When there’s a will there’s … an apostle?

Last Sunday our growth group had Ephesians chapter 1 as our discussion text. I started reading in one of my favorite translations:

This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.

Hmm, I felt the literary bump when I read the words “chosen by the will of God.” I wondered, “How would someone be chosen by the will of God?” Is the will the organ of choosing in the English language? How do we normally express in English the meaning of the original Greek here? Wouldn’t we normally say in English, “chosen by God”?

I then checked my wife’s copy of this translation. She uses and prefers the First Edition. Her version has “chosen by God.” OK, good! Yes, that sounds like normal English to me. In English we say that people choose. I don’t think we would ever say or write that anyone was chosen by “the will” of someone.

I then did my usual thing and checked other English versions. Most agree with the Second Edition which I use.  Well, actually, they typically have wordings which sound to me even more abnormal than that found in the version I started with:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God

How can someone be an apostle by the will of someone? I know what the translators are trying to say but it doesn’t sound right to me. Or am I the one who is out of touch with normal English? (It’s OK if you want to take that as a real question and answer “yes”! If I can be shown evidence that my language intuitions are out of touch with normal English, that would be an important discovery for me. And I would probably work to remedy my problem.)

What do you think? Does including the words “the will” in the translation of Eph. 1:1 add anything to the meaning of the verse, as expressed in English, that simply saying “chosen by God” does not already say?

Of what benefit is a will if you don’t need one?  🙂

38 thoughts on “When there’s a will there’s … an apostle?

  1. Mike Aubrey says:

    I think this is a case where if you want to represent the word in translation θελημα would be better translated “desire” – its what God wanted.

    How about one of these?

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s desire.
    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus following God’s desire.
    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus in accordance with God’s desire.

  2. David Ker says:

    “Chosen by the will of God” in modern speech might be something like “God made the decision” But the volition is tied into the modern phrase “chosen by” so “Chosen by God to be an apostle” carries within it the notion of “willing.” THELEMA is here an auxiliary verb.

    It reminds me of the English expression “try and.” “I’ll try and be finished by 5PM.” Originally, I assume this used to be “try to” and it doesn’t signify a separate action but is telling something about the verb “be finished.”

    “Desire” doesn’t work for me here because it’s use is almost always tied to amorous contexts.

  3. Bob MacDonald says:

    Ker! Ker! God is head over heels for the fathers – why not for you? God so loved the world that…

    Will is determinate, desire is weak – not for God’s lack of love, but that in this case Paul is a chosen and prepared vessel willed definitely for the Master’s use. Set aside, by the will of God. Nothing wrong with will.

  4. Mike Aubrey says:

    Bob, nobody uses “will” as a noun these day. On the other hand, people do use “desire” volitionally.

    Your argument for using will doesn’t seem to be based on usage, but on Biblish definitions, which is somewhat counterproductive here.

  5. Tiffany says:

    Well, could God choose somebody that wouldn’t be in agreement with his will? I think “chosen by God” would work well. So it would read: This letter is from Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. I mean, it’s not like when you are a kid and people are picking for teams and then there is only one person left that has to be chosen. God wasn’t forced by anyone to choose Paul. In this context, at least, it’s not needed. At least, I don’t think so…

  6. exegete77 says:

    It seems that “chosen” doesn’t carry the exact same weight and adds another dimension that doesn’t seem warranted in the context. “Desire” is too weak, as noted above. Perhaps this:

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus accomplished by God’s determination.

    Yeah, still wordy. Oh well,….

    Rich

  7. danny says:

    I think “according to the will of God” (as opposed to the will of someone else) isn’t bad.

    I do think it’s perfectly normal to use “will” as a noun, but if that sounds too biblish, why not “according to God’s choice”?

  8. David Frank says:

    I don’t see much wrong with “according to the will of God,” but I do see more of a problem with “chosen according to the will of God.” That’s like saying “chosen according to God’s choice.” A better way of saying “chosen according to God’s choice” would be, simply, “chosen by God.”

