When Did the Angels Come? (Mark 1:13) — Mondays with Mounce 339
Language is imprecise. It would be great if all of us said exactly what we meant, and meant exactly what we said, but that is neither human nature or the nature of language.
That’s why context is king. That’s why a “verse of the day” is the worst exegetical tool there is (sorry). In every class on Bible study methods (“hermeneutics”) that is taught, the central emphasis is context, reading verses in context. I heard a sermon the other day that illustrates the need for this emphasis, using the imperfect tense.
After Jesus’ baptism, in Mark, we read, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted (πειραζόμενος) by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended (διηκόνουν) him” (1:12–13, NIV).
The only normal way to read…
Are All Translations Wrong? (The “Net” in Mark 1:16) — Mondays with Mounce 338
Rarely do I find a translation that makes no sense to me, and since this particular one is replicated in all the translations, I am assuming I am missing something, but I have no idea what it could be. Can you help?
Jesus has just announced his public ministry, and in Mark 1:16 Mark writes, “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net (ἀμφιβάλλοντας) into the lake, for they were fishermen (ἁλιεῖς)” (NIV).
ἀμφιβάλλω means “cast, a t.t. for the throwing out of the circular casting-net (δίκτυον)” (BDAG). A ἀμφίβληστρον is “a circular casting-net used in fishing, casting-net“ (BDAG). The fact that ἀμφιβάλλω is not followed by ἀμφίβληστρον suggests that ἀμφίβληστρον is implied and therefore unnecessary to state explicitly, and the word play is picked up in the next verse…
What Benefit Do You Receive from Your Giving? (Philippians 4:17) — Mondays with Mounce 337
(You can watch this blog post on YouTube.) One of the fundamental lessons everyone who does word studies needs to understand is that words have a range of meaning. When students memorize Greek vocabulary, we have to give them the basic meaning (or meanings) of the word, but it is a mistake to think that the most common use of a word is somehow its “literal” meaning.
σάρχ does not mean “flesh”; it means many things. One of its “glosses” may be “flesh,” but the word means so much more than just “flesh.”
So whether you are in a church learning Greek for your Bible study, or a first year Greek student, at some point you will need to make the transition from glosses to a full definition of a word and understand how to use context to…
Greek Students Should Do Two Translations (Matthew 13:11) — Mondays with Mounce 336
(Note: you can watch this blog post on YouTube.) In first year Greek we historically do just one wooden, word for word translation. This way the teacher knows that the student knows the tense of the verb or case of the noun. The problem is that the students leave first year class thinking that word for word is acceptable English and is the most accurate translation method, neither of which is accurate.
Take Matthew 13:11 for example. “And (δὲ) answering he said to them (ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν), ‘because (ὅτι) to you it has been given (δέδοται) to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (οὐρανῶν), but to them it has not been given (δέδοται).’”
But translating δέ in this context is redundant. In v 10 the disciples asked a question, and v 11 is his answer. No connective…
When Does “No” Become “Never”? (Mark 10:15) — Mondays with Mounce 335
It is often said that translators are traitors. They are traitors because they either over- or under-translate the meaning of the original text. Either they say too much in an attempt to convey the full meaning of the Greek, or they say too little and leave some of the meaning untranslated.
A typical example is the Greek construction of οὐ μή and the aorist subjunctive. It conveys an emphatic negation, not just “no” but “no no no” (as one of my children used to say when he was little). Of course, you can’t say “no no no” in translation, and we do not have a grammatical construction in English similar to οὐ μή plus aorist subjunctive. So are we to try and bring the emphatic nature of the negation into English, or do we leave it out?
A good example…
Why Do We Learn? — Mondays with Mounce 334
One of the advantages of formal equivalent translations is that they tend to maintain the distinction between dependent and independent constructions. Often the key to understanding an author’s flow of thought is the difference between an indicative or imperative and a participle. And yet sometimes functional equivalent translations maintain the distinction as well.
There is a cycle in Colossians 1:9–12 (NIV). Paul prays that God fill the Colossians “with the knowledge of his will” (πληρωθῆτε τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ).
This is going to happen through the work of the Spirit (ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ). The purpose of this is expressed with an infinitive: “so that you may live a life (περιπατῆσαι) worthy of the Lord.” What it means to be “worthy” is spelled out with a prepositional phrase: “and please him in every way (εἰς πᾶσαν ἀρεσκείαν).”…
Who or What Is the “Old Man”? (Colossians 3:9) — Mondays with Mounce 333
Translation without interpretation is impossible. There may be verses where there is no question as to what the author meant, but there are thousands of verses where interpretive decisions must be made.
