Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (Part I)

Worship in [the] [s/S]pirit and [in] [the] truth. John 4:24.


What does that mean? Don’t think of the Greek behind it. What does that “English” mean? Don’t analyze it, just read it. Doesn’t work does it?

Many translations have variations of the above. Some have one or both articles. Some capitalize ‘spirit’. Some provide only one preposition while others repeat it. But, basically, the clause is rendered something like, “Worship in spirit and truth.” But, what does it mean?

The problem is: it isn’t English. That conclusion comes easily to mother tongue English readers when they are asked to read it and then asked, “What are you to do?” Or, “What are you to be?” If the clause uses language that doesn’t connect the reader to the real world, then the clause isn’t using the real world language of the reader. It’s using something else. Ultimately, no author intended change in the reader can take place. By translating poorly—by not communicating clearly—(and to make use of an archaic, religious idiom) “the Word returns void.” To say it more clearly, the text does not achieve its author intended effect.

To me the clause, as translated, says, “Worship, blah, blah, blah, spirit, blah, blah, truth.” For me, it could be translated with all those “blahs” and would communicate the same “meaning” (other than the fact that the incomprehensibility would be, well, more clear with the “blahs”.)

I’d like to take us on a little journey exploring how to translate this clause. I want to focus on the linguistic process which supports the translation.

So, what does the Greek mean? The clause is: ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ δεῖ προσκυνεῖν. Let’s pull it apart and put it back together.

Let’s start with the main verb: δέω (glosses: bind, imprison, compel, restrict, prohibit, cause illness; Louw and Nida; other lexicons offer similar glosses with a core sense of bind). However, when used with an infinitive, it forms a single, verbal, idiomatic construct.

Examples of this use of δέω are as follows (references are NIV):

John 3:7 δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν (“You must be born again.”)
John 3:14 οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (“the Son of Man must be lifted up”)
John 3:30 ἐκεῖνον δεῖ αὐξάνειν ἐμὲ δὲ ἐλαττοῦσθαι (“He must become greater”)
John 4:20 ἐν Ἱεροσολύμοις ἐστὶν ὁ τόπος ὅπου προσκυνεῖν δεῖ (“we must worship in Jerusalem”)

The cognitive metaphor (ie. word picture) presented by the Greek δέω is formed in the mind by the sense of ‘binding’. So, the agent was thought of as bound by the activity expressed by the infinitive. In English we express the same sense by using the word ‘must’. Sometimes we emphasize the requirement by using the phrase “it is necessary that…” English grammars refer to must as an auxiliary verb. Truth is it works more like an adverb pre-positioned to the main verb much like some prepositions are attached to the end of verbs (eg “You brush off my objections too easily.”). ‘Must’ modifies the verb giving it a sense of necessity.

In other words, in English we don’t use a verb to express the activity of “must-ing.” We say, “Agent must action-word.” In Greek it’s a main verb (δέω) coupled with an infinitive. (BTW, there is nothing more Biblical—there is no deeper meaning—obtained by somehow capturing the cognitive metaphor of an ancient language. This observation of the use of δέω simply offers a more certain insight into the original meaning.)

So, that means we need to consider δεῖ προσκυνεῖν together as unit.

Προσκυνέω is the word which refers to “prostrating oneself.” When one prostrates oneself before a deity (or a deity surrogate), the word takes on the sense of “worship.” When used in this latter sense, I don’t think the word loses its core sense of prostration. In English we think of these two senses as unrelated. How do I know that? When was the last time you saw someone prostrate themselves in a typical worship service? We don’t associate prostration with worship. Προσκυνέω (that is, prostrating oneself) was much more common-place in their culture; even used in cases where one simply showed extraordinary respect. They thought of the senses as close together. We think of the them as quite separate. A translator must decide which effect the author intended and translate accordingly.

So, we have “must worship.”

