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What’s the Point? (James 1:18) - Mondays with Mounce 293

Categories Mondays with Mounce

One of the things I am sensitive to is the difference between an indicative and a non-indicative form. English style often blurs the distinction, but for Greek students it can be important to feel the difference. Often, the difference is one of nuance, but a difference nonetheless.

Look at James 1:18 in the English and tell me what is the main point?

  • “He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word” (NLT, see also the NIV).
  • “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (ESV; see also the CSB).
  • “In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth” (NRSV).

If you read the NLT or NIV, it feels like the main point is that God made a choice. This is highlighted by the fact that in English we usually start a new sentence here, even though v 18 in Greek is dependent on v 17 (βουληθεὶς ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς λόγῳ ἀληθείας).

Actually, the indicative ἀπεκύησεν indicates the main thought—we were given birth—and the adverbial participle βουληθείς indicates that this happened according to God’s desire.

I know this is a little thing, but when multiplied over the hundreds of times this type of construction occurs in the NT, it can be significant. Again, it is a nuance, but nuance is part of language and meaning.

By the way, this verse illustrates my last blog on the role of metaphors. I have no recollection why the ESV (also the NASB) abandons the metaphor of “give birth” (as did the RSV) and uses the boring “brought us forth,” especially in light of the previous use of the same metaphor: “Then desire when it has conceived (συλλαβοῦσα) gives birth (τίκτει) to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth (ἀποκύει) death” (1:15). It is a powerful metaphor, evocative, and easily understood in our culture, with no real opportunity to be misunderstood in some physical way. Abandoning the metaphor is an unfortunate translation choice.

Professors: Request an exam copy of Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek here.

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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.

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