Haplous – single, sound, sincere, good, healthy or what?

The previous question on Matt 6:22-23 elicited a good number of comments, and I especially appreciate Suzanne’s recent comments on the difficulty of getting a clear sense of the Greek word haplous (ἁπλοῦς).

What can we do to get a better understanding of the meaning? I don’t think we get it by looking at current English translations. Rather, we can look at the standard dictionaries as well as the actual usage of the word, especially in the LXX and the NT.

Unfortunately the adjective ἁπλοῦς is very rare. It only occurs in Mat 6:22 and the parallel in Luke 11:34, plus an obscure passage in Prov 11:25. This is not enough data to make any conclusions from.

The adverb ἁπλῶς is also very rare. It only occurs in James 1:5 and 3 times in the LXX (Prov 10:9, Wis 16:27, 2 Macc 6:6).

However, we are much better off with the noun ἁπλότης. It occurs 8 times in the NT and 7 times in the LXX. You may see them here if you want.

Looking first at the LXX lexicon, I find: “simplicity, sincerity, integrity, frankness 1 Chr 29,17; simplicity, innocence 2 Sm 15,11.”  I am sceptical about the frankness, but certainly the idea of sincerity and integrity is there. Other possible translations are: innocence, in good faith, without a hidden agenda,  with pure motives, undivided devotion to God.

LSJ suggests: “I. singleness, τῆς φωνῆς Arist.Aud.801a19.
II. simplicity
2. of persons, simplicity, frankness, sincerity, … ἡ εἰς τὸν Χριστὸν ἁ. 2Ep.Cor.11.3.
3. open-heartedness: hence, liberality, ib.8.2, 9.11, cf. IG14.1517.
4. ignorance, back-wardness”

It is the same basic idea of sincerity. They do suggest “liberality” but that is disputed and unlikely to be correct.

BDAG suggests: “In our lit. esp. of personal integrity expressed in word or action … simplicity, sincerity, uprightness, frankness ἐν ἁ. τῆς καρδίας ὑπακούειν obey w. a sincere heart (as vs. 6 indicates, not with an outward show that conceals improper motivation) Eph 6:5; cp. Col 3:22 (Diod S 5, 66, 4, ἁπλότης τῆς ψυχῆς =inmost sincerity; 1 Ch 29:17; Wsd 1:1; TestReub 4:1; TestSim 4:5; TestLevi 13:1); w. εἰλικρίνεια 2 Cor 1:12; cp. the Syr. rendering of 1 Cl 60:2 (text: ὁσιότης). ἐν ἁ. λέγειν speak simply, plainly, i.e., without ambiguity B 8:2 (cp. Dionys. Hal., Ars Rhet. 9, 14). ἐν ἁ. δηλῶσαι 17:1. ἐν ἁ. εὑρίσκεσθαι be found sincere Hm 2:7. ἡ ἁ. ἡ εἰς Χριστόν sincere devotion to Christ 2 Cor 11:3 (WWood, Exp. 9th ser., 2, 1925, 450–53).—Of simple goodness, which gives itself without reserve, ‘without strings attached’, ‘without hidden agendas’ (Jos., Bell. 5, 319, Ant. 7, 332; TestIss 3:8)  ingenuousness Ro 12:8; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, 13. Hermas is esp. fond of this mng.: w. ἀκακία (Philo, Op. M. 170) Hv 1, 2, 4; 3, 9, 1; w. ἐγκράτεια Hv 2, 3, 2; w. νηπιότης Hs 9, 24, 3; ἐμμένειν τῇ ἁ. continue in your sincerity Hv 3, 1, 9. For this ἁ. ἔχειν m 2:1. Personif. w. other Christian virtues Hv 3, 8, 5 and 7; Hs 9, 15, 2.”

Now BDAG notes that another, quite different sense, has been suggested, but they also say that this sense is disputed and probably incorrect:

The interpretation generosity, liberality has frequently been proposed for Ro 12:8; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, *13 (w. support sought in TestIss 3:8 [s. RCharles, Test12Patr, 1908, on TestIss 3:1, 2, 8]; Kaibel 716, 5=IG XIV, 1517 [s. L-S-J-M s.v. II, 3]), but this sense (adopted by NRSV et al.) is in dispute, and it is prob. that mng. 1 in the sense of sincere concern, simple goodness is sufficient for all these pass.

When I look at all these passages, it seems to me that “with pure motives”, “without a hidden agenda” and with “pure and sincere devotion to God” fit very well in all the Biblical passages.

The idea of liberality was apparently introduced into English translations in the first of these disputed passages by the RSV and in the other three already by KJV. (I have not checked all the English versions):

Rom 12:8 KJV: he that giveth, [let him do it] with simplicity

RSV: he who contributes, in liberality

NET: if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity

Here the idea of “without a hidden agenda”, “with pure motives”, “with undivided devotion and obedience to Christ” fits well. The point can hardly be that you must give generously, but rather that whatever you give, be it much or little, is to be given without ulterior motives, with a sincere heart.

2 Cor 8:2 KJV: unto the riches of their liberality.

Here the liberality notion was already present in the KJV and that is why it has crept into English translations in contradiction to the normal meaning of the word. Paul is describing the churches in Macedonia, their joy in the midst of persecutions and extreme poverty. That great joy and deep poverty overflowed into a wealth of pure, undivided and sincere devotion in action. Verse 3 continues by saying that it was from this pure devotion to Christ (and his body) that they gave not only to their ability (which was very small) but they gave beyond. Verse 4 describes how they were so devoted to Christ that they begged to be involved in giving to their needy fellow Christians. I see no linguistic or contextual reason to introduce the idea of liberality. They were generous in their giving, but that is expressed in v. 4 by other words rather than ἁπλότης. A generous gift may well result from a wholehearted attitude, but it is not the meaning of ἁπλότης.

