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Subtle difference between "have" and "get" - Matt 19:16 (Monday with Mounce 192)

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Monday with Mounce

This isn't going to sound like much, but much of translation is in the details, often little nuances.

The rich young man comes to Jesus and asks, "Teacher, what good deed must I do (ποιήσω ← ποιέω) to have (σχῶ ← ἔχω) eternal life?” (ESV).

At first it sounds like a good question. Shouldn't we all want to have eternal life, and shouldn't we want to know how to get there? Yet, as is often pointed out, the verb "do" betrays the core issue (along with "good thing"). He had already been keeping the ten commandments, and yet he evidently believed, as did many Jews, that one "specific act of goodness could win eternal life (Carson, citing Str-B, 1:808ff.).

But the NIV states it just a little differently to help make this clearer. While most translations use "do" (NASB, ESV, HCSB, NRSV, NLT; NET uses "gain"), the NIV uses "get." "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life."

The difference is subtle but real.

The rich young ruler viewed eternal life as something to "get," and therefore stands in contrast to the little children Jesus has just held as an example of true faith. "For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”

The kingdom of God is not about getting or doing. It is about being.

By the way, Monday the CBT starts its annual week of work on the NIV, and I am sure all of us would appreciate your prayers for wisdom and strength throughout the week. 

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, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at

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