Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Difference between "prevent" and "hinder" (Rom 15:22)

Paul tells the Roman church that he has wanted to come to see them (and soon will), but that he has been "hindered" (NIV, ESV, NRSV, KJV, NET). The connotations of this word are interesting.

Other translations use "prevented" (NASB, HCSB), but the problem with this translation, at least to my ears, is the suggestion that someone stopped Paul.

The Greek is ἐγκόπτω, and it is used elsewhere of a person preventing something from happening. "For we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, time and again — but Satan hindered(ἐνέκοψεν) us" (1 Thess  2:18). "You were running well; who hindered (ἐνέκοψεν) you from obeying the truth?" (Gal 5:17). If husbands do to behave properly towards their wives, their prayers may be hindered (ἐγκόπτεσθαι, 1 Pet 3:7).

Paul himself could be the person hindering someone from doing something. He says to Felix, "But, that I may not detain(ἐγκόπτω) you any longer, I beg you to hear us briefly in your kindness" (Acts 24:4).

When we come to Rom 15:22, though, the use of "prevented" does not fit the context. It was no person who stopped Paul from visiting the Romans church earlier; rather, it was the needs of ministry to the west. The NLT gets it beautifully correct: "my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places."

One of the challenges of translation is to listen carefully to how other people will hear a word. What ideas are brought to their mind? This is why most translations are done by committee; collectively, they have a better chance of keeping idiosyncrasies from creeping into the text. It is therefore remarkable how successful J.B. Phillips was in doing his translation by himself.

I know there is a lot to learn in first year Greek, but certainly by second year we should be teaching students about word choice, and how different people hear words differently.


It is also the case that the translators need to know their audience because these kinds of problems occur even in the (supposedly) same language in different places. Words carry not only meanings, but connotations and these can be very different in different countries. I can still remember well the laughter caused in this country (England) when the first Living Bible came out and it was noticed that in the story of David hiding in the cave when Saul came in to relieve himself, the LB had it that he came in "to use the bathroom". Not a problem to an American, but here it conjures up the image of a cave with running water and all mod cons!