We All Hear Words Differently (Gal 2:10) – Mondays with Mounce 300

ZA Blog on October 30th, 2017.

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The longer I translate, the more I realize how subtle language is, and how different people hear the same word or phrase differently.

In Galatians 2, Paul is talking about his relationship with the Jerusalem church and their agreement with his theology. His conclusion is in v 10. “All they asked was that we should continue to remember (μνημονεύωμεν) the poor, the very thing I had been eager (ἐσπούδασα) to do all along” (NIV).

μνημονεύωμεν is a present subjunctive, which the NIV makes explicit with the “continue.” The NLT has, “keep on helping the poor.” Other translations have the simple, “They asked only that we would remember the poor” (CSB, see ESV, NASB, NET, NRSV).

How do you hear “remember”? On one hand, the lexical idea of “remember” is imperfective so you don’t need the “continue” or “keep on.” However, just saying “remember” may imply to some readers that Paul had not been remembering the poor and they were asking him to start remembering the poor. In other words, while μνημονεύωμεν itself does not require a helping word to make it imperfective, perhaps the context does.

Then take ἐσπούδασα. The NIV has “the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” There is no Greek word or phrase explicitly paralleling “all along,” so where did it come from? Remember, there is always a reason, always. The NASB simply translates the words, “the very thing I also was eager to do” (also the ESV, CSB, NET, NRSV). The problem with this, at least to my ears, is that it sounds like Paul had not been eager to do this but now he was. Is that how it sounds to you?

I think that ἐσπούδασα is a constative, which means this is the most basic use of the aorist viewing the action as a whole without regard to beginning or end. It is the snapshot, the helicopter’s view of the parade. The poor have been, and will continue to be, a concern for Paul. This explains the NIV’s “all along,” not wanting to imply that Paul’s concern for the poor was something new.

This verse is a good example of how subtle language is, how words must be understood in context, not just the context of a sentence or a paragraph but of what we know from the Bible as a whole.

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Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

  • Joe Rutherford 12 months ago

    Holy Scripture is so rich, will we ever see the fullness of it? It is possible that after a conversation about doctrine and practice, Paul was told to remember the poor, because it simply had not been talked about yet and they wanted to make sure it was put on the table. It was not nescesarily an indication that Paul had not theretofore remembered the poor. You know, this is the second time in two days that I have unexpectedly read an articale about the poor in the scriptures. My wife and I have been discussing how we sould help a particular poor person and I have even ask the Lord what we should do. I’m convinced now that we should help in what ever way that person needs. The Word of the Lord is so, so good!