What drives a translation?

[See Moderator note at end of post.]

Matěj Cepl had a question and comment on the SHARE page.

Do you have anything to say about Junia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junia)? That’s partially havoc (with nice feminist twist even) caused by Vulgata, isn’t it?

And of course, there are many many examples where translators were led by their theology and not by the text (“he/she shall bruise thy head, …”)

Peter Kirk referred to the archives and said that “a lot of blood has already been spilled over Junia.” A vivid hyperbolic metaphor.

I hope I am not going to spill any more blood, but the last comment does introduce an interesting problem. It is not as simple as it looks. Any translation necessarily presupposes that the translators have done careful exegesis of the text. But a text was written in a certain context which is often not retrievable or well understood by the translators. I think all translators want to say that they are being led by the text, but in reality they are all being led by two things: The text plus their own presuppositions, that is the background knowledge they bring to the text. This means that any translation whether form-based or meaning-based is influenced by both the text and the background knowledge of the translators in terms of language, linguistics, culture and theology. (This is called “cognitive environment” in some theories of communication). Translators will be tempted to say that in my translation I have only been led by the text and I am representing the text without bias, theological or otherwise. It is only everybody else who are being unduly influenced by their theology, if their theology is different from mine.

You asked about the Wikipedia article. It is not too bad, but it is unclear in several areas as well as biased. It correctly says that we cannot decide on the basis of the Greek text alone whether the nominal form of the name is Junia or Junias. The reason is that both would become JUNIAN in the accusative form used in the text. And that corresponds to the Latin accusative JUNIAM, which does not solve the question. The use of an accent would disambiguate the two, but accents were not used in NT manuscripts until around the 9th century (if Wikipedia is correct here, I don’t remember.)  Almost all Greek manuscripts since then have used the accent indicating masculine form. The Wikipedia article says that Erasmus’ text had the feminine accent. I don’t have access to this Greek text, but I can see that the Tyndale and the Geneva Bible have Junia, following Erasmus. The revised Greek text by Stephanus in 1550 has the masculine form as has Scrivener (1894), Tischendorf and Westcott-Hort.

The scholarly mood has changed in the last decades – as scholarly moods always do, keeping up with changes in society – and the change can be seen in the adjustment made in the standard NT Greek dictionary (emphasis mine).

BAGD has “Junias (not found elsewh., prob. short form of the common Junianus; cf. Bl-D. §125, 2; Rob. 172) a Jewish convert to Christianity, who was imprisoned w. Paul Ro 16:7; s. on  Androvnikos—The possibility, fr. a purely lexical point of view, that this is a woman’s name  Junia (Mlt.-H. 155; ancient commentators took Andr. and Junia as a married couple. S.  Iouliva,) deserves consideration.”

The newer BDAG has “Ἰουνιᾶς, ᾶ, ὁ Junias (not found elsewh., could be a short form of the common Junianus; s. B-D-F §125, 2; Rob. 172) according to the rdg. of the N. text a Judean Christian, who was imprisoned w. Paul or shared a similar experience Ro 16:7; s. on Ἀνδρόνικος. But the accented form Ἰουνιᾶν has no support as such in the ms. tradition; for critique of B-D-R §125, 2, 6 in connection w. the N. rdg. s. UPlisch, NTS 42, ’96, 477f, n. 2. For the strong probability that a woman named Junia is meant s. prec. entry.”

It is misleading to say that the accented form Ἰουνιᾶν has no support as such (?) in the ms. tradition, since the early mss did not have accents and the majority of those who do have accents, in fact do have the form. (Another move towards p/c  is to change from Jewish to Judean, but that is a different topic.)

So, are we talking about a woman or a man? I would say: We don’t know. I would put a footnote to that effect into a translation. My personal, subjective opinion is that there is a 60-40% chance that it refers to a woman, and in that case a husband and wife, like the husband-and-wife team of Akvila and Prisca, but I am not going to fight with those who prefer a higher or lower probablity.

Of course, the other question is whether both were also termed apostles, or whether they were esteemed workers for the Lord, who were well-known to the apostles and had their commendation. Again, from the text alone, the answer is: We don’t know. My personal and  subjective opinion is that they were not, but that is based on what else we know about apostles in the NT and the culture of the day.

A third question, which I really think must be kept as an entirely different question is: Can a woman function in the ministry of an apostle today? I happen to come from a church that has had apostles, prophets, ect. for almost a hundred years. I have never heard of a husband-wife-team where both were apostles, and it would be extremely rare if it ever were to happen. However, I am prepared to accept that a woman today can function as an apostle the way I understand this ministry.

[Moderator note: a few comments on this post have attributed motives to others. Please do not suggest motives for certain interpretations or translations–see posting guidelines #2. In comments below words suggesting motives of others have been deleted while retaining the rest of each comment. Our discussions will proceed more objectively if we refrain from suggesting motives of others and if we refrain from ad hominem arguments. Just the facts, please! If enough comments do not follow the posting guidelines, they will be closed for a particular post.]