2 Cor 9:11 is quite similar to the preceding case, and the idea of “full devotion to Christ without selfish motives” fits the context well enough so that I don’t see a need to introduce the liberality notion into the word. In Paul’s writings it is a great virtue to give with a sincere heart and devotion to God. It is not crucial how much you give, since people have different resources, but your attitude and motives in giving are important. Think of the poor widow that Jesus commended.

2 Cor 9:13 is again similar. Paul commends them “because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ” (NET) and their sincere and pure devotion to Christ which led them to share what they had with fellow Christians in need. As BDAG suggests there is no good reason to introduce a sense 2 for ἁπλότης when the basic and normal sense 1 works fine in all these contexts.

For the rest of the passages in the NT and all of the LXX ones, no one has suggested that liberality or generosity is part of the meaning.

In the single occurrence of ἁπλῶς in James 1:5 the idea of liberality has also crept in where it probably does not belong. Here it is God who gives wisdom to the person who lacks it and asks for it. He does this with pure motives, no strings attached, no hidden agenda and without reproach.

Based on this study I cannot accept “sound, healthy” for Matt 6:22. Such words are too far removed from the semantic range of the word. Nor can I accept liberality or generosity connected to that eye. I much prefer pure motives, sincerity, and an undivided devotion to God which is closely related to obedience. The bad/evil eye is then impure motives, insincerity, divided or mixed allegiances and a lack of obedience. Jesus can hardly be extolling the moral virtue of generosity here, but rather the desire to allow the spiritual light that he brings to penetrate and enlighten every part of that person. Only then can this person be a light to others. It all depends on how you look at Jesus and receive his teaching.

Matt 6:22-23

Russell Allen asked on the Share page:

I have a question about Matt 6:22-23, which in the NIV2011 is “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

There seems a lot of variation on this healthy/unhealthy pattern. Some translations have sound/bad, others clear/diseased, unclouded/diseased etc

CEV goes for “Your eyes are like a window for your body. When they are good, you have all the light you need. But when your eyes are bad, everything is dark. If the light inside you is dark, you surely are in the dark. ”

NLT2 goes for “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

Reading Ann Nyland, I noticed she goes for: “The body’s light is generosity. If you are generous, you will be full of light. But if you are greedy, your whole body will be in darkness! And if the light in you is in fact dark, then the darkness in you is huge!”, and notes that “Word for word “The body’s light is the eye” but is in fact an idiom. “Eye” was the Greek metaphor for generosity. Here ophthalmos, but note, omma, “eye” is a formally polite term of endearment meaning “treasure”, cf. Aristophanes, Acharnians, 1184; Aeschylus, Cho. 238; Sophocles, Aj. 977. poneros, eye being evil is Greek idiom for being greedy and stingy”

Is this a plausible rendering?

Is it possible to get a better translation than the healthy/unhealthy pairing?

These are difficult verses that translators have always been struggling with. Let me start from the Greek text and a literal rendering:

Ὁ λύχνος τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός. ἐὰν οὖν ᾖ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ἁπλοῦς, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου φωτεινὸν ἔσται· ἐὰν δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρὸς ᾖ, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου σκοτεινὸν ἔσται. εἰ οὖν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἐν σοὶ σκότος ἐστίν, τὸ σκότος πόσον.

The eye is the lamp for the body. So, if your eye is single-minded, your whole body will be shining bright, but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be dark. So, if the light (that should have been) in you is (in reality) darkness, how great the darkness is.

One question is whether two Hebrew idioms are relevant here. To say in Hebrew that you have an evil eye can mean that you are envious, while having a good eye can mean that you are generous. However, it is unlikely that these idioms are intended here or at least not at the forefront, since the text does not talk about a good eye.

We do have some metaphors and words that are commonly used in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. The lamp is a metaphor for something that brings light to a house. Light is often used to refer to Jesus and his teaching. The eye is a metaphor for what allows you as a person living inside your body/house/tent to perceive what is outside. Paul talks about the “eyes of the heart”. The eye being single-minded has nothing to do with being healthy, because it is not a description of the physical eye, but of an attitude of mind. It must refer to how you look at the outside world and whether you open your inner eye to allow the light of Jesus to shine in and reach your soul and mind. The word that KJV translated as single, can also mean sincere, without guile. It is the opposite of being double-minded, having ulterior and selfish motives. The two words are related to simplicity versus duplicity.

The previous text in Matthew talks about two opposite things that one can focus the eye on. One is worldly treasure, the other is heavenly treasure. A sincere and single-minded person would look to Jesus and the heavenly treasure, while a follower of Jesus with an evil (maybe including envious) attitude would try to look both to Jesus and to the world and what it has to offer. That is duplicity.

The next text talks about the impossibility of serving two masters at the same time. That would be duplicity or what a double-minded person might try to do. Jesus says you cannot do that. You need to serve God single-mindedly, to shut out these worldly desires.

Such single-minded people who focus their eyes on Jesus and allow His light to illuminate the soul and mind will not only receive the light for themselves but will be shining out to others as well. This is related to Matt 5:14-16. But people who do not have this single-mindedness towards Jesus, will focus their eyes on the things of this world, and they will remain in darkness, because they do not allow the light of Jesus to shine in them and through them.  If what should have been light in them is only darkness, that is indeed a great darkness with eternal repercussions.