Lastly, δέω is 3rd person, singular. The uses of the verb are almost always singular. Interestingly, here the antecedent is plural. So, did δέω simply gravitate toward its more normal, idiomatic use, or did Jesus (and John) intend a more precise meaning? Since “δεῖ infinitive” is an idiomatic unit, I believe it is highly likely the former is the more true. So, 3rd person plural is the more accurate translation in English.

So, summing up what we’ve done so far, we have “they must worship.” We have arrived at this translation by “substituting” an adverb (auxiliary verb) for a verb and a main verb for an infinitive. We have also replaced the singular suffix with a plural pronoun. In doing these so-called “substitutions” we’ve arrived at an accurate rendering in English of the meaning expressed by the Greek. We’ve supported these “substitutions” with a linguistic rationale.

The rendering of δεῖ προσκυνεῖν is very non-literal (it’s not morpho-syntactic) in nearly all the translations. A rendering which follows the English idiom stands as quite accepted. Even the ASV has “must worship.” Ironically, we will see that the prepositional phrase, the one which is inextricably associated with the phrase we’ve just translated, is not rendered idiomatically.

The next posting will deal with the prepositional phrase. There’s also a followup at Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (Addendum).

23 thoughts on “Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (Part I)

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    Great post! I look forward to the continuation.

    But one small point of clarification. When used in this auxiliary sense δεῖ is always third person singular, and the “subject” is in the accusative, as in your John 3:7 example. Thus it works like “it is necessary” in English, except that “for” is not needed before the “subject”. In fact we have a similar idiom in English “you are bound to” except that Greek avoids the passive, literally “it binds you to”.

  2. JKG says:

    A translator must decide which effect the author intended and translate accordingly.

    In this particular case, isn’t the translator intending? Did Jesus utter this Greek sentence? And if not, then isn’t the intending author now an intending translator?

    You’re spending a lot of time analyzing the Greek translation (including what can be mirrored idiomatically in English and what cannot). Are you asking yourself whether the author-translator so analyzed the spoken Hebrew Aramaic of Jesus? John not only has to translate but he also has to transpose Hebrew orality into Greek literacy. Aren’t there, then, now two intentions for the English translator? Aren’t these (A) the intention(s) of the Aramaic speaker and (B) the intention(s) of the Greek translating-transposing-writing author?

    An analogy would be Abraham Lincoln’s saying “Four score and seven years ago,” but our never ever getting to hear that. Rather, to make the comparison, what if we only got that in written Greek? What if it was the translation of Lincoln’s spoken English which we find here, as this:

    ἐδῶ καὶ ὀγδόντα ἑφτὰ χρόνια

    What if we were to make very clear that “ἐδῶ καὶ χρόνια” does not really mean “here and years” but rather “years and years”? Then we could explain how “ὀγδόντα ἑφτὰ” really means 87.

    Thus, to translate into Portuguese, we’d do best to make it not “Aqui e Oitenta e sete anos” but what the author intended: “Oitenta e sete anos.”

    But perhaps our Greek translator, writing in Greek as an intentional author, but hearing in English as an intentional translator, is trying to convey some of what was heard (the rhetorically powerful English, which normally is not heard):

    “four score and seven years ago.”

    Hence the rhetorical Greek. Our Portuguese translator, then, might best make it [that rhetorical Greek following rhetorical English] something like this:

    “anos há, oitenta e sete atrás”

    So the point is that when we English translators only want to translate what the author intends, and think we can do away with peculiar language, we lose something meaningful.

  3. WoundedEgo says:

    Mike, this was an excellent analysis of “must worship,” but the main work is still ahead (which I look forward to, and have strong opinions about).

    But if you really want to bake your noodle, tackle Matthew 5:3…

  4. Bob MacDonald says:

    What does that mean?
    It cannot be gotten for gold
    neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof

    No human knows the meaning, but those to whom the Son reveals it. Such meaning is not to be spelled out. Understanding is possible but not spelling it out. Yet you know what it means in yourself if indeed you are in this spirit.

