Ambiguous and Meaningless (John 3:21) – Mondays with Mounce 288
Sometimes Greek can really be frustrating, especially when it is succinct. Here is a good example: John 3:21 reads, “But the one who does the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be clearly seen (φανερωθῇ αὐτοῦ τὰ ἔργα), that (ὅτι) they have been done (ἐστιν εἰργασμένα) in God (ἐν θεῷ).”
Most of the translation is pretty straight forward except for the final phrase. If ἐν is given its normal meaning of sphere, it doesn’t make any sense. If ἐν is instrumental, then you have the awkward idea that the person does the truth, but actually they were done by God.
As always, it is fun to check out the translations.
“what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (NIV) “that his works have been carried out in God” (ESV) “his works may…
There Is Always a Reason (John 2:1) – Mondays with Mounce 287
We just completed another week of work on the NIV in Cambridge, and I was again reminded that there is always a reason. No matter how unusual a translation of a certain verse may appear, there is always a reason. Like Jason Bourne, nothing is random.
A good example is John 2:1 in the NLT. “The next day (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ) there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee.” Someone might respond, how would you ever get “next” from τρίτῃ? But before you pronounce the NLT translators as incompetent — which they are not — repeat after me: “There…
Is the ESV Literal and the NIV Gender Neutral? – Mondays with Mounce 286
This blog is purely on translation and not directly on Greek, but I have been thinking about this a lot lately so thought I would share it.
Most people say there are two translation camps, formal equivalent and functional equivalent (or dynamic equivalent). The longer I am in translation work, the more I see how simplistic this division is.
There actually are five methods on translation with three sub-categories for the handling of gender language. Translations are all on a continuum, overlapping one another, and hence it is misleading to picture them as different points on a line. I am guessing, but for example, about eighty percent of the ESV and the
When οὔν Doesn’t Mean “Therefore” (John 11:6) – Mondays with Mounce 285
One of the better known conundrums in NT exegesis is Jesus’ response to hearing about Lazarus. “Now Jesus loved (ἠγάπα) Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So (οὖν) when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” Jesus loved them, and “therefore” stayed longer (i.e., so Lazarus would die).
Some kind of love, or is it?
I find the NLT’s solution the least acceptable. “So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed…” It is impossible to get the concessive “although” out of the Greek (ἠγάπα). The NLT is moving out of translation into commentary.
A better solution is to spend some time in…
Translating Every Word (Matt 10:4) – Mondays with Mounce 284
When it comes to particles and conjunctions especially, it can be difficult to translate every single one. Sometimes the best translation is punctuation, and other times it feels like the word is superfluous and should just be dropped in order to write in proper English.
But extreme caution is urged in the case of the latter. There is a reason for every word, even if we don’t understand why it is used.
In Matthew 10 we find the list of the disciples. In v 4 we read, “Simon the Cananaean (Σίμων ὁ Καναναῖος), and Judas Iscariot (καὶ Ἰούδας ὁ Ἰσκαριώτης), who betrayed him (ὁ καὶ παραδοὺς αὐτόν).” ὁ … παραδοὺς αὐτόν is straightforward Greek, a phrase modifying Ἰούδας. But why is καὶ…
Aktionsart and Ask, Seek, Knock (Matt 7:7-8) – Mondays with Mounce 283
In first year Greek, we teachers need to make a bigger deal of Aktionsart. Meaning isn’t conveyed just by the meaning of the word, or its tense, or its aspect. Language gives us many tools to nuance what we want to say, and our students need to know that meaning can also help convey aspect.
For example, Matthew 5:2. “And he opened his mouth and taught (ἐδίδασκεν) them” (ESV, also NRSV). ἐδίδασκεν is imperfective, but the ESV thinks that the meaning of “to teach” is sufficiently continuous that the verb doesn’t need to be expressly continuous. Most translations treat it as an inceptive imperfect: “he began to teach” (
When Not to Say “Hello” (2 John 10) – Mondays with Mounce 282
How do you treat people who disagree with you theologically?
There has been a lot of dissension in the church over this question. My computer’s dictionary describes “dissension” as a “disagreement that leads to discord,” and this may be part of the key. There is a type of disagreement that does not produce discord, disagreement over which friends can agree to disagree. That’s just healthy discussion.
Then of course there are those who think that any minor disagreement is worthy of a church battle, church discipline, and a church split. The words of Paul to Titus apply to them. “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them” (3:10 NIV).
But what about those in the middle? “If anyone comes…
What Is a “Just” Man? (Matt 1:19) – Mondays with Mounce 281
I came across another example of how word-for-word translations aren’t always translations, assuming that a translation is meant to convey meaning.
Joseph was a δίκαιος man, and as such wanted to divorce Mary quietly. But think about it; depending on your understanding of “just,” this may not make any sense. Would a person characterized as “just” ignore what appeared to be the fact that Mary had been sexually active during their engagement? (Again, we know she wasn’t, but for all appearances, she was.) A man of “grace” might not want to shame her, but a “just” man? Wouldn’t a “just” man have her stoned, which is the penalty under Jewish law?
The ESV writes, “and her husband Joseph, being a just man…
That Pesky γάρ (Rom 5:6) – Mondays with Mounce 280
By now we should all recognize that γάρ means much more than “for,” and yet so often I hear people complaining that translators don’t always translate γάρ.
Someday we will get away from the simplistic attitude that the connecting tissue in Greek corresponds to words in English. Because of how English views words in sequence, and because of our use of punctuation and paragraphing, we can often convey the meaning of γάρ without using an English word.
BDAG gives these three basic meanings for γάρ.
1. marker of cause or reason, for 2. marker of clarification, for, you see 3. marker of inference, certainly, by all means, so, then
But our passage is even more complicated than this. Paul has gone through his list of the benefits of true peace within the context of suffering, concluding that “hope does not…
When Word-for-Word Is Ambiguous (John 9:7) – Mondays with Mounce 279
I have been sensitive lately to finding passages in which a word-for-word translation is not clear but is ambiguous and perhaps even misleading. I am finding lots of examples.
The one that jumped out to me this morning is John 9:7. Jesus tells the man born blind, “‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam [τὴν κολυμβήθραν τοῦ Σιλωάμ]’ (which means Sent [ὃ ἑρμηνεύεται ἀπεσταλμένος]).” The ESV here is traditional and is reflected in the CSB (the new edition of the HCSB), NET, NRSV, and KJV.
So why then does the…
Clarity or Ambiguity? (John 1:13) – Mondays with Mounce 278
This is another way of asking the age old question, do you err on the side of word-for-word translation or on the side of meaning? Do you want clarity of meaning, or do you want to stay closer to the Greek and be less meaningful and more ambiguous?
You can’t have it both ways. Period.
Look at John 1:13. My interlinear reads that children of God “were born (ἐγεννήθησαν), not from human stock or from a physical impulse (οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς) or by a husband’s decision (οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ), but by God.” But even that is moving toward clarity.
If you really want transparency to the Greek and to be as little interpretive as possible, you would write, “who were born not out of bloods nor out of…
What Is Worse? Removing from Scripture or Adding to Scripture? (Matt 18:11) – Mondays with Mounce 277
I was asked why all modern translations “omit” Matt 18:11. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (KJV). The form of the question betrays the basic problem, that people think modern translations omit verses rather than other translations add verses.
There are probably two reasons for this assumption. One is that the verse is in the KJV. The second is that in modern translations the verse number is skipped.
The first Bible to have verse numbers was the Geneva Bible (1557). Verse numbers allowed readers to cross-reference passages (see Wikipedia). This was 54 years before the KJV; but like the KJV, the Read more