It is very difficult to translate these metaphors in a meaningful way. I might suggest the following rather free rendering which you are welcome to improve on:

The eye is like a lamp that brings light to your inner being. If you have a trusting and sincere mind, your inner being will be filled with my light. But if you have a closed and evil/selfish mind, your inner being will be filled with darkness. Be careful not to shut my light out, because then your life will become one big darkness.

Repentance in Heb 12:17

It has been pointed out to me that Michael Patton recently had an interesting blog post about the possibility of Esau repenting in Heb 12:17. It can (and should first) be read here. He cites a number of different English translations. I will only quote two of them here to give different perspectives:

NJB: As you know, when he wanted to obtain the blessing afterward, he was rejected and, though he pleaded for it with tears, he could find no way of reversing the decision.

RSV: For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

Let us look at the Greek text:

ἴστε γὰρ ὅτι καὶ μετέπειτα θέλων κληρονομῆσαι τὴν εὐλογίαν ἀπεδοκιμάσθη, μετανοίας γὰρ τόπον οὐχ εὗρεν καίπερ μετὰ δακρύων ἐκζητήσας αὐτήν.

A very literal translation could be:

After all, you-all know that he indeed afterwards, while wishing to be given the blessing (of the firstborn), was rejected, for he did not find room for a change of mind, although with tears he desperately sought it.

Traditionally, metanoia has been translated as “repentance” without much consideration for the context. But the word itself basically refers to a change of mind. The RSV and related translations interpret the text to mean that it was Esau who found no room for repentance. This can lead to the general theological interpretation that there is a time when repentance can no longer be followed by forgiveness. The blog author rejects this option and his solution is to take the final feminine pronoun αὐτήν (it) to refer all the way back to the feminine τὴν εὐλογίαν (the blessing) rather than to the closer feminine word μετάνοια (change of mind).

For grammatical reasons my preference is to accept that the pronoun it does refer back to μετάνοια. However, it is clear that Esau has regretted that he sold his birthright and he was seeking with tears to make his father change his mind. Therefore, I think the NJB suggestion that the change of mind is not referring to Esau, but to Isaac makes better sense in the context. It was too late for Isaac to undo and withdraw the blessing he had already given to Jacob and the result was that Esau could not get the blessing he sought after with tears. With this interpretation it is possible to keep the reference of it to the change-of-mind, and at the same time clarify that it was the blessing rather his own repentance that Esau sought and could not be given.

How people interpret this illustration in a broader theological context can vary. Is there a time or a situation where it is too late to repent? I doubt that this text alone gives a clear answer to that question. In my view the crucial point is the willingness of the person to repent rather than God’s willingness to forgive. I believe the second part is constantly available, but the first part may not be present.

Philippians 2:6-7

One of the challenges in these verses is the meaning of the Greek word ἁρπαγμός (harpagmos). The ending –mos basically indicates an event, so it is helpful to look at the corresponding verb ἁρπάζω (harpazō). This word is very common in the LXX and usually refers to plundering the property of the enemy, including taking captives.

The word is fairly common in the NT (14 times). The plundering idea is found in Mat 12:29.

A few times it refers to a kind of rapture, where a person is suddenly snatched away. Philip was snatched up in Acts 8:39, Paul was snatched up to Paradise/third heaven in 2 Cor 12:2,4, Christians are to be snatched up to meet the Lord in the air according to 1 Th 4:17, and a symbolic child is snatched up to God’s throne in Rev 12:5.

A person can be snatched from the fire and thereby be saved as in Jud 1:23. This is similar to Acts 23:10 where Paul is snatched away from an angry mob by soldiers and thereby saved.

In John 6:15 some Jews wanted to snatch Jesus away from his disciples and his ministry to make him king, but he escaped.

If the subject is a wild animal, it refers to attacking and tearing to pieces in order to eat the prey. The lion often does that in the LXX, and in John 10:12 it is a wolf. In Matt 11:12 we have violent people attacking the Kingdom of God wanting to tear it to pieces and destroy it. In Matt 13:4 the birds came to snatch up the seeds that fell on the path and then eat them, although here we only have the word for eating up the seeds. The snatching before eating is implied. In the explanation of the parable in Mat 13:19 Jesus explains that these birds represent Satan and his demons who come and snatch away the word that is sown in peoples’ hearts. In John 10:28-29 we hear that once a person has truly become a Christian, no one can snatch such a person away from the protective hand of the Father.

What is common in these various contexts is a quick and forceful seizure and removal of somebody or something. The purpose may be to save or to destroy. In many cases, but not always, the person has no right to snatch away this person or thing.

With this background, we can think of ἁρπαγμός as the event noun, snatching up something by force which one may not have any right to do. Now, event nouns in Greek are often extended to refer to the object for the action or its result. We recently looked at κτίσις (ktisis), which may refer to the event of creation, but in the NT almost always refers to the thing or being that is created. The same applies to ἐλπίς (elpis) which may refer to the event of confident expectation, but quite often it refers to the thing that one expects to receive. In the case of Phil 2:6, ἁρπαγμός likewise does not refer to the event but to the thing that is snatched.