[Later from Moderator: comments on this post are now closed. It takes too much time and emotional energy for BBB bloggers to have to moderate comments so heavily. The posting guidelines are designed to make this a safe place for everyone to post their comments, including when we disagree with each other. But sometimes moderation is required because we are human. Alas, your fallible Moderator keeps fighting some of his old battles, as well. Oh, help us, Lord, because of ourselves!]

Which translation to choose?

Desert Rose asked (with some background):

I just found your website so this question has probably been covered and recovered but I think when it comes to questions about Bible translation I think it could still be asked.

I don’t think we can conclusively say that there is just one perfect translation. But I think that there are many who would stand by their translation as not only the best but the only translation especially the KJV-only group.

My question is: can you give a good analysis of why one might choose (specifically) the NIV, NKJV or HCSB over against the others?

When I was saved I only was given the KJV but then was given a NIV and used it exclusively until about 10 years ago when I started to use the ESV. I have since gone back to the NIV but have been using the NLT and the HCSB more as supplements.

Now I have joined a new church and the pastor is decidedly NKJV and somewhat tolerates my reading from these other versions.

I’m not trying to oppose him but I feel that he (and others in the congregation) hold to this KJV/NKJV mostly out of tradition and not true scholarships. They certainly do not see how hard it is for new people (the few there are) to read and comprehend the KJV or even the NKJV when it is read.

Would you say that the NKJV is a good translation to use? Does it really matter that it’s base document was the Textus Receptus and not the one’s used for the other modern translations?

Can you offer any thoughts comments on this?

Yes, I agree with you on the points you raised. No translation is perfect. Some people prefer a very literal translation like the NKJV, ESV or HCSB. They probably do that because they think these are the most accurate translations, because they are close to the grammar and structure of the original text in Hebrew or Greek. The downside of this feature is that they are not using normal English and therefore can be difficult to understand, especially in the New Testament Letters. People may also prefer these translations if they grew up with a literal version. Familiarity is important for some people because it gives a sense of security. However, familiarity with a text does not mean that one necessarily understands it.

Other people prefer a translation that is readable and understandable. This kind of translation has many names. They may be called dynamic equivalent, idiomatic, meaning-based or communicative. The difference is that this kind of translation will focus on bringing the meaning  across in a new language and not necessarily follow the form. Examples in English are the New Living Translation, Good News Bible, Contemporary English Version, New Century Version, and God’s Word. The NIV is somewhere in the middle, but closer to the literal side than the meaning-based side.

Much work has been done in the last 60 years in linguistics, communication and translation studies. Professional translators today all produce meaning-based translations, but some Bible translators and many pastors still prefer the literal type, partly because of tradition, partly because these translators and pastors seldom have training in linguistics and translation principles. Another aspect is what the majority will pay money for.

My evaluation as someone who has worked for the last 30+ years with meaning-based translations of the Bible is that the NLT is the most accurate translation of the Bible in English today (even though it is not perfect). When I say accurate, I mean in terms of communicating the intended meaning to a modern audience. The literal versions like NKJV put a smoke screen over the original text and thereby lose too much of the intended meaning.

That the KJV and NKJV is based on a slightly different Greek text is not nearly as significant as the different approaches to translation used by the KJV (NKJV) and, say, the NLT and GW.

Maybe others would like to comment or add their perspective?

Arthur Sanders Way, Bible translator

I have recently been made aware of an interesting translation of Paul’s Letters (plus Hebrews), done by Arthur S. Way and published in 1906. He was a Greek scholar who translated several of the Classical Greek works. His translation of Paul’s Letters can be found through this link.

His preface is well worth reading. I’m going to cite three small sections from it:

Conceding all that is urged in praise of the dignity and beauty of the Authorised Version, and the charm of its rhythm, it can hardly be denied that, if the first requisite of a translation is that it shall convey with absolute clearness the meaning of the original, that version is in many parts of the Epistles far from adequate. If a student handed in such a rendering of a passage of Thucydides or Plato, as the Authorised Version supplies (to give but one instance) of 2 Corinthians 10:13-16, he would be told by his tutor that he did not understand his author.

We often hear the clergy complain that to the mass of their hearers the doctrines and claims of their religion seem to be something unreal, outside their lives. May not this be in some measure due to the literary form in which those doctrines, which are elaborated by St. Paul, and by him only, are presented to them in his writings?

Still, I would deprecate the name of ‘paraphrase’ for my version, since my aim has been to follow the original closely, trying to bring out the full meaning, and even suggestion, of each word, deviating only when, to convey the significance of a passage, some expansion seemed advisable.

Niv2011 and Luke 7:28-31

At the beginning of Luke 7:31, TNIV and NIV2011 inserted some words which correspond to words that are only found in some inferior and late manuscripts that KJV appears to follow. The words are: “And the Lord said,”. These words are found in Stephanus’ Greek text, and also in the Geneva Bible, although not in Tyndale’s NT, since they are not in the Vulgate.
NIV probably did not follow Stephanus, but rather added the words based on the dubious interpretation that verses 29-30 is a comment by Luke rather than a portion of Jesus’ speech.

