When καί Is a Comma, and Deceptive Marketing (Mark 3:16–19) – Mondays with Mounce 301
One of the differences between Greek and English style is in expressing a series. When English translations mimic Greek style, they are writing poor English style, or miscommunicating altogether.
Greek tends to say conjunction + item + conjunction + item + conjunction + final item. English says item + comma + item + comma (if you use the Oxford comma) + conjunction + final item. Take, for example, the listing of the 12 apostles. The NASB goes very much word for word.
“And [καί] He appointed the twelve: [καί] Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and [καί] James, the son of Zebedee, and [καί] John the brother of James ( [καί] to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); and [καί] Andrew, and [καί] Philip, and [καί] Bartholomew, and [καί] Matthew, and [καί] Thomas, and [καί] James the son of Alphaeus, and [καί] Thaddaeus, and [καί] Simon the Zealot; and [καί] Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.”
But notice the inconsistencies: twice the NASB fails to translate a καί. Why? This type of example explodes the myth that an advantage of formal equivalent translations is that they reflect the underlying Greek structure. No they do not! I doubt there is a single verse in all the Bible whose structure, vocabulary, and grammar are precisely reflected in English.
The ESV omits four occurrences of καί.
The CSB omits seven, but does a most peculiar thing. They include καί twice, making it look like Jesus paired these four apostles. “Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas.” This simply miscommunicates.
It is time that Bible marketers stop this deceptive claim, that their “literal” translation of the Greek reflects the structure of the Greek. The CSB makes up a term, “optimal equivalence,” which really doesn’t mean anything. They are a formal equivalent translation sitting between the ESV and the NIV. I like the CSB, but that is what it is. Watch my video that explains further how formal equivalents do NOT reflect Greek Structures.
The NIV uses English style to communicate to an English audience, translating some of the occurrences of καί as punctuation. “These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
The NET is also quite good, using semi-colons twice in place of καί, and an initial “and” in v 18 to set off the final part of the listing. “He appointed twelve: To Simon he gave the name Peter; to James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, he gave the name Boanerges (that is, “sons of thunder”); and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
Style is part of the communication process, even for Yoda, and we should not make the Greek writers sound like they are writing with poor style.
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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.