“Not … without … except” is too difficult (Matt 13:57) — Mondays with Mounce 227
Terry asked me about this verse, wondering why the NIV 1984 was changed and made more confusing.
First of all, let me emphasize an unfortunately little known fact: the NIV has always been in a constant state of revision. It is part of the original charter of the CBT that we keep the NIV up-to-date. So we meet every summer for a week, going through suggested changes. Periodically, those revisions are published. (And before you ask, no, I do not know when the next revision will be published. Not for quite a while I would guess.)
The NIV 1984 reads, “But Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’” Sounds somewhat aphoristic, but nobody talks like this today, so I can see why the CBT changed it. It also flips the order of the phrases in Greek.
The 2011 reads, “But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” It actually follows the Greek pretty closely. “Not is a prophet (οὐκ ἔστιν προφήτης) without honor (ἄτιμος) except (εἰ μὴ) in his own town (ἐν τῇ πατρίδι) and in his own home (καὶ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ).
But can you see why it is not a good translation? Why do you have to stop and work at understanding it? Two problems. (1) You have the sequence of “not … without … except,” a construction somewhat akin to a double negative and too difficult to process. (2) English does not have a single word to translate ἄτιμος, which then necessitates the awkward “without.” Too bad we dont’ have a word like “ir-honor” or “un-honor.” (“Dishonorable” doesn’t have the right meaning.) Then we could have something like, “A prophet is ir-honor except …,” which would then make great sense.
Almost all translations keep the awkwardness visible in the NIV. Only the NLT really smooths it out. “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.”
Yet another example of word-for-word translation making something too difficult to understand.
William 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.
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