It is extremely unusual in Greek to start or continue a speech after an author comment without a speech introduction. The older NIV, following RSV, inserted an end of quote marker at 7:28, a parenthesis marker at the beginning of 29 and at the end of v. 30 and then a beginning quote mark at v. 30. The original Greek, of course, had no such markers, so this is an interpretation.
Although verses 29-30 do not occur in the parallel section of Matthew 11, that is not sufficient reason to assume that the words are a comment of Luke rather than the words of Jesus. Luke had other historical resources available to him than the book of Matthew. There are words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 21:31-32 that are similar in content to Luke 7:29-30, and there is no good reason to assume that these words in Luke were not part of the speech of Jesus.

Once the translators have decided that these words are from Luke, probably based on the KJV tradition, which is based on an inferior Greek text, then they add other words not in the text and mistranslate others. So, NIV says: “(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) 31 Jesus went on to say,…” The part with ”Jesus’ words” is not in the text, and what is implied from context is John and his message, not Jesus’ words. The translation of the aorist participle ”having been baptized” as a reason clause is dubious. The main verb is ”vindicate” and the two aorists indicate what went before the main verb. First they heard, then they were baptized (believing John is implied between these two events). The baptism was a means by which they indicated that they believed the message and that God was right in giving that message to John. Basically they are saying: ”You are right, God. We need to repent.” I don’t complain about NIV’s ”acknowledged that God’s way was right” although it is quite a lot of words to use to express ”justified God”. I do object to NET’s and CEB’s ”acknowledged God’s justice”.

In the preceding context Jesus has been commending John for the importance of his prophetic message of repentance (which people like the Pharisees rejected as the following text talks about). Verse 29-30 then says in a literal rendering from Greek: “And all the (common) people and the tax collectors having heard (him = John, or it = the message of John) and having been baptized with the baptism of John, vindicated God, but the Pharisees and the law-people not having been baptized by him, pushed aside God’s purpose/plan for them.” V. 31 then continues: “So (Greek: OUN), what shall I compare such people to…” referring to the Pharisees and law-people who refused to accept God’s plan and purpose for them.

In v. 29 we find the same word as in v. 35. “vindicated/justified”. In both contexts it refers to people who hear a message, believe it and act upon that belief. The common people and tax collectors who heard John’s message of repentance, accepted their need for repentance and were baptized. In so doing, they vindicated God and the message he had given his great prophet. The Pharisees and law-people had a different response. They did not believe that John was a true prophet, or at least they did not accept their need for repentance. Since they did not believe, they were not baptized by John and therefore put aside God’s good purpose and plan for them.

Unfortunately, this clear and simple message is clouded by so many English versions, including the newer ones like NIV2011, CEB and ESV. It doesn’t matter whether these versions belong to the literal or idiomatic camp, since they are all based on an interpretation and tradition that goes back to KJV or even further back. In this particular case the NIV2011 is more interpretative and misleading than the NLT.

NIV 2011 on Matt 11:12, 16 and 19

I am happy to see that the NIV2011 has kept the TNIV rendering of this verse as opposed to the old NIV. It says:  “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.”

While it is not clear to me what raiding the kingdom of heaven means, I suppose the readers may get the idea of people attacking it and trying to get rid of it. The Greek verbs are present tense, which is lost in the RSV and other versions influenced by it, like NIV2011. Herod stopped John the Baptist from announcing the kingdom by putting him in jail, and Jesus has many opponents in these chapters of Matthew. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians opposed Jesus for each their own reasons. What they had in common was a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah as well as much of his teachings and actions. The English “until” is also misleading, but that is another topic in itself.

I am not really surprised (though a bit disappointed) that the NIV2011 is close to TNIV and still essentially a literal translation, but this verse is one place where NIV2011 is better than NLT and most other English versions.

V. 16 is very unclear and misleading: “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others.” Jesus often used a special phrase to refer in an oblique way to those in his audience who lacked faith and opposed him. The phrase has come into Greek as τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην. The phrase does not mean this generation. For any who are interested, there is an article about it called Who is this generation? here. Jesus is referring to those opponents who are attacking both John the Baptist and himself in various ways.

The introduction of the parable is also misleading. The parable or illustration talks about two groups of children. One group is inviting another group to either a festive or sombre event. The other group refuses to join them in both cases. The festive invitation is from Jesus: listen to the good news of God’s kingdom, while the sombre  invitation is from John the Baptist: Repent and turn from your sinful life! The children who refuse are a picture of the people characterised as “this generation” (i.e. some people). They accuse Jesus of being a glutton and drunkard, and accuse John of being crazy. They will not join either of them.

Finally, in v. 19, NIV2011 says: But wisdom is proved right by her deeds. One problem here is with the genitive her deeds. A person or the personified wisdom can not testify about itself. It is not wisdom who does any deeds/actions. It is people who act as a result of hearing words of wisdom. It is a genitive of source, acts resulting from wisdom. The parallel in Luke 7:35 has “all her children”. It may well have been a proverbial saying. The intended association with children is probably obedience as well as likeness to parents. A possible translation could be: And wisdom is vindicated by those who follow it. (I am sure an English speaker could do better.) Even though there are many who reject the wisdom of John and Jesus, there are some who believe and follow the wisdom they brought, and it is those people who will realize that it was in fact wisdom. They will understand that John was not crazy, and Jesus was not a glutton and drunkard.