  9. codepoke says:

    I’m curious, as always, about common usage. Was there a common Greek phrase like, “According to will of Caesar?” If “according to the will of” is a Greek idiom, then normalizing it makes sense. If, however, this is an unusual phrasing, then Paul was introducing the will of God on purpose. And given that this is the first chapter of Ephesians, such an introduction makes a lot of sense. God’s will gets heavy play going forward.

  10. codepoke says:

    FTR, I always tend to assume the author has a felt purpose for choosing the words he chooses. I’m all for DE translation, but only when I’m pretty highly confident of what the author was feeling when he chose the words over which we’re stumbling.

    I tend to torture my words callously, and very much on purpose. I take sadistic pleasure in binding lexemes to their natural enemies, if only to imagine my readers’ discomfort when they hear the discordant screams rising from the page. My hope is always that the dissonance will drive the reader to look at something from a new perspective (even if it’s initially from the state of confusion, and later from a private happy place under some desk.)

    Hence, I’m loathe to touch Paul’s wording when it grates the ear. That’s when it seems most likely he was intentional in his violence.

  11. Wayne Leman says:

    Codepoke wrote:

    Hence, I’m loathe to touch Paul’s wording when it grates the ear. That’s when it seems most likely he was intentional in his violence.

    Yeah, me, too, brother! That’s why I leave his Greek alone and never try to correct it.

    I only ask questions about what is an appropriate *translation* equivalent.

    🙂

  12. J. K. Gayle says:

    Codepoke asks good questions. Before limiting the translation discussion to what sounds good in your English, why not ask more about the Greek Paul uses? Why not consider Paul’s Greek choices (and the Greek choices of other Greek writers) first?

    Gorgias says (or writes) that maybe Helen went away with Paris because of the will of the gods (i.e., θεῶν βουλεύμασι) or maybe it was the will of fate (τύχης βουλήμασι). Brian R. Donovan, rightly, translates βουλ* in Gorgias’s “Praise of Helen” as “plans, of the gods” and “wishes of Fortune.” One Greek word in the same line as the head noun of two different genitive phrases — two different senses in English? Yes–or no, if we allow a language to have multiple senses, which synonyms betray.

    Hesiod says this (in writing):
    βουλῇσι Διὸς (i.e., the “will” or “desire” or “plans” or “wishes of “Zeus.”)
    And in the next line:
    μητίετα Ζεύς (i.e., the “will” or “desire” or “plans” or “wishes of Zeus. And not even a few lines later in this same text (i.e., Work and Days), Hesiod uses Paul’s word to the Greek readers at Ephesus, Greece:

    οἳ δ’ ἐθελημοὶ ἥσυχοι ἔργ’ ἐνέμοντο σὺν ἐσθλοῖσιν πολέεσσιν.

    Okay, it’s a variant of Paul’s word for Hesiod’s god-humans, which roughly translated means:

    They were the ones willing (or desirous or by plans) to live peacefully minding their own business together with many good things.

    But a non-theological use of Paul’s word comes in the Bible itself. It’s in the LXX translation of the Hebrew. Here’s their Hebrew sentence, and then their Greek translation by the Jews, who translate their own scripture themselves:

    וְהַשְּׁתִיָּה כַדָּת אֵין אֹנֵס כִּי־כֵן יִסַּד הַמֶּלֶךְ עַל כָּל־רַב בֵּיתֹו לַעֲשֹׂות כִּרְצֹון אִישׁ־וָאִישׁ׃

    ὁ δὲ πότος οὗτος οὐ κατὰ προκείμενον νόμον ἐγένετο, οὕτως δὲ ἠθέλησεν ὁ βασιλεὺς καὶ ἐπέταξεν τοῖς οἰκονόμοις ποιῆσαι τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

    It’s the Hellene ἠθέλησεν (e-thel-esen) for the Hebrew רצון (ratsown).

    Here’s the English for that (in Esther 1:8), where there’s no mention of God or gods:

    “wished” (TNIV, NIV)
    “as much as they liked” (Message)
    “pleasure” (KJV, NASB, NKJV)
    “wanted” (NLT, HCSB)
    “every man might take what he would” (Douay-Rheims)
    “all you want!” (CEV)
    “as you please” (God’s Word)
    “desired” (ESV)
    the desire of man and man” (Julia E. Smith)

    The point is that, by Hebrew translators of the Bible, Paul’s word does have a rather consistent range of meaning. To limit English in translation (to what one translator and his field test might restrict) seems counter to the personal nature of language.

