This is definitely about Bible translation

Thanks for all the comments on my preceding post. You are alert readers. You caught that the issue had to do with whether or not I was referring to a specific tree in my made-up paragraph. (BTW, I did go moose-hunting with my father. I forget how old I was the last time he took me. I know I was big enough to help him pack out the carcass. But I was still fairly small, so I couldn’t carry a very big load.)

The usual pattern for well-formed discourses in English is, as some of you noted, to introduce an item first before we can refer to it with the definite article “the”. For instance, I could have included the following sentence in my moose-hunting story:

There was a tree where we always stopped when we were moose-hunting. It had large branches which could shelter us if there was a sudden downpour of rain.

However, as some of you also noted, English allows for “the” to precede certain other nouns under special conditions. One is if the speaker can assume that the hearer already knows which thing is being talked about, perhaps from previous conversations, or because it is common public knowledge, such as commonly known to everyone who lived in our village.

We properly ask each other in English, “How’s the weather?” We don’t ask, “How’s a weather?” We can safely assume that everyone else knows what we mean by weather.

These days, especially, we may fairly safely talk to someone about “the” national debt, without having to introduce the concept of a national debt.

For those BBB readers who live under the British monarchy, it is perfectly good English for them to refer to “the queen,” without having to first introduce into their discourse a person who is the current monarch of the U.K. There is only one monarch at a time and it is currently a queen. Presumably any resident of the U.K. knows this. Nouns which refer to entities which are assumed to be known as common knowledge can be referred to as definites.

Now, what does this discussion about English “the” have to do with Bible translation? It is on my mind these days because I am nearing the end of my check of the CEB sampler of the Gospel of Matthew. It has impressed me how often in the CEB a noun is marked with “the” as definite (already known to the author and assumed by the author to be known by his audience) when I am unable to find evidence that that noun was introduced yet in the discourse (typically the length of an episode). That clashes with my understanding of the use of English “the”. But it aligns word-for-word with the presence of the Greek definite article before its noun.

Usually this phenomenon occurs with the noun phrase “the house”, as in CEB Matt. 9:28, 13:36, 17:25, 24:43 (UPDATE: only the first instance in CEB 24:43 of “the house”). Notice how 9:27-28 reads:

“As Jesus departed, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he came into the house, the blind men approached him.”

I don’t know which house in all of Palestine Jesus entered on this occasion, or any of the other occasions I have listed where a problematical “the house” occurs. (The issue is not for every instance of “the house” in Matthew, only where a specific house has not yet been introduced into the discourse).

The Greek text has ten okian, for which the default literal translation would be “the house,” and so the CEB translation has “the house.” I have checked other English versions and several follow the same practice of translating the Greek noun phrase with the definite article with an English noun phrase with the definite article “the.” (For Matt. 9:28 these other versions include KJV, RSV, ESV, NASB, and NET.)  Matching the Greek definite article with the English definite article makes sense for doing word-for-word translation. But it needs to be questioned if we are attempting to translate all levels of meaning, including pragmatic meaning, discourse meaning, referential meaning, etc.

I have been wondering why Matthew marked these instances of “house” with a definite article. I have not come up with any satisfactory answer. I am assuming that in all of Jesus travels around Palestine while he was teaching, he did not always teach in the same house, a house whose identity was known to Matthew and assumed by Matthew to also be known to his readers.

If I were translating the particular passages in question in Matthew, I would have to translate the phrases with “house” as “a house”, following English rules of introduction of new entities in discourse, in the absence of any other evidence to cause me to believe that it was a specific house known to the author and his hearers.

Note how the translators of the following versions handle this issue of definiteness or indefiniteness of the house mentioned (Matt. 9:27-28):

When Jesus left that place, two blind men followed him. They shouted, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” Jesus went into a house (GW)

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him (NIV, TNIV)

Jesus left that place, and as he walked along, two blind men started following him. “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” they shouted. When Jesus had gone indoors, the two blind men came to him (TEV/GNB)

As Jesus was walking along, two blind men began following him and shouting, “Son of David, have pity on us!” After Jesus had gone indoors (CEV)

As he went on from there Jesus was followed by two blind men, shouting, ‘Have pity on us, Son of David!’ When he had gone indoors they came to him, and Jesus asked, ‘Do you (REB)

When Jesus was leaving there, two blind men followed him. They cried out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” After Jesus went inside, the blind men went with him. (NCV)

After Jesus left the girl’s home, two blind men followed along behind him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” They went right into the house where he was staying (NLT)

By the way, it is well known to students of Greek that Greek marks more nouns with the definite article than English does. One of the most famous instances, one which is debated by theologians, is John 1:1 where a rigorous word-for-word kind of translation would require a wording like:

In beginning was the god and the word was with the god and god was the word.

