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

Bill Mounce on January 2nd, 2017. Tagged under ,,,.

Bill Mounce

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.

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.


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.

  • Steve Chun 8 months ago

    I am sure you are referring to “themself.” But I would posit that “…person speaks refers…” is equally obnoxious.

  • Edward Hornsey 8 months ago

    Coming from the East end of London grammar to me is definitely Greek! Themself is the word I think. Ted

  • Sam Loveall 8 months ago

    No need to keep this comment in public sight. I think you’re referring to using “themselves” as a singular pronoun. I didn’t notice it at first.

    What I DID notice is that in the second line, “speaks” might not be the word you were aiming for.

    Thanks for the good work. Your writing is always informative and interesting.

  • Sam Loveall 8 months ago

    And I made a mistake of my own. I left out “[second line] of the second paragraph.”

  • Sam Loveall 8 months ago

    And, one more try. 3RD line of the second paragraph. You are DEFinitely welcome to remove these from public view!

  • Jomo Z.M Thomas II 8 months ago

    I think the word you are referring to is “blog” is that correct

  • Laurie Mathers 8 months ago

    I’m guessing you are referring to the use of the singular plural pronoun “themself”. For the record, I’m not a fan of this usage. But time waits for no man (or woman).

  • Tom Callaghan 8 months ago

    Perhaps “… English style requires that the speaker’s self-reference is put at the end of the sequence …” avoids the use of a currently suspect (by some) “word.”
    There is some additional information about ‘themself’ at this page: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/01/themself/

  • Tim Leech 8 months ago

    That’s “footnotes”, as a verb, I’d say.
    But given the fluid nature of language and the established use of other nouns as verbs, that usage is likely to be widely both understood and accepted. And in English the court of public opinion holds sway – we have no statutory authority to mandate correct usage as do the French!

  • Daniel Miguel Villa 8 months ago

    I will go for consistency most of the time.

  • M J ARNOLD 8 months ago


    End of the second paragraph should read “… the person speaking … him or herself … ” should it not?

    Your blogs are so informative and I save everyone:)

  • Steve Owens 8 months ago

    “Themself” is a word (depending on which authority you consult) but is not widely accepted. I find it awkward. I tend to gloss over it, substituting “themselves” when reading for information.

  • Gregory Chambers 8 months ago

    Are you referring to the use of footnote as a verb? Generally, I shudder when I hear marketers turn nouns into verbs. “The best way to internet!” Yikes!