Being paid with what you got coming

Being paid is a good thing, right?

Maybe. Depends what you’re paid with. Being given your just reward is generally not a pleasant thing.

In an American idiom, “getting what you got coming” is not necessarily a good thing, either. Generally, the expression is rather negative and results in discomfort for the one given the…well…the “gift.”

So, what type of reward does one get in Matthew 6:5-6? It turns out to depend on which word is being used.

Refe, on our share page, asks:

I was translating Mathew 6 and came across some interesting terms in vs. 5 and 6.

In v.5 Jesus says this of the hypocrites: ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸν αὐτῶν.

And in v.6 of his disciples: ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ἀποδώσει σοι.

Both of the verbs used in these verses (apexw – ‘to receive in full’ and apodidwmi – ‘to pay what is due, to render account) seem to connote a sales transaction. Is this a reasonable reading of the text, or is it more appropriate to go with the softer semantic force of simply ‘to receive’ and ‘give’? If so, it seems to suggest that Jesus is presenting prayer as a kind of transactional process which adds an interesting color to the text.

Interesting question: Do ἀπέχω and ἀποδίδωμι frame the teaching in terms of a “business transaction”?

Here’s something more:

ἀπέχω appears to also have the sense of “to hold something/someone at a distance.”

ἀποδίδωμι appears to also have the sense of “return” or “restore” in the sense that when a transaction is complete, the former situation is restored.

So, could there be a bit more going on here than what translation usually convey?

The NIV1984 renders both words with ‘reward‘ which somewhat hides the distinction. I don’t want to distract from Refe’s question, but in this context, might “they have been paid, but kept at a distance” convey the sense well for ἀπέχω. And, “the Father will restore by paying the difference” convey the sense well for ἀποδίδωμι? I haven’t thought through these suggestions much. I’m just throwing them on the table to generate some discussion.

So, another question is: Could the original text be conveying some information about the resulting relationship between the debtor and the one to whom the debt is paid?

Thanks for the question Refe. For others who have asked questions on the share page….give us a little time. You are not missed! 🙂

Some Drum Rolls are Bigger

On December 27th, 2004 we noticed something big.  It was an explosion.  A big explosion. It was 50,000 light years away.  Our Ionosphere reacted to it (it had happened a bit earlier, of course).  If you were looking at the right place at the right time, it was as bright as a full moon.  If the explosion had been a mere 10 light years away, it would have stripped the protective ozone layer off our planet and we would have been radioactively fried.  To put this size in some perspective–if that is, in fact, possible when talking of such sizes–Voyager 1 has been traveling for 33 years, at an average speed of 37,360 mph, and it has only covered a distance of a minuscule 16 light hours (about the size of our solar system).  Fifty thousand light years is considerably farther away…to say the least.

Very least.

What I want to merely (relatively speaking) mention isn’t that big.  However, it might as well be.  It is remarkably rare for exegetes and Bible translators to talk about it.  Paradoxically, we rarely notice these large things.  Well, ok, I’ll ‘fess up (if no one else will):  we don’t look for it; we don’t deal with it.  It seems so far out there that we simply ignore it.

Why don’t we deal with the LARGE forms of a Biblical text?  I’ve often wondered why the formally equivalent side of the discussion, while focused on the forms of the original, remains focused on the words.  What about paragraphs?  What about sections?  Should we not also consider how to translate those?  Shouldn’t we, at least, work hard to find them, to define them?

I mentioned in a comment on the previous post (Little Drum Rolls) that there’s something else going on with Matthew 9:37.  I was thinking of larger drum rolls.  The thing I was referring to is a bigger thing than μὲν.  It’s the section that starts in Matthew 4 and ends in Matthew 9.

Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed, though I can’t find a link to the exact post, it had something to do with Jesus’ Missional purpose), several years ago,  noticed the delimiters of a major section in Matthew.  Linguistically, Matthew purposely and formally signals the section breaks.  He chooses his words (actually something a bit larger) to explicitly define the beginning and end of a section.