    The problem is related to place – and perhaps that’s where to look for the knowledge. The answer comes from the woman’s question: Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

    The place continues the theme of place noted in the reference to Jacob’s ladder in chapter 1. The place is to be replaced: the hour cometh…
    The hour is one of 24 in John. That gospel ‘represents’ the day of creation and redemption (Gen 2:4), including the work that the Son came to do. (As the poet George Herbert ‘explains’ in his poem Easter concerning days: there is but one and that one ever.) When the work is done as described in the psalm sequence from 108 to 118, then we will be ready to read psalm 119. That is a psalm of spirit and truth.

    Bob – you aren’t making any sense!!!

    You are right – I am not. I don’t make sense. Only God makes sense. Only God creates matter. Only the Father seeks such to worship him. For me to seek such would be to put myself in the place of God.

    Sense, in this case, is not an abstraction that you can look at on paper. Sense is your sight, your eyes, your ears unstopped, your body alive, your purity. As Rashi translates psalm 2 – Aflame yourself with purity (compare 1 John 3:3). Let the heart be known though and do not hide from the redeemer.

    Behold the place where they laid him. He did all things well.

  5. Mike Sangrey says:

    Basically what I mean is just give us the Greek in English.

    You know what, Bob? I have no idea what that means.


    Actually, I can guess at several meanings which range from, “I thought that was what I was doing” to “Render the meaning I don’t know with something that is not English.”

  6. John says:

    Prostration IS still in use, at least in the Orthodox Church.

    –Just a little side comment, I am looking forward to the sequel to this post.

  7. EricW says:

    FWIW, for the next post, the construction en + dative noun + kai + dative noun occurs in the Johannine literature (including Revelation) 6 times, i.e.:

    John 4:23 ἀλλὰ ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ νῦν ἐστιν, ὅτε οἱ ἀληθινοὶ προσκυνηταὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ πατρὶ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ· καὶ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ τοιούτους ζητεῖ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτόν.

    John 4:24 πνεῦμα ὁ θεός, καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτὸν ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ δεῖ προσκυνεῖν.

    1 John 3:18 Τεκνία, μὴ ἀγαπῶμεν λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ ἀλλὰ ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.

    2 John 3 ἔσται μεθʼ ἡμῶν χάρις ἔλεος εἰρήνη παρὰ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ παρὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐν ἀληθείᾳ καὶ ἀγάπῃ.

    Revelation 14:10 καὶ αὐτὸς πίεται ἐκ τοῦ οἴνου τοῦ θυμοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ κεκερασμένου ἀκράτου ἐν τῷ ποτηρίῳ τῆς ὀργῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ βασανισθήσεται ἐν πυρὶ καὶ θείῳ ἐνώπιον ἀγγέλων ἁγίων καὶ ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀρνίου.

    Revelation 18:16 λέγοντες, Οὐαὶ οὐαί, ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ περιβεβλημένη βύσσινον καὶ πορφυροῦν καὶ κόκκινον καὶ κεχρυσωμένη [ἐν] χρυσίῳ καὶ λίθῳ τιμίῳ καὶ μαργαρίτῃ,

    It occurs in the entire New Testament in 37 verses:

    (Feel free to edit/delete this post if it exceeds reasonableness)

    Matthew 4:16 ὁ λαὸς ὁ καθήμενος ἐν σκότει φῶς εἶδεν μέγα, καὶ τοῖς καθημένοις ἐν χώρᾳ καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου φῶς ἀνέτειλεν αὐτοῖς.

    Matthew 11:21 Οὐαί σοι, Χοραζίν, οὐαί σοι, Βηθσαϊδά· ὅτι εἰ ἐν Τύρῳ καὶ Σιδῶνι ἐγένοντο αἱ δυνάμεις αἱ γενόμεναι ἐν ὑμῖν, πάλαι ἂν ἐν σάκκῳ καὶ σποδῷ μετενόησαν.

    Luke 1:17 καὶ αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἠλίου, ἐπιστρέψαι καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα καὶ ἀπειθεῖς ἐν φρονήσει δικαίων, ἑτοιμάσαι κυρίῳ λαὸν κατεσκευασμένον.

