Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, October 14, 2021

What letter was Paul referring to? (1 Cor 5:11)

1 Corinthians 15:11 gives us a great example why it is important to know a word’s semantic range, and also my oft-repeated mantra that there is no random translations in any major Bible translation. There always is a reason, even though at times you have to look pretty hard to find it.


¶ Two things: The word "now" in English has the same range of meaning as νυν in Greek. For example, just Google "now." The definition that comes up is, "1. at the present time or moment," and "2. used, especially in conversation, to draw attention to a particular statement or point in a narrative." Now, that should be worth considering (pun intended). ¶ Second, the αοριστος "a-orist" tense does not specify any time or aspect/completion. Modern scholars with English language mindsets have made it out to be "past tense, except when..." with many complicated exceptions that were never specified by Greek authors, only English ones, as if English was the master language by which all other languages must be evaluated. Granted, most biblical aorists are found in historical narrative text, which in proper written English are written with English past tense but, again, this is not English and ancient Greek speakers did not talk like Englishmen! ¶ Therefore "I wrote to you..." and all the discussion about how many letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians is reading into the scriptures what is not there. It would be better to use the English present simple tense, such as when, if I informed you right now, "I play the piano," you would not assume any time or completion information out of that, especially since I am typing on a computer keyboard with my fingers at present. So, really, Paul says, "I write to you..." or "Now, I write to you..." And I play the piano, and that is a fact, plain and simple. ¶ If you don't trust a completely uncredentialed lay scholar such as myself, then I would refer to _Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research_ by A.T. Robertson, _Errant Aorist Interpreters_, by Charles R. Smith in the Grace Theological Journal 2.2 (Fall 1981), p. 205-226, and _The Abused Aorist_, by Frank Stagg in the Journal of Biblical Literature (1972), p.222-31, as a few examples that what I am saying is not unprecedented and has had ample discussion in academia.

Actually, I just thought of a consistency check: εγραψα is also the word used in Gal 6:11. So, to be consistent, you would need to translate that, "Behold what grand writings I wrote to you with my hand," compelling you to say that the Galatians of the New Testament is not Paul's first letter to the Galatians, and that he is speaking of a previous letter. But nobody translates that as past tense. They always translate and assume he is talking about this letter.