Rom 3:31

We (i.e. Peter and I against Yancy and Mike) have reached a dead end on Rom 4:1, so I want to step back to the preceding verse which is difficult as well as ambiguous. I am not satisfied with the traditional treatment of this verse in the commentaries nor the traditional translations, although the translations vary quite a bit.

The Greek text is: νόμον οὖν καταργοῦμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ νόμον ἱστάνομεν.

A literal version may be: Do we then discard “law” through/by way of the faith? Not at all! Rather, we make “law” stand.

If this verse is read out of context in a fairly literal translation, as most people do, it is difficult to understand. Part of the context is that Paul is writing to Jews in Rome. Another part of the context is the way the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. A third part is what Paul is writing elsewhere on this topic.

1. What is  NOMOS (law)? The Hebrew scriptures (Tanakh) were and are commonly divided into three parts: The Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. The Torah consists of the “Five books of Moses”. The word basically means “teaching” and it refers to God’s teaching where Moses was a key person in receiving this information and giving it to the Israelites. In the LXX, Torah is normally translated by NOMOS, and this gives rise to the first ambiguity: Does NOMOS refer to the Torah or more specifically to the 10 commandments and the other laws, rules and regulations? To answer that question, I believe it is helpful to refer to the introduction of this section, namely v. 21. It is common in Jewish/Hebrew thoughts and writing to have an inclusio, i.e. the first and last part of a section overlap lexically and semantically. In v. 21 we read that now (after and with Christ) there is a new kind of righteousness from God (cf. Rom 10:3) which has been revealed, but it was already testified to (prophesied about) in the “Law and the Prophets”.  Because of the coordination between “Law” and “Prophets”, I am suggesting that “Law” (NOMOS) both in verse 21 and 31 is intended to refer to the Torah.  It so happens that the Torah also contains a number of prophecies about the coming Messiah. One of the most famous ones is found in Deut 18:15-18. It is quoted several times by various NT writers. Paul quotes two times in chapter 4 from the Torah. Genesis contains several important prophetic promises to the Patriarchs.

2. What is meant by “through the faith”? I suggest that it refers to this new way of becoming accepted by God (righteousness), namely through faith in Jesus as the Messiah (and through faith in his “blood” (v. 25), that is, his atoning death.)

3. Does this new way to righteousness mean that we should just throw the Torah away? The Jews in Rome would be very upset if that was the case. The Greek verb is translated variously: make void (KJV), overthrow (RSV), nullify (NIV), do away with (GNB), destroy (CEV), forget about (NLT). But is Paul contradicting himself? He used the exact same Greek word in Eph 2:15:  “by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances” (RSV). In Ephesians his main audience are the Gentiles, and here he is talking not about the Torah as a whole but the laws and commandments it contains. He is specifically thinking about how to become accepted by God and join the new people of God, so that believing Jews and Gentiles become one people. This is not a result of trying to keep the commandments and ordinances in the Jewish laws. It is by grace through faith you are saved (Eph 2:8).

4. What does it mean to make the Torah stand? The Greek verb used is very common, 155 times in the NT. However, this is the only place in the NT where it is used in the present tense. Present tense forms of the verb do occur occasionally in the Septuagint, but most of the time it is in the literal sense of placing a person or thing at a particular location. I have only been able to find one place where the present tense form is used and the context is similar to here, and that is in Isa 44:26. Here God is described as the one “who confirms the word of his servant” (RSV). NET says: “who fulfills the oracles of his prophetic servants”.  My suggestion is that the word has a similar sense in Rom 3:31, to fulfill or make come true or confirm the truth of it. It does not mean to establish or uphold the law as a set of laws. In prophetic language, if a prophecy or a promise “falls to the ground” it has failed to come true. If it stands, it is fulfilled.  So, my proposal is that Paul is here saying that “we” as Jews who have come to believe in Jesus the Messiah are not abolishing or throwing away the Torah. Rather we are fulfilling its intentions, we are in a new and better way doing what God wants us to do, and that is the basic meaning of “righteousness”. Paul comes back to that thought many times, including in Rom 8:4 and 13:8-10.

As far as translations go, I am dissatisfied with them all. I am no defender of translation traditions.

Rom 4:1

This verse has been cited as an example of the challenges of Bible translation, so I thought it would be helpful to approach the question of accuracy in translation and some of the linguistic and theological assumptions we bring to a text by looking at the verse in some detail.

Step 1: Deciding on the Greek text.

There are several differences in the textual tradition, but let me limit myself to the two major competing ones:

NA: Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν εὑρηκέναι Ἀβραὰμ τὸν προπάτορα ἡμῶν κατὰ σάρκα;

Byz: Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν εὑρηκέναι κατὰ σάρκα;

My focus here is not textual criticism, so I won’t go into the reasons for my conclusion that the NA is most likely to represent the original text, and therefore is the text I as a translator shall work from. In this case, however, there is no significant difference in meaning between the two text options.

Step 2: What does this text mean.

A very literal word-for-word rendering (which I would not call a translation) is: What then shall-we-say to-have-found Abraham the forefather of-us according-to flesh?

