Is There an Evangelical Bias in Translation (Mark 5:23) – Mondays with Mounce 303

Bill Mounce on November 20th, 2017. Tagged under ,,.

Bill Mounce

Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

Sometimes we translators are accused of having an evangelical bias, of altering the translation of a passage to make the New Testament not contradict itself, or artificially conforming a New Testament citation to its Old Testament source.

It is an interesting charge, and is somewhat based on the assumption that the New Testament contradicts itself or that the New Testament authors were not able to quote their Old Testament accurately.

Mark 5:23 provides a good example of the former. This is the famous crux when it comes to inerrancy. Was Jarius’ daughter dead, or almost dead, when her father was speaking with Jesus?

The NASB translates, “My little daughter is at the point of death” (also ESV, NRSV); the NET has, “My little daughter is near death.” However, the CSB has, “My little daughter is dying” (also NIV, NLT). The Greek is ἐσχάτως ἔχει, ἐσχάτως meaning “to being at the very end, finally” (BDAG). The parallel in Luke 8:42 has the imperfect ἀπέθνῃσκεν.

The conflict is that in Matt 9:18 Jarius says, “My daughter has just died” (ἄρτι ἐτελεύτησεν). ἄρτι means “ref. to the immediate past, just (now),” and τελευτάω means “come to an end, die.”

This is not the time to deal with the synoptic issue, but I do want to point out a difference. To my ears, there is a considerable difference between “near death” and “dying.” The latter can refer to anyone in the process of dying; “near death” emphasizes that they are at the very point of death. Both are legitimate translations, but “near death” softens the contrast with “just died.” The synoptic problem still exists, but it is not as pronounced, so why not translate ἐσχάτως ἔχει as “near death.” It actually is closer to the Greek than “is dying.”

The fact of the matter is that there are often multiple ways to accurately translate a passage. If two options both have a claim to legitimacy, then why default to the one that causes a conflict (or a greater conflict) with another passage? Is that not a non-evangelical bias?

(On a side note, I watched my mother die over a five year period. My big brother was reading C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, and when he finished the last page and looked up, mom had stopped breathing. Given mom’s gradual decline and soft passage into eternity, there was virtually no difference in the minute before death and a minute after death. We often refer to a person as “dead,” even though they are still breathing but the death is an assured conclusion; other times we speak of someone being “as good as dead.”)

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Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

  • Bryant J Williams III 6 months ago

    Dear Bill,

    Regarding the Synoptic Problem.
    Matthew as you said, “Your daughter is dead, Ἡ θυγάτηρ μου ἄρτι ἐτελεύτησεν.” Mark also says the same thing in 5:35, “Your daughter is dead, Ἡ θυγάτηρ σου ἀπέθανεν. Matthew is reporting the summary of the incident, while Mark (Peter) gives the entire incident.

    I think also that Matthew is using τελευτάω; τελευτή, ῆς f: to come to the end of one’s life, as a euphemistic expression for death—‘to die, death.’ (L & N, Vol. 1, p. 264). It appears that Matthew uses this verb to refer euphemistically for death, e.g. Matthew 2:15, 19, regarding Herod’s death; yet uses θνῄσκω as in “τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου ‘for those who tried to kill the child have died’ Mt 2:20 (p,263). There seems to be an understood or inferred time element between the use of αποθνσκω and τελεοω even though both are Aorist Indicative 3rd Person Singular.

    What are your thoughts?

  • James Swanson 6 months ago

    Thanks for the exposition. I view synoptic problems as the nuances of testimony often common in genuine testimony.

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  • Bill Ross 6 days ago

    Might “at the last point of death” in Mark and Luke be the same sense as “is imminently dead” in Matthew? BDAG seems to have examples of “at once” and “immediately”: ② also as class., ref. to the immediate present, at once, immediately, now (cp. Hippocr., Ep. 9, 2; Lucian, Soloec. 1, 553; Jdth 9:1; 2 Macc 10:28) παραστήσει μοι ἄ. at once he will put at my disposal Mt 26:53; ἀκολουθεῖν ἄ. follow immediately J 13:37; ἄφες ἄ. let it be so now (on the position of ἄ. s. B-D-F §474, 3) Mt 3:15.

    Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 136). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.