Since Greek word order is pragmatically determined, not syntactically determined, as is much of English,, the final clause can be re-ordered as “the word was god” or “the word was a god” or “the word was divine”. (Please, this is not the place to argue about the divinity of Christ from this verse. I can assure you who wonder, from what I have just written, that I do believe in the divinity of Christ. I am only referring objectively here to legitimate translation possibilities for the Greek. Please do not address the issue of the divinity of Christ in the Comments to this blog post. Such comments will be off-topic for this post and I will have to delete them.)

The point of referring to the Greek of John 1:1 is that the words for “god” (“God) as well as the word for “word” (Word, Logos) are marked as with the Greek definite articles, except, of course, for the final instance of “god”. Yet we never find word-for-word English Bible versions translating the word for “God” for this verse as “the god”. I assume that Greek theos is marked with the definite article because Matthew is a monotheist and assumes that his readers are, as well. In other words, there is for them, just one “god” (God). (Yes, I am a monotheist, as well!)

Again, in summary, I do not know why Matthew refers to “the” house several times in his gospel. Perhaps some of you might know why and can comment on this. I do know that if Jesus stayed and/or taught in more than one house and if this plurality of houses is noted throughout Matthew’s gospel, there is a mismatch between the Greek and English discourse patterns for marking definiteness.

I guess, in conclusion, I would have to say that I am indefinite about the Greek definite in some cases! How about you?

37 thoughts on “This is definitely about Bible translation

  1. Doug says:

    Perhaps from the point of the writer, “the house” and to those people involved in that passage “the house” was already known.

  2. Wayne Leman says:

    Good suggestion, Doug. Definiteness is, however, an issue of a communicative “contract” between authors and their audiences, not participants within the authors’ discourses. For a house to be a specific house, and if Matthew is following the usual conventions of communication, Matthew needs to assume in each case where he writes “the house” that his readers know which house he is referring to. If there was more than one house involved, I don’t think his audience can be expected to know the identity of each one. This is true especially because several decades passed between the time that Jesus entered houses and when Matthew’s gospel was written. Thanks for wrestling with me on this one. Your suggestion is very reasonable.

    Another possibility is that we do not fully understand the different ways that the Greek definite article is used. We already know from examples like John 1:1 that Greek and English definite articles do not match one-to-one. There may be a variety of ways in which they do not match, making the need for a more meaning-based and discourse-based approach to translation all the more important.

  3. Mike Aubrey says:

    In narrative, it is acceptable to introduce an unknown referent with the definite article temporarily with the audience suspending “belief” for a moment anticipating that something significant about “the tree” will be explained quite soon. It’s done regularly in stories.

  4. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Sometimes Greek uses a definite article where English prefers a possessive pronoun. I might suggest “When he came into his house” (or even “When he came home”) instead of “When he came into the house.”

  5. Gary Simmons says:

    Perhaps “the house” is used here simply to introduce “a particular house” simply as a constructio ad sensum. On no occasion is the house in question a significant factor — it’s simply a deictic use to refer to some certain house.

    I wish I were more familiar with discourse analysis.

  6. bzephyr says:

    When I read your story of the boy going hunting with his father and I realized that the event happened when the narrator was 5 years old, it seemed quite natural to me that he referred to “the tree” rather than “a tree.” The tree was significant to him, and the use of ‘the’ communicates that to the audience. On the other hand, ‘a’ would have been quite boring. However, that is sort of a special case with a 5 year old and the way that young children sometimes assume that their audience is tracking with them even when they have no ability to do so.

    But I don’t think I quite agree with you about the implications of the communicative ‘contract’ between authors and their audiences. When I read “the house” in the gospels about a house that I have not been introduced to yet, this communicates to me that there was a definite house that Jesus was going to. If the translation were to say “a house,” that would sound to me like Jesus was aimlessly meandering and randomly came across any house when he felt like it was time to stop. So in some of these cases, the ‘the’ doesn’t have to have the same discourse function that we often think of when it is used to refer back to a previously introduced noun. Rather, the article conceptualizes the noun in a certain way (perhaps even making it definite, although it is true that definiteness is not ultimately dependent upon the Greek article) for other reasons besides its previous occurence in the text.

    In Mt. 9:28, I like what the NLT has done here with “the house where he was staying.” That has the effect of communicating a certain definiteness, and it seems to be a very likely referent that is not too overly-specific without other clues. Often times “going into the house” in Greek is the equivalent of our English “going home.” On the other hand, isn’t it possible that “the house” refers to Matthew’s house, the last house we hear of before Jesus was summoned to go to the synagogue leader’s house? Maybe not, since that interpretation would assume that Jesus stayed there for more than just dinner and was there for several days during which the disciples of John the Baptist came to him before the synagogue ruler came to him. Probably quite unlikely. Therefore, it seems that the best option is that Jesus is still in his own town (cf. 9:1), so “the house” is probably whatever house he’s staying in, perhaps even a family house, or ‘home’ as “the house” often means in Greek.