The thing to be snatched in Phil 2:6 is the position of being equal to God. It is a position that Satan wanted to snatch for himself, but he did not succeed. That would have been robbery. However, for Jesus it was not a robbery, not something that he needed to snatch, since he already possessed it. Jesus, in fact, did the exact opposite. He already had that position, but he accepted to give it up in order to become a human being. He did not try to hold on to it forcefully, to cling to it and not wanting to give it up. In most cases, the one snatching something does not have the right to do so. But this is not how Jesus looked at this position. He had the right to keep it and cling to it, but he chose to let go and obey the will of the Father even if it meant humiliation and suffering.

BDAG suggests the following translation: “[He] did not consider equality with God a prize to be tenaciously grasped.”

The meaning of the verses is expressed quite well in the TEV, which retains the aspect of force that is always associated with the Greek word:  ”He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being…”

NLT96 has the same idea that Jesus did not cling to his rightful position. Clinging implies some kind of force: ”Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.” NLT04 is along the same line: ”Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges…”

Many are familiar with the NIV84 which is similar to RSV and NET: ”Who, being in very nature  God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” The meaning of this translation is a bit difficult to grasp, but it gets even more obscure in the revised NIV (which is similar to God’s Word and the HCSB): ”Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

I don’t understand what advantage this might be, but maybe some of you can explain it to me?

2 Corinthians 5:17

Today I noticed a comment by Craig Blomberg about the reasons for the change in NIV2010 in 2 Cor. 5:17. It can be read here.

I was very surprised by the arguments Craig brought out to support the new rendering which is similar to and inspired by NRSV and HCSB. The change is from: ”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (NIV84) to ”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.” (NIV10).

It is an interesting change, because it tells me how the endeavour to avoid gender exclusive language in English can unfortunately lead well-meaning translators astray. I am in favour of getting rid of gender exclusiveness where it is not in the Greek text at all as is the case in this verse. Translations need to accommodate to a significant change in the English language that has taken place gradually in the last 50-100 years.

The main problem behind the NRSV, NIV10 etc in this verse as I see it is that the translators have ignored the context and the translations are in my view inaccurate in terms of the meaning of the Greek text.  The text is: ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις· τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονεν καινά. A literal translation could be: As a result of that (or: consequently), if/when anyone is in Christ, (that person is) a new creation. The old (things) have passed away, look, new (things) have come into being.

I recently talked about “in Christ.” If anyone is “in Christ,” it means that this person has been united with Christ through what Christ did and through believing in what Christ did. In this verse it is basically the same as being a believer in Christ or having come to believe in Christ. NLT04 is clearer and more accurate when it says: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ…”

Translators should not be so absorbed in a single verse that they forget to take the previous verses into consideration. In the NIV2010 v. 16 reads: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.”  The Greek text says: Ὥστε ἡμεῖς ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν οὐδένα οἴδαμεν κατὰ σάρκα· εἰ καὶ ἐγνώκαμεν κατὰ σάρκα Χριστόν, ἀλλὰ νῦν οὐκέτι γινώσκομεν. A literal translation is: “Consequently, we (Christians) from now on know/look at no one according to flesh. Even though we did know Christ according to flesh, now we no longer know (him in this way).” It is clear that Paul is talking about the fundamental change a person has gone through by becoming a believer in Christ. The “flesh” in Paul’s language refers to the non-Christian attitude and life without enlightenment from the Holy Spirit. There is a complete change in the outlook of a Christian, and Christians obviously look at Christ and know him in a very different way from how they looked at him before they became Christians.  In fact, they have a completely new outlook on life. Since v. 16 starts with the same connecting word Ὥστε which is a result connector, we really need to go back one more verse to get more of the context.

NIV2010 has this translation of v. 15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Here I don’t need to quote the Greek text, since the NIV adequately covers the meaning. Again, we see the fundamental change in a person from living for themselves to living for Christ. It is a completely new life after one has become a Christian.

The NLT04 has done very well for v. 17: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” It has successfully avoided any gender exclusiveness. It has expressed the basic meaning of the non-English phrase “in Christ” in good English. It avoids the strange “creation” and says correctly “person.” It clarifies that the things that have passed away is the old life as a non-Christian, and the new things that have come into being is the new life as a Christian.

Craig says in his comment: “Paul regularly looks forward not just to individuals becoming new creatures but to the arrival of a new creation (see esp. Rom. 8:19-23).”  Yes, Paul does look forward to a new world at the end of times, but that does not fit the context of 2 Cor 5:17. In 2 Cor 5:15-17 he is not looking forward to the arrival of a new creation/world. He is looking back to what happens when a person has become a new “creature/creation”.  Furthermore, the expression “new creation” does not occur in Rom 8:19-23, but it does occur in Gal 6:15 with the same meaning as here in 2 Cor 5:17. Craig continues: “It is more likely that he is getting his readers’ attention by a staccato-like construction that makes them realize that he is talking about more than just the expected results of conversion—personal transformation—but about the arrival, even if only in part, of a whole new creation.” But this is not a staccato-like construction in Greek as it would be in English.  It is a common Greek ellipsis where the verb “to be” is very often to be understood, and the subject is carried over from the previous clause. The text is not talking about a future “creation,”  but about what has already taken place in Paul himself and in others who have become believers. NIV2010 has added the words “the…has come” where the Greek only has “new creation.” This is problematic, partly because the Greek text has no definite article here, but mainly because one is not allowed to add “has come” to the text when there is nothing like it in the Greek. It is permissible to add a form of “to be,” because that is how Greek ellipsis works. NIV2010 has in my view destroyed a very important and well-known verse in the Bible.

