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1 Tim 3:8—Double-Tongued Deacons (Monday with Mounce 44)

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Monday With Mounce buttonAs I continue down the list in Mark Strauss’ paper, I am finding it easier and easier to find more with which I disagree, and I am being reminded how fundamentally different formal and functional translations are. The ESV is a good example of one, and the TNIV of the other, but never the two shall meet, I suspect.

1 Tim 3:8 says that a deacon must be self-controlled in speech ("not double-tongued" ESV), in drink ("not addicted to much wine"), and in one’s desire for wealth ("not greedy for dishonest gain"). Mark comments that the ESV "sounds like a mock ‘Indian-speak’ (with forked-tongue) or some strange alien creature" and adds that the word means "‘insincere,’ ‘lacking integrity,’ ‘hypocritical,’ or even ‘two-faced.’"

Before jumping in, let me say something about humor in academic circles. Mark is a funny guy (remember, we are friends). And yet it seems that in academic circles we think that if it is said with humor, we can say anything we like. Mark’s presentation elicited more laughter than I have ever heard at an ETS paper. But did the humor in truth hide the lack of academic discussion and debate we had all hoped to hear in the room? By using humor as a tool of debate, haven’t we in essence gone outside of academic debate? Ridiculing a position can sway the masses, but it should have no effect on us.

For the life of me, I cannot remember the discussion of this word in the ESV committee, and I noticed that my own translation in my commentary is "gossips." But I am pretty sure of why we went with "double-tongued." We simply do not know what the word truly means.

διλογος is a rare word occurring only one other time in Greek literature, and that in the second century A.D. where it means “repeating.” Its two closest cognates are equally rare, διλογια meaning “repetition” and διλογεω meaning “to repeat.” The closest form in the LXX is διγλωσσος, used in Prov 11:3 of a person who reveals secrets as opposed to one who keeps secrets (and elsewhere).

So where do we go to find a word’s meaning in this situation? You have to go to etymology. Since we have no prior use of this word, and since Paul shows openness to making up words, especially in the Pastorals, it makes sense he coined the word here. διλογος is from δις meaning “twice” and λογος meaning “something said.” Suggestions for its meaning range from “repetitious, gossips, saying one thing and meaning another, saying one thing to one person but another to another person.” The basic meaning is clear. When a deacon speaks, his words must be true, rigorously honest.

But beyond this, can we know—with precision—what it means? Of course not. We just don’t know. And hence we have the two solutions proposed by formal and functional translations. The formal tries to replicate the form of the Greek word, retaining any ambiguity or imagery that might be there in the Greek (ESV), and the functional must interpret the word, removing the discussion of its possible meaning from Bible study (the TNIV goes with “sincere”).

But let’s get back to Mark’s point. Is this an example of bad translation? Of course not. It is the recognition that we simply do not know for sure what the word means, and in line with our philosophy we wanted to leave that debate for the commentaries, pastors, and blogs. We did that throughout the ESV.

And I have a hard time believing that anyone engaged in even semi-serious Bible study would look at the word and think of a Lone Ranger episode or the latest sci-fi thriller. They would see the imagery and have to decide for themselves. Mark even agrees with this. Really! He suggests “two-faced” as a possible translation. Really? Is this Harry Potter where the bad guy has two heads? Or perhaps another weird Picasso painting? Oh, you mean we use metaphors in speech? Sure, even a functional equivalent guy like Mark.

I still think, in light of the problems in Ephesus, that “gossip” is the best meaning. And since gossip in the native language of the modern church, the qualification is as important today as it was 2,000 years ago.

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 (third edition coming in 2009!), 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  

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