    Luke 1:75 ἐν ὁσιότητι καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ πάσαις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἡμῶν.

    Luke 1:79 ἐπιφᾶναι τοῖς ἐν σκότει καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου καθημένοις, τοῦ κατευθῦναι τοὺς πόδας ἡμῶν εἰς ὁδὸν εἰρήνης.

    Luke 4:36 καὶ ἐγένετο θάμβος ἐπὶ πάντας καὶ συνελάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους λέγοντες, Τίς ὁ λόγος οὗτος ὅτι ἐν ἐξουσίᾳ καὶ δυνάμει ἐπιτάσσει τοῖς ἀκαθάρτοις πνεύμασιν καὶ ἐξέρχονται;

    Luke 10:13 Οὐαί σοι, Χοραζίν, οὐαί σοι, Βηθσαϊδά· ὅτι εἰ ἐν Τύρῳ καὶ Σιδῶνι ἐγενήθησαν αἱ δυνάμεις αἱ γενόμεναι ἐν ὑμῖν, πάλαι ἂν ἐν σάκκῳ καὶ σποδῷ καθήμενοι μετενόησαν.

    Luke 21:25 Καὶ ἔσονται σημεῖα ἐν ἡλίῳ καὶ σελήνῃ καὶ ἄστροις, καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς συνοχὴ ἐθνῶν ἐν ἀπορίᾳ ἤχους θαλάσσης καὶ σάλου,

    Luke 21:34 Προσέχετε δὲ ἑαυτοῖς μήποτε βαρηθῶσιν ὑμῶν αἱ καρδίαι ἐν κραιπάλῃ καὶ μέθῃ καὶ μερίμναις βιωτικαῖς καὶ ἐπιστῇ ἐφʼ ὑμᾶς αἰφνίδιος ἡ ἡμέρα ἐκείνη

    Luke 24:19 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ποῖα; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Τὰ περὶ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ Ναζαρηνοῦ, ὃς ἐγένετο ἀνὴρ προφήτης δυνατὸς ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ λόγῳ ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ παντὸς τοῦ λαοῦ,

    John 4:23 ἀλλὰ ἔρχεται ὥρα καὶ νῦν ἐστιν, ὅτε οἱ ἀληθινοὶ προσκυνηταὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ πατρὶ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ· καὶ γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ τοιούτους ζητεῖ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτόν.

    John 4:24 πνεῦμα ὁ θεός, καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας αὐτὸν ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ δεῖ προσκυνεῖν.

    Acts 2:46 καθʼ ἡμέραν τε προσκαρτεροῦντες ὁμοθυμαδὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ, κλῶντές τε κατʼ οἶκον ἄρτον, μετελάμβανον τροφῆς ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει καὶ ἀφελότητι καρδίας

    Acts 7:22 καὶ ἐπαιδεύθη Μωϋσῆς [ἐν] πάσῃ σοφίᾳ Αἰγυπτίων, ἦν δὲ δυνατὸς ἐν λόγοις καὶ ἔργοις αὐτοῦ.

    Acts 16:2 ὃς ἐμαρτυρεῖτο ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν Λύστροις καὶ Ἰκονίῳ ἀδελφῶν.

    2 Corinthians 1:12 Ἡ γὰρ καύχησις ἡμῶν αὕτη ἐστίν, τὸ μαρτύριον τῆς συνειδήσεως ἡμῶν, ὅτι ἐν ἁπλότητι καὶ εἰλικρινείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, [καὶ] οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ σαρκικῇ ἀλλʼ ἐν χάριτι θεοῦ, ἀνεστράφημεν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, περισσοτέρως δὲ πρὸς ὑμᾶς.