Few people would call this an accurate translation because it violates the grammar and usage of the English language. It is at one extreme end of the translation spectrum. In fact, one should never first make a literal rendering into another language and then base one’s exegesis on that literal rendering. Rather, we need to look carefully at the Greek text in its context before even attempting a translation.

The sentence is a rhetorical question of the kind that I call a pedagogical question. Its function is to introduce the topic of how Abraham came to be considered a person whom God could accept in the sense that he did what was good in the eyes of God. In theological jargon: How was he justified? The translator needs to consider whether the target language prefers to use a question or a statement to introduce a new topic. It is possible that in some languages it would be better to start off with: Let me take our forefather Abraham as an example. What was his experience? This is somewhat similar to what GNB and NLT have done.

The discourse connector is οὖν. It links the preceding verse(s) to the new topic that Paul is introducing. It basically denotes consequence, but here it is not a logical consequence, but rather the next step in the argumentation. Therefore “therefore” is not appropriate as a translation, but “then” is fine as most English versions have. A few have made it implicit, since English is a language (and culture) with assumed linear and rational progression of thoughts – unlike Hebrew. Both options are acceptable.

The main verb is “we-shall-say”. The “we” is a pedagogical “we” which goes well with the pedagogical question. The purpose is to include the hearer/reader in the thinking process. If the pedagogical question is kept in translation, the “we” can probably also be kept. If not, it may be better to use “I”. Some languages distinguish an inclusive “we” referring to speaker and addressee and an exclusive “we” referring to the speaker and associates but excluding the hearer. This means that the translator needs to make a decision about which form to choose.

The verb “to say” often has a content clause which in Greek sometimes is indicated grammatically by an accusative with infinitive. This is the case here. In this content clause, Abraham is the subject and “to have found” is the corresponding verb. I don’t have access to the article by Hays, but it appears he has suggested that a possible translation is “(What shall we say?) Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?” However, this is not a possible rendering of the Greek text, and certainly not accurate. In addition, it makes no sense whatsoever. I do not know what kind of assumptions lie behind it, but I did find another link here. If I remember correctly, N.T. Wright followed Hays down this wrong path, and even God’s Word translation was carried away. In English a content clause is introduced by “that”, and that is what we find in most English versions.

The verb in the content clause has the basic sense of “find”, but it is often used in the extended sense of “discover, consider, experience”. The most literal versions like the KJV tend to be consistent in translating the same Greek word with the same English word. Some people consider this a mark of accuracy, but in fact it is based on a lack of understanding of how language and communication works. It is a betrayal of basic communication principles.

The subject Abraham has an apposition “our forefather according to flesh”. A common contrast in the words of Paul is between the spiritual (PNEUMA) and the non-spiritual (SARKS). However, the non-spriritual has two different senses or applications: The physical or the ungodly. In this context, the sense is the physical. This is mirrored in another contrast that is common in the words of Jesus, Luke and Paul, namely the physical “sons of Abraham” and the spiritual “sons of Abraham”. All Jews consider themselves to be physical descendants of Abraham. He is their forefather, progenitor, founding father. All believers in Jesus are considered in the NT to be the spiritual “sons and daughters of Abraham” (Lk 3:8, 13:16, 19:9, Rom 9:8, Gal 3:7 etc.).   Paul is in Rom 4:1 speaking as a Jew to other Jews who have a high regard for the patriarch Abraham as the founding father and prime example of a person of faith. It is an opinion they share, whether they believe in Jesus or not. So, Paul is creating rapport with his audience.

How to translate “according to flesh” depends on your translation philosophy. Those who see translation as a springboard to the original words for those who do not know Greek, will prefer to keep the literal “flesh” even though it is not how anyone would ever say that in normal English. Those who prefer a meaning-based translation that follows normal translation principles, will use a word like “physical” or they may decide to make it implicit in “forefather” as the NIV has done. In translation, you do NOT need to translate every word as long as the meaning is clearly communicated by other words. The word “forefather” implies physical descent. NLT uses “humanly speaking” which I consider an inappropriate carry-over from the Living Bible.

Iver Larsen

Genitives and the semantics of love and faith

The question is often asked: ”Is this genitive an objective or a subjective genitive?” I am going to suggest that this is an old-fashioned and unhelpful question, which can lead to questionable conclusions. It is based on the grammatical concepts of subject and object and it was asked long before people started to talk about semantics.

I am saying it is unhelpful, because it is too restricted. In terms of syntax there are three kinds of potential participants in a clause. They are best illustrated with a common ditransitive verb like ”give”. A gave B to C. A is subject, B is object and C is indirect object. In terms of semantics for ”give”, A would be the Agent, B the Patient and C the recipient. In semantics we operate with a bigger set of roles, including Experiencer, Location, Source, Goal, Direction, Instrument, Beneficiary, Recipient. Different theories of semantics operate with slightly different sets and the borderline between the roles are at times fuzzy.

