γάρ and Paragraph Divisions (Monday with Mounce 163)
We have a different system in English. We use punctuation, paragraph markers, and even headings in our Bibles, to show the connection with previous thoughts. To make it even more difficult, English style does not want to start a sentence with a conjunction.
Let's add to the difficulty. In English syntax, there is an implied relationship in a series. If I say “A” and then I say “B,” there is an implied, logical, sequential relationship between “A” and “B.” So why would we need a conjunction before “B”?
But that is precisely the point. We see a connection implied in sequence, where Greek does not always. And hence, the problems we can have in translating conjunctions.
γάρ, along with δέ, are two of the more difficult conjunctions to translate. BDAG gives the following range of meaning for γάρ.
- marker of cause or reason, for
- 2. marker of clarification, for, you see
- 3. marker of inference, certainly, by all means, so, then
In other words, γάρ has a pretty wide range of meaning. But in English, are there ways to convey cause, reason, clarification, or inference? Sure. We often do it with punctuation.
Take for example Heb 6:4. The author has been saying that he wants to leave the basic, rudimentary doctrines of the Christian faith and move on to more meaty, theological matters. And then, verses 4 to 6.
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance” (NIV).
Notice that there is no introductory conjunction in the NIV, so what is the connection of verse four to the preceding? The fact that verse four begins a new paragraph suggests that we are moving on to a new topic. And yet the careful Greek student sees that verse four begins with γάρ. Is there a connection that is obscured by the simple new paragraph?
Absolutely. The flow of thought is clear. The reason that the author wants to move on to meatier matters is because of the people’s ignorance of the doctrine of necessary perseverance. And so he says that they should move on, and the reason, introduced by γάρ, is that if they do not persevere, they will never return to repentance.
This is why translations like the ESV translate the γάρ: “For it is impossible.”
Sometimes, γάρ is properly translated as a new paragraph, but not so here.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts 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 is the 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, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.
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