Mounce Archive 28 — Biblical Greek and Holy Week
For today's Mondays with Mounce post, we decided to select a few classic posts from the archives of Bill Mounce's weekly column on biblical greek. They touch on three subject areas that impact how we view and understand the events that transpired during Holy Week:
- Translating "δια" in relation to Christ's death;
- Whether Jesus hung on a "tree" or a "pole;"
- Paul's use of "καί" for Christ's resurrection and suffering.
Enjoy the excerpts below and continue reading the original posts to be enlightened and encouraged this Holy Week by engaging the original biblical greek.
Speaking of Jesus, Paul says he “was delivered up for (δια) our trespasses and raised for (δια) our justification.” What does δια mean? Does it have to mean the same thing in both places? Should it necessarily be translated the same way in both places?
The second question is a little easier to answer: it depends on your translation philosophy. There obviously is a strong play on words going on; the two halves of the verse are strongly parallel. The rhetorical value of translating δια the same way is strong, even if it doesn’t have the same exact meaning in both phrases. Even the TNIV, with its strong emphasis on translating meaning, keeps the same translation for both halves: “for our sins … for our justification.”
But the first question is harder. Some scholars argue that this is a pre-Pauline hymn being quoted — but I have never been impressed with this type of argument. It seems that whenever Paul states something in a parallel structure, the argument is made that he must be quoting something, as if Paul were not able to write with rhetorical force.
Gal 3:13 in the NIV reads, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” The use of “pole” is, shall we say, unexpected since we know the shape of the cross. Since there are always reasons for a translation, you have to ask yourself why the NIV did this. How could Jesus have been hung on a pole when the wounds in his hands require a cross?
Paul is referring to Deut 21:23: “you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.” The Hebrew עֵץ is defined by HALOT as “tree,” and all translations use “tree” except for the NIV. But executed criminals were generally impaled on a pole, which explains the NIV translation. By saying “hung on a tree” it creates an image that most assuredly is incorrect.
If the καί is epexegetical, then Fee’s arrangement of v 10 is accurate, which he sees in a A B B’ A’ construction:
so that I may know him
A both the power of his resurrection
B and participation in his sufferings
B’ being conformed to his death
A’ if somehow I might attain the resurrection from the dead
Here’s the point. Paul wasn’t a masochist; he did’t enjoy pain. However, he was completely and totally convinced that the very power that raised Christ from the dead (A) was the present guarantee of his own future resurrection (A’). Therefore, because he was so convinced of the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, it enabled him to view suffering, both his and the Philippians’, as the means of intimately knowing Christ. It is within the midst of pain and suffering for Christ that Paul truly experiences God — intimately, personally, as family.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of 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, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
Sign up complete.