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The Flexible Dative (Jude 1) — Mondays with Mounce 255

Categories Mondays with Mounce

The NIV footnote to Jude 1 alerted me to a great example of the challenges of the dative case.

The second part of the salutation reads, “To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father (τοῖς ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ ἠγαπημένοις) and kept for Jesus Christ (Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ τετηρημένοις).”

The NIV goes with “in” for ἐν, although its meaning is not immediately apparent, and it goes with “for” for the dative Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ. The footnote reds, “Or by; or in.”

You can see other translations struggling with this rather ambiguous construction. The ESV footnotes “for” with, “Or by.” The HCSB keeps the same preposition for both, “loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.” The NET has, “to those who are called, wrapped in the love of God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” The NLT expansively has, “I am writing to all who have been called by God the Father, who loves you and keeps you safe in the care of Jesus Christ.” (If this is confusing to you, note that they have not kept the two participles ἠγαπημένοις and τετηρημένοις modifying “called” as do other translations.)

But what does it mean to be loved “in God”? Moo says it refers to “the context in which we experience love.” Love “is the product of our ... being in fellowship with God.”

What does it mean to be “kept for Jesus Christ”? The dative allows for either Jesus being the one who keeps us, or that Jesus is the one for whom we are kept. Moo again comments, “God throughout this life exercises his power on behalf of Christians to preserve them spiritually intact until the coming of Jesus Christ in glory.”

Whatever you do this verse, my suggestion is not to base any doctrine on it. The dative is just too vague to be useful here.

On a totally different vein, we sang an old song in church today that says, “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” Does anyone have any idea what “frame” means? I don’t.

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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 Teknia.com and visit his blog on spiritual growth at BiblicalTraining.org/blog/life-journey.

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