    2 Corinthians 11:27 κόπῳ καὶ μόχθῳ, ἐν ἀγρυπνίαις πολλάκις, ἐν λιμῷ καὶ δίψει, ἐν νηστείαις πολλάκις, ἐν ψύχει καὶ γυμνότητι·

    2 Corinthians 12:10 διὸ εὐδοκῶ ἐν ἀσθενείαις, ἐν ὕβρεσιν, ἐν ἀνάγκαις, ἐν διωγμοῖς καὶ στενοχωρίαις, ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ· ὅταν γὰρ ἀσθενῶ, τότε δυνατός εἰμι.

    Ephesians 4:24 καὶ ἐνδύσασθαι τὸν καινὸν ἄνθρωπον τὸν κατὰ θεὸν κτισθέντα ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ καὶ ὁσιότητι τῆς ἀληθείας.

    Ephesians 5:19 λαλοῦντες ἑαυτοῖς [ἐν] ψαλμοῖς καὶ ὕμνοις καὶ ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς, ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν τῷ κυρίῳ,

    Ephesians 6:4 Καὶ οἱ πατέρες, μὴ παροργίζετε τὰ τέκνα ὑμῶν ἀλλὰ ἐκτρέφετε αὐτὰ ἐν παιδείᾳ καὶ νουθεσίᾳ κυρίου.

    Colossians 2:18 μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς καταβραβευέτω θέλων ἐν ταπεινοφροσύνῃ καὶ θρησκείᾳ τῶν ἀγγέλων, ἃ ἑόρακεν ἐμβατεύων, εἰκῇ φυσιούμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ νοὸς τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ,

    Colossians 2:23 ἅτινά ἐστιν λόγον μὲν ἔχοντα σοφίας ἐν ἐθελοθρησκίᾳ καὶ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ [καὶ] ἀφειδίᾳ σώματος, οὐκ ἐν τιμῇ τινι πρὸς πλησμονὴν τῆς σαρκός.

    1 Thessalonians 4:4 εἰδέναι ἕκαστον ὑμῶν τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι ἐν ἁγιασμῷ καὶ τιμῇ,

    2 Thessalonians 3:8 οὐδὲ δωρεὰν ἄρτον ἐφάγομεν παρά τινος, ἀλλʼ ἐν κόπῳ καὶ μόχθῳ νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ἐργαζόμενοι πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἐπιβαρῆσαί τινα ὑμῶν·

    1 Timothy 2:7 εἰς ὃ ἐτέθην ἐγὼ κῆρυξ καὶ ἀπόστολος, ἀλήθειαν λέγω οὐ ψεύδομαι, διδάσκαλος ἐθνῶν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.

    1 Timothy 2:9 ὡσαύτως [καὶ] γυναῖκας ἐν καταστολῇ κοσμίῳ μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ σωφροσύνης κοσμεῖν ἑαυτάς, μὴ ἐν πλέγμασιν καὶ χρυσίῳ ἢ μαργαρίταις ἢ ἱματισμῷ πολυτελεῖ,

    1 Timothy 2:15 σωθήσεται δὲ διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας, ἐὰν μείνωσιν ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ καὶ ἁγιασμῷ μετὰ σωφροσύνης·

    1 Timothy 5:17 Οἱ καλῶς προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι διπλῆς τιμῆς ἀξιούσθωσαν, μάλιστα οἱ κοπιῶντες ἐν λόγῳ καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ.

    2 Timothy 1:13 ὑποτύπωσιν ἔχε ὑγιαινόντων λόγων ὧν παρʼ ἐμοῦ ἤκουσας ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·

    Titus 3:3 Ἦμεν γάρ ποτε καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀνόητοι, ἀπειθεῖς, πλανώμενοι, δουλεύοντες ἐπιθυμίαις καὶ ἡδοναῖς ποικίλαις, ἐν κακίᾳ καὶ φθόνῳ διάγοντες, στυγητοί, μισοῦντες ἀλλήλους.

