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“Fighting without and fear within” - 2 Cor 7:5 (Monday with Mounce 190)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceI was asked why the ESV translates the plural μάχαι as the singular “fighting,” and the plural φόβοι as the singular “fear.”

When it comes to the ESV, the first place you always go to is the RSV and see if the ESV repeats its predecessor. (The ESV has always been clear that it is an evangelical update of the RSV.) You will see the the ESV did not change the RSV at this point, and that may be all the answer there is.

In case you are not aware of the process, here is what we did. My father worked through the RSV and the Greek, making changes in light of where the ESV wanted to head. The changes went through me (which was always a little weird correcting my father), and out to the committee. If no one objected, the changes were accepted. This accounts for about 80% of the changes in the NT of the ESV. The 20% that did raise objections were then discussed in committee and voted on.

So why did we leave the plural Greek words as singular, I can only speculate. I am sure part of the argument was that “fightings” isn’t good English. It is interesting that two other times μάχη is used, the ESV translates it as “quarrels” (2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9), and once as “fightings” (James 4:1), although there it is parallel to πόλεμοι, “quarrels,” and you cannot say the same English word twice in such close proximity for two different Greek words.

However, I am guessing that the real reason is that we liked the feel of the expression, “fighting without and fear within.”

The English words “fighting” and “fear” are by their very lexical meaning plural, and a sensitivity to aktionsart (that we talked about a few weeks earlier) teaches us that meaning is conveyed by a range of factors. ἔξωθεν μάχαι, ἔσωθεν φόβοι feels powerful rhetorically, and so does “fighting without and fear within,” and that is important in translation.

Both expressions hit the reader in the same way. But you can see other translations struggling with the plurality of the words. “Conflicts without, fears within” (NASB). “Conflicts on the outside, fears inside” (HCSB). “Conflicts on the outside, fears within” (NIV). “Struggles from the outside, fears from within” (NET). ”Disputes without and fears within” (NRSV). It appears that the very “literal” ESV is not quite so Precise as the other translations deemed more interpretive. It happens.

By the way, did you hear about the flood at Crossway’s headquarters? Check out the YouTube of Lane Dennis’ appeal for financial help and the description by Justin Taylor on his blog.


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 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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