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Elect Exiles or Elect according to God’s Foreknowledge? (1 Pet 1:1)

One of the challenges in translation has to do with the nature of phrases. In English, we need to keep phrases closer to the words they modify. If we use an adverbial prepositional phrase, it has to be relatively close to the verb. If it is adjectival, it needs to be close to the noun.

Greek doesn’t. The Greek mind creates linkages that can span much larger spaces, and the phrases can be quite far away (by English standards).

Another challenge of phrases is that if you just translate word for word you will often mistranslate becasuse it puts ideas together that the Greek author never intended to be close. Take for example, 1 Peter 1:1–2a. The phrases go in this order.

  1. (v 1) Peter — Πέτρος
  2. an apostle of Jesus Christ — ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
  3. to the elect — ἐκλεκτοῖς
  4. exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia — παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας καὶ Βιθυνία
  5. (v 2) according to the foreknowledge of God the Father — κατὰ πρόγνωσιν θεοῦ πατρὸς

Your first decision is how to treat ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις. You could see the adjective ἐκλεκτοῖς as modifying the substantival adjective παρεπιδήμοις; they were elect exiles. Or you could see ἐκλεκτοῖς as a substantival adjective, with παρεπιδήμοις being in apposition. “To the elect, the exiles.”

The real problem comes in v 2. What does the prepositional phrase κατὰ πρόγνωσιν θεοῦ modify? Again we see the myth of “literal” translation at work. Obviously, κατὰ can not go back to any of the proper names because that wouldn’t make any sense; but if you translate “literally,” word for word, then that is what you end up with. “Bithynia is according to God’s foreknowledge.”

So the first word κατὰ can actually link to is παρεπιδήμοις; is Peter saying that their position as exiles is due to God’s foreknowledge? That would be a strange collocation of ideas, and yet that is what the ESV says. “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” A comma after “ elect” would have cleared up the confusion.

Since foreknowledge is normally linked theologically to election, it seems more likely that the prepositional phrase reaches back nine words to ἐκλεκτοῖς, stating the normal idea that election is due to God’s foreknowledge.

This explains why the translations have to move words around, or add something to the end of v 1 or the beginning of v 2. The NASB and NET moves the translation of ἐκλεκτοῖς to the end of v 1 and says, “who are chosen.” The CSV merely has “chosen.”

The NIV keeps more of the word order and adds a word to the beginning of v 2. “To God’s elect, exiles ... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.”

The NRSV moves ἐκλεκτοῖς into v 2 and strangely turns God’s foreknowledge into the idea of “destined”; “who have been chosen and destined by God the Father.”

Whatever your exegetical decision, you have to be careful of assuming that any Greek phrase modifies the closest preceding word. That may work more in English but not in Greek, and hence sometimes we have to move words and phrases around so that we do not miscommunicate.

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