Craig had a comment on Phil 2:6 – also rather poorly translated  in the NIV2010 – which I found interesting. He admits that he likes the NLT translation of this verse, but then adds: “But it probably starts to move one just a little bit closer in the direction of functional equivalence than would be appropriate for a translation like the updated NIV.” It is nice to hear one of the NIV translators say that the NIV is not a functional equivalent translation nor is it intended to be so. That is OK with me, but it is not OK with me to misconstrue a verse like 2 Cor 5:17 (and Phil 2:6) in the way they have done.


What is in an in? – part three

One of the most common and elusive uses of “in” by Paul is found in the phrase ἐν Χριστῷ (in Christ).

The BDF grammar (§219 (4)) says in frustration: “The phrase ἐν Χριστῷ (κυρίῳ), which is copiously appended by Paul to the most varied concepts, utterly defies definite interpretation.” So, I would be well advised to say no more. I won’t heed the advice, though, and comment anyway, first more generally about ἐν.

In its basic locative sense ἐν can refer to position inside something in a 3-dimensional space or at/on something in a 2-dimensional space. English normally uses “in” for the first and “on” for the second. (The Greek ἐπί is also used for the 2-dimensional space).

In an extended locative sense ἐν is used to point to the context or environment of a state or activity (often called “sphere”), and it can also indicate a reference for a predicate or modifier (Lk 16:10; 2Co 10:3; Eph 2:4; 1Pe 4:11). (For these citations, I am indebted to Pam Bendor-Samuel’s thesis: The Exegesis and Translation of Prepositional Phrases in the Greek New Testament – a semantic role analysis. See the table of contents here: http://www.sil.org/acpub/repository/43841_front.pdf). The full text is available here.

Sometimes ἐν can refer to the target (or goal, direction), although the more usual preposition for this is εἰς. I made some comments on this in connection with πιστεύω in an earlier post (http://betterbibles.com/2010/03/07/genitives-and-the-semantics-of-love-and-faith).

Another common function of ἐν is temporal, either as time-when or the situation/circumstances in which something happens (English can do the same: in sickness and in health).

A common function of ἐν is “means”, which can be either an instrument or a method used by an agent to accomplish something. Closely related to “means” is “manner”. They both answer the question “How?”

Turning to the phrase ἐν Χριστῷ (κυρίῳ/Ἰησοῦ), Pam Bendor-Samuel says: “It is Paul’s short-hand formula, a formula which encapsulates and summarises the unique, close, living, dependent relationship between the believer and Christ, with all the implications which flow from that.” She then suggests the three main semantic roles behind the preposition to be sphere, agency and target. Concerning “sphere” she says: “The term ‘Sphere’ is itself figurative, and implies context, framework, environment, setting, conditioning, hence also description, reference, and even definition.”

When she discusses ἐν Χριστῷ in the section about sphere the focus is on the state of being in a close relationship with Christ. The GNB often translates it as “in union with Christ”.

In the section about agency she notes that the more usual preposition for this is διά, but Paul often uses ἐν Χριστῷ in the sense of agency. In that sense ἐν Χριστῷ can be understood as a shorthand expression for “by way of or as a result of what Christ has done.” In such contexts, the English “through” or “by way of” may be the most appropriate translation, but “because of (what) Christ (has done)” is also a possibility.

Sometimes the focus is on the state that is a result of what Christ has done and then it shows the close, dependent relationship between Christians and Christ. To be “in Christ” is almost the same as being a Christian. In other words, it is often difficult to decide whether the focus is on the agency of Christ in bringing about the state or whether the focus is on the resultant state. It is quite possible that Paul did not intend to make such a distinction.

In her third section, Pam B-S. discusses the less common semantic role of target. She says: “Christ is the object of faith, hope and joy for the believer. The role of Target is commonly expressed by the prepositions εἰς and ἐπί.” And she continues: ”Target is also a role of ἐν Χριστῷ, though much less frequently than the other two.” She lists the following examples, but also notes that there is not agreement about the function of the preposition in several of these: John 3:15; Gal 3:26; Eph 1:15; Col 1:4; 1 Tim 3:13; 2 Tim 3:15.  There are other examples of ἐν showing target (or direction) with a different noun than Χριστῷ, for instance: Mark 1:15; 1 Cor 2:5; Rom 3:25.

Since I have been studying Galatians for the last month, I’ll try to look briefly at some of these ἐν phrases in Galatians:

1:13 you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism – temporal, circumstantial, my life as a Jew.

1:22 churches of Judea that are in Christ – remembering that ἐκκλησία is a general word for assembly, the phrase ”in Christ” indicates the sphere or more specifically specification. It describes these assemblies as Christian assemblies.

1:24 And they glorified God in me (KJV) – they praised God for me. The ἐν indicates “with reference to” or “with respect to”, but there is a metonymy, where ”me” stands for what happened to me or what Jesus accomplished in me.  L&N calls it ”with regard to (specification)”. NIV says: ”they praised God because of me” and GW says: ”they praised God for what had happened to me.”

2:4 the freedom we have in Christ Jesus (NIV) – both agency and sphere may be seen here. The freedom has come about through what Christ did, and we are now in the state of being free. GNB says ”the freedom we have through our union with Christ Jesus.” CEV says ”the freedom that Christ Jesus had given us.”

2:17 we seek to be justified in Christ (NIV), we seek to be justified by Christ (KJV) – It is the same idea of both agency and state: through what Christ did and the resultant state of being united with him (because of our faith in him) we are justified. The concept of faith is implicit and made explicit by the NLT:  “seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ.”

2:20 The life I live in the body, I live in faith in the Son of God – temporal, circumstantial and descriptive of my current life.

