Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

You are here

Monday, July 17, 2017

Doesn’t ἀντί always mean “Instead of”? (Heb 12:2)

I came across a really strange use of ἀντί the other day. It serves as a good example of semantic range

Speaking of Jesus, Heb 12:2 says, “For (ἀντί) the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The most common meaning of ἀντί, by far, is the idea of replacement. BDAG’s first two definitions are: (1) “indicating that one person or thing is, or is to be, replaced by another, instead of, in place of”; (2) “indicating that one thing is equiv. to another, for, as, in place of.

This would give a strange interpretation of v 2. Jesus replaced “the joy set before him” with “enduring the cross.” I am not sure what that would mean, which is the major clue that I need to spend more time with BDAG. But notice the footnote in the NLT: “Or Instead of the joy.

Definition 3 is: “indicating a process of intervention. Gen 44:33 shows how the sense ‘in place of’ can develop into in behalf of, for someone, so that ἀ. becomes =ὑπέρ” (see Heb 12:16; Matt 17:27; Mark 10:45).

Definition 4 is similar: “indicating the reason for someth., because of, for the purpose of.” The only other biblical use of ἀντί in this category is Eph 5:31. “For this reason (ἀντὶ τούτου) a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.”

Either of these categories gives the normal translation, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.”

All words have a semantic range, in all languages (I would assume). I like to refer to words as having a bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a different (but perhaps related) meaning (but perhaps not related). Certainly, one of the sticks may be larger than the rest, representing the core idea of the word or what we teach in first year Greek as the “gloss,” but it is only one among many.

My friend Mark Strauss uses the English word “key” as an example. “Did you lose your key?” “What is the key to the puzzle?” “What is the key point?” “What key is that song in?” “Press the A key.” “He shoots best from the key.” “I first ate Key Lime pie in Key West in the Florida Keys.”

So I teach my students to start with the biggest stick in the bundle, the gloss. If that does not fit the context, then go back to a fuller dictionary and stat scanning the other definitions. When I first learned Greek, I was always uncomfortable doing this; I thought I should be able to hold all the definitions in my head. But then reality struck and I bought my first BAG (as it was back then). Then BAGD. Then BDAG.


Bill A great point - and one that can be expanded further - in that language can have remarkable elasticity - even within an individual speaker. For this research you do not need to go further than yourself - and pay some attention to your grammar as well as lexical range. To your own surprise you will find how you choose words - and what options you may have chosen. I write this with a Masters in TESOL and, thus, some background in linguistics - but mainly simply fascinated by the faculty language (utterance being transformed into meaning) itself. BTW - now then, understanding such a range we begin to re-reflect on such passages as Col1:16 to correctly understand Jesus' relationship with the creation of the things ON earth and IN heaven, etc. :-).

Dr. M., I am not sure that 'for' is any clearer in this context than 'instead of'. Yes, we can read the passage with 'for' as though Jesus endured the cross to receive the joy of taking His seat on the right hand, yet can we not also take the more usual 'instead of' and read this passage like Phil 2:6-10? Especially when we consider the context of suffering and discipline as sons? Tim

Isn't the entire context of the cross the love of God? God so loved that he gave his only begotten son. Therefore, Jesus endured the cross for the joy of the salvation of humanity. Hereby we know what love is.