The problem for translation is that English doesn’t create section breaks in the same way.  If we just translate words, and not translate this bigger thing, we do not guide the reader along the same cognitive path which the original author intended.

Please consider the following observations.

1. Notice the identical wording Matthew uses at the beginning and the end of the section.

Matthew 4:23:

1) καὶ περιῆγεν
2)   ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ
3) διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν
-)    ἐν τῷ λαῷ

Matthew 9:35:

1)   καὶ περιῆγεν
-)   ὁ Ἰησοῦς
2)   τὰς πόλεις πάσας καὶ τὰς κώμας
3)   διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν

And who would argue that ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ (“throughout Galilee”) is sufficiently different from τὰς πόλεις πάσας καὶ τὰς κώμας (“through all the towns and villages”), especially since Jesus has “crossed over and came to his own town.” [9:1 NIV2010]  Matthew 4:23 and 9:35 forms an Inclusio-like device which brackets the entire section.

2. Notice Matthew 4:17 uses a temporal discourse marker: ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς (“from then Jesus began…”).  This is a Temporal Framing Device.  ἄρχω has obvious connotations of leading, too, as if Jesus is now taking the lead and beginning something he had not done up to this point–it’s a new beginning.   I wonder if one could translate the clause as “At this time Jesus set out to preach…”  Temporal Framing markers are important oral culture devices since they mark the discourse breaks in a text.

3. Notice the selection of disciples in Matthew 4:18-22 is mirrored in Matthew 10:1ff.  The earlier “calls the disciples”; the later “sends them out.”

4. Notice the thematic information between Matthew 5 through 7.  Isn’t this something very much like the inclusio-like statement:  διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς (“teaching in the synagogues.”)?  I would also say this is very much κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας (“preaching the good news concerning the kingdom”).  That will open up some theological tangents which I do not want to go down.

5. Notice the thematic information between Matthew 8 through 9.  Isn’t this predominantly the other inclusio-like statement: θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν (“healing every disease and every sickness”)?

These two themes are mentioned in Matthew 4:23 and again in 9:35.  Matthew is telling us what he’s going to tell us, he tells us, and then he tells us what he told us–a standard communication device.

As I mentioned above, the problem for translation is that English doesn’t create section breaks in the same way.  If we just translate words, and not translate this bigger thing, we do not guide the reader along the same cognitive path which the original author intended.  How can we solve this important issue?

As an aside, before I ask the question, Matthew 9:37-38 is a transition paragraph–it stands between the former section and the next one.  Because of its brevity and the way the μὲν…δὲ pair works, it’s quite “in your face.”  It’s clearly an thematic introduction to what follows next.

So, how do we translate this much larger drum roll?  How does English do it?  Are there ways of using words to do it?  Is it headings?  Is it typography?  How do we do it?

Little drum rolls

Katy Payne was standing in the Metro Washington Park Zoo in Portland, Oregon in 1984, watching the elephants.  She’s a Bioacoustics researcher, and she noticed something unusual.  Everyone else missed it.  In fact, everyone else always missed it.  Or, if they did notice it, they dismissed it.  ‘Dis’ or just ‘missed’, it was all the same thing.  Unseen.  Well, unheard, actually.  Unnoticed.  Definitely unnoticed.  But, she asked herself, “why is it here?”

The air would sometimes throb.  That’s a deep in the gut, gosh that’s weird, sort of thing.  Throbbing air is a bit unusual.  Most people don’t hear it.  In fact, no one hears it.  It’s more like no one feels it.  What people do see is filtered.  And what they don’t see is filtered out.  Thrown away.  Dismissed.  What’s thrown out is sometimes important.  She needed to ask.  So, she did.

Why was it throbbing?  Like a dull, resonant “hmmmmmm.”

