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Mounce Archive 7 — One More Reason to Learn Greek: Play on Words

Categories Mondays with Mounce


Everyone needs a sabbatical once in a while, and Bill Mounce is taking one from Koinonia blog until September. Meanwhile, we’ve hand-picked some of our favorite and most popular posts for your summer reading and Greek-studying pleasure.

A few years ago, Bill Mounce revealed that he had always considered John 15:3 to be a strange verse. While he thought it could appear parenthetical at best, "[his] default is to assume a comment is not parenthetical and to look for connections."

That connection is provided in a so-called "play on words"—which you won't fully grasp unless you know the original Greek. "The connection [between vv 2 and 3] will be lost, or its strength diminished, if you don’t see how strongly the Greek is tying vv 2-3 together."

In another illuminating post from his archives, Mounce explores one of the more difficult aspects of bringing Greek into modern english—providing yet another reason why learning and knowing Greek is important to exegetical teaching and ministry.

I suspect that there is nothing harder to bring into English than a play on words. When that play on words branches (pun intended) into metaphors (and the question of how hard to push the imagery), and into the relationship between justification and sanctification, it moves from "hard" to "almost impossible." Then add in John’s use of double meanings and nuances, and many translators go screaming into the night.

As a follow-up on a previous post, in which I was asked about the relationship between "prunes" (John 15:2) and "clean" (v 3), here are the two verses; pay special attention to the Greek. "Every branch (klema) of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away (airo) , and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (kathairo), that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean (katharos) because of the word that I have spoken to you" (ESV).

Okay, there are lots of things going on here...

(Continue reading the entire post, here)


mounceWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. 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.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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