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Paragraphs (Col 2:9 and 4:10) — Mondays with Mounce 249

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Lately I have been fascinated by the more subtle methods of translation. One of the problems of first year Greek training is that we have to over-simplify the process. If we don’t, there is simply too much to learn. But somewhere along the process each of us needs to learn to read Greek in larger chunks.

Take for example paragraphs. We know that the original documents did not have paragraphs, so this and other editorial formatting are modern inventions and not inspired. We have them because English readers require them. Sometimes they help; other times they get in the way. Here are two examples, both from the NIV.

In Col 2:8 Paul cautions the church that they should not be tricked by “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” Why does he urge this caution? “For (τι) in him the whole fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.” τι introduces a dependent construction, but the NIV has not only started a new sentence but has started a new paragraph, thus separating the thoughts of v 8 from v 9. Other translation start a new sentence with τι but not a new paragraph.

I don’t think this is right; the two thoughts are too close together. The Colossians were being taught that Christ was not fully God (v 9), and this is the very reason for the caution against false philosophy (v 8). By the way, did you notice that I started a new paragraph two sentences back? It is confusing, isn’t it, since “this” has no antecedent in the same paragraph. Not the best writing style, but I did it on purpose.

But now look at the paragraph break at Col 4:10. Why do most translations break at this verse in a simple list of Paul’s comments about different people? The answer is in v 11b, which says that the previously named people are the only Jews with Paul. But the Greek names of Tychicus (v 7) and Onesimus (v 9) suggest those two men are not Jewish. If this were one large paragraph, it would imply that Tychicus and Onesimus were Jewish Christians. This paragraph marker works well here.

All this to say: there is much to be learned by looking at the text in larger units.


William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. 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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