Being trained in Bioaccoustics–in fact, in many ways, she has helped define the science–Katy Payne had honed certain skills which she uses to notice the acoustic things most people simply dismiss, if they see them, well, hear them, at all.  She noticed infrasound, sound with pitch too low for the normal human being to hear.  She had learned to not filter.  That’s hard.  But, as a good scientist, she had learned to “see” what most people throw away.  As they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

This elephantine discovery led to more research into how these grand, intelligent, beasts communicate and into their ability to communicate over long distances.  Elephant talk is really, really, like you ain’t heard nothin’ yet, really deep.  So, it travels quite well through the air.  It’s like elephant-sized bass, projecting a two or more mile bass melody to the not-so-near elephant friends.

If you can grasp the weight of what I’m saying.  Isn’t all discovery the seeing of what isn’t seen?  I think a truer statement has rarely been spoken.  And yet, weighty, if you think about it.

We have to learn to notice.

Discourse markers are weighty little things that so few people notice.  They’re like a bass carrier signal that carries the message forward.  Like a resonate hum that ties the text together into a cohesive unit, even spanning large textual (discourse) distances.

As a simple example (this is a blog post, after all), Steve Runge points to Matthew 9:37.  It illustrates a discourse marker which is apparently difficult to translate.  Perhaps we can do better.

τότε λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ὁ μὲν θερισμὸς πολύς οἱ δὲ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” [NIV2010]

How is μὲν being used?  Obviously, it’s part of a μὲν…δὲ pair.  But, Jesus could have simply said,

ὁ θερισμὸς πολύς οἱ δὲ ἐργάται ὀλίγοι

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

Imagine that!  Same translation.

But, there’s a μὲν here!!!  I can put my finger on it.

Hmmmmmmm.  That’s a deep in the gut, gosh that’s weird, sort of thing.

Maybe I can find a way of conveying the meaning without using a word; but, I can’t just filter it out.  I have to have a rational, sensible, linguistic reason for transferring the meaning into my language.  The original author had a rational, sensible, linguistic reason for including it in his text given his language!! What was it?

Why is the μὲν here?

Steve points out that μὲν is a forward-pointing device that works like a speed bump.  It’s designed to slow the reader down.  I’ve thought of it as a little, tiny drum roll, leading up to something big.  Quiet now…[the barely perceptible, low bass, throb, that only the trained seem to hear]…listen…here it comes.  The speed bump and the little drum roll cause the reader to slow down and focus.  It’s that sort of thing.

How do you translate that?

It’s a device that increases the intensity of both clauses since it signals anticipation.  It causes you to drive slowly over the text since something important is happening.  In this case, the μὲν clause and the δὲ clause become semantically bigger.  What device does that in English?

And notice what I’m asking.  I’m not asking, “How do you translate μὲν?”  I’m asking, “How do you translate the discourse function being performed by the word μὲν?”  The original author chose the word μὲν on purpose, in order to perform a particular discourse function.  How do we make that same thing happen in English, in this context, within this sentence?

Then speaking slowly to his disciples, he said, “The harvest is large…The workers are few.”

“Pray without ceasing”

What’s the best translation for 1 Thessalonians 5:17?

Pray without ceasing.

Pray continually.

Don’t cease praying.

Something else?

The Greek is, ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε. Short. Sweet. To the point.

What’s the point?

For ἀδιαλείπτως, lexicons have glosses like ‘unintermitting’, ‘incessant’, even ‘continuously’.  ‘Incessant’, in English, means “to continue, seemingly without an interruption.”  Is that what the sentence is saying?

If one searches for other places where the idea of unceasing prayer might occur, you’ll find the following three.  There might be others I missed.  If you find some, please comment with the reference.

Acts 12:5:

    προσευχὴ δὲ ἦν ἐκτενῶς γινομένη ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκκλησίας πρὸς τὸν θεὸν περὶ αὐτοῦ
    but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.[KJV]
    But the church earnestly began to pray for him.[My translation]

Luke did not use ἀδιαλείπτως here. He used ἐκτενῶς, and I think it is more likely in the sense of ‘earnestly’ or ‘eagerly’ than’continually’.

