When οὔν Doesn’t Mean “Therefore” (John 11:6) – Mondays with Mounce 285
One of the better known conundrums in NT exegesis is Jesus’ response to hearing about Lazarus. “Now Jesus loved (ἠγάπα) Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So (οὖν) when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” Jesus loved them, and “therefore” stayed longer (i.e., so Lazarus would die).
Some kind of love, or is it?
I find the NLT’s solution the least acceptable. “So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed…” It is impossible to get the concessive “although” out of the Greek (ἠγάπα). The NLT is moving out of translation into commentary.
A better solution is to spend some time in BDAG and see what other meanings are in the semantic range of οὖν.
An interesting solution is the second definition. “Marker of continuation of a narrative, so, now, then.” This is a weakened sense for οὖν in which there is no sense of inference. If this is John’s meaning, then I don’t know any way in English to translate it. Just put a period at the end of v 5 and let the punctuation carry the flow of the discussion.
BDAG’s fourth entry is, “It has also been proposed that οὖν may be used adversatively,” but this would be such a rare usage that it probably should not be considered here.
While the idea of continuation is perfectly feasible, I do find myself wondering if there is something else, something much deeper, at work. This is just a thought, but what would you think if Jesus came to you and asked, “Would you like to be part of the most amazing miracle you will ever experience? Because I love you, I am willing to make you part of this sign pointing to the central truth that I am the resurrection and the life.”
How would you respond? Would you see it as an act of love? If Jesus, in his love for you, wants to do a miracle in your life to show the world who he is, would you be okay with that? Would that be an act of love?
I guess the same could be asked of any missionary that has died in the field.
I am at the cabin and don’t have access to my commentaries, but I wonder if anyone has proposed this. Just thinking out loud.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language and exegesis on the ZA Blog. He is the president of BiblicalTraining.org, a ministry that creates and distributes world-class educational courses at no cost. He is also the author of numerous works including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek and a corresponding online class. 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 BillMounce.com.