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ἀπό, glosses, and "away from" - 2 Tim 1:3 (Monday with Mounce 138)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceI had a great comment about a previous blog, and I thought I would follow up. It helps show the kind of transitions we all have to make from first year to second year Greek.

The blog was about the expression ἀπὸ προγόνων in 2 Tim 1:3 where Paul says that he has served God “as did my ancestors” (ESV). Paul goes on to say that he served God “with a clear conscience," and the point I made was that this phrase does not modify “as did my ancestors” but rather the earlier God (ᾧ) whom I serve (λατρεύω). Paul was not claiming a clean conscience for his ancestors but rather for himself.

The question has to do with the meaning of ἀπό. The comment was, "it seems to me ἀπὸ here is something like 'apart from,' so a translation like 'whom I serve — differently from [my] forefathers — with a clean conscience.' This approach matches fully your concerns that Paul is not equating his way of serving with that of his forefathers. It seems the use of 'as' for ἀπὸ in this verse would confuse the issue."

The transition I refer to is the movement from gloss to meaning. When we first memorize that ἀπο means "apart from" -- BBG has, "(away) from" -- that is just an appoximation of its basic meaning. Exegesis always requires a more precise meaning. For example, check out the basic meanings of ἀπό in BDAG.

  1. a marker to indicate separation from a place, whether person or thing, from, away from
  2. to indicate the point from which someth. begins, whether lit. or fig.
  3. to indicate origin or source, from
  4. to indicate distance fr. a point, away from
  5. to indicate cause, means, or outcome

But as you get into the discussion of each of these points, you realize that ἀπό means "from" often in a spatial sense. For example, under #1 we see examples of ἀπό used with verbs of motion or expressing separation, or ideas of hiding from. Of course, there are other specific uses of ἀπό such as learning from a fig tree (Mt 24:32) or Paul not seeing because of the bright light (Acts 22:11), but I cannot find an entry meaning "different from" in the sense of being different.

I would think that 2 Tim 1:3 fits under 2b, "of time from," such as "ἀπο τῶν ἡμερῶν Ἰωάννου, "from the days of John" (Mt 11:12). Paul serves God, a service that started in the days of his ancestors and has continued since then.

So the lesson is to move from gloss to meaning, and when you are looking for a specific meaning, be careful of semantic range. Just because an English word has a range of meaning does not meaning that the same range is shared by the Greek gloss; most likely it does not. 

This is why BDAG should become one of your best friends. I know it is expensive (Accordance carries it for $159.99), but you will use it the rest of your life.

MouncewWilliam 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 NIVLearn more and visit Bill's other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at www.billmounce.com

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