Request an Exam Copy

When is Tribulation only Affliction? - Mondays with Mounce

How do you translate θλῖψις? If you translate it as “tribulation,” does that bring in foreign ideas in some contexts? This is a tricky one.

BDAG gives the following glosses for θλῖψις: “oppression, affliction, tribulation.” The word occurs 45 times in the Greek Testament. It is used of affliction in general and also the suffering that will occur at the end of the world. Even a translation like the ESV that values concordance properly uses several different English words for the one Greek word.

The issue is that the word “tribulation” is tied in our minds to the “Great Tribulation” at the end of time. When the Gospels are referring to that event, “tribulation” is a great translation (Matt 24:21, 29, so ESV, NASB). But when it is used of distress in general as in the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:21), a word like “distress” is much better. Interestingly, the CSB uses “distress” when the Gospels refer to the “Great Tribulation,” and the NRSV and NET use “suffering.” Unfortunately, the ESV uses “tribulation” when referring to suffering in general (e.g., Matt 13:21).

Where it gets interesting is in Revelation. See how they translate θλῖψις.


The problem with using “tribulation” throughout Revelation is that it confuses the persecution and suffering experienced by the seven churches (Rev 2:9–2:22) or John in particular (Rev 1:9) with the Great Tribulation of 7:14. While there is value to concordance, I think it is improperly applied here (contra the NASB and ESV). The variation of the CSB and NIV are to be preferred. I am not sure why the NRSV chose the vanilla “ordeal” (“the great ordeal”).

The other problem with using “tribulation” for suffering in general is that it is an old word that almost no one uses anymore.

In translating, we always have to be aware of the theological connections people might improperly make by our choice of words.

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...
Hardcover, Printed Caseside
Not Available Request an Exam Copy
Basics of Biblical Greek 1 Instructor: Dr. William D. Mounce
Part of a two-course series, Basics of Biblical Greek 1 will introduce you to the vocabulary and grammar of New Testament Greek, so you can begin studying the New Testament in its original language.
Course Details
  • 16 Units

  • 8 hours of video

  • Self-paced

  • Beginner

View Course
Who Was Julian the Apostate?
Who Was Julian the Apostate? In the AD 330s, 40s, and 50s, everything seemed to be going the church’s way. Successive emperors and co-emperors (Const...
Your form could not be submitted. Please check errors and resubmit.

Thank you!
Sign up complete.

Subscribe to the Blog Get expert commentary on biblical languages, fresh explorations in theology, hand-picked book excerpts, author videos, and info on limited-time sales.
By submitting your email address, you understand that you will receive email communications from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (501 Nelson Place, Nashville, TN 37214 USA) providing information about products and services of HCCP and its affiliates. You may unsubscribe from these email communications at any time. If you have any questions, please review our Privacy Policy or email us at This form is protected by reCAPTCHA.