The verb for “have” behaves in interesting ways in many languages, including English. And it is often the case that the verb “have” in one language does not match the verb “have” in another language in some important translation contexts. A common mistake made by language learners is to translate the verb “have” in their own language to the language they are learning when it is inappropriate to do so.
For instance, in English I can naturally say “I have a cold.” But in Cheyenne, a language I have studied for 30+ years, there is no “have” when telling someone that I have a cold, Nahe’haa’e, which happens to cover the semantic domain of both having a cold and coughing. This Cheyenne word also has no relationship to Cheyennes words for ‘cold’ (temperature).
In English it is natural to say, “We had a good time.” I’m guessing that few, if any other, languages would use the verb “have” to refer to experiencing pleasure from some activity.
In the Greek of the New Testament the words for ‘have’ (ἔχω) and ‘life’ (ζωήν) often appear together, as in 1 John 5:12:
ὁ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει τὴν ζωήν: ὁ μὴ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ζωὴν οὐκ ἔχει.
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (NRSV)
Sometimes when the Greek word for ‘life’ occurs with ‘have’, it is modified by an adjective, as at the end of John 3:16:
ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον
have life eternal
This Greek phrase is translated in most English versions as “have eternal life.”
Here, then, are questions for this blog post: Is it natural English to say “have life” or “have eternal life”? Or is it more natural to translate the Greek concept to English as something like “live eternally”?