Paul tells the Colossians, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off (ἀπεκδυσάμενοι) the old self (τὸν παλαιὸν ἄνθρωπον) with its (αὐτοῦ) practices” (ESV, also NASB, CSB, NET, NRSV).
1. “Seeing that” interprets the participle as causal. Paul is looking back at the conversion experience and saying that based on the realities of what happened at that point, therefore, in the present, they should not lie to one another. However, the participles could also be imperatival; the Colossians are to put off the remnants of their pre-conversion selves and not lie. I suspect the former is correct, but the point is that this calls…
How Much Should We Ask of Our Students? (Mark 12:28) — Mondays with Mounce 332
I am thinking quite a bit these days about sequencing, and how different biblical Greek is from English, which then raises interesting problems for the translator. I am also wondering more about how students should be translating in their first year of Greek.
Look at the series of participles in the Greatest Command (Mark 12:28).
προσελθὼν εἷς τῶν γραμματέων ἀκούσας αὐτῶν συζητούντων, ἰδὼν ὅτι καλῶς ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτόν· ποία ἐστὶν ἐντολὴ πρώτη πάντων;
The basic sentence structure is εἷς ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτόν. “One (of the scribes) asked him.” As a side note, my friend Dan Wallace told me that he prefers his students to find the verb–subject–direct object, especially in a complicated sentence, and then see where the rest of the words fit in relation to that structure. This is instead of just going word for word. A good idea.
Do You Ever Leave a Translation Meaningless? (Hebrews 13:3) – Mondays with Mounce 331
I am reading a paper this week at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It is entitled, “Do formal equivalent translations reflect a higher view of plenary, verbal inspiration?” Because of my research, I am particularly sensitive to the claims of formal and functional equivalent translations and the relationship between words and meaning.
Hebrews 13:3 provides an interesting test case. The ESV (see also the NASB) writes, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body (ὡς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὄντες ἐν σώματι).”
“In the body”? What does that mean? In the church, the body of Christ? This is a good example of when a slavish following of the Greek produces meaninglessness. The CSB has, “as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.” See also,…
When Is Then, Then? (Matthew 27:38) – Mondays with Mounce 330
The longer I work in Greek, the more curious I am about conjunctions, and the more I am concerned about how we teach glosses.
Take τότε for example. BDAG give two meanings using the gloss “then.” It can mean “at that time,” which conveys no idea of sequence. It can also mean “then” in the sense of “that which follows in time.” The problem of course is that if you translate with the simple gloss “then,” we hear it as sequential.
Coupled with this is how English hears a series of events. Even without conjunctions, we default to hearing them as sequential. This happened, then that happened.
The sequencing of events around Jesus’ trial illustrates the issue. There is a series of events introduced with τότε, with καί, and with aorist and present participles. I can’t do it here, but…
Jesus’ Possible Play on Judas’ Words – Mondays with Mounce 329
When Jesus says that one of the disciples will betray him, Judas responds, μήτι ἐγώ εἰμι (Matt 26:25). μήτι shows that he expected to answer “no,” and since μήτι is more emphatic than μή (see BDAG), I would argue that translations must include the expected response.
Most do, usually with “surely.” “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” (NIV, also CSB, NET).
Unfortunately, the ESV and surprisingly the NLT undertranslate at this point. “Is it I, Rabbi?” (ESV). ““Rabbi, am I the one?” (NLT). Judas was not only a traitor; he was also a liar. The translation should bring that out.
Jesus responds, σὺ εἶπας. I find myself wondering about his answer. Translations do something like, “You have said so” (NIV, ESV). I find myself wondering if Jesus isn’t saying something a little more specific, even if the other disciples would…
What Does This Prepositional Phrase Modify? (Acts 14:1) – Mondays with Mounce 327
Prepositional phrases are generally adverbial, but certainly not always. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell what they modify.
Take Acts 14:1 for example. Paul and Barnabas have just been run out of Pisidian Antioch and have entered Iconium. The NIV reads, “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual (κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ) into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.”
The Greek is, ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν Ἰκονίῳ κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ εἰσελθεῖν ⸀αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν τῶν Ἰουδαίων. So what does κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ modify?
I thought the NIV was pretty straightforward. “According to the same” is adverbial, the point being that it was their custom to first go to the synagogue…