Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

An almost impossible translation conundrum (2 Tim 2:4)

I was asked a question at SBL by a person whose son is in the military. He said that his son, and many of his military buddies, objected to a specific translation. Seeing as how my son just joined the Marines, I thought I should pay attention to what they were saying.

The offending verse is 2 Tim 2:4. Paul is encouraging Timothy to persevere in his ministry in Ephesus, and in v 3 says, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” To illustrate the point, Paul lists three different vocations and how perseverance is critical: the soldier, athlete, and farmer.

Of the soldier, Paul writes: “No one serving in the military gets entangled in the affairs of daily life so that he pleases the one who enlisted (στρατολογήσαντι) him.” στρατολογέω is the word in question.

The man’s son (and, he claimed, all his military friends) objected to the translation, “one who enlisted him.” Their argument — and please read the entire paragraph before reacting — is that the military “knows” that the enlisting officers are not always truthful (that is stated mildly), and they have no concern whatsoever in pleasing that person. Rather, they deeply desire to please their commanding officer.

And, they added, the person who enlisted them is not always an officer.

I am aware of this stereotype of enlisting personnel, and I double checked with Hayden, my son. He insisted this is not true, and he found his enlisting officer to be everything a Marine is suppose to be: “honor, courage, commitment.”

But my friend’s son did really object to the idea of pleasing his enlisting officer. The problem, I said, is that this is what the word means. BDAG lists the meaning of στρατολογέω as “gather an army, enlist soldiers” (also NIDNTT). Unfortunately, στρατολογέω is a hapax, and I don’t have access to the source texts for the other references in BDAG.

Etymologically, the word appears to mean, “to gather for an army.” The first morpheme comes from στρατός, denoting a camp or army. Little Kittle gives these cognates.

  1. στρατεύω,“to undertake a campaign,” “to serve in the army.”
  2. στρατεία, “campaign” or “military service.”
  3. στρατιά,“army” or super-terrestrial “host.”
  4. στρατεύμα, “army division.”
  5. The individual on military service is a στρατευόμενος, and συστρατιώτης means “comrade-in-arms.”
  6. The στρατηγός is the “military leader,” who may also have high political importance in antiquity. The noun στρατηγία means “leading the army,” “tactics,” “the office of general,” and “generalship.”
  7. The στρατόπεδον is the site of the στρατός, i.e., the “camp” or “campsite.”
  8. στρατολογέω means “to enlist for military service.”

But here is the issue that makes this word so difficult to translate, and it is a cultural issue. I am told that the enlisting officer in the ancient world was also the commanding officer. In other words, the commanding officer and the enlisting officer may be the same person, and most decidedly a soldier wants to please his (or her) commanding officer. So how do you translate στρατολογέω?

Most translations go with some form of “enlisting officer” (NASB, ESV, HCSB [“recruiter”], NRSV, NET, NLT, KJV, NJB). The NIV is almost alone in choosing “his commanding officer” (also TEV). I was not on the CBT when “commanding officer” was chosen, so I am not privy to the argument why.

So two issues:

1. Does anyone out there know if the assertion is true or not that the enlisting officer in the ancient army was also the commanding officer?

2. If that is true, then how would you translate στρατολογήσαντι? Given modern stereotypes and the clear distinction between “enlisting” and “commanding,” how would you handle this?

Semper Fidelis!


"I don’t have access to the source texts for the other references in BDAG." Every single one of the references in BDAG is available through Perseus. (I checked.) Start from the entry in LSJ: Straight away this gives you hyperlinks to three of the five refs in BDAG, and from there you can get to the other two easily enough. English translations (of varying quality) are available for most, by clicking on the "Load" button on the right-hand side of the "English" section. The one English translation that's missing is for Dionys. Hal., but you can find one here:*.html The LSJ entry also gives you an additional reference to another work by Josephus. As always, be careful when working with these references, which come from differing periods in history. In this case, it's important to note that the composition of the Roman army varied over time in its mixture of conscripts and volunteers. (See, e.g., for details on this.) My five cents: the point in each of the three examples in 2 Timothy 2 is to please (or, at least, to work hard) in order to gain a reward. In the context of military service, the reward is one's pay. One must serve so as to please the person who will determine whether or not one receives one's wages. A 21st century US military recruiter is not such a person; once you're in, they have no control over your pay packet; you must please your CO if you want to get paid. PS Is there a way to break up my comment into paragraphs? Putting in blank lines doesn't seem to help, and HTML tags don't work.

Though it does not use the word in question, the Letter of Ignatius to Polycarp seems to contain an allusion to 2 Timothy that develops the analogy (with a hint of Ephesians 6 thrown in for good measure). See 6:2 "Please the one whom you serve as soldiers (στρατεύεσθε), from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism serve as a shield, faith as a helmet, love as a spear, endurance as armor. Let your deeds be your deposits, in order that you may eventually receive the savings that are due you." (Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, p. 267f.) On the last part, Holmes gives the helpful footnote: "The military metaphors of the preceding three sentences are continued. When soldiers were granted gifts of money, only half the sum due was paid out to them, the balance being credited to their account. These _deposits_ became the _savings_ due if and when an honourable discharge was received."

now that is an interesting/profitable footnote...We, too..are building our treasures in heaven, where moth and rust does not destroy, nor thief steal..Thank you, Lord...

In the Word Study New Testament [ keyed to the word study concordance, Arndt/GinGrich Greek Lexicon, Moulton & Geden Greek Concordance, Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament] 1978, edited by Ralph D. Winter, the verse reads " No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier" the HIM WHO HATH CHOSEN HIM is basically listed as #4748: Stratologeo= sigma,tau,rho,alpha,tau,omicron,lamda,omicron,gamma,epsilon(with accent),omega) [sorry - i haven't yet learned how to apply the greek font app to my keyboard ] which seems to me, when given in the surrounding context of being a soldier of Christ, your ref above in key pt 6 - military leader, the office of general, is their gist of the meaning..not a breakdown of the act of enlisting as much as the fact of the burden/responsibility of the consequence of being enlisted as a matter of fact.If this rendering is accepted as being a plausible interpretation of the text and the text surrounding lends context, Paul is seemingly not too worried about the mechanics of enlistment but the response of the enlistee.

You miss the Forrest for the trees, as they say. This verse has nothing to do with enlistment into any group. The Greek στρατιωτησ, translates as Soldier or member of a military unit. A soldier does not enthrall himself in the affairs of daily life as a civilian would. His job is to perform his duties as dictated by his commanding officer whom issues daily orders of the military unit they are assigned to. Therefore in this instance the solider is wanting to please his commanding officer. Just as we are to not let the world dictate how we respond to daily live and circumstances, we are to please Jesus and the Father (our commanding officer) in all things we experience in life. GOD be with all those that serve. From a former Marine ooh-rah! Semper Fi all service men and woman. We love you and daily pray for you.

In the workbook chapter 1-4 review P10, the word διαμαρτυρομενος ( meaning protestors)is presented for syllabification. After I broke it down I went to google translate to see how it was pronounced. Per Bill's instruction, I thought the word would sound something like this: di- am- ar-tu- ro- me- nos. 7 syllables. But when I listen to the translator on google it pronounces the word totally unrecognizable like this: vir-mar-te-ra me-nos. Additionally, when I shorten the word to διαμαρτυ ( meaning protest) it pronounces the word as vir-mar-te. Yet when I change the ending vowel from an upsilon to an iota the meaning totally changes but the pronunciation is very subtly different. I realize I did not begin this course to speak conversational Greek but how do I compensate for these seemingly impossible differences?

Don't let Google translate it. Ity is computer generated (I belive).