3:8 In thee shall all nations be blessed (KJV) – by means of you and through you. Instrument and method.

3:11 no one is justified before God by (ἐν) the law – same as above: instrument and method.

3:16 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus – the target or direction of faith, although some prefer to take it as agency+state. (NIV2010 changed the old NIV here.)

4:14 And my/your temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not (KJV) – in reference to my bodily condition, which could have tempted you to despise me.

4:20 I am perplexed about (ἐν) you – with regard to you.

5:10 I have confidence in (εἰς) you through (ἐν) the Lord (KJV) – probably agency + state, through what Jesus has done for you, you are now in union with him, and that gives me confidence in you that you will come to agree with me. However, some prefer to take this as describing Paul’s confidence in himself and his authority as an apostle.

What is in an in? – part two

In part one of my little study of the Greek ἐν and its large array of possible meanings, I focused on the noun in the prepositional phrase as well as the verb in the sentence. I suggested that when the verb is “to call” and when the noun is a kind of abstract concept (without the definite article) like “peace, holiness, grace” then it is better to translate ἐν with “to” in English. We are called to grace, to peace, to holiness. Another preposition that can be used with “call” is ἐπὶ. We saw it in 1 Thess 4:7: οὐ γὰρ ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ ἀκαθαρσίᾳ You see, he did not call us to (live in) uncleanness. We find the same ἐπὶ in Gal 5:13: Ὑμεῖς γὰρ ἐπ᾽ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἐκλήθητε After all, YOU have been called to (live in) freedom. Some translations do not add any verb like NET, RSV: For you were called to freedom. Others add “be” and change the noun to an adjective as NIV, TEV: As for you, my friends, you were called to be free. Others again add “live” as the NLT: For you have been called to live in freedom. The same idea is expressed with a dative rather than a preposition in Gal 5:1 τῇ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἡμᾶς Χριστὸς ἠλευθέρωσεν It was to (live in) freedom that Christ set us free.

In part two I want to look at the concept of “reveal” together with ἐν. The two Greek verbs I am looking at are ἀποκαλύπτω and φανερόω. They are tri-valent verbs of perception. By this I mean that a full expression would have three participants or arguments, for instance: A revealed P to E. They can be analysed as a causative of ”to see”. A caused E to see P. A is the semantic Agent or Cause, P is the semantic Patient (what is seen), while E is the semantic Experiencer or Recipient. In Greek, an Agent is typically, but not always, expressed by a nominative, a Patient by an accusative and a Recipient by a dative. However, a participant that would usually be expressed with a dative in older Greek is often expressed with a preposition in Koine Greek. For these verbs we find both a dative and a prepositional phrase in the NT. Let me give some examples, first with the dative for the recipient of the revelation:

Mat 11:25 ἔκρυψας ταῦτα ἀπὸ σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν καὶ ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and you have revealed them to “children”.

Mat 16:17: σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι flesh and blood did not reveal (it) to you.

John 7:4 φανέρωσον σεαυτὸν τῷ κόσμῳ Show yourself to the world.

1 Cor 2:10 ἡμῖν δὲ ἀπεκάλυψεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος But God has revealed (it) to us through the Spirit.

The dative use is the most common, even in the NT, but there are a few cases where prepositions are used to express the recipient of the revelation. I have found εἰς in two places:

Rom 8:18 πρὸς τὴν μέλλουσαν δόξαν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι εἰς ἡμᾶς  (compared) to the coming glory to be revealed to us.

2 Cor 11:6 ἀλλ᾽ ἐν παντὶ φανερώσαντες ἐν πᾶσιν εἰς ὑμᾶς But in every way having shown this to you in everything (we did).

There are also a few places where ἐν seems to be used to indicate the recipient of the revelation:

Rom 1:19 τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς  What can be known about God is clear (has been shown) to them. (The use of the adjective rather than verb may be the reason for the preposition.)

Gal 1:16 ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί He revealed his Son to me

1 John 4:9 ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν In this has the love of God been revealed to us.

Since the dative is by far the most common way to indicate the recipient, the instances with ἐν are disputed, and some people prefer to understand ἐν in a different way. For 1 John 4:9 It is possible that the use of ἐν indicates more than just a recipient. One may argue that the love of God is not only revealed to us, but also among us and is to be seen in us, in what we do. For Gal 1:16 I would say that the context points to Paul’s experience on the Damascus road, and this suggests that Paul is thinking of God revealing Jesus to him. Louw and Nida list a number of other places apart from Gal 1:16 (but with other verbs) where ἐν is used to indicate the experiencer.

What is in an in? – part one

Bob MacDonald said: Prepositions are notoriously flexible, stretchable, and ambiguous. So true. In the case of NT Greek the most common and flexible preposition is ἐν. From a historical and phonological point of view it corresponds to English in, and it is often translated by an in. In fact, it is far too often translated by an in. There are so many other possibilities for translating it. The range of options can most easily be seen in the 21 senses that Louw and Nida suggest for the word:

1 in (location)

2 among (location)

3 on (location)

4 at (location)

5 in (state)

6 into (extension)

7 in union with (association)

8 with (attendant circumstances)

9 with (instrument)

10 with (manner)

11 with regard to (specification)

12 of (substance)

13 to (experiencer)

14 by (agent)

15 by (guarantor)

16 by (means)

17 because (reason)

18 so that (result)

19 when (time)

20 during (time)

21 in (content)

So, how do we decide between this array of possibilities? We need to look at the noun phrase the preposition governs as well as the verb it is connected to. It is also helpful to see if a similar construction occurs in other Greek texts.