    Hebrews 12:23 καὶ ἐκκλησίᾳ πρωτοτόκων ἀπογεγραμμένων ἐν οὐρανοῖς καὶ κριτῇ θεῷ πάντων καὶ πνεύμασι δικαίων τετελειωμένων

    2 Peter 3:18 αὐξάνετε δὲ ἐν χάριτι καὶ γνώσει τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ νῦν καὶ εἰς ἡμέραν αἰῶνος. [ἀμήν. ]

    1 John 3:18 Τεκνία, μὴ ἀγαπῶμεν λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ ἀλλὰ ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ.

    2 John 3 ἔσται μεθʼ ἡμῶν χάρις ἔλεος εἰρήνη παρὰ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ παρὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐν ἀληθείᾳ καὶ ἀγάπῃ.

    Revelation 14:10 καὶ αὐτὸς πίεται ἐκ τοῦ οἴνου τοῦ θυμοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ κεκερασμένου ἀκράτου ἐν τῷ ποτηρίῳ τῆς ὀργῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ βασανισθήσεται ἐν πυρὶ καὶ θείῳ ἐνώπιον ἀγγέλων ἁγίων καὶ ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀρνίου.

    Revelation 18:16 λέγοντες, Οὐαὶ οὐαί, ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ περιβεβλημένη βύσσινον καὶ πορφυροῦν καὶ κόκκινον καὶ κεχρυσωμένη [ἐν] χρυσίῳ καὶ λίθῳ τιμίῳ καὶ μαργαρίτῃ,

  8. JKG says:

    Mike, I never have understood what worshipping “in spirit” refers to.

    EricW gives some evidence of how John wrote generally. The question is whether it’s best to render it in English in a way that most readers can most easily understand. (I was trying to suggest, by analogy, that translators of Lincoln “must” translate what he said in a more “understandable” way as something like “87 years ago” or “In 1776” rather than to duplicate his very unnatural and difficult to understand “four score and seven years ago.”)

    Plato has Socrates speaking the way John has Jesus speaking. Here’s from the Phaedo (as in Harold North Fowler’s translation [with Plato’s Greek and the line break numbers interpolated):

    “It has been shown, Simmias and Cebes, already,” said Socrates, “if you will combine this conclusion with the one we reached before, that every living being is born from the dead. For if the soul exists before birth, and, [77d] when it comes into life and is born, cannot be born from anything else than death and a state of death, must it not also exist after dying, since it must be [δεῖ] born [γίγνεσθαι] again [αὖθις]? So the proof you call for has already been given. However, I think you and Simmias would like to carry on this discussion still further. You have the childish fear that when the soul goes out from the body the wind will really blow it away and scatter it, especially [77e] if a man happens to die in a high wind [ἐν μεγάλῳ τινὶ πνεύματι]and not in calm weather [ἐν νηνεμίᾳ].”

    Plato is ostensibly reporting what Socrates said in Greek. John is both reporting and apparently translating into Greek what Jesus said in a Hebrew language. Socrates obviously was being literal with his ἐν πνεύματι; John or Jesus was perhaps being metaphorical with his ἐν πνεύματι. Both Plato/ Socrates and John/ Jesus have δεῖ γίγνεσθαι / δεῖ γεννηθῆναι (“must” be born). How natural and understandable was the Aramaic now lost? How natural and understandable is the Greek now preserved? Does the English translation have to be more natural and more understandable than that?

  9. Marshall Massey says:

    Maybe it’s only because I am a Conservative Friend (Quaker) — which is to say, a member of a tradition to which the idea of worship in the Spirit and and the idea of worship in truth are very central. But I have no problem understanding the phrase as a simple statement in English, without any need for elaborate and laborious rephrasing.

  10. Peter Kirk says:

    John or Jesus was perhaps being metaphorical with his ἐν πνεύματι.

    Or “perhaps”, JKG, Jesus meant that we should worship only in windy weather? 😉

  11. JKG says:

    only in windy weather?

