Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Is “of” clear enough?

Here is a simple illustration of a subjective/objective genitive distinction, and also an illustration of translation philosophy in action.

Remember: if a noun is a subjective genitive, it is doing the action implicit in the head noun If it is an objective genitive, it is receiving the action.

John the Apostle says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father (ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ πατρὸς) is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Is πατρὸς doing the action in ἀγάπη or receiving it? Is the Father doing the loving, or is the Father receiving (our) love? There is little question contextually or theologically that it is objective, that it is our love for God.

But then the question is, do you make this explicit or leave it up the reader’s common sense? Your translation philosophy makes this decision. So the ESV-type translations leave it “of” (NASB, NRSV, NET, KJV), and the NIV-type make is clear (HCSB and apparently the NLT).

One of the basic rules of writing English (and perhaps any language) is to be a clear as possible (unless you are writing philosophy or poetry, or trying to impressive other academics). You don’t want the reader to have to work to understand your words or meaning. Among other things, this is why word choice is so important, and every good writer from George Ladd to Ernest Hemingway struggles to find just the right word. If you think exegetically it is objective, then why not make it clear? “Love for the Father.”