  13. J. K. Gayle says:

    oops!

    τὸ θέλημα (thelma, i.e., Paul’s word for himself in Ephesians 1:1, and Hesiod’s word for the god-humans in Work&Days 118) is the Jewish translator’s word for רצון (ratsown) in Esther 1:8.

  14. J. K. Gayle says:

    “Equivalently,” then, the the Hellene ἠθέλησεν (e-thel-esen), a verb form of τὸ θέλημα (thelma) is the translators’ Greek for יסד (yacad) in Esther 1:8.

  15. Bob MacDonald says:

    J.K. and codepoke – good to hear from you both. I think there is much to be gained from the consideration of רצון as being in Paul’s thinking. This is wide enough in meaning to encompass will and good pleasure – and what would God’s good pleasure be for God’s people? It would be good – the first statement of faith in the Bible – that creation is good and not the plaything of any old set of gods (pace Job).

    So where might the translation of Ephesians 1 be given the framework of good pleasure and acceptable in this Hebrew word? Today’s use of ‘will’ tends to be as in last will and testament – not quite fitting here though played with in Hebrews, or will=enforced – also fails here since Paul was not ‘forced’ against his own will.

    Lacking a suitable single word, perhaps good pleasure would do.

  16. Tim Bulkeley says:

    Just whatever you do do NOT use : “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” or anything like it, where I come from that means “God died and in his last testament made Paul and apostle of Jesus Christ.” Who we may assume therefore is still among the living, while God is dead!

  17. Mike Aubrey says:

    Incidentally, David, “desire” is actually an excellent synonym for θελημα because “it’s use is almost always tied to amorous contexts.”

    The fact is, they both are used for amorous contexts as well as volitional ones.

    And saying that “desire” is weak is doing theology before doing semantics – i.e. putting the cart before the horse.

  18. J. K. Gayle says:

    And saying that “desire” is weak is doing theology before doing semantics – i.e. putting the cart before the horse.

    Μιχαήλ: θέλω ἐγώ ὅτι εἶπας σύ λόγον τοῦτον πρότερος.

    Mike: that’s what I wish. 🙂

  19. Wayne Leman says:

    J.K. wrote:

    Before limiting the translation discussion to what sounds good in your English, why not ask more about the Greek Paul uses?

    Um, because this blog is about translation? 🙂

    Why not consider Paul’s Greek choices (and the Greek choices of other Greek writers) first?

    Um, because that would not be a task for translators from Greek to other languages, would it?

    These are great areas for study, J.K., but would they fit better on a blog devoted to ancient Greek?

    Besides, if your question is directed to me, I have to confess that the 3 or so years of Greek I took in college was not enough to equip me to do the kind of research required, I think, to do what you are recommending. I do much better in my heart language, English, and enjoy trying to think of better ways that the Bible can be translated into English. I’m glad there are others who can fill in the gaps where I don’t do as well.

    But keep up your research in Greek, J.K. And may you get a good, satisfying job, now that you have that parchment that you have worked so hard for. We need people who have your background and interest. We even need people like you to help us translators.

    Good to hear from you again. I’ve wondered where you’ve been.

  20. Wayne Leman says:

    I can’t get “an apostle by …” to sound like natural English for me. It sounds to me that there is something missing between “apostle” and “by”. I think I need some verb to go with “apostle” to sound like natural English, instead of a preposition. But other’s mileage (or kilometrage!) may vary. 🙂

  21. J. K. Gayle says:

    Dear Wayne,

    I misunderstood your question when you asked, “How do we normally express in English the meaning of the original Greek here?” Why, in comments, are you saying I’m not a translator and I have to find a job and would best comment elsewhere? Now I’m wondering if I understand your blog guidelines: “. . . comments should focus on Bible translation issues, not . . . personalities.” Before I go (and I will) let me ask, do you really want my answer to your question about expressed English for Greek?