Sometimes people ask about a phrase like ”the love of God”, is it a subjective or objective genitive? But quite often it is neither.  In a clause like ”I love you”, it is more interesting to ask what are the semantic roles than what is subject or object. Is the subject an Agent? Is ”love” an action? Or a feeling or an attitude? It seems to me that the subject expresses the role of Experiencer. This semantic role is somewhere in-between Agent and Patient, probably closer to Patient. When I say ”I am in love”, or ”I love you” I am describing my feelings, not my actions. So, if the grammatical subject is Experiencer, what is behind the grammatical object? I would suggest the role to be a Goal or Direction. My love is directed towards ”you”. Similarly, in the phrase ”the love of God”, God might be the Direction (A loves God) or the Experiencer (God loves A) or the Source (love from God).

The Greek verb πιστεύω is usually translated by ”believe” or ”trust”. A few times it corresponds to ”entrust”.  In the sense of ”entrust” it may take an accusative direct object and a dative indirect object in Greek (e.g. John 2:24, Luke 16:11), but it never has an accusative object in the common sense of ”believe, trust”. I suggest that the subject is best described as Experiencer and the ”object” for belief is the semantic Direction. The Direction can be expressed in different ways in the grammar.  The most common Greek preposition used is εἰς, and this is understandable since εἰς indicates Direction. A quite rare preposition with πιστεύω is the Greek ἐν (Mark 1:15, John 3:15).  In Koine Greek a prepositional phrase with ἐν is often equivalent to a simple dative, and we find that the ”object” for faith is often expressed in the dative, especially if it is a pronoun. This is understandable since the dative is often connected with the semantic roles of Direction, Goal and Beneficiary.  It is common to have a mismatch between semantic roles and grammatical cases. One case may correspond to several roles, and one role may correspond to several cases or prepositions. Another preposition used with this verb is ἐπί (Matt 27:42; Luk 24:25; Acts 9:42, 11:17; 16:31, 22:19,; Rom 4:24,9:33, 10:11; 1Tim 1:16; 1Pet 2:6). Again, ἐπί with accusative often indicates Direction or Goal.

Now, when a noun is used rather than a verb, all semantic roles are made implicit and must be deduced from context. In order to indicate at least one of the roles, another noun or pronoun is often connected to the first noun by way of a genitive construction. The genitive in itself does not determine whether the second noun functions as Experiencer or Direction. In the case of a genitive pronoun, we find the following:

1st person singular: faith in me (Jesus speaking) – Rev 2:13, my faith – Rom 1:12

1st person plural: our faith – 1Jn 5:4 (once in NT)

2nd person singular: your faith – Matt 9:22 etc. (11 times in the NT)

2nd person plural: your faith – (24 times in NT)

3rd person singular: his faith – (Rom 4:5), faith in him – (Eph 3:12)

3rd person plural: their faith – (4 times in NT)

In each and every case the Direction for this faith is Jesus or God. Only two places do we have the pronoun in the role of Direction. That all the others are what is traditionally called ”subjective genitive” has nothing to do with the grammar or semantics, but is what is to be expected pragmatically. Faith is assumed in these contexts to be faith in Jesus and different people can have faith. In a few cases the role of Direction is explicit by way of a prepositional phrase, e.g. ἐν (1 Cor 2:5, Col 1:4), εἰς (1 Pet 1:21; Col 2:5) and πρός (1 Th 1:8), but it is rarely necessary to make this explicit.

If we look at those cases where no pronoun or genitive is involved, we find the same three prepositions (εἰς, ἐν and ἐπὶ) used to indicate the Direction role:

Acts 24:24 περὶ τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν πίστεως about the faith in/towards Christ Jesus.

Rom 3:25 διὰ [τῆς] πίστεως ἐν τῷ αὐτοῦ αἵματι through (the) faith in his blood

Gal 3:26 διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ through the/our faith in Christ Jesus

2 Tim 3:15 διὰ πίστεως τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ though a faith that is in/towards Christ Jesus

Heb 6:1 πίστεως ἐπὶ θεόν faith in God

We found with the verb form that the dative case was used more often than a prepositional phrase, and in the case of a noun plus genitive we find that a genitive is also more common than a preposition.

These cases are somewhat debated, because it is a matter of context whether the genitive indicates Experiencer or Direction or even Source. One would need to look carefully at the context, and I am only giving references here:

Mark 11:22 πίστιν θεοῦ – probably faith in God (possibly Source)

Rom 3:22 διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ – probably through faith in Jesus Christ

Rom 3:26 πίστεως Ἰησοῦ – probably faith in Jesus

Rom 4:12  πίστεως τοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν Ἀβραάμ – the faith of our father Abraham

Rom 4:16 πίστεως Ἀβραάμ – the faith of Abraham

Gal 2:16 διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν – through faith in Jesus Christ, and WE have come to believe in Christ Jesus.

Gal 3:22 ἵνα ἡ ἐπαγγελία ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοθῇ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν – so that the promise based on faith in Jesus Christ could be given to those who believe (in him)

Php 1:17 τῇ πίστει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου – probably a genitive of Source, the faith that is contained in and brought by the Good News

Php 3:9 μὴ ἔχων ἐμὴν δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐκ νόμου ἀλλὰ τὴν διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ, τὴν ἐκ θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην ἐπὶ τῇ πίστει – not having a righteousness of my own which is based on (keeping) the law, but the (righteousness) that (comes) through (having) faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on (us having) faith (in Christ)

Col 2:12 διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐνεργείας τοῦ θεοῦ – through faith in the (powerful) operation/working of God

Rev 14:12 οἱ τηροῦντες τὰς ἐντολὰς τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὴν πίστιν Ἰησοῦ – those who keep/hold on to the commands of God and the/their faith in Jesus.

