Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Glosses and Context (ὅτι)

Someone asked the other day about the translation of ὅτι in 1 Timothy 1:12. “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because (ὅτι) he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service” (ESV). He wondered about the difference between “that” (NIV) and “because” as a translation of οτι.

This is actually a good chance to talk about how to read BDAG, our main Greek lexicon.

BDAG gives this basic set of meanings. Be sure to read their entire entry.

  • marker of narrative or discourse content, direct or indirect, “that”
  • after verbs of saying, indicating
  • after verbs that denote sense perception
  • marker of explanatory clauses, “that”
  • as a substitute for the epexegetical inf.
  • in ellipses
  • marker introducing direct discourse
  • marker of causality, “because, since”

The first entry talks about ὅτι meaning “that,” but only after verbs that express a sense of saying (e.g., he said that …,” “he yelled that”) or perception (e.g., “she heard that …”). The moral of the story is that in BDAG you always check the subheadings. Don’t just latch on to the gloss (“that”) without seeing the specific meaning of the gloss. Because there is no verb of saying, or perception in 1 Tim 1:12, this gloss does not apply in our passage, which also is not narrative.

The second entry is a specialized use of ὅτι when it functions as a substitute for a demonstrative pronoun followed by an infinitive. It also means “that” when used in an ellipsis such as τι ὅτι. Again, this is not applicable to our passage.

The third use of ὅτι is as quotation marks for a direct quote. Again, not applicable here.

That leaves us with the fourth. Interestingly, the NIV translates οτι as “that,” but “that” in the sense of “because.”

Paul’s thankfulness is based on God’s prior act of judging Paul to be faithful (or, as in my commentary, judging that Paul would be faithful), and this judgment was made apparent when God appointed Paul to apostolic ministry. All time is present to God, who can make decisions now based on what he knows will come to pass in the future.

What confidence we can have in our God, who is not bound by our limitations, who sees the beginning from the end and works all things according to the council of his will. If we could only understand this in the deepest places of our hearts, I suspect trusting God would be decidedly easier.