Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Does και Mean "But"?

I had an interesting experience in church today. The pastor preached an excellent sermon on John 14:22-24 using the NIV. “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’”

He based a significant amount of the sermon on the “but,” and talked about how our expectations of things are not always the same as the Lord’s. As my wife Robin was following along in the ESV, she poked me and asked why we didn’t translate the “but.” I had my stealth Greek Bible with me and checked. “We didn’t translate using ‘but’ because there is no ‘but’ in the Greek,” I answered.

More accurately put, there is no specific word in the Greek that has the basic meaning “but.” But does that mean there is no”but” in the Greek? (This is a followup on my last blog that raises the question about accuracy, and whether it has to do with structure or meaning.)

The Greek test has, κυριε, [και] τι γεγονεν …, roughly translated, “Lord, and what’s happening ….”

At one level, the “but” is the NIV’s translation of the και, reading it contextually as a slight adversative, and this is certainly within the semantic limits of the word. But the real problem is the brackets. The textual evidence is pretty strong for the inclusion of και, but it is omitted by Papyrus 66, 75, and A B D, et al. It is included by Sinaiticus and a few others and hence the textual question.

When the Greek word is bracketed, it is dangerous to place too much weight on it, and certainly a sermon should not draw heavily from it. And if a preacher does not know Greek, a comparison of the other translations (ESV, NRSV, NET, NLT, HCSB) would show that the presence of the word is in question.

But is this the end of the matter? Not really. There is a good chance (I don’t know for sure, since I was not there) that the inclusion of “but” by the NIV has little or nothing to do with the bracketed και and much to do with translation philosophy. Look at the larger picture, starting at v 18. Jesus is not going to leave them alone; the world may not see Jesus, but the disciples will. When that happens, Jesus’ true followers will understand that to love him is to obey him.

Judas has a question, but it doesn’t have to do with the last thing Jesus said about loving obedience. In essence, he wants to skip vv 20-21 and go back to vv 18-20 and what they say about the world not seeing Jesus. How do you signal this in English? How do you help the reader see the flow of thought?

Perhaps the textually uncertain και gave them a clue. Perhaps the CBT said, if we do translate the και as an adversative, it will help readers see there is a disjunction between what Jesus just said and Judas’ question. Do they need to even have the και in the text to add in the “but”? Not with a dynamic view of translation where the most important thing is to convey not the structure of the Greek but rather the meaning of the author.

Assuming the και is not original, it is interesting to guess why the Greek scribes added it in. Perhaps they too felt the disjunction between what Jesus just said and Judas’ question, and a very gentle way to indicate this was to add in a και where an αλλα or even a δε would have been too strong.

So the moral of the story is: check multiple translations. If the word you want to preach is not in most of the translations, find another text or preach this text without such a heavy reliance on one translation. There might be some visitors who don’t use your translation.

As for the Greek student, it serves as an example of caution for bracketed words, and also how formal and functional translations differ.

As far as sermons are concerned, I suspect Jesus would have appreciated a question more on the point he is making in vv 20-21. Jesus, their Rabbi, Messiah, and God, exists in God the Father, and in somewhat the same way we as his followers exist in him and he in us. Among many other things, this means that out of this union we love Jesus, God the Father loves us, Jesus loves us, will show himself to us, and out of this love we obey. Amazing!

Why do you do what you do? Do you obey out of duty? Out of fear? Out of tradition? Out of a desire to see truth proclaimed? Or is our joyful obedience a natural outflow of our love for him? I suspect this is the more important question.

On a personal note: if you have been following my blog for some time, you know the series of painful events my family has experienced due to the all too common evils of traditional church life. But what you don’t know is the force that may lie behind these events. Four years ago I realized that I do things out of duty but not out of love. I realized that God’s love for me and my love for him was not the major propelling force in my life. I did (and do) love him, and I did (and do) love many of the people in my church. But that was not the overwhelming force behind my actions. And so I started to pray that I be motivated and driven, above all other things, by a love for God. I suspect that the pain of the last three years was the answer to that prayer, and somehow in all of this I am learning to be propelled by God’s love more than anything else.

Moral of the story: be careful what you pray for; God may answer. There are not bracketed words in that sentence; every one is certain.


Thanks for the commentary and connecting it with your own life. I appreciated Jesus not allowing Judas to immediately distract him (I love to chase squirrels/rabbits), compare v21 w/ v 23. In speed reading it is easy to miss the point. Loved your statement, "I suspect Jesus would have appreciated a question more on the point he is making in vv 20-21." I love it because it turns the perspective from me (what I feel/want/like) to Jesus, what does He desire? Someone in love with Him would naturally look at that perspective. And you didn't mention it specifically so wanted to highlight the fact that after vs 21&23, Jesus lives it vs 31. His death on the cross was not alone for His love for me and for you, it was love for His father also that led to obedience (compare with garden of Gethsemane). Amazing Love! It subdues my will, it subdues my heart! Blessings -ps response formatting options (hard return, tab, etc) might help respondents convey the "idea" better. ;-)