    As for 13:36, it’s very possible that Jesus is back in his home town again, since 12:15 says that he left the area he had gone to after he left his home town. Also, his mother and brothers are back in the picture in 12:46. Mt. 13:1 refers to Jesus leaving “the house” and so 13:36 refers to him going into “the house.” It’s the same one he left, very definite even if we don’t want to go so far as to say it was his family home.

    As for 17:25, this is Peter’s home town, (cf. Mt. 4:18) and we know that Peter’s mother-in-law had a house there (Mt. 8:14), so this is probably one of those places where “the house” is best understood as the definite idea of ‘home’.

    Mt. 24:43 has “the house of him” because it has already referred to the ‘homeowner’.

    Daniel Wallace discusses the uses and non-uses of the Greek article in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp. 206-290. I have summarized his discussion in 4 pages if anyone is interested.

    As for the differences between the Greek and English uses of the article, it is best to try to identify why a Greek noun has the article in particular instances before deciding if the same meaning is communicated in English with or without the definite article.

  7. Shan says:

    Matthew uses οἰκία 25 times in his Gospel. 12:25, 19:29, and 26:6 are the only uses without the definite article, so using the definite article appears to be common speech. 12:25 and 19:29 are speaking generically, but 26:6 certainly does not fit the pattern. Would we say “in a house of Simon”, implying that he owned more than one? Mark’s parallel in Mark 14:3 does have the definite article, so with/without are both legitimate, and I would say that “the house” is the correct meaning in Matthew 26:6.

    Your verse in question (9:28) reads better for me without the definite article, unless it is phrased differently like the NLT does. English is just not Greek.

    There are also particular nuances of οἰκία that might be considered, such as whether it is referring to the structure or the inhabitants, but I am unable to find any enlightenment from this, maybe others can.

  8. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne – The pair of posts here is just fascinating. You’re getting at issues that learners of English as an additional language (and those of us who work with them) struggle with. Like you, I’d caution about being dogmatically definite about the definiteness of the definite article.

    You yourself, when asserting a principle, find that you may have contradicted your principle already. For example, you state:

    “Definiteness is, however, an issue of a communicative ‘contract’ between authors and their audiences, not participants within the authors’ discourses. … Matthew needs to assume in each case where he writes ‘the house’ that his readers know which house he is referring to.”

    But before you’d asserted this statement of principle, you’d already played with the English language in your first post. You did not and could not and did not need to assume that your readers know which tree you (the author) were referring to. In fact, to get us your readers thinking, you played with language while playing with us. You wouldn’t let us know (to make your point) exactly what “the tree” could mean. You made us guess what is might reasonably mean. And we’re all giving examples of several different possible meanings. For instance, some of us could mainly assume that you (the participant in your story) and your father (also a participant) were the knowers, perhaps, of “the tree,” the definiteness of which we were not (by the author’s design) privy to. You wrote:

    “When we came to the tree my father stopped.”

  9. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne, You have also made some brilliant points about determiners (i.e., definite articles and other noun markers) functioning differently for different languages.

    A case in point is what Shel Silverstein does in English with The Giving Tree and then what translators have done with that. Translations of the title only may illustrate enough.

    Carla Pardo Valle renders it in Spanish much as we English readers might expect, with a definite article:

    “El árbol generoso”

    The translator into modern Hebrew doubly implies the definite by adding an alliterative parallelism with “Ha” ה:

    העץ הנדיב

    “HaEtz HaNadiv” or literally “the generous, the tree”

    But the translators into classical Latin, of course, would not use the definite article, because the Romans did not need it. Hence, readers of the translation into Latin get the following [with definiteness implied by the writer and/ or supplied by the reader]:

    “Arbor Alma”

    And this literally means “[the] tree, [the] nourishment”

    And much further away from the English language family and even from our familiarity with Hebrew is the Chinese translation of Silverstein’s book. The title is written in three characters:

    愛心樹

    Transliterated, these sound in English (without the tones) something like “Ai” “Xin” “Shu.” They roughly mean, “love” “heart” “tree.” But the writer and / or the reader has to supply the sort of definiteness that Silverstein and his English readers have with “The Giving Tree.”

  10. J. K. Gayle says:

    btw, to be clear, the above examples are not my translations. I’ve just looked at how professional translators have variously rendered the title of an English language children’s book into four other languages. If you google the titles, you can find them in online bookstores. Wayne’s “the tree” in his story made me think of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.”

  11. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk wrote:

    But before you’d asserted this statement of principle, you’d already played with the English language in your first post. You did not and could not and did not need to assume that your readers know which tree you (the author) were referring to. In fact, to get us your readers thinking, you played with language while playing with us.

