Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pretend You’re a Translator (Col 1:12)

Let’s have some fun. Today you are on the CBT (Committee on Bible Translation, which controls the NIV). Take a look at Col 1:12 and write your own translation. By the way, it has to make sense and be able to be read in church.

εὐχαριστοῦντες τῷ πατρὶ τῷ ἱκανώσαντι ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ φωτί.

Start with a first-year Greek class translation, an awkward word-for-word rendition. “Giving thanks to the Father to the one who made y’all sufficient into the portion of the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Okay, now your teacher knows that you know what the individual words mean. Now let’s make it English.

You’re going to have to decide what “sufficient” (ἱκανόω) means. BDAG glosses it as, “to cause to be adequate, make sufficient, qualify.” However, “qualified” to me sounds like somehow we now deserve it, so I would never go with that option (contra NASB, ESV, NIV, NET). Much better “enabled” (CSB, NRSV, NLT).

Then you have to make a text critical decision, ὑμᾶς (“y’all”) or ἡμᾶς (“us,” NASB, KJV).

Then it gets really difficult. Many translations translate εἰς τὴν μερίδα as “to share.” Remember those people who say that they like word-for-word translations because you can see the Greek behind the English? Well good luck getting from “to share” to εἰς τὴν μερίδα. Not going to happen!

BDAG glosses μερίς as “a portion of a whole that has been divided, part,” “share, portion.” Obviously you can’t say “into the share” since that is meaningless, but please let’s be honest. Except for a wooden interlinear, you cannot believe that any translation is transparent to the original even most of the time. It is time for those who do know Greek to be honest at this point.

And then there is the final phrase, ἐν τῷ φωτί. “In the light” is meaningless, right? Nevertheless, that’s the “translation” of the ESV, CSB, NRSV, and NET. I really have no idea what the NASB is doing with capitalizing “saints in Light.” In the NASB, capitals often signify a reference to God, so maybe that is what they think here, but note how interpretive that would be. The awkwardness of the Greek led the NIV to add in “in the kingdom of light.”

I think the NLT has done the best job with this verse: “He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.” ἐν τῷ φωτί obviously modifies the preceding τῶν ἁγίων, and the NLT’s decision keeps that connection (as does the NIV) and makes sense.

More and more I am thinking that Greek students should do two translations of every exercise, the first word-for-word and then one in real English. You let the teacher know that you know what the words mean, and then you let the teacher know that you know what the sentence means. And we should be doing that from the very beginning of the Greek student’s career.

But please, can we stop saying word-for-word translations reflect the underlying Greek structure. Perhaps they do some of the time, especially the larger units of meaning like a phrase or clause, but someone who doesn’t know Greek can’t know when this is the case and when the English necessarily ignores the underlying structure. Can we be honest?


Dr. Mounce, You raise interesting issues raised in this post. After understanding all the words in the sentence, I still often struggle to arrive at exactly what the sentence means. On a related note, will you consider writing a blog on Mark 2:23? I am curious about the phrase ἤρξαντο ὁδὸν ποιεῖν τίλλοντες... Does the infinitive modify ὁδὸν (they began to make their way, plucking) or does it modify τίλλοντες (they began, on their way, to make a plucking)? The KVJ, ESV, and NIV seem to agree with the former (the prepositional phrase seems to me to be an odd translation of the accusative, but it also seems to be the only thing that fits if taken this way), while the NASB agrees with the latter. I'm curious on your take. Thanks always for the good work. Brett Dennis

Hi, I bought your books on ebay, last year, Just wanted to refresh my memory, I'm 71 years young a widow, like to do research on the