Let me take one example from Galatians (more examples in a post to come later). The preposition  ἐν occurs 41 times in this small book. The first is Galatians 1:6:

Θαυμάζω ὅτι οὕτως ταχέως μετατίθεσθε ἀπὸ τοῦ καλέσαντος ὑμᾶς ἐν χάριτι [Χριστοῦ] εἰς ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον I am shocked that you so quickly are being pushed away from the one who called you ἐν grace [of Christ] towards a different gospel.

I agree with Metzger that the reading without of Christ is likely to be the original reading, but it is impossible to be sure. We note that there is no definite article before grace, which gives it a qualitative sense. It is not referring to a particular act of grace, but to the kind or quality of grace that originates with God and Christ. The verb is “call”, so we would need to look at this verb in connection with ἐν.

We find an example in 1 Cor 7:15: ἐν δὲ εἰρήνῃ κέκληκεν ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός  But it is ἐν peace that God has called you. This cannot mean that God was feeling peaceful when he called you, nor did he use peace as an instrument or agent for the calling. It has to be into peace. In order to translate that into English NIV says: “God has called us to live in peace.” (It should have been “called you”, but that is a textual issue again.) It is legitimate to add the words “to live” in order to make an accurate and meaningful translation.

Another example is 1 Thess 4:7: οὐ γὰρ ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς ὁ θεὸς ἐπὶ ἀκαθαρσίᾳ ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ἁγιασμῷ  You see, God did not call us to uncleanness, but rather ἐν holiness. Again, the NIV has correctly added the words “to live (a life)” and they say: “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”  They might have said: “not to live in impurity, but in holiness,”  or they might have said: “not to live a life in impurity, but in holiness”. There is seldom ONE correct translation, but some translations are better than others – according to various criteria.

From these examples it is reasonable to suggest that the verb call followed by ἐν indicates the kind of life we are called to live. This fits well with Gal 1:6, and if we look at the new NIV2010, we find that they are actually saying: “the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ.” The addition of the definite article is caused by the genitive “of Christ”.  If we were to translate the text without this word – what Paul probably wrote – we could easily make it parallel to 1 Cor 7:15 and 1 Thess 4:7: “the one who called you to live in grace”. The Galatians were being pushed from a gospel of grace to a “gospel” of law which is not a gospel (good news) at all, as Paul went on to say in the next verse.


Live metaphors – walking in the Light

Gary Simmons said in his comment on the previous post: this use of μωραίνω could be an example of blurring between what is literally stated (salt) and what is metaphorically referenced (wisdom). Is this what is meant by the phrase “live metaphor?”

Yes, I would say so. A live metaphor is the use of a word or a phrase in an unusual and striking way. If the expression catches on and is thereafter used frequently with the same meaning it eventually dies and becomes an idiom.

Gary also mentioned the example of “circumcision of the heart” which was a live metaphor. I doubt if anyone had ever said that before. It catches the crucial idea that initiation into the people of God is not an outward, visible reality but an inward transformation. Of course, it involves an idiomatic usage of “heart” which does not work in all languages, but it happens to work in English.

Jesus spoke many new parables and live metaphors. The tradition of speaking in parables was not new with Jesus, but the way he spoke and what he said was radically new. He did not speak like other Jewish rabbis. His disciples often did not understand him, at least the first time round. Jesus often chose words that would straddle or provide a bridge between the literal plane and the metaphorical plane. Translators talk about three things in relation to metaphors:

1. The illustration

2. The topic

3. The point(s) of similarity, the bridge between 1 and 2.

Some words or phrases in a parable or an extended metaphor belong to the illustration, others belong to the topic while others straddle between the two. It is difficult to handle this kind of straddling in translation.

I wrote an article on this topic entitled: Walking in the light. It can be read on-line here: http://www.ubs-translations.org/tbt/1986/04/TBT198604.html

Let me briefly summarize the main points. In John 11:9 Jesus asked his disciples: “Are there not twelve hours of the day?” It is a rhetorical question and the impact is to say: “We still have time to do a work of God (raising Lazarus from the dead). I am still around, am I not?” The word “day” straddles the literal and metaphorical. Of course, there are 12 hours in the literal day (if you are not too far from the equator). But that is the illustration, not the topic. In John 9:4-5 Jesus introduced the metaphorical sense of “day” and “night”: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Immediately after that, Jesus did a miracle, making a blind man see.  So the metaphorical sense of “day” is “opportunity to do the works of God.”

Jesus continued in John 11:9-10: “If anyone walks around in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks around in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

Almost all these words are “straddling” words:

1. Walk around can be literal, but it often refers to how you live your life and what decisions you make, as it does here.

2. Day can mean literally the hours of daylight, but it can also be a situation where you look at things in the spiritual light from Jesus or God and walk around (make decisions) in the light of that light.

3. Stumble can mean literally to stumble over a stone, but often it refers to making the wrong choice and because of that you have a spiritual fall.

4. The light of this/the world could refer to the Sun that provides daylight, but it also refers to Jesus who provides spiritual light.

5. The night could refer to literal darkness, but also to spiritual darkness, the absence of light/guidance from Jesus.

6. The light is not in him can only be understood in the metaphorical sense. It could be translated: “he does not have (access to) the light.” It means that he is not following the spiritual light and guidance that Jesus provides.