    Kurk, as you know, the discourse rules of English call for unknown referents to be introduced as indefinites. I was not playing with my audience in my made-up story. Rather, as I wrote in the post, I asked for my readers to discover what did or did not sound right to them. “The tree” sounded wrong to me in the unmarked (usual) pattern of introduction of participants into discourses. I appreciate all the exceptions which you and others have pointed out to the default, normal, discourse rule of participant introduction. As with all “poetic” and authorial license, the exceptions prove the rule. The exceptions allow an author to “play” with their audience for nice literary purposes, such as someone suggested, suspending belief, suspense, etc.

    This has been a great exercise. I’m glad that you and others have pointed out how complex the matter of definiteness and indefiniteness is. Is is, however, important to establish the foundation of the default pattern for English discourse, before we move on to the marked variants of that pattern, where creative and clever minds can break the rules for nice literary purposes.

    I hope that two results of this exercise will be that English Bible translators will become aware of (1) the important linguistic principle of unmarked vs. marked patterns, and (2) the mismatch of formal (not semantic) markings for definiteness (and other language categories) between languages. We simply cannot translate word-for-word and expect to come up with well-formed discourses in our translations. Language is far too complex for that, and languages vary too much from each other for that.

    Thanks, Wayne

  12. Wayne Leman says:

    bzephyr, your comments are very helpful to this discussion. Thanks for showing how the passages I listed could actually be definiteness in the mind of the author. In such cases, I suggest, we need to do more work as translators so that the English does not sound aberrant with regard to definiteness. Like you, I like how the NLT handled it.

  13. LeRoy says:

    Matt. οικιαν 9:28, 13:36, 17:25, 24:43. and not have permitted his house to be broken through. την οικιαν αυτου
    Notice how 9:27-28 reads:
    27 And as Jesus was passing by thence, two blind men followed him, crying out and saying: Have mercy on us, Son of David.
    28 And after he had come (εις την οικιαν) into the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them: Believe you that I am able to do this? They said to him: Yes, Lord.

    οικία, οίκος, κατοικία, σπίτι {home} home, house ουσ α οίκος [‘ikos] επιχείρηση of business, operation, proposition
    οίκος ανοχής bawdy-house, brothel
    οικία οικεία familiarly, in a friendly manner

    Now notice how the NIV TNIV WNT GNT NCV NIRV all mis-translate Mt 9:
    28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied.

  14. Michael Nicholls says:

    How does Greek handle ‘He went into a certain house’? In English, we use the indefinite article, then ‘certain’ which turns it back into a kind of definite noun, but one which hasn’t been referred to yet. Since Greek doesn’t have an indefinite article, could it perhaps be doing the equivalent here by using the Greek definite article? I haven’t done a thorough study on the Greek article, so I’m not sure.

    Perhaps a better English translation would be:
    As Jesus departed, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” He went into a certain house, and there the blind men approached him.”

    Maybe I’m saying the same thing as Gary Simmons.

    bzephyr wrote:
    When I read “the house” in the gospels about a house that I have not been introduced to yet, this communicates to me that there was a definite house that Jesus was going to. If the translation were to say “a house,” that would sound to me like Jesus was aimlessly meandering and randomly came across any house when he felt like it was time to stop.

    The normal way to do this in English is to use ‘a certain house’. It’s irregular to introduce an unknown for the first time with the English definite article. ‘A certain house’ shows that it was a specific house and that he wasn’t aimlessly meandering.

  15. Wayne Leman says:

    bzephyr wrote that Mt. 24:43 should not have appeared in my list of problematical instances of “the house” in CEB Matthew:

    Mt. 24:43 has “the house of him” because it has already referred to the ‘homeowner’.

    So true. I was referring, however, to the first instance of CEB “the house” in this verse, not this one. I still consider the first instance to be problematical for participant introduction, but I see from the Greek that it’s different from the other instances of “the house” in CEB Matthew I listed. This one has the issue with “the houseowner” (CEB “the head of the house”). Same translation issue, different Greek word. In a well-formed English discourse we would expect “a head of a house” in a translation Matt. 24:43, since the houseowner has not been introduced yet. Jesus is stating a principle about any houseowner, not a specific one.

    Sorry for not noticing the instance in 24:43 that you referred to, which, as you correctly note, is not indefinite since the house is part of the discourse script since the householder has already been introduced.

  16. BZephyr says:

    Wayne, I would say that the article used with the ‘householder’ at the beginning of the verse is a generic use of the article. It’s talking about homeowners everywhere, or at least those homeowners who have had the experience of having their house broken into. English can use the article in the same way, or other ways of doing it in English are (1) to use the plural without an article, or (2) use the indefinite article with the singular. The reason Greek and English can communicate this idea with the article (even if the noun has not been previously introduced indefinitely in the text) is because the homeowner is an already known category within the language community. We’re not talking about a specific discourse participant, but a category from the realm of already known cultural knowledge.