    Seemingly, Nicodemus thought what Jesus was saying about wind and such was funny too – and he didn’t even have the luxury of getting it in clearly translated Greek (Τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν· καὶ τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν… Τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ… οὕτως ἐστὶν πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος.) And if only the woman could’ve read John’s very unambiguous Greek, she wouldn’t have snickered when he said, “Πνεῦμα ὁ θεός·” I’m so glad the better English translations aren’t so full of gas. 🙂

  12. EricW says:

    alla erchetai ora kai nun estin, ote oi alêthinoi proskunêtai proskunêsousin tô patri en pneumati kai alêtheia – kai gar o patêr toioutous zêtei tous proskunountas auton. pneuma o theos, kai tous proskunountas auton en pneumati kai alêtheia dei proskunein.

    What Jesus means is a separate issue from how to translate this, though I’d think one must first decide (if possible) what Jesus means in order to know how best to translate into English what He’s saying.

    He contrasts worshiping at a physical site or mountain with worshiping God “in S/spirit and truth.” It seems to me that saying that true worshipers will worship God “in…truth” is redundant, for how else will or can “true” worshipers worship? He says that God is [a] Spirit and therefore true worshipers are bound to worship Him “in S/spirit.”

    If en pneumati is to be contrasted with “neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem,” and God is pneuma, then the place where one is bound to worship God is where God is, which is Who/What God is, i.e., pneuma.

    Just some thoughts for today’s forthcoming post on en pneumati kai alêtheia.

  13. JKG says:

    He [Jesus in Aramaic or John in Greek] contrasts worshiping at … with worshiping … “in S/spirit and truth.”

    Okay, let’s try the analogy again:

    When the translator in French contrasts “conçue en liberté” with “enagés dans une grande guerre civile,” I am not sure I understand everything Lincoln in English is saying. Lincoln is saying, “our fathers brought forth… conceived in Liberty.” What’s “conçue en liberté” mean in good French? What’s “conceived in Liberty” mean in natural and normal and understandable English? Do the contrasts of the translator (or the contrasts of Lincoln) help us avoid his parental and birth metaphors (because clearly Lincoln intends something easy to understand like “In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence instituted a new, Free nation state)? We don’t know exactly what Jesus said to the woman. We do know exactly what the French translator intends for Lincoln to say; and the strange Lincoln metaphors are retained with little problem to the French reader (except for the problems to the English audience):

    nos pères ont,
    sur ce continent,
    mis au monde
    une nouvelle nation,
    conçue in liberté
    et vouée à cette idée
    que tous les hommes naissent égaux.

    Aujourd’hui nous sommes enagés
    dans une grande guerre civile…

    Mais en un sens plus large,
    nous ne pouvons pas conscrer,
    nous ne pouvons pas dédier,
    nous ne pouvons pas sanctifier cette terre.

  14. EricW says:

    I may misunderstand you (and I don’t know French), but it doesn’t seem to me that the way Jesus is contrasting or comparing or setting against each other “neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem” with “en pneumati” is the same way that Lincoln is relating “conceived in Liberty” to “Now we are engaged in a great civil war.”

  15. JKG says:


    I think I may be following you. My analogy isn’t a direct comparison (between Jesus & his translator and Lincoln & his). Rather, what I’m wondering is whether we should presume to reduce “en pneumati” [ἐν πνεύματι] or “conçue en liberté” to their deep and intended meanings. What I’m trying to show is not only that Lincoln did, in fact, intend something but also that he used difficult English (originally) that the translator need not first reduce to some simple and unambiguous one and only one certain meaning.

    Mike is about to tell us with as much exactness as he can what John intended (as an author) by his Greek phrase and whether a better Bible translation in English must or must not render it “idiomatically.” I suspect Jesus speaking is playing with words, is riddling, is making Nicodemus and then the unnamed woman really work at meanings. I suspect John is playing with language, maybe unintentionally.

    Lincoln, I suspect, was making all kinds of contrasts with words that get at multiple meanings (and not just the one and only one intention that some French linguist some one-hundred score and five years from now might say Lincoln surely intended; and never mind his metaphors or his repetitions or his multiple uses of the preposition ”in” in his “semantically empty” English prepositional phrases, which only confuse and don’t really get at that only thing he meant). When Mike advises, “Don’t think of the Greek behind it,” then I want to tell that to our French translator: “Don’t think of the English behind your translation of the Gettysburg Address.” Of course, we can’t be serious. The Greek behind our English translations really does think of the Aramaic behind it. It’s tough to think of all that when we only think in English but still insist on translation.