Romans 1:9:

    ὡς ἀδιαλείπτως μνείαν ὑμῶν ποιοῦμαι
    that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers[KJV]
    that I’ve never stopped thinking about you in my prayers.[My translation]

2 Timothy 1:3:

    ὡς ἀδιάλειπτον ἔχω τὴν περὶ σοῦ μνείαν ἐν ταῖς δεήσεσίν μου νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας
    that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;[KJV]
    that I haven’t stopped thinking about you in either my daytime or evening-time prayers.[My translation]

I think there’s an intensity inherent in the words ἀδιάλειπτος or ἀδιαλείπτως.  That’s why I like the more verbose stating the positive by negating the negative (“have not stopped”).

I think translating 1 Thessalonians 5:17 with the words “without ceasing” carry the idea of “unending, continuous prayer” to the English mind.  I think such an action is impossible and others think so, too.  So, they interpret it to mean “be in a continual state of prayer”.  However, that doesn’t seem to fit the other similar occurrences. So, I don’t think that is accurate.  I think the sentence should be translated as:

    Don’t stop praying!

Short.  Sweet.  To the point.  What do you think? And why?

Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (Addendum).

I had mentioned here in part II I would give my own opinion regarding the real world referent of πνεύματι?  I mentioned I would be short.  O!, well.

My reason for going down this pathway is simple:  the phrase “in [s/S]pirit” is not English and so there is no real referent for it.  And, by real I do not intend to refer to only those things of this world.  For example, demons and demonic activity are very real and we have English ways of referring to them.

The problem for translation, of course, is there are several views, not just mine.  Some of which have been expressed in the comments to this short series (and I thank each of you for how well you did in not taking us off track).  Because of these highly divergent views, we tend to acquiesce to a morpho-syntactic result (popularly known as a “literal translation”), somehow thinking that we’ve at least partially succeeded in translating.  What we’ve actually succeeded in doing is to introduce a huge degree of ambiguity into the text so that people can make the text say just about anything.  In other words, the real referent (as the modern reader understands it) must be constructed in the reader’s mind.  Unfortunately, in many cases, I question whether such a referent can be found in the original, interpretive context.  Questions I think of are:  Is it something the modern reader places in the text from their own interpretive context?  Is it a theological concept developed later in history?  That is, basically, is it simply anachronistic and eisegetic.  And, frankly, it’s incredibly easy to do, especially in cases like the text before us.

I’d like to quickly present a few different views and hopefully do it in such a way that I show respect for the different views.

Quaker worship is characterized by a waiting on the Spirit.  There are no presiding ministers within their meetings.  One or more people are moved to speak out of the silence which characterizes their meetings.  This movement is the result of a very careful discernment, a deep sense, of the Spirit’s leading.  The best English I can think of for this viewpoint is worship must be in a Spirit led manner.

A more Pentecostal view acknowledges the ongoing vitality of spiritual gifts such as tongue speaking and prophetic utterance.  The best English I can think of for this viewpoint is worship must be in a Spirit energized manner.

My view is that spirit refers to that aspect of a human being which is inherently non-self-centered.  When it is active it produces results such as love, joy, peace, self-control, etc.  So, it’s not referring so much to a “worship service” as it is to a “worshipful life.”[1]   Spirit is a psychological construct, though not one utilized by modern psychological frameworks.  It is supernatural, and so can not be directly observable through any kind of clinical study–we only see it’s effects. For the believer, because of regeneration, the distinction between Spirit and spirit becomes quite difficult.

So, I see Jesus reaching forward to much of Paul’s writings where Paul lays out what it means to live a life reflecting who God is. I see John building up the incarnational concept he’s been presenting since the beginning of the book.  That is, that true worship of God is seen not only in a Spirit filled Jesus that shows who God is, but in those who follow Jesus by stepping into the light, also being filled by the Spirit, and so their life reflects God and therefore reveals their worship.  Romans 12:1-2 comes immediately to my mind as well as a significantly sized portion of Ephesians. As mentioned previously, I think the best English for this is worship must be spiritual.

