Man, a Man, Men, at Familymas (Matt 9:8) — Mondays with Mounce 244
It is amazing what difference a little word like "a" can make. Since Greek does not have the indefinite article, we primarily use it according to English style; but it can still seriously impact the meaning of a sentence.
Jesus has just finished healing the man with paralysis. In Matt 9:8 we read, "When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men" (ESV, see also the NASB, NET, HCSB). "Men" is the translation of the plural τοῖς ἀνθρώποις; and at first glance this seems fine, especially if you think "word-for-word" is the best. But in this case, it seems to me that word-for-word seriously miscommunicates.
Why? Simple. Was the power at work in Jesus given to "men"? Of course not. It was given to Jesus, unless you want to argue that the people thought all people (or perhaps all males) were given the ability to heal. See the problem? "Men" is an "exact" translation of ἀνθρώποις, and it miscommunicates. (That’s a nice way of saying it is wrong.)
You can see some of the translations trying to deal with this issue. The NIV translates ἀνθρώποις as a singular; "they praised God, who had given such authority to man." The NRSV's use of the plural "human beings" doesn’t really help (also the NJB), nor does the TEV's use of "people." I suspect that the NLT is exactly right, identifying Jesus as the one person to whom this power has been given; "they praised God for sending a man with such great authority."
Did God give this power to "a man," "man," or "men"? It makes a difference, doesn't it?
Have a great Christmas. My son Tyler is spending his first Christmas with his new wife's family (they get first dibs). Kiersten is home from her PhD studies in Art History, and Hayden is on leave from the Marines before he deploys. It’s a good Christmas for Robin and me.
By the way, a friend just stopped by to give us a Christmas present, and in talking about our kids she commented that family is what Christmas is all about. Family? Actually, that is more true than most of us are willing to admit. I always wanted to preach a Christmas service entitled, "Familymas," since that is how most Christians treat the holiday. Baby Jesus in the manger. Token Bible reading or prayer. And everything else is family. We should either celebrate CHRIST-mas, or be authentic and change its name. Just a thought.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. 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.
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