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When is Greek Grammar Bad English Grammar? (1 Cor 9:6) - Mondays with Mounce 270

Categories Mondays with Mounce

This blog can be placed in the category of the inconsistencies of formal equivalent translations, which try to keep Greek word order if possible. But what if the word order isn’t really incorrect grammar, but poor style?

Paul writes, “Or is it only I and Barnabas (ἐγὼ καὶ Βαρναβᾶς) who have no right to refrain from working?” Do you see the problem? Paul writes, “I and Barnabas,” but English style requires “Barnabas and I.”

What is interesting is that almost all the translations I check reverse the order to match English style (ESV, NASB, HCSB, NET, NRSV).

The NIV (1984 and 2011) keeps the Greek word order, “I and Barnabas,” the KJV has “I only and Barnabas,” and the NASB footnotes, “Lit I and Barnabas.

This is part of the challenge of formal equivalent translations. Consistency is always the goal, no matter what your translation philosophy, and keeping the Greek order here is at least understandable; just poor style. So what do you go with? Consistency and poor style, or proper grammar and style?

Translation is always a compromise.

By the way, I am curious. Did you notice the word I used earlier that many feel is not yet technically a word? Or has your language changed such that you read and understood the word? If you can’t figure out what word I am referring to, that is your answer. Let me know.

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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.

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