I also think this view ties in quite nicely with the other term used in the phrase, authentic. One can fake what the Spirit produces and thereby fake worship. So, Jesus adds, as this spiritual activity of worship is realized in one’s life in the real world, it must be authentic.

The question then is would the original audience, the Samaritan woman and secondarily, John’s intended audience, have understood ἐν πνεύματι in any one these ways (as well as potentially others I haven’t mentioned)?

For my view, I’m not asking that the Samaritan woman fully understood Paul!  I’m simply asking whether the woman (and secondly, John’s audience) would have understood πνεύματι to refer to a human aspect of her being that is to be fundamentally reoriented Godward in her life.

I might add that during my writing of the first two postings I chose must be spiritual since I thought that English could handle any of the above cases as well as others.  So, by using spiritual I’m not trying to fully explain my view in the translation by carefully choosing a single word, part of speech, or preposition.

Lastly, the process of discovering the English that conveys the original forces the analysis of where the referent is coming from.  It’s a very important question.  We’re forced to ask the question, Is the referent in my context, in the original context, or both?  And please note that the referent can certainly be theological.  But, can I reasonably expect the original audience to have or grasp the theological referent we’re assuming the original author intended?

For convenience here are back links to the short series:

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

Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (part II)

[1] This ties in with Jesus saying that people would not be worshipping in Jerusalem or this mountain.  As I mentioned before, the answer Jesus gives is not about geographic location.  If the answer has anything to do with location, the location is one’s life.

Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (part II).

A frequent prayer of mine, for I don’t know how many years, is, “Lord, make me so I worship you in spirit and truth, whatever that might mean.” I know from John 4:24 that God wants that. If I don’t know what the prepositional phrase means, I want to know what it means in my life even more than I want to know what it means in my head. I want God to know that, too. And I know that God knows the meaning of the phrase. And, whether I understand the phrase or not, I know I’m still deeply dependent on his help to weave that meaning into my life, even into who I am. Still, I’ve wrestled with the meaning for a very long time.

I started out with Worship in spirit and truth–John 4:24 (part I) and I’m heading to this result:

The worship of God by his worshippers must be spiritual and authentic.

How do I get there?

A.T. Robertson, in his BIG grammar says:

[Prepositions were originally adverbs]. This is now so well recognized that it seems strange to read in Winer that “prepositions e.g.often assume the nature of adverbs, and vice versa,” Giles puts the matter simply and clearly when he says: “Between adverbs and prepositions no distinct line can be drawn.”…Brugmann …adds that we cannot draw a sharp line between the use as adverb and the use as pre-verb or preposition. [pg 554]

Essentially, a preposition connects the phrase to something in the sentence adverbially—that is, it modifies it. The intent of using prepositions was to speak and write more clearly, to hone away any misunderstanding. Interestingly, even though he is speaking about Greek prepositions, Robertson points out that the Emperor Augustus was noted for his extensive use of Latin prepositions to increase clarity. He points out that one must first consider the grammatical case, then the preposition, then the context. The order is important.  He says the preposition was used to clarify the case meaning.

It’s when we transfer the result of that process over into English that we get into trouble.  We tend to think we have to “do it with a preposition.”  If the result is adverbial in nature, we have some leeway on our voyage to accuracy.

Generally, grammars convey that this adverbial function carried by the preposition is geometric. Many of us, I’m sure, have seen Machen’s diagram. Therefore, we very easily seek an analysis of ἐν which is always locative. Robertson’s discussion even supports this mindset. So, when considering the John 4:24 clause, we try to make worship occur in spirit and in truth. Therefore we go through extensive mental gymnastics to make sense of that. For me, that has never worked. I’ve tried.

