When does “Immediately” Not Mean “Immediately” (Gal 1:16)? – Mondays with Mounce 299
BDAG gives the only meaning of εὐθέως as “at once, immediately.” In our passage it describes Paul’s resolve to not confirm his divine call with the leaders of the Jerusalem chuch.
“But when God, who had set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, εὐθέως I did not consult with flesh and blood” (1:15–16). How would you translate εὐθέως?
The more word-for-word approach tends to just translate the words. “I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood” (NASB). “I did not immediately consult with anyone” (ESV, CSB); interesting that a translation claiming to be “essential literal” didn’t translate σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι as “flesh and blood.” “Flesh and blood” certainly has a stronger contrast with the divine revelation than does the bland “anyone,” it is easily understood in English, and the RSV does use “flesh and blood” so this is a change in the ESV from its base text.
The NIV has the unfortunate translation, “my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” This may seem picky, but was this really Paul’s “immediate” response? I can think of many responses that would have followed a divine revelation. Amazement. Thankfulness. Apprehension at the magnitude of the calling.
Common sense tells us that what Paul means by what he says (which are sometimes not the same thing) is that instead of consulting with others he left right away for Arabia. It certainly wasn’t the first thing he did, but it was the first thing he did as a consequence to the revelation.
Even the translation “I did not immediately consult with anyone” could be confusing. He didn’t consult right away, but did he consult later? In other words, what is the precise meaning of “immediately”?
The NET has an interesting solution. They wait until v 17 and add “right away”; “nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia.” There is no Greek in v 17 corresponding to “right away,” so it has to come from the εὐθέως in v 16.
Again, I am being picky, but I am learning that the literary quality of a translation is formed one word at a time, using the exact right word in exactly the right place. This is why Ernest Hemingway rewrote the ending to For Whom the Bell Tolls over and over and over until be got it precisely right.
Another subtle example of this is the CSB’s translation of ἀπέθανον in Matt 8:32. The pigs rushed down the steep bank and “perished” in the water. Do pigs “die” or do they “perish”? People perish; I suspect pigs die. It is a subtle difference but illustrates the point.
By the way, I think it would be interesting to do a study on the relationship between εὐθέως and εὐθύς. BDAG says that εὐθέως only means “immediately,” while εὐθύς can mean “immediately” or the weakened sense of “then.” I suspect that εὐθέως, while primarily meaning “immediately” (more so than εὐθύς) can also mean “then” in the sense of the next thing that was done. This actually fits our passage quite well as it does in Matt 24:29, 25:15, Acts 16:10, and especially 3 John 14 (and perhaps Matt 14:22, Luke 28:9 and James 1:24). If this be the case, then our passage would be better translated as the NLT. “When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being.”
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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.