There Is Always a Reason (John 2:1) – Mondays with Mounce 287
We just completed another week of work on the NIV in Cambridge, and I was again reminded that there is always a reason. No matter how unusual a translation of a certain verse may appear, there is always a reason. Like Jason Bourne, nothing is random.
A good example is John 2:1 in the NLT. “The next day (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ) there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee.” Someone might respond, how would you ever get “next” from τρίτῃ? But before you pronounce the NLT translators as incompetent — which they are not — repeat after me: “There is always a reason; nothing is random.”
The problem, of course, is that when John says “third,” the reader looks in vain for the “first” and the “second,” which don’t exist. So since the NLT is committed to communicating meaning in the most natural way possible, they had to find some way to help the reader understand.
Check out their footnote. “Greek On the third day; see 1:35, 43.”
1. The sequencing starts at 1:19-28 with the testimony of John to the Jewish leaders.
2. “The next day” (Τῇ ἐπαύριον) begins the account of John attesting that Jesus is the Lamb of God (1:29-34).
4. “The next day” (Τῇ ἐπαύριον) introduces the story of Philip and Nathaniel (1:43-51). According to Morris, this would be the fifth day.
So when we come to John 2:1, when John begins the story of the wedding at Cana and he begins τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ, you can see the problem. Where are the first and second? And frankly, if we start at the beginning, it looks like this is actually the fourth day or even the fifth.
Morris’ explanation is that nothing happened on day 6 (our day 5), and so “the third day” (2:1) starts with 1:43-51, includes the unmentioned day, and includes the day of the miracle of the water to wine, hence “the third day” after (and including) the last mentioned day.
After my recent flurry of criticisms of the NLT, I am glad to be able to applaud them. I wouldn’t translate this way, but I can see why they did it. If only all translations were committed to helping people understand the gospel instead of rigidly attaching selves to a translation theory that sometimes celebrates the victory of form over function.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language and exegesis on the ZA Blog. He is the president of BiblicalTraining.org, a ministry that creates and distributes world-class educational courses at no cost. He is also the author of numerous works including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek and a corresponding online class. 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 BillMounce.com.