Let’s look at some other examples (English text is from the NASB).

Matthew 11:21: πάλαι ἂν ἐν σάκκῳ καὶ σποδῷ μετενόησαν (“they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”). Does this repentance occur in the location of sackcloth and in ashes? Not really. The sackcloth and ashes are viewed as highly related to the repentance. This is the dative idea which the preposition strengthens and makes more clear. Compare Mat. 11:21 with the meaning of “repent in a car and the front seat” and you should see what I mean. This later is obviously speaking of location alone. Now, does that mean that the repentant person was not viewed as having put on the sackcloth? No, he or she was viewed that way—even though they might not have actually put on the sackcloth. The emphasis is not on the actual location; it’s on modifying the conceptual implications of the verb.

Luke 4:36: ὅτι ἐν ἐξουσίᾳ καὶ δυνάμει ἐπιτάσσει (“with authority and power he commands”). Is the power and authority in the commanding? Obviously not. The people were stunned by who this Jesus was. The power and authority are highly related to the commanding, but they did not exist in it; they existed in Jesus. Again, this is the dative idea strengthened by the preposition. There’s an adverbial relationship between the objects of the preposition and the verb.  In this case, the translators captured this by using ‘with’.

Luke 21:34: μήποτε βαρηθῶσιν ὑμῶν αἱ καρδίαι ἐν κραιπάλῃ καὶ μέθῃ καὶ μερίμναις βιωτικαῖς (“your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life”). Is the burdensome difficulty located in the drunken behavior and anxiety? Again, no. Though with some mental gymnastics you can make that work. It’s better to think of these occurrences in instrumental terms and not locative terms. I think it would be appropriate to translate this clause using ‘by’ instead of ‘with’.

To get a little closer to the words used in John 4, we can consider Luke 1:17: αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἠλίου (“he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah”). This can be easily rendered as, “He will go…with the same spirit and power as Elijah.” If you think very carefully about what you mean when you say, “going in the spirit of” you can see that using the phrase ‘with the same’ means essentially the same thing.

How does one say worship with one’s spirit in English? One can say just that. However, one can say the exact same thing by saying worship spiritually or one can say, the worship must be spiritual. The adverbial nature of the relationship is more clear without the preposition.

There’s still a question of what worshipping spiritually refers to in the real world. I’ll address that in a moment. But, at least we now have a clause that is starting to look like English.

As an aside, I’ve wondered whether Matthew 11:21 should be “ash permeated sackcloth”, Luke 4:36 should be “powerful authority”, Luke 21:34 should be “anxiety filled drunken behavior” (recall a primary driver to drunkenness is depression), and Luke 1:17 should be “powerful spirit”. That is, the two joined objects of the preposition should be thought of as a single concept. But, I’m getting off track.  I just bring it up here since it rather surprises me how often it seems to work quite well.

Let’s move on to ἀλήθεια (“truth”). I’ll not spend as much effort here.  As I’ve been mentioning, we have to connect the concepts to the real world.  This intentionally considers the Pragmatic features of the text (that is, it considers the words as they relate to the communication context).  We have to work through the Pragmatics of the original as well as the Pragmatics of the destination.

Conceptually, truth, authenticity, and integrity are related. Truth is thought of as more theoretical, more ethereal, more abstract. Don’t misread me; it can be relied on and in my epistemology, must be. However it is cognitive; it can’t have flesh and bones, it can’t be seen unless embodied in something. However, integrity and authenticity are truth practiced. When truth becomes embodied, it becomes integrity. Integrity and authenticity refer to the pragmatic (ie. practical, not Pragmatic) side of truth. These are when we see truth.

In our language it is more natural to talk about truth in doctrine or to talk of an axiom or thought that is true. However, when we talk about an action or a person, we talk in terms of authentic behavior or having integrity. Even in Bible translation topics, when we talk about an authentic translation, we’re referring not to the doctrine contained in the text.  We’re talking about how faithfully the translation has reproduced the original content in our real textual world, the one we hold in our hands.

