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The Joys of Shortening Greek Sentences (Eph 3:17) — Mondays with Mounce 214
As we know, Greek sentences can go on and on and on and …. Today’s English requires the sentences to be shorter, and so periodically translators put a period where there is none in Greek (so to speak), and supply a subject for the second part of the sentence.
The problem comes when the two English sentences separate what the Greek apparently wants to keep together. I am thinking of Eph 3:17.
(I need to qualify myself up front. There are several interpretation issues in this passage, but the point I want to make has more to do with the problems of dividing sentences. See the discussions by Hoehner and Arnold for slightly different understandings of this passage.)
Paul begins by saying that he bows before God (v 14), and follows by asking for two things.
1. He asks that God give the Ephesians power ( ἵνα δῷ … δυνάμει) in order that they be strengthened (v 16).
2. The second part of the request is in v 18 that starts with a parallel ἵνα. Paul prays that God give the Ephesians the power to understand (ἵνα ἐξισχύσητε καταλαβέσθαι).
That much is pretty clear, but the real question is the final phrase in v 17, “rooted and grounded in love” (ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἐρριζωμένοι καὶ τεθεμελιωμένοι). Does it go with the preceding or the following? If you were just translating word for word, this wouldn’t be an issue. You would keep the sentence going as does the NASB and the NET.
But if you feel the need to start a new sentence, you have to make an interpretive decision as to where the break belongs.
Some translations see ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἐρριζωμένοι καὶ τεθεμελιωμένοι going with the following and put their sentence break before it. The NIV writes, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power ….” The “I pray “ is necessary when starting a new sentence, and it is assumed form the previous sentence. The ESV uses a dash, “—that you, being rooted and grounded in love …”; the HCSB uses a period.
However, the NRSV sees the phrase as going with the preceding, and puts its period at the beginning of v 18. “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend …” (also the NLT).
Whatever you decide the passage means, if you are going to start a new sentence you have to make an interpretive decision. That’s the point.
The reason actually I have been looking at this passage is because of the role of love. Paul prays that they may come to know ”the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.“ So much of our training as theologians and exegetes is to attain knowledge. I wonder what school would look like if our goal were to learn that which extends far beyond knowledge, to learn the love of Christ?
I would guess that if our goal were to know the love of God, then the next verse would have a different emphasis to us. To truly know the love of God (and not just information about him) would require the empowerment of ”the one who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine.“
Now there is a school I would like to go to.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. 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.
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