Translating μη γενοιτο

One of the most emphatic phrases in the Greek New Testament is μη γενοιτο (me genoito). There are 15 instances of this phrase: Luke 20:16;Romans 3:4; 3:6; 3:31; 6:2; 6:15; 7:7; 7:13; 9:14; 11:1; 11:11; I Corinthians 6:15; Galatians 2:17; 3:21; 6:14. A literal word-for-word translation of it would be ‘not may it be’ or in more natural English word order, ‘May it not be!’

Ideally, a good translation of a wording in one language will not only convey both the propositional (including idiomatic) meaning as well as rhetorical impact intended by the original author. Rhetorical meaning (impact) is very much a part of the meaning of any utterance to be translated. To adequately translate all aspects of the meaning of μη γενοιτο to any language, for most speakers of that language it is necessary to use some wording which is already used naturally to communicate a rhetorical impact equivalent to the Greek phrase.

So, how do we emphatically deny something in English? Here are some natural emphatic denials in current English that I can think of:

No way!
Absolutely not!
Hell no!
Heaven forbid!

It is interesting to survey English Bible versions to see how they have translated this phrase. Which translations (Rom. 3:4 was surveyed) do you think translate the meaning of the Greek phrase accurately and naturally with equivalent rhetorical impact using English which is widely in use? I’ll identify the versions at the end of this post.

  1. Certainly not!
  2. Absolutely not!
  3. God forbid
  4. By no means!
  5. Not at all!
  6. May it never be!
  7. No, indeed!
  8. Of course not!
  9. No!
  10. That would be unthinkable!
  11. Out of the question!
  12. Never may that happen!
  13. Never!
  14. Not on your life!
  15. let it not be!
  16. Far be the thought

For myself, I find most of these translations powerful, accurately conveying the content and rhetorical impact of the Greek phrase in natural, extant English, except for # 6, 7, 12, 15, and 16. #10 seems overly wordy to me, but acceptable.

Versions identified: 1. REB/TEV/NKJV/The Source 2. NET/HCSB 3. Tyndale/KJV/ASV 4. RSV/NRSV/ESV/Amplified Bible 5. NIV/TNIV 6. NASB 7. CEV 8. Phillips/NAB/NLT/ISV 9. NCV 10. GW 11. NJB 12. NWT 13. Beck 14. The Message 15. Young’s Literal 16. Darby

7 thoughts on “Translating μη γενοιτο

  1. tcblack says:

    I think it’s inappropriate but I had a Greek Professor who insisted that the best translation would be “H#%% NO!”

  2. M. J. Mansini says:

    In my opinion, the best, or at least the one that rolls off the tongue easiest is “That would be unthinkable!” Which is, of course, the God’s Word Translation.

    The NASB “May it never be!” almost has a poetic ring to it. “Certainly Not!” (NEB)feels good to me as well.

    I like my rating system… what feels good to the tongue when speaking.

    Why I’m not an expert, I have no idea.

  3. R. Mansfield says:

    I think it’s hard to carry the exact weight of the statement in English. You could take any of the translations listed and add a friendly swat to the back of the head to enhance the meaning a bit more.

    I took a Greek class on Romans under the late great Jim Blevins a few years back, and he encouraged us to come up with creative expressions. The first time, I read in class a passage containing μη γενοιτο, I used the phrase “Hell no!” and kept reading. When I was through, no one in the class said a word. Then Dr. Blevins chuckled and said, “That will work.”

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    I can see the attractiveness of “Hell no!” But I can also see good reasons to reject any translation which brings in theologically significant words like “hell”, “heaven” or “life”, or worse still “God”. For one thing, surely the KJV rendering “God forbid!”, in a place where God is not mentioned in the original, is taking the name of the Lord in vain, and such uses of “heaven” and “hell” are also widely and correctly condemned. Also there is a serious danger of bad preachers etc trying to make some theological significance out of the use of such a word when in fact it is not in the original at all. So I would avoid any rendering using any of these words. I would much prefer something more neutral like “Certainly not!” or “Of course not!”

  5. R. Mansfield says:

    Well, I wasn’t suggesting that “Hell no!” actually go into an actual translation of the Bible. I was just trying to give creative translation in Blevins’ class.

    I feel like I’ve cursed a lot today…

  6. wezlo says:

    I’ve actually paraphrased it as having the same emotional thrust as, “Are you smoking crack?”

  7. Jeremy Pierce says:

    There’s always the Wayne’s World classic: “Not!”

    There’s actually a place somewhere in John 13-17 where Jesus responds in a way that seemed appropriate to me to translate that way, and I think it was a one-word answer that didn’t seem as accurately translate just as “no”. I don’t remember offhand exactly where it was, though.

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