Was Apollos Lazy? (1 Cor 16:12) - Mondays with Mounce 285
The Corinthian church is well-known for its factions. Among others, some identified themselves with Apollos and others with Paul (1 Cor 1:12).
This makes Paul’s admonition in 16:12 quite interesting. “Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him (πολλὰ παρεκάλεσα) to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now (πάντως οὐκ ἦν θέλημα ἵνα νῦν ἔλθῃ), but he will go when he has the opportunity (ὅταν εὐκαιρήσῃ)” (NIV).
πολλὰ could be adverbial, meaning that Paul urged him repeatedly, but contextually it is more likely that πολλὰ carries the idea of “strongly” (as per most translations).
In response, Apollos strongly (πάντως) resisted Paul’s request. The usual explanation is that Apollos did not want to add any fuel to the fire of the divisiveness in the church.
Notice that the text does not say whose “will” (θέλημα) it was. It could have been that Apollos believed it was not God’s will (see the footnote in the ESV), but most feel it reflects Apollos’ own decision, his will. The Greek is ambiguous.
Notice how the NLT simply skips these emphatic constructions. “Now about our brother Apollos—I urged him to visit you with the other believers, but he was not willing to go right now.” This is not unusual for the NLT and illustrates the weakness of using it as a study Bible.
But what actually caught my eye this morning when the passage was read in church was the NKJV’s rendering of εὐκαιρήσῃ. “[H]e will come when he has a convenient time.” The NKJV simply keeps the KJV rendering. I don’t know what “convenient” meant in 1611, but it is hardly a contextually accurate translation of εὐκαιρέω. It makes it sound like Apollos will “get around” to visiting the Corinthians when it doesn’t require much effort on his part. It is impossible to imagine that Apollos’ refusal to come to Corinth was because he was lazy.
To be fair, BDAG define εὐκαιρέω as “to experience a favorable time or occasion for some activity, have time, leisure, opportunity.”
In Mark 6:31, Jesus tells his disciples to come away to a quiet place. So many people were coming to them that “they did not even have a chance (εὐκαίρουν) to eat.” (The ESV’s “they had no leisure even to eat” is truly an odd translation and overly wooden. The issue is not leisure but an opportunity to eat.)
In Acts 17:21 Luke’s sarcastic statement does draw on the sense of leisure in εὐκαιρέω. “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time [ηὐκαίρουν] doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”
But in our passage, Luke can’t be casting Apollos as being a somewhat lazy person who would only visit the Corinthians when it was convenient.
Words change their meaning, especially their nuances. Translations need to keep up.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. 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. The Mounce Reverse-Interlinear™ New Testament is available to freely read on Bible Gateway.
Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at BillMounce.com.
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