is how Greek can drop out words; I suspect this is true of any language. Context and a basic knowledge of the language fills in the gaps. For example, as I have said in other blogs, I am from Minnesota and we are famous for ending…
Man, a Man, Men, at Familymas (Matt 9:8) — Mondays with Mounce 244
It is amazing what difference a little word like “a” can make. Since Greek does not have the indefinite article, we primarily use it according to English style; but it can still seriously impact the meaning of a sentence.
Jesus has just finished healing the man with paralysis. In Matt 9:8 we read, “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (ESV, see also the NASB, NET, HCSB). “Men” is the translation of the plural τοῖς ἀνθρώποις; and at first glance this seems fine, especially if you think “word-for-word” is the best. But in this case, it seems to me that word-for-word seriously miscommunicates.
Why? Simple. Was the power at work in Jesus given to “men”? Of course not. It was given to Jesus, unless you want to argue…
What does a “little faith” have to do with a mustard seed? (Matt 17:20) — Mondays with Mounce 235
This is actually a great example of how to deal with a word’s etymology and meaning.
When the disciples could not exorcize the demon, Jesus responded, “O unbelieving (ἄπιστος) and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you?” (Matt 17:17).
After the exorcism, the disciples asked him why they could not perform the exorcism. Jesus replied, “Because of the poverty of your faith (διὰ τὴν ὀλιγοπιστίαν ὑμῶν). I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως), you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (17:20).
ὀλιγοπιστία occurs only here in the NT and in later Christian writings, so the fair assumption is that Jesus made up the word. The cognate adjective ὀλιγόπιστος likewise only occurs…
Mounce Archive 8 — Is a “Fool” a “Stupid Person” In Biblical Theology?
Everyone needs a sabbatical once in a while, and Bill Mounce is taking one from this blog until later in September. Meanwhile, we’ve hand-picked some of our favorite and most popular posts for your summer reading and Greek-studying pleasure.
As a preacher I know how tempting it can be to make the Greek fit a doozy of a rhetorical point in an English sermon.
In a post from Bill Mounce’s “Mondays with Mounce” series, he tells the story about a preacher who did just that. The culprit? Trying to make the English word moron do what the Greek moros just won’t do.
“What is a ‘moron?’,” Mounce asks. “Wikipedia say it is a ‘disused term for a person with a mental age between 8 and 12,’ with a slang meaning of a ‘stupid person.’ Is that what a ‘fool’ is in biblical…
My Advice to Students — Bill Mounce Says, “Don’t Let Yourself Be Swallowed Up By the Academy”
For those of us who have been to seminary or are in seminary we know the funny pejorative term often given to that higher academic world: semitary, with a "T". As in, when one goes off to the Church's Ivory Tower to pursue graduate work in Bible or theology it's almost as if they crawl into a 6 ft. plot in an over-grown cemetery for 2-3 years, completely divorced from the real world.
There's something about going into this kind of graduate work where the rest of the world gets shoved aside in the middle of our hyper-focus on learning other-worldly Hebrew vocab words, conjugating those pesky Greek verbs, and writing papers on obscure…