Here’s an example of these two types of “truth”.  In their world the two types can be referred to with one word.  In our world, they are different words.

John 8:44: ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ οὐκ ἔστηκεν ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἀλήθεια ἐν αὐτῷ (“[The devil] does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.”). Notice the two different phrases. One is “person in the truth.” The other is “truth in the person.” What does it mean to stand in the truth? And what does it mean to have truth in you?

Let me ever so slightly change the wording of the NLT in John 8:42-47 so you can get your mind around a larger context (a conceptual metaphor) within which these phrases are used. My change is underlined:

Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has no authenticity, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.”

The whole argument here revolves around who is authentic—Jesus or the Jewish leadership. The leadership said they were the authentic children of God. Jesus answers by saying the devil isn’t authentic because he’s a liar, and since the leadership can’t even understand Jesus (who speaks and lives only the truth), that makes them liars, too. Therefore, they can’t be authentic children.

This argument rests on the difference between two expressions: the person who is in the truth and the truth that is in the person. The later refers to one’s understanding of what is true. The former refers to how the person lives out what is true. In our words, the later refers to truth, the former refers to authenticity.

Dealing with such a difficult to translate text deserves a much more thorough explanation. Certainly, it needs more proof. My intent here is to give people some linguistic meat to chew on. We won’t solve all the issues here. I certainly haven’t. However, I think it’s very important to notice a translation which doesn’t communicate. If a translation doesn’t communicate, then any argument that it is accurate falls to the side—how can it be accurate when no-one knows what the translation means? Or, how can it be accurate when it can mean so many different things to different people?

Well, more needs to be done. However, for now I’ve arrived at: the worship of God by his worshippers must be spiritual and authentic.

Ok, I had asked above what it was in the real world that worshipping spiritually referred to. So, you’re probably wondering, what’s the real world referent of πνεύματι?

To clarify that is the preacher’s job. 🙂

Tell you what, I’ll address that in another, very short, installment. It will be short since I’m going to simply express my own view. The reality of it, however, is that spirituality is a big topic. And the disjunction between modern psychology and anthropology and the same of 2,000 years ago is quite substantial. There is simply no way to capture the reorientation via a single word (or two) in John 4:24.  Many Christians disagree what spirituality means (which is why the posting will be short 🙂 )

Lastly, consider what I’ve said above by comparing it to Peterson’s translation in The Message.  Personally, I find it rather satisfying since I hadn’t seen this before I started writing these posts.

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” [verses 23-24]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, we have “must worship.”

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

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

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

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

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”

My son, age 8, is progressing through a workbook introducing him to Bible truths.  He came and asked me a question, since he was a bit puzzled how to answer the workbook’s question.  The topic in the workbook is “Giving God Glory.”  And it  references Psalm 29:2.  It asked, “What do you think it means to ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness?‘”

My son’s request for help was intriguing.  He said, “I know what it means.  But, I don’t know what it means.”

Obviously, the original text is poetry.  However, the translation follows the original language idiom.  I’ve often had the same response as my son did here to idiomatically foreign statements.  Like him, I see the English and can parse the English.  I can even diagram the English according to English grammar.  I can even let my mind basque in the supposed poetic beauty of such a text.  But, the question, “what does it mean?” remains.  Does the question of meaning come from the original poetry?  Or does it come from the idiomatically foreign rendering?

My question is:

How would you answer my 8 year old son?

Accuracy–what is it?

Accuracy is incredibly important when it comes to Bible translation–I believe it is the most important measure of a successful translation project.

But, what does accuracy mean?

There are lots of opinions; they are varied and many overlap. So, how to even start the discussion is a discussion in and of itself. I’d like to start the discussion by asking a question about the question.

What are your underlying assumptions about the meaning of accuracy as it relates to Bible translation?

For example, let me state some of mine in order to:

  1. provide some initial content,
  2. and give some examples of what is on topic.