As can be expected, when the genitive refers to a person (like Abraham), the genitive indicates the Experiencer (”subjective genitive”), and where the faith is directed towards Jesus or God or an activity of God then we have the role of Direction.

Some people have argued that a ”subjective genitive” is possible in some of these constructions as long as we understand πίστις to refer to ”faithfulness” rather than ”faith”. Normally ”faithfulness, trustworthiness” is expressed by the adjective πιστός, but πιστός can occasionally also mean ”a believer” and πίστις can at times mean ”faithfulness”. There is one genitive construction where the context demands this sense, namely Rom 3:3:

εἰ ἠπίστησάν τινες, μὴ ἡ ἀπιστία αὐτῶν τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ καταργήσει;

If some were unfaithful, surely their unfaithfulness does not obliterate God’s faithfulness. Here the contrast is between the unfaithfulness of people and the faithfulness of God, a common topic in the Old Testament.  The faithfulness of God is not a common topic in the NT, because that is assumed to be a known fact. When the writer wants to remind the hearers of God’s faithfulness, the adjective πιστός is used. I have only found two places where the faithfulness of Jesus is being mentioned (Heb 3:2, Rev 1:5)

Stacks of bread

Recently I got an e-mail about the size of the holy loaves of bread in Lev 24:5-6 and the size of the table where the loaves were to be put (Exo 25:23). The person knew that the bread were BIG and the table was small. So, why do almost all translations say that the loaves of bread were placed in two rows with 6 in each row?

NIV: Set them in two rows, six in each row

ESV: And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile

TNIV: Arrange them in two stacks, six in each stack

GW: Put them in two stacks of six each

The table was about 1½ feet wide and 3 feet long. The bread were round and flat and about 4 quarts of flour were used for each bread. That does indicate a large bread, and there would certainly not be room for six loaves of bread side by side. The Hebrew word used here means an “arrangement”, and this particularly form is only used to refer to these holy loaves of bread. So, why do so many translations talk about rows? I don’t know, but it is clear that it should be stacks, six in each, in order to fit on the table. There is a nice picture here.

I am happy to see that both ESV and TNIV in this case have gone away from tradition in order to produce a more accurate translation.

Galatians as a hortatory text

There are different opinions about the chronology of the two sections of Galatians chapter 2. The discussions I have seen in various commentaries do not deal with the crucial matter of how a hortatory text is structured, and many people do not clearly understand the function of the Greek discourse connector DE which occurs in 2:11.

A hortatory text is intended to motivate the addressees to change their behaviour, and it is therefore very different from a narrative. In a narrative, the events are usually told in chronological order, but this does not apply to a hortatory text like Galatians. A hortatory text is not linear in structure, but has recursions, that is, it covers the same or similar ground several times in circles. Chronology is not important, but thematic progression is. The backbone of a hortatory text consists of four themes in ascending order of directness: 1. Stating the problem, 2: Building motivation for change, 3: Positive inducement for change and negative warnings about what happens if change is not forthcoming, and 4: Commands to change.

In addition, the text will usually have an opening and closing.

To illustrate a hortatory text, let me quote a short one I have from an African language, Sabaot, thanks to my friend, Fred Surai:

“My friend, I came early to your home (today) because of something that hurts me a lot. I have heard that they beat you yesterday to the point of bleeding. Well, when you drank beer last year, you got so drunk that you fell into the river. Had someone not seen you fall into the river, you would surely have drowned. Last year again, you beat your elder wife so much that you chased her away. Your home no longer looks like the home of a person. It is just like a deserted home. All your cattle you have sold and then you went to drink beer, and didn’t even buy clothes for the children. And if your wives talk to you, you beat them up.

My friend, you leave beer, please.

Well, the day before yesterday they beat you so much that you lost your teeth. Yesterday again, they beat you till bleeding.

Is this beer not enough for you? Or don’t you see that it is beer which is killing you? But if you think that maybe it is not beer which is doing all these things, then, okay, go on sleeping.

I really feel sorry for you, my friend! If I had had bad intentions against you, I would not have come this far to tell you to leave beer alone.

So, if you hear my words, please, you leave beer alone.

Just take a break for one year so you can see how your home will then develop. But if not, you are close to death. They will beat you to death, and it is beer which will have done it, not a person. I do know that when you are drunk, you don’t know what you are doing, and other people seem insignificant to you and you don’t care whoever they may be. You have picked a fight with everybody around here. No one has been left out. Is it not like that? Or do you want to say they started the fight? Even if you keep quiet all these deeds are yours. I know that while I am speaking like this right now, you are thinking, “Where can I find beer today to go and drink?” It is that very beer you are thinking of that is going to kill you.

So, my friend, these deeds of yours hurt me greatly. Please leave beer alone. If you are clever, you’ll listen to what I have said. But if you are stupid, do what you always do.