  22. John Radcliffe says:

    Please excuse me for starting with an aside, but I must say that I have a problem with any translation that starts a letter with the words “This is a letter …”. Is that something anyone would naturally do when writing a letter in English? I certainly wouldn’t. (On the other hand, I don’t really have a problem with those translations that put it into what we might call memo or e-mail format: “From: Paul … To: …”)
    ___

    Back on topic:

    My first thought was: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ because that’s what God wanted”, but I think that falls down because I understand the preposition (dia + Genitive) to imply determination. I.e. God not only wanted Paul to be an apostle, but actually made him one. So perhaps something like: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ in accordance with God wishes” (or “… in accordance with what God wanted”) would be better.
    ___

    JK / Wayne

    I’m tempted to try to mediate (again), but I try not to repeat my mistakes! So instead I’ll just say that before we start looking for natural English equivalents (which is what Wayne wants us to do) don’t we need to establish what Paul is saying (“what he means”), and perhaps also whether it was “natural, every-day” Greek (rather than LXX “Biblish” or whatever) (which I thought was what JK was doing). Otherwise surely we’re not actually translating (Greek into English) but just paraphrasing (English into different English)?

  23. Wayne Leman says:

    Why, in comments, are you saying I’m not a translator and I have to find a job and would best comment elsewhere?

    Oh, wow, J.K., I’m not saying that at all. I’ve never even thought it. I’m so sorry if anything I wrote came anywhere close to conveying that idea. I’m just trying to keep comments focused on what blog posts are about. This blog is about improving translations. For English speakers that means improving the way that English Bible versions are worded. Obviously, there can be no translation without first studying the original Biblical languages to know what was said, what that meant, and then the next step is to find the English equivalent for that meaning. But I think you know all that already. So I’m not sure what we’re missing here with each other.

    I should also emphasize that on this blog we do blog about the original biblical languages. There have been many posts which investigate aspects of specific biblical language texts, of course, as they relate to translation. Rich Rhodes, for instance, has had blog post series, on particular Greek words. He studied their meaning in the biblical corpus as well as in extrabiblical literature. And then he applied his findings to translation of the Greek to English.

    So we are all here strong advocates of research of the biblical languages. But this particular blog post asks questions about English. And I would graciously request that comments be directed to what the post is about.

    We will continue to have other posts which will be about specific details of the biblical languages. For those posts we will invite comments relating to that particular blog post content.

    Now I’m wondering if I understand your blog guidelines: “. . . comments should focus on Bible translation issues, not . . . personalities.”

    My comments to you had nothing to do with any personalities and I’m so very, very sorry if anything I said sounded like it had to do with anyone’s personality. We simply want to maintain the particular focus of this blog, and, in particular, this specific blog post. It’s a matter of *content*, not of personalities.

    I sense that my comments hurt you, J.K., and I am deeply sorry for that. I did not intend to hurt you or anyone else. I was trying to keep us on topic. I also spent a large portion of my comments trying to affirm the research you have done and will continue to do. We all need each other. Bible translation is a team effort. We need people with your background to help us understand the biblical languages better. And we have had, and will continue to have, blog posts about the biblical languages where we deal with some specific topic and invite input from others on that topic.

    In retrospect, as I review the words of my response I think I can see how they might be understood as saying that we on this blog are not interested in focusing on the biblical languages. If that is the meaning you got from what I wrote, I am so very, very sorry for miscommunicating. I did not write clearly enough to avoid that interpretation of my comments. I was trying to keep us on topic in the comments to this one particular blog post. Obviously, I did not do a very good job communicating that, and I apologize. I hope that this response will clarify what I actually meant. And we have now seen how easy it is to miscommunicate meaning at any time, including in a translation, which, is, back to my first comment, the focus of this post and a major focus of this blog.

    Before I go (and I will) let me ask, do you really want my answer to your question about expressed English for Greek?

    Absolutely! That’s what the post is asking for. We’re asking what are appropriate English equivalents for the Greek of Eph. 1:1. We want to know what the English language intuitions of others are with regard to the English used in English Bible versions for Eph. 1:1.

    Thanks, J.K.

  24. Mike Aubrey says:

    Wayne, on the apostle issue:

    If “Paul an apostle” doesn’t sound natural, then the only way to get around that would be to put it in a relative clause – at least that’s the only way I can think of.

