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What's a "myriad"? (Monday with Mounce 197)

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Monday with Mounce

This is one of the more interesting words in Greek, partly because it is so hard to translate.

BDAG says μυριάς can mean, "a group/collective of 10,000, myriad," but it can also mean, "a very large number, not precisely defined, pl. myriads."

It is this second meaning that is most interesting. Basically, it means a "gajillion." Or perhaps a "bajillion." What slang do you use? A gajillion means lots and lots and lots, with no specific number in view.

μυριάς occurs eight times in the New Testament. The Ephesians burned magic books worth "fifty thousand pieces of silver (ἀργυρίου μυριάδας πέντε)" (Acts 19:19). That is an easy translation.

But how do you translate μυριάς elsewhere. Even the more formal equivalent translations struggle with this one.

Luke 12:1 (cf. also Acts 21:20), μυριάδων τοῦ ὄχλου. "Crowd of many thousands had gathered" (NIV). "So many thousands of the people" (ESV).

Heb 12:22, μυριάσιν ἀγγέλων. "You have come to thousands upon thousands of angel" (NIV). "Innumerable angels" (ESV, NRSV). "Countless thousands of angels" (NLT). NASB/NET went with, "myriads of angels."

Jude 14, ἁγίαις μυριάσιν αὐτοῦ. "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones" (NIV). "Many thousands of His holy ones" (NASB). Interestingly, the NRSV says: "See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones." I assume the final "s" on "thousands" still makes the number indefinite (also ESV).

Revelation 9:16 is a little more challenging: "The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand (δισμυριάδες μυριάδων)" (NIV). Note the compound δισμυριάδες.

Most inexact is Revelation 5:11. "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands (χιλιάδες χιλιάδων), and ten thousand times ten thousand (μυριάδες μυριάδων)" (NIV).

What a great word. It is by definition indefinite, but its meaning is clear. This is one of those times you can't go word for word, unless you think that "myriad" is understandable English.

The Lord has a bajillion angels. I wonder where they all came from?


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's Greek resources at Teknia.com and visit his blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.

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