Good bye.”

Notice how the speaker shows empathy with his friend throughout. He gives several examples of the negative results of beer drinking, and these are not in chronological order. These examples state the problems associated with beer drinking. There are both inducements for change and warnings as well as commands. The request or command to leave beer drinking is repeated 3 times with growing urgency.

I’ll now give a brief sketch of some of the elements found in the hortatory text of Galatians:

1:1-5 Building rapport and trust (especially 1b). Problem hinted at: the core of the gospel, what Christ paid to give us freedom.

1:6-9 Problem stated: Fanatic Jews have caused you to almost desert the grace of Christ. Indirect warning: Such fanatic false teachers will be punished. (The rebuke of the Galatians is still indirect with focus on the false teachers.) This happened after Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch (Acts 14:26-28).

1:10-24 Building trust in Paul, his authority and his message. Paul received his message by revelation from Christ (11-12, 17, expands on 1b). He was not taught by Peter or the other apostles, even though Peter was a friend, who could fill him in on the life of Jesus. Paul builds rapport through his own testimony, and he gives himself as an example of a fanatic Jew. But he has changed now. (This is an indirect motivation for the Galatians not to go back to what Paul has left – sets the stage for 4:12.)

2:1-10 Building trust in Paul and his message and also building the case for non-circumcision of Gentile believers. Problem restated: Some fanatic Jews had come to Antioch from Jerusalem to preach a different “gospel”. Indirect suggestion: We did not give in to them for one moment (5), neither should you. Paul’s position and message approved by the highest church authority of  the time (6). Peter’s authority over the Gentiles downgraded, but Paul’s authority supported (7-9).

2:11-21 Problem restated with Peter as example. Some fanatics came to Antioch. Time not stated, but probably before the “false brothers” who occasioned the trip to Jerusalem. By rebuking Peter, Paul is indirectly rebuking the fanatics or false teachers who would not accept Gentile Christians without circumcision. By Paul refusing this teaching he is indirectly asking the Galatians to do the same. Up till now, Paul has only stated that this false teaching is in opposition to the good news he ahs been preaching and that those who teach it will be punished, whoever they are. Now he not only rebukes the great apostle Peter for aligning himself with this teaching, but he also explains in considerable detail why it is wrong. Paul’s speech starts in v. 14 and ends with v. 21. This long reasoned rebuke is placed immediately before Paul goes on to rebuke the Galatians in a similar way, explaining more about why this teaching is wrong.

3:1-5 Direct rebuke of the Galatians for having accepted the teachings of these fanatics. In order to support his refusal of this teaching, Paul explains in great detail the relationship between salvation by grace (Paul’s message) and salvation by law/works (the false teaching).

3:6-9 Inducement to accept the faith option: You receive the blessings of Abraham.

3:10-12 Warning: Judgment if you choose the law/works option.

3:14 Inducement: Blessing restated.

3:15-25 Inducement: Exposition of the advantages and blessings of the faith option.

3:26-29 Inducement: Blessing restated.

4:1-7 Inducement: Advantage of position of son over slave.

4:8-11 Indirect reprimand. Why have you gone back to slavery?

4:12a Appeal for change.

4:12b-16 Building rapport again with an indirect reprimand in v. 15.

4:17-18 Rebuking the fanatics again.

4:19-20 Building rapport again.

4:21-31 Inducement: Consider the blessings of freedom over slavery.

5:1 Command: Do not turn back to slavery.

5:1-12 Warning: By following the false teaching you are leaving the truth and the grace of Christ. You will then come under the same judgment as those false teachers.

5:13-6:10 Exposition about what the new life in freedom entails. This is an indirect response to the false teachers.

6:11-18 Conclusion including further inducement (16) and warning (17).

In this brief overview of the hortatory structure it is clear that chronology is irrelevant, but building up the case for change is important. Before Paul can rebuke the Galatians directly, he rebukes the false teachers who came to Galatia recently, he then explains about how he got the highest support for rebuking the false brothers from Jerusalem, friends of James, who had come to Antioch shortly before the Jerusalem meeting as described in Acts 15 and also in Gal 2:1-10, and finally he tells about how he had to rebuke Peter on the same issue. The people being rebuked have progressively higher authority with Peter being the highest, and only after having told about this rebuke of Peter, can Paul proceed to rebuke the Galatians. It is likely that the visit by Peter to Antioch would have been early in the history of that church. Peter would be curious to see this new development for himself, since he was the one whom God used to “open” the door for Gentiles to become Christians. It probably took place during the extended time that Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch (Acts 11:26). It was common for them to get visits from the main church in Jerusalem. One such visit is mentioned in Acts 11:27. It is unlikely that Peter would have acted as he did in Antioch after the matter had been extensively discussed and sorted out at the Jerusalem meeting. It is also unlikely that Barnabas would have been drawn into it, if it was after the watershed meeting in Jerusalem.

The main reason to suggest that Gal 2:11-21 happened after Gal 2:1-10 is the assumption that things ought to be told in chronological order, but as I have tried to show, such an assumption does not apply to a hortatory text. The problems and admonitions in such a text are rarely told in chronological order, since that would be irrelevant for building up the case for change.