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Did a Soldier Want to "Please the One Who Enlisted Him”? (2 Tim 2:4) — Mondays with Mounce 209

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I was asked a question at SBL by a person whose son is in the military. He said that his son, and many of his military buddies, objected to a specific translation. Seeing as how my son just joined the Marines, I thought I should pay attention to what they were saying.

The offending verse is 2 Tim 2:4. Paul is encouraging Timothy to persevere in his ministry in Ephesus, and in v 3 says, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” To illustrate the point, Paul lists three different vocations and how perseverance is critical: the soldier, athlete, and farmer.

Of the soldier, Paul writes: “No one serving in the military gets entangled in the affairs of daily life so that he pleases the one who enlisted (στρατολογήσαντι) him.” στρατολογέω is the word in question.

The man’s son (and, he claimed, all his military friends) objected to the translation, “one who enlisted him.” Their argument — and please read the entire paragraph before reacting — is that the military “knows” that the enlisting officers are not always truthful (that is stated mildly), and they have no concern whatsoever in pleasing that person. Rather, they deeply desire to please their commanding officer.

And, they added, the person who enlisted them is not always an officer.

I am aware of this stereotype of enlisting personnel, and I double checked with Hayden, my son. He insisted this is not true, and he found his enlisting officer to be everything a Marine is suppose to be: “honor, courage, commitment.”

But my friend’s son did really object to the idea of pleasing his enlisting officer. The problem, I said, is that this is what the word means. BDAG lists the meaning of στρατολογέω as “gather an army, enlist soldiers” (also NIDNTT). Unfortunately, στρατολογέω is a hapax, and I don’t have access to the source texts for the other references in BDAG.

Etymologically, the word appears to mean, “to gather for an army.” The first morpheme comes from στρατός, denoting a camp or army. Little Kittle gives these cognates.

  1. στρατεύω,“to undertake a campaign,” “to serve in the army.”
  2. στρατεία, “campaign” or “military service.”
  3. στρατιά,“army” or super-terrestrial “host.”
  4. στρατεύμα, “army division.”
  5. The individual on military service is a στρατευόμενος, and συστρατιώτης means “comrade-in-arms.”
  6. The στρατηγός is the “military leader,” who may also have high political importance in antiquity. The noun στρατηγία means “leading the army,” “tactics,” “the office of general,” and “generalship.”
  7. The στρατόπεδον is the site of the στρατός, i.e., the “camp” or “campsite.”
  8. στρατολογέω means “to enlist for military service.”

But here is the issue that makes this word so difficult to translate, and it is a cultural issue. I am told that the enlisting officer in the ancient world was also the commanding officer. In other words, the commanding officer and the enlisting officer may be the same person, and most decidedly a soldier wants to please his (or her) commanding officer. So how do you translate στρατολογέω?

Most translations go with some form of “enlisting officer” (NASB, ESV, HCSB [“recruiter”], NRSV, NET, NLT, KJV, NJB). The NIV is almost alone in choosing “his commanding officer” (also TEV). I was not on the CBT when “commanding officer” was chosen, so I am not privy to the argument why.

So two issues:

1. Does anyone out there know if the assertion is true or not that the enlisting officer in the ancient army was also the commanding officer?

2. If that is true, then how would you translate στρατολογήσαντι? Given modern stereotypes and the clear distinction between “enlisting” and “commanding,” how would you handle this?

Semper Fidelis!

 

Mouncew

William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. 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.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at Teknia.com and visit his blog on spiritual growth at BiblicalTraining.org/blog/life-journey.

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