Now, how do you translate this kind of speech?  RSV is quite literal, and in this case RSV is better than any and all of the so-called meaning-based versions. Even the NIV didn’t see the light clearly and the translation has “become foolish”. It has lost the power, “salt”,  and “taste” (inspired wisdom) of the original saying.  I am normally in favour of meaning-based versions, but not when the translators have failed to understand the meaning of the original text and its impact. However, IF the translators have understood the text, it is possible to produce a meaning-based version that is clearer and more understandable than the RSV. I assume all English translators have read the RSV, and still they did not seem to understand the text.

The salt of the earth – the light of the world

Two famous metaphors from the mouth of Jesus, taken from Matthew 5:13-14. The first one is meaningless in English, the second is understandable. Why is that? Well, the answer is simple enough. The English word ”light” has both a basic/physical/literal meaning and a metaphorical usage, but ”salt” has no metaphorical meaning or usage in English.

Let me first comment on light, since that is the easier one. My Collins dictionary says about light: ”mental understanding or spiritual insight.” The light metaphor is common in the NT. In John’s Gospel we find statements like: ”The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” (1:9 about Jesus). 8:12 says: ”I am the light of the world.” 9:5: ”While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 12:44-46: ”Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

The metaphor of light in the NT does not so much refer to mental understanding as it refers to spiritual insight based on revelation from God. Those people who became disciples of Jesus became ”people of the light” (Luke 16:8). Jesus would not stay in the world to continue to give his light to it, but he sent the Holy Spirit to continue to give light and revelation. Once Jesus had left the world, the disciples were to take over the ministry of light-bringers, but it had to be based on revelation from God – in addition to what Jesus had taught them, which was also revelation from God. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus was preparing his disciples to become apostles, saying: ”You are the light of the world – let your light shine before people, so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Those good deeds are not their own mental understanding nor necessarily their good behavior, but it is the spiritual power and inspired wisdom that comes from God, and that is why God is to be praised for it. Jesus said the same about himself. He only spoke what his Father told him to say and he only did what his Father told him to do.

When Peter understood that Jesus was the Messiah as stated in Matt 16:16, Jesus immediately responded: ”Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by people, but by my Father in heaven – and on this solid foundation I will build my church.” Matt 11:25-27 is a basic passage for our understanding of the concept of ministry and wisdom based on revelation from God: ”Jesus said: I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Of course, the ”little children” is a metaphor for people who are open and willing to be taught, to receive revelation from God. The philosophers of this world base their mental understanding on human reasoning rather than spiritual revelation. Paul has something to say about that, too. He was a learned man, but had to re-think his whole understanding of God and spiritual truth from scratch when Jesus stopped him in his tracks. He writes in Phil 3: ”But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage so that I can gain Christ – I want to know Christ.” In Galatians he emphasized how Jesus had revealed himself on the way to Damascus: “when God … decided to reveal his Son to me … my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” And he says: ”I want you to know, brothers (and sisters), that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” Paul tells us about revealed, inspired wisdom as opposed to worldly wisdom in 1 Cor 1: “For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God decided through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ – the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.”

I am saying this to show that the light/wisdom the NT talks about is not human wisdom or wit or philosophy or even the accumulated religious knowledge of the “teachers  of the law.”

Paul’s talk about wisdom and foolishness leads us to the first metaphor in Mat 5:13: ”YOU are the salt of the earth/land/world, but if the salt should become foolish, with what can its saltiness be restored?” The Greek word μωραίνω means ”make foolish.” It occurs here in a passive form meaning ”become foolish.”  Another way of saying the same thing would be ”lose your wisdom.” There is no evidence that this Greek word could mean what it is often translated as. NIV says ”loses its saltiness,” and by doing so they have lost the meaning and the metaphor. If only they had kept ”should lose its wisdom” or “should become foolish” the reader would have had a chance to understand that ”salt” is a metaphor for those who have received spiritual wisdom and bring light to others, while “saltiness” is a metaphor for spiritual wisdom, the kind of wisdom revealed to the disciples by Jesus.

Jesus did not say these words in Greek, but in Hebrew or Aramaic. Whatever the case, the word spoken by Jesus was probably tapel תָּפֵל because this word has two senses which fits perfectly with the salt metaphor. It can mean either to be tasteless or to be foolish. The Greek translator chose to render the sense of losing wisdom in order to give a clue to the topic of the metaphor, not just describe the illustration of salt.

When a metaphor is translated literally into a language that does not have the same or a very similar way of speaking metaphorically, the readers will automatically try to make sense of a nonsense saying. They will look for possible uses of salt within their own culture or maybe in the ancient culture. Are the disciples supposed to make the earth/world more tasty? No, that is nonsense. Are they supposed to somehow preserve the earth/world? Hardly. We don’t use salt as a metaphor for wisdom as the rabbis sometimes did. The Exegetical Summaries quote three commentaries for the following statement: ”In Rabbinic literature salt often stood for wisdom [Mor, NCBC, TNTC2].” Mor=Morris, NCBC=New Century Bible Commentary, and TNTC2=France, R. T. The Gospel According to St. Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. I have looked at Morris and France, but did not find their comments very helpful. Once we accept that ”saltiness” refers to spiritual wisdom, all problems are solved. It is not important to ask whether salt can lose its saltiness. It is important to ask whether disciples can lose the spiritual wisdom and revelation given to them. Jesus warns that this should not happen, because how will you return to your former state of wisdom? What wisdom can be used to make you wise again? Hebrews 6 has a similar thought: ”It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

I wish we could regain and rediscover the saltiness of the words of Jesus – and of Paul in Col 4:6.