  16. Mike Sangrey says:


    Doesn’t it strike you as odd that you go to a lot of effort to be clear regarding your viewpoint that the original authors were not?

    I think the main difference between your viewpoint and mine is not so much where we sit on the line between ambiguity and clarity. The difference, at least as I see it, is one of which way we each point, which way I am looking as opposed to which way you are looking. As I read your comments here it seems to me you want a translation to be incoherent and even confusing. I’m pointed in the other direction.

    Is there perfect precision in the original text? Certainly not–language simply doesn’t work that way. To think I’m saying such a thing only confuses precision with clarity. However, assuming that the original authors intended to be confusing makes no sense to me whatsoever. It would be like you proving your point by writing incomprehensible comments. That’s irrational.

    I’m going to continue to assume the original authors intended to be understood. I think Abraham Lincoln also intended the same. I think there are occurrences of texts where the author seeks a much more emotive result than in the general case of texts; but, perhaps ironically, the author shows his or her intentions even there.

  17. EricW says:

    I think a big translation issue here is how to translate the ἐν in ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ. “In” is only one possibility; “with,” “in the sphere of,” “by,” etc., may be other possibilities. ISTM that “in” is almost a transliteration, using the default gloss for ἐν. While it may be the right translation, it also may not be.

    Maybe Jesus means “spiritually and truthfully.” But then you have to explain what you mean by “spiritually” – i.e., do you mean as contrasted with “physically”? “naturally” (Paul’s psuchikos)? “fleshly” (i.e., Jesus’ contrast in John 3 between sarx and pneuma).

    I’m looking forward to the next installment of this, because I don’t think the people in my fellowship have ever unpacked this phrase; I know I haven’t.

  18. JKG says:

    it seems to me you want a translation to be incoherent and even confusing.

    Where did you get that idea? I want no such thing.

    John’s translation of Jesus is hardly incoherent or confusing. And John is, I think we could agree, intending to be understood. How we may disagree is that I don’t think John was hoping necessarily to be understood by everyone; there are places where he clarifies what Jesus said, but many other places where it’s just as enigmatic to the general readership. And, just as Lincoln had a specific audience in mind, so Jesus did too. But I seriously doubt either of them was hoping that a French translator or that John translating would simplify the translations in a way that eliminated the rhetoric, the eloquence, or the difficulty of the original spoken addresses.

  19. Rich Rhodes says:

    I am SO far behind on my real work that I shouldn’t be jumping in here — I always get so hooked — but …

    At the risk of sounding embarrassingly like Bill Clinton, it all depends on what mean means.

    I have long argued on this blog that we do not do a good job of distinguishing between primary reference and implicational meaning. I will grant that it isn’t always easy to tell (like in Matt. 23:2, ‘seat’ reference, ‘authority’ implication).

    In general, there are two strategies for translating passages where the implications are distinct from the reference. 1) Translate the reference or 2) translate the implications. The problem is that both strategies come at a price.

    If you translate the reference, you have to assume that the implications are somehow universal enough that the L2 reader can figure them out. That just isn’t the case.

    If you translate the implication, you lose any semblance of word play (intertexuality, allusion, puns) and, because there are layers of implications, it isn’t immediately clear when to stop interpreting. Critics of DE translation go right for the examples in which the translator overreached in making the implications explicit.

    For the most part, translation standards between living languages are much closer to the second approach than to the first.

    The real question for me is: how much did Jesus audience have to work to figure out what he meant — at the second level where most communication actually takes place? (What we mean when we say people are on the same wavelength.)

    Did his audience hear: “You have to worship blah, blah, blah, truth”?

    Or did they hear “You have to worship sincerely from the deepest parts of your being.”?

    Or did they hear something else?

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