    “Paul who is chosen by God to be an apostle”

  25. Mike Aubrey says:

    But then, I’m not sure if its possible to make Ephesians 1:1 sound perfectly natural, simply because we’re not only dealing with Greek language but also epistolary forms as well.

  26. Wayne Leman says:

    Mike wrote:

    If “Paul an apostle” doesn’t sound natural

    Sorry I wasn’t clearer, Mike. “Paul, an apostle …, ” is just fine in standard English where it is the natural appositive form.

    What sounds unnatural to me is if we have the word “apostle” immediately followed by the word “by” (by and by?! 🙂 )

    I *think* that standard English calls for a verb between “apostle” and “by”.

    By, and bye,
    Wayne
    🙂

  27. Wayne Leman says:

    John wrote:

    So instead I’ll just say that before we start looking for natural English equivalents (which is what Wayne wants us to do)

    Correct, thanks, John.

    don’t we need to establish what Paul is saying (”what he means”),

    Sure, that’s good to do, also, and always should be done before we work on English translation equivalence.

    Otherwise surely we’re not actually translating (Greek into English) but just paraphrasing (English into different English)?

    Correct.

    and perhaps also whether it was “natural, every-day” Greek (rather than LXX “Biblish” or whatever) (which I thought was what JK was doing).

    Oh, wow! I sure missed J.K.’s intention. I’m so sorry, J.K. I have difficulty picking the trees out of the forest. You’re so full of information that my circuits get overloaded and I have difficulty figuring out what you are trying to say to me. So sorry. I think we’ve been through this before, haven’t we?

    Thanks, John, for explaining it to me. I need lots of interpreters, like you. My brain is wired for specific, concrete, linear, step-by-step work. I often miss the main point from people who see the bigger picture.

    We need all brain types on the team, including here on this blog. Somehow we (especially me) need to keep in mind, when we don’t understand something from someone else, that we may need to ask for clarification–ask if there is someone else around with the gift of interpretation 🙂 (John, you’re the man! Could you help interpret in my marriage communications sometimes also?!)

    Again, my sincere apologies to you, J.K., and to everyone else for flubbing this one so badly.

  28. Mike Aubrey says:

    Oh, I understand now, so you’re looking for something like:

    “Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Jesus the Messiah to God’s people living in Ephesus; faithful believers in the Messiah, Jesus.”

    Something like that?

  29. Wayne Leman says:

    Mike suggested:

    “Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Jesus the Messiah to God’s people living in Ephesus; faithful believers in the Messiah, Jesus.”

    That works for me in English, Mike. Thanks for the suggestion. There are probably other wordings that would work within the grammar of English, also.

  30. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne, Thanks so much. Yes, our thinking and communication styles are very different. Thank you again for all your follow up, especially what you’ve directed so kindly towards me! Since you’re interested in our translation ideas, I’ll offer mine on Eph 1:1 below. (I will respect you if you ever nned to tell me to “Scat”).

    John, Thanks for helping Wayne & me talk.

    Mike, I like your translation a lot. Hope you won’t cringe too much at mine (an abosolutly biblish-free effort, or some kinf of improvisational scat?).

  31. J. K. Gayle says:

    Παῦλος
    ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ
    διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ

    τοῖς ἁγίοις
    τοῖς οὖσιν
    ἐν Ἐφέσῳ
    καὶ πιστοῖς
    ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

    From:
    Little Saul
    (an agent for the Anointed Joshua
    just as God wishes)

    To:
    The Specially Dedicated
    (the ones there
    in Ephesus
    who believe
    in the Anointed Joshua)

  32. Mike Aubrey says:

    David: Just don’t stop writing.

    Kurk: I like your translation – I’ve always appreciate your ability to think out of the box in ways that I would never have thought of. The addition of from/to, I think, is rather necessary and I will likely incorporate it into my own.

  33. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve just nailed it with your translation. “Just as God wishes” is perfectly natural, standard English which accurately expresses what the Greek means.

    Thanks for contributing that, plus the beauty of the layout which makes what the verse is about clearer to English letter readers and writers. (I’m also a highly visual learner, so the visual layout gives nice help to my brain!)

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