Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Idioms can be painful to translate, especially if you're not sure what they mean.

Idioms can be difficult enough to translate; but when we don't know their background, we run the risk of serious mistranslation.

Paul is arguing by that when a husband dies, his death severs the legal bonds of marriage (Rom 7:2). However, “if she is joined to another man (ἐὰν γένηται ἀνδρὶ ἑτέρῳ) while her husband is alive, she will be called an adulteress (μοιχαλίς)” (v 3). Word-for-word, Paul says “if she might be to a man another.” We know how flexible γίνομαι is, and that combined with the flexible dative ἀνδρί makes any sort of “literal” translation nonsense.

The NASB is barely English. “if ... she is joined to another man,” unless you think “joined” is a sexual euphemism (see also NET). ESV has, “she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man” (see also NRSV).

The NLT makes an uncharacteristic mistake. “So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man.” If she married another man, she would be a bigamist, not an adulteress.

The NIV is better. “If she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.” At least the sin (“sexual relations”) relates to the penalty (“adulteress”).

The CSB enjoys the benefit of having a Pauline expert as the NT head, Tom Schreiner. They write, “If she is married to another man while her husband is living, she will be called an adulteress.” That’s a lot of meaning to get from γίνομαι and the dative, until you learn that “The Greek phrase γίνομαι ἀνδρί means ‘be married to’ in the LXX, where it translates הָיָה לְ (Lev. 22:12; Deut. 24:2; Hos. 3:3; cf. Fitzmyer)” (Μοο, 413 n23).

You can’t just translate words, and a solid knowledge of Greeek and culture is essential.


¶ I think you meant to say Romans 7:2-3, not 1 Cor 7:2-3. ¶ In any case, when you quote, "word-for-word," "if she might be to a man another," you are rendering γενηται into the English intransitive linking verb "to be" which, if in the original, would have been εαν εστιν ανδρι ετερω. It should be "if-suppose she may become to another man..." ¶ I don't see that as "idiom" at all, but a matter of context. To "become to another man" could mean anything alone, but in the context of Rom 7:1-2 it is obvious that he is talking about what we call marriage, which we are released from upon death, as Jesus taught the Sadducees when they challenged him with their multi-man dilemma to try to disprove the resurrection. ¶ A woman cannot have another man if another man already has her. In the Old Testament Hebrew, also, there is no word for "marry." A man would "take" a woman and then the woman would belong to him. We with our modern language would refer to that as "marriage" and then we see people apply our modern traditions surrounding marriage to that, which are somewhat different than what is attested to in Gen 2:23-24 and the way they viewed the relationship back then. If a man "takes" a woman, then another man cannot have her. In contrast, it was considered acceptable for a man to "take" more than one woman, after which they would all belong to him (although this was obviously not God's original intent).