    If you like, known cultural information can still follow the discourse pattern of nouns being introduced indefinitely, but it’s not necessary. The only thing that’s abbreviated in Mt. 24:43 is an introduction to the frame of houses getting broken into. But such an introduction is unnecessary because it’s part of the encyclopedic knowledge of what the very word homeowner entails. Your normal discourse rule would apply if such an introduction were present…
    “[For any homeowner who has had his house broken into,] if the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.”
    But I suggest that the introduction is unnecessary in Greek and English for such references that are generally applicable. However, English can communicate the same general meaning in both of these ways…
    PLURAL: “If homeowners had known what time thieves were coming, they would have stayed awake and would not have allowed their houses to be broken into.”
    INDEFINITE SINGULAR: “If a homeowner had known what time a thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.”

    If a homeowner is not a known category with the encyclopedic knowledge that houses still get broken into (for instance, if you were explaining a cultural norm to an outsider), you would have to communicate the meaning of the verse something like this…
    “A home always belongs to an owner, and the owner tries to protect his house and the property it contains from thieves. But the homeowner is not always able to protect his house when he is sleeping and houses have frequently still been broken into by thieves. For any homeowner who has had his house broken into, if the homeowner had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.”

  17. Wayne Leman says:

    bzephyr, I don’t think that the English definite can be used for generics unless a frame which includes house, perhaps mortgage, etc., has been triggered. I don’t yet see that triggering in Matt. 24:43. I know that shared common knowledge allows for English use of “the,” as I wrote in my post. I think it would help me if you could give me some non-biblical exx. where a homeowner would be part of the shared knowledge of English speakers, allowing reference to them to be definite. Wouldn’t we have to say almost anything which is within the encyclopedic knowledge of English speakers can be marked with “the”, if “the” truly does introduce generics? And then wouldn’t we lose the unmarked rule of participant introduction (or even prop introductions)?

    Would “little girl” be included as a generic because English speakers all know there are little girls? How about a piece of candy?

    There was a fine article by Ellen Prince on categories of definiteness, in a CLS (Chicago Linguistic Society) conference papers collection many years ago. I’m just trying to get my brain around generics as one of those categories. I find it difficult to start talking about “the homeowner” unless I have first introduced something which can trigger a home/homeowner frame. “Homeowners,” yes, no problem, but “the homeowner”, I’m not sure about.

  18. bzephyr says:

    Wayne, I wonder if it’s more the abruptness of the analogy that is causing naturalness problems for you in the English of Mt. 24:43. Let me first use a different analogy and see what you think. Then I’ll use this other analogy but also introduce the analogy in two different ways (generally and specifically). See if these seem more natural to you…

    WITH DIFFERENT ANALOGY:
    Be on your guard because you do now know on which day your Lord is coming. The student would have studied for the test if he knew which day the teacher was going to give it. For this reason, you also be ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour in which you do not think he will.

    WITH DIFFERENT ANALOGY GENERALLY INTRODUCED:
    Be on your guard because you do now know on which day your Lord is coming. Let me make an analogy: the student would have studied for the test if he knew which day the teacher was going to give it. For this reason, you also be ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour in which you do not think he will.

    WITH DIFFERENT ANALOGY SPECIFICALLY INTRODUCED:
    Be on your guard because you do now know on which day your Lord is coming. The Lord’s coming is like a teacher who will give a test. The student would have studied for the test if he knew which day the teacher was going to give it. For this reason, you also be ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour in which you do not think he will.

    Or, is it possible that the ‘if’ clause in conjunction with the unintroduced analogy is causing the English naturalness problems?

    WITH DIFFERENT ANALOGY AND ‘IF’ CLAUSE:
    Be on your guard because you do now know on which day your Lord is coming. If the student had known which day the teacher was going to give the test, he would have studied for it. For this reason, you also be ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour in which you do not think he will.

    Personally, I think all of these examples are natural in English, although the examples that don’t introduce the analogy require the audience to process the fact that the author is making an analogy. Because the analogy is a general situation that everyone is familiar with, “the student” and “the teacher” and “the test” can all be introduced with the article without previous introduction in the text. As a general analogy, it’s already known information and is not being introduced as a particular discourse participant. It’s actually the use of ‘the’ to generalize (a definite category rather than a definite individual).

  19. Wayne Leman says:

    bzephyr, thanks for giving such thorough exx. Only #3 works for me, and it is marginal. It would work better for me if instead of “the student” it had “his student” or “their student”. (I regularly used indefinite “they”.)

  20. Wayne Leman says:

    Stephen wrote:

    Sometimes Greek uses a definite article where English prefers a possessive pronoun. I might suggest “When he came into his house” (or even “When he came home”) instead of “When he came into the house.”

    True. Thanks, Stephen. In this case it is similar to English where we sometimes use the definite article instead of a possessive pronoun. E.g. “I don’t know what the wife will say when she finds out I bought myself a new set of golf clubs today.”

