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airo in John 15:2 (Monday with Mounce 29)

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Monday With Mounce buttonI recently received this question, and I thought the answer would be helpful for those learning to determine the meaning of words.

"I was wondering if you could answer why most of (I have not read all) the different translations translate airo in John 15:2 as "take away"? I’ve only had an introduction to Greek, but it seems to me that "raise up" (or something similar) would be more contextually appropriate, especially in light of vs. 3, so I was wondering if it is translated the way it is because of some other textual reasons."

Before answering the question, please note two good parts of the question. (1) Humility. The writer sees his lack of experience as a potentially limiting factor. (2) His question is based on the context of John 15. Both are very good. Congratulations.

Here are the two verses in question: "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away (airo), and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you."

I am not sure why he thinks verse 3 suggests a translation of "raise up," and I am not sure what "raise up" would mean in verse 2. How would God raise up unfruitful branches. So that is part of the answer. The context of v 2 requires a meaning that fits the image of vine husbandry, contrasts properly with "prune," and parallels v 6. "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned."

Having said that, the issue here is semantic range. airo has a range of meaning as listed by BDAG as (1) to lift up, take up, pick up; (2) to lift up and move from one place to another; (3) to take away, remove, or seize control without suggestion of lifting up; (4) take away, remove. So the range of meaning is between removing, and picking up to remove. I am not seeing in BDAG any special category for horticulture, but the idea of picking up and removing fits the picture of grapes being lifted up to be examined and then pruned. Hence the TNIV: "He cuts off." The suggestion of "raise up" really is not part of the semantic domain.

It is to "raise up" for the purpose of removing, and that is what "take away" does, and hence its common use in translation.

But let me say again, there is much in this question to commend it, even though it is not correct. The person recognized his limitations, and sought help from the context. That’s a good start.

MounceWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.

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