Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Unexpected English Idioms (Phil 3:5)

Sometimes when translators go more word-for-word, they (unintentionally) use an English idiom that has a different meaning than the Greek. They can kind of sneak up on you if you aren't watching.


Hi Bill - thanks for the videos. Re expression X of Xs - I have a vague recollection of having heard that they might have come into English from a Hebrew superlative (eg the Holy of Holies)? Any truth to that idea?

¶ Excellent point. And if they translated it even more word for word, translating εξ as "out," "Hebrew out of Hebrews," then the English idiom loses its power as well. All the apostle Paul is conveying is that he is a Hebrew born out of Hebrews, i.e. pure bred by their standards. ¶ This particular idiom is pretty much inconsequential; there are also examples of those that do affect meaning and doctrine. For example, Rom 9:15, "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (KJV) That sounds like the English idiom for, "I will do whatever I damn well please." But in reality it is 'I shall be being merciful [ελεησω] to whom ever I may be being merciful [ελεω] and I shall be pitying [οικτειρησω] whom ever I may be pitying [οικτειρω]." In contrast to the English idiom, it is a promise of God's enduring faithfulness, that God will do (future tense, indicative mood) what he is opting now to do (present tense, subjunctive mood). In other words, if God chooses to exercise the option of mercy/pity, he will be faithful to keep exercising it.