  21. Wayne Leman says:

    Do you never use ‘the’ in a generalizing sense?

    I don’t know. I’d need to hear a sentence with a generic “the” phrase which sounded good to me before I could answer that. I know that none of the exx. about the return of the Lord with a generic “the homeowner” sounded OK to me. But there might be other environments where a generic and definite phrase did sound OK.

    I do regularly use the indefinite article generically, e.g. “A pilot who wishes to keep his license must not use his laptop during a flight.”

    Hmm, the more I think about it, the more I think that the parallel sentence with the definite article might sound acceptable to my ears, “The pilot who wishes to keep his license must not use his laptop during a flight.” I don’t know if I’m convincing my brain by repetition or if it really does sound natural to me. I know that the indefinite article sounds totally natural to me for generics, as do plurals, “Pilots who wish to keep their licenses must not use their laptops during flight.”

  22. Jason says:

    RE: “the house”

    Notice several chapters later in Matthew 13:1, “The same day went Jesus out of the house,”

    There is a certain symbolism here which speaks of “the house” of Israel. Whereas before, He went INTO the house (and His own received Him not) He now leaves the nation of Israel and turns to the whole world. “And sat by the sea side” the sea representing the Gentile nations (a symbolism used elsewhere in Scripture).

    Maybe Matthew was trying to bring this out by using the words he did. I suppose this is more of a devotional than a technical thought.

  23. Dana says:

    I have found this thread to be quiet interesting, because “the house” seems to me to be a generalized sort of phrase just meaning “inside”. I keep trying to frame it in situations where the “the” would be confusing, and can’t find any. That doesn’t mean there aren’t those situations, just that it is easy for me to find ways to use “the house” without having to have first declare which house is being referred to. I can think of saying, “Josh went into the house for a drink of water” without having to first delineate whose house. I don’t think, in contrast, that I could say “He went into the school for a drink of water”, without first clearly establishing that he was at school

    Other places where I find myself using this kind of “the” are
    *the bathroom
    *the hospital (as opposed to the British way of saying just “hospital”)
    *the store (I often use this, without explicitly saying which store).
    *the plane (as in “I’ll call you tomorrow right after I board the plane.” This is the example I’m least certain about…. I suppose it would have already been established that I’m flying, and therefore clear that by “the” I mean the specific plane I’ll be on.)
    *the beach (speaking more of how I’m going to spend my day and not so much exactly which beach I’m going to.)
    *the zoo (again, the point is less about which specific zoo and more about the fact of just going out to “the zoo” with reference to how I’m going to spend the day. What’s interesting is that in these last two examples, my friends who don’t care about details might not even ask which zoo or which beach, even though we have more than one of each in the area. Even though I use “the”, they aren’t picturing a specific beach or zoo, but rather the act of spending the day in a certain type of way. Now, if they were all SJs like me, they WOULD immediately as, “which zoo”, but instead they understand what I mean in general, without having to know the specifics.)

    I’m always a little hesitant popping in where experts are pondering. As to the original question, I couldn’t begin to say what the correct way to translate the phrase in question is. But I did want to throw out, from a practical perspective, that (1) I am comfortable using “the” in front of “house” (especially following the prepositions “in” or “out”) without having first delineated which house and (2) there are several other nouns which I commonly precede with what I think is a generalized “the”.

  24. Wayne Leman says:

    Dana wrote:

    I can think of saying, “Josh went into the house for a drink of water” without having to first delineate whose house. I don’t think, in contrast, that I could say “He went into the school for a drink of water”, without first clearly establishing that he was at school.

    I get it now, Dana. Thanks. I suspect this is what bzephyr was telling me also.

    Perhaps Greek works the same way as English with “house”, “synagogue”, body parts, and other nouns which could be expected to be part of each person’s world. Or, it could be, as some have suggested in this thread, that it was always the same house, perhaps the one where Jesus stayed, and Matthew and his audience knew that that was the house Matthew was referring to.

  25. LeRoy says:

    I have been wondering why Matthew marked these instances of “house” with a definite article. Then you say, “If I were translating the particular passages in question in Matthew, I would have to translate the phrases with “house” as “a house”.

    Notice several chapters later in Matthew 13:1, “The same day went Jesus out of the house,”
    There is a certain symbolism here which speaks of “the house” of Israel. Whereas before, He went INTO the house (and His own received Him not)” Unquote

    Now we must consider “the house” as in Jn 5: (14) Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well.
    It is a well known fact that after being forgiven sins they went to the temple to pray and give alms to the priest for a spiritual cleansing.
    That would indicate that “the house” was indeed the temple, which was well known by all.

    You then state, “By the way, it is well known to students of Greek that Greek marks more nouns with the definite article than English does. Yet we never find word-for-word English Bible versions translating the word for “God” for this verse as “the god”.” Unquote
    As a reader of the Greek you should be well aware that most all the instances where the word God is used, it is “the God”.

