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When a Gloss is Not Enough - Mondays with Mounce

Categories Biblical Studies Greek

Sorry I have been gone for a while. Between a wedding, holiday’s, travels, and finishing a book, life has been a little chaotic. But things are back to normal, at least for a week.

I came across an interesting example of how words in idioms have different meanings.

νυμφίος occurs 16 times in the Greek Testament, always with the meaning “bridegroom.”

Its cognate νυμφών means “wedding hall” or “bridal chamber and occurs three times (Matt 9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34). It also occurs as a variant in Matt 22:10 where our text has the related word γάμος. Interesting, the translations all translate it as “wedding guests” (ESV, NRSV, CSB, NET, NLT) or “attendants of the bridegroom” (NASB). How can an inanimate “wedding hall” become an animate “wedding guests”

There are several clues. The NASB is so word-for-word that you should guess there is something behind the word “attendants.” Also, if you check BDAG, you see further down the definition, “οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος (gen. as Ps 149:2; 1 Macc 4:2 οἱ υἱοὶ τῆς Ἄκρας) the bridegroom’s attendants, that group of the wedding guests who stood closest to the groom and played an essential part in the wedding ceremony.”

In other words, when νυμφών occurs in the idiom οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος, word-for-word, “the sons of the wedding hall,” its meaning is changed. And this is exactly what we have in our three verses. The NASB’s use of “attendants” is an attempt to reflect the actual Greek word. Other translations interpret the idiom and thereby hide the Greek behind the English. (So much for “literal” translation.)

I would assume that even if a translator thought “the sons of the wedding hall” was remotely understandable, the use of male imagery would encourage them to interpret the idiom and not say “sons.”

I am hoping some day to update my free online Greek dictionary to handle these sorts of constructions, as well as similarly difficult grammatical constructions. Until then, be sure to read the entire entry in BDAG.

And don’t rely on the gloss. So many times when people ask me for help, the problem is that they are stuck on the gloss and then don’t understand that words have a range of meaning that can’t be handled by the gloss.

This is the kind of tidbit that encourages me to keep working on my Bible Study Greek approach that relies on computers. There is so much to be learned from the biblical text that even with a basic knowledge of Greek someone could dive deeper into the text, such as this idiom.


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Photo by Shelly Pence on Unsplash.

Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar William D. Mounce
Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar is the standard textbook for beginning Greek language students in colleges and seminaries. It offers a clear, understandable, i...
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