Here are five assumptions I make regarding the meaning of accuracy as it relates to Bible translation.   There are more; these are simply the ones I’ve thought of while composing this post.  Hopefully, these thoughts will be varied enough to stir the thinking, and yet focused enough to guide our discussion.

  1. The original documents were composed for a specific audience existing in space and time.
  2. Communication is a complex made up of objective and subjective elements.
  3. Accuracy is not absolute, but always refers to a qualitative measurement which falls within an audience determined, acceptable tolerance.
  4. The intended audience for a Bible translation constrains a definition of ‘accuracy’. For example, one type of translation helps the “reader” work with the original forms–accuracy is form oriented.  Another type stimulates cognition so as to approximate seamless communication from original author to modern audience–accuracy is meaning oriented.
  5. Generally, when a translator can influence an interpretive context, there are multiple ways of saying the same thing with a given language.

I’d love some responses from those who have been actively involved in Bible translation! Your practical insight will help our readership gain an appreciation for the underlying issues you wrestle with.

What are some of your assumptions?

Chesterton means what he says

On November 25, 1905, in the Illustrated London News, G.K. Chesterton wrote (emphasis mine):

I received a letter the other day asking me what I meant by saying that, when we read another man’s statement, we do not read what he says, but only what he means. Of course, this truth is subject to some possible modifications. I admit that if a man sends us a letter written in the ordinary Roman character but composed in Zulu language, it is then very likely that we shall see what he says, but be at some slight loss about what he means. But if a man is writing to us, as I imagine the majority of our correspondents do write to us, not only in a language which we use ourselves, but in an idiom and verbal custom which we use ourselves- if, in short, he is not only using our language, but using our language as we are accustomed to use it- then the general proposition holds good: we see what he means; we do not even see what he says. For instance, the letter probably begins “Dear Sir.” Now, if it had begun “Beloved Sir’ we should not have known in the least what the man meant. We should merely have been considerably astonished at what he said. Or, if he had begun his letter “Darling Sir,” we should in the same way have been very much struck by the actual expression used, but the meaning might not be immediately clear to us, especially if he went on to say that unless a remittance was immediately forthcoming, he should be obliged to put the matter in the hands of solicitors. You and I receive these threatening letters by every post; they choke up the front passages; yet it never occurs to us that there is anything funny in the fact that the man begins by describing us as “dear.” This is because we never actually read the word “dear” at all. We do not read what the man says; we only read what he means. And what he means when he says “Dear Sir” is not in the least what he says. What he means is, “Because I consider you an atrocious brigand and a disgrace to human society, that is no reason why I, in addressing you, should omit the customary ceremonials of a citizen and a civilized man.”

I trust this rough example will serve to illustrate the point which puzzled my correspondent. Many others, of course, might be given. I myself, for instance, can never manage to use the ordinary salutations such as “How are you?” or “Very well, thank you!” as if they had any meaning at all. I use them in an entirely ceremonial sense. If both my legs had been shot off by a cannonball and both my eyes blown out of my head with a bombshell, and my right arm lopped off with a sabre, and if the General of the opposing army were to pause opposite me and, nodding in a friendly way, were to say, “How do you do?” if I had any feeble voice to answer with, I should say, “Very well, thank you.” Similarly, if I had cut him up with a great sword and left him lying about the place in pieces, I should put to him the ritual query, and if he did not answer “Very well, thank you,” I should be enormously surprised. In the same way, when I meet men in the pouring rain I always say, “A fine day,” and sometimes they disagree with me, which upsets me a great deal. But this is all individual. The main point is, that when men live together in a society they soon learn the significance which the mass of that society attaches to certain words or phrases. They soon learn to pay attention to what people mean; and they soon learn to pay no attention whatever to what people say.

Hilarious. And so very true. Well, provocative to say the least.

Tell me, does he mean what he says, and say what he means? Or does he mean what he means by saying what he says?