    While it is true that there is no indefinite article (‘a’, or ‘an’) in the original Greek text, this is because Koine Greek had no indefinite article in the language. Thus, translators are required to use the indefinite article, or not, based on their understanding of the text.

    Haenchen goes on to state: “In this instance, the verb ‘was’ ([en]) simply expresses predication. And the predicate noun must accordingly be more carefully observed: [the•os′] is not the same thing as [ho the•os′] (‘divine’ is not the same thing as ‘God’).” Other scholars, such as Philip B. Harner elaborate on the grammatical construction found here. (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1973, pp. 85, 87) 2001
    The literal Greek text reads: “In beginning was the word, and the word was WITH REGARD TO the God, and God was the word.”
    Just as in John the definition of προς = regarding (with regard to)

    If one is articular and the other is a proper name (GOD) or a pronoun, then both are definite and interchangeable.

    to πρόθ. εις, προς, μέχρι, για; towards πρός (για διεύθυνση),// για , με σκοπό, ώστε//
    κοντά , περί, πλησίον // έναντι; regarding πρόθ. σχετικώς προς, όσο αφορά; concerning
    πρόθ. ως, όσο αφορά, προς, εν σχέσει με, σχετικά με; for για// πρός, // εξαιτίας, καθότι, διότι // χάριν , υπερ// ως , σαν; besides πρόθ. εκτός επίρ. προς τούτοις, άλλωστε; with regard to
    concerning, regarding; which See regarding. → headword © Oxford University Press 1995, 2002

    Etymology: A strengthened form of πρό G4253; Preposition πρός Category: Ancient Greek prepositions A preposition of direction; forward to, that is, toward usually with the accusative case the place, time, occasion, or respect, which is the destination of the relation, that is, whither or for which it is predicated):. In compounds it denotes essentially the same applications, namely, motion towards.

    See also Jo. 17:17), God is the truth; the truth is God; are convertible terms and the article is quite frequent with the predicate in the N. T. and in strict accord with old usage. It is merely haphazard as Winer implies.

    When the article is used in the predicate the article is due to a previous mention of the noun (as well known or prominent) or to the fact that subject and predicate are identical. Cf. Donaldson, New Crat., p. 522; Middleton, Gk. Art., p. 54.
    The words that are identical are convertible as in the older idiom.
    Thompson, Synt., p. 46.
    Moulton’s rule of identity and convertibility apply. In a word, then, when the article occurs with subject (or the subject is a personal pronoun or proper name) and predicate, both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable. The usage applies to substantives, adjectives and participles indifferently. Moulton MOULTON, W. F., and GEDEN, A. S., A Concordance to the Greek Testament (1897).

    The accusative case (or objective case) is used to indicate the direct object of a verb, the objective complement, the complement of certain exclamatory words and their modifiers and appositives.
    και θυ ην ο λογος and God was the word (Direct object) The accusative may also indicate the indirect object after certain verbs: was

    οἱ δὲ λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια ἐποίησαν ὡς ἐδιδάχθησαν· καὶ ἐφημίσθη ὁ λόγος οὗτος παρὰ Ἰουδαίοις μέχρι τῆς σήμερον. Mt 28:15;
    οι definite article – nominative plural masculine
    ho ho: ο definite article – nominative singular masculine ho ho: the definite article; λογος noun – nominative singular masculine
    οὗτοι δέ εἰσίν οἱ παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ὅπου σπείρεται ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν εὐθὺς ἔρχεται ὁ σατανᾶς καὶ αἴρει τὸν λόγον τὸν ἐσπαρμένον ἐν αὐτοῖς. Mk 4:15;
    οι definite article – nominative plural masculine
    ho ho: ο definite article – nominative singular masculine ho ho: the definite article; λογος noun – nominative singular masculine
    καὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ, ὅτι ἐν ἐξουσίᾳ ἦν ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ. Lu 4:32
    ο definite article – nominative singular masculine ho ho: the definite article; λογος noun – nominative singular masculine
    Colwell’s Rule merely permits, but does not demand, that a predicate nominative ahead of an equative verb be translated as definite rather than indefinite.

  26. Lyle Lange says:

    Imagine a bible translated where every definite article is included and none added. The translation would be truly bizarre and arcane. I am unaware of any bible translation which does this.

  27. Gary Simmons says:

    Dana: I think you hit the nail on the head perfectly in explaining what I clumsily tried to say. “Into the house” is a syntax construction that just “feels right” or “makes sense” to the Koine speaker.

    Lyle: I shudder at that the thought of the translation the literal.

  28. Joel H. says:

    A few thoughts come to mind:

    First, the word “the” is used quite differently in American vs. British English, so even though this forum is “in English,” we surely have at least two distinct dialects, and they use the word “the” differently. (“Hospital” vs. “the hospital” is one clear example.)

    Perhaps Greek works the same way as English with “house”, “synagogue”, body parts, and other nouns which could be expected to be part of each person’s world.

    These are cases of what’s called “inalienable possession,” and you are right that they behave a syntax all their own — including the fact that “the” is used for possession. A good case in my dialect is “you get the car and I’ll get the kids,” by which I presumably mean “our car” and “our kids.”

    In many languages, using overt possessives for inalienable possession is ungrammatical. For example, in Modern Hebrew, shavarti et haregel, literally, “I broke the leg,” means “I broke my leg.” But shavarti et haregel sheli (“I broke the leg mine”) only means that I purposely broke my leg, perhaps by taking a hammer to it; the phrase with “my” cannot mean that my leg just broke, as it might while skiing, for example.

    I don’t think that the English definite can be used for generics unless a frame […] has been triggered

    It depends on context, but the English “the” can indeed sometimes be used generically. The classic example is “the wolf is returning to Yellowstone Park,” which quite clearly doesn’t mean a lone wolf making the trek across the country; it means “wolves are returning….”

    More generally, what we see very clearly is that determiners in different languages work very differently. And even though there’s often considerable overlap, it looks like a methodological mistake to assume that “the” in Greek means the same thing as “the” in English.

    Joel

  29. LeRoy says:

    Matthew 24:42-44 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. (43) But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. (44) Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

    The teaching in this parable is that it is the MASTERS house and to live without vigilance is to invite disaster.

  30. Daryl Campbell says:

    “The point of referring to the Greek of John 1:1 is that the words for “god” (“God) as well as the word for “word” (Word, Logos) are marked as with the Greek definite articles, except, of course, for the final instance of “god”. Yet we never find word-for-word English Bible versions translating the word for “God” for this verse as “the god”.”
    The definite article in Greek is used to point to a specific noun. In this case it points to a specific god. In English we can accomplish the same thing by using a capital letter to begin the word – God. This also gives a symmetry to the entire translation. This is a spiritual work. The reader, whether a believer or not, understands it as such. The receivers of the original text were all believers! They would have no problem understanding that “the god” in question is none other than the God of heaven. In the translation, with the use of the capital letter “G”, we have no problem understanding it to be the God of heaven. It actually gives us a more literal meaning of the use of the Greek term than an exact word-for-word translation.
    Not even the KJV is an exact word-for-word translation. There are plenty of uses of idioms, etc. I think the fear is more of the economy of words used.
    Is there any language-to-language translation, modern or ancient, that’s possible to be done word-for-word and have any meaning at all?

  31. LeRoy says:

    Be that as it may, howver, The literal Greek text reads:
    “In beginning was the word, and the word was WITH REGARD TO the God, and God was the word.”
    Just as in John the definition of προς = regarding (with regard to) προς τούτοις, άλλωστε; with regard to
    concerning, regarding; which See regarding. → headword © Oxford University Press 1995, 2002

    Etymology: A strengthened form of πρό G4253; Preposition πρός Category: Ancient Greek prepositions A preposition of direction; forward to, that is, toward usually with the accusative case the place, time, occasion, or respect, which is the destination of the relation, that is, whither or for which it is predicated):. In compounds it denotes essentially the same applications, namely, motion towards.

    When the article is used in the predicate the article is due to a previous mention of the noun (as well known or prominent) or to the fact that subject and predicate are identical. Cf. Donaldson, New Crat., p. 522; Middleton, Gk. Art., p. 54.
    The words that are identical are convertible as in the older idiom.
    Thompson, Synt., p. 46.
    Moulton’s rule of identity and convertibility apply. In a word, then, when the article occurs with subject (or the subject is a personal pronoun or proper name) and predicate, both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable. The usage applies to substantives, adjectives and participles indifferently. Moulton MOULTON, W. F., and GEDEN, A. S., A Concordance to the Greek Testament (1897).

    The accusative case (or objective case) is used to indicate the direct object of a verb, the objective complement, the complement of certain exclamatory words and their modifiers and appositives.
    και θυ ην ο λογος and God WAS the word (Direct object) The accusative may also indicate the indirect object after certain verbs: WAS

    While it is true that there is no indefinite article (‘a’, or ‘an’) in the original Greek text, this is because Koine Greek had no indefinite article in the language. Thus, translators are required to use the indefinite article, or not, based on their understanding of the text.

    Haenchen goes on to state: “In this instance, the verb ‘was’ ([en]) simply expresses predication. And the predicate noun must accordingly be more carefully observed: [the•os′] is not the same thing as [ho the•os′] (‘divine’ is not the same thing as ‘God’).” Other scholars, such as Philip B. Harner elaborate on the grammatical construction found here. (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1973, pp. 85, 87) 2001

    If one is articular and the other is a proper name (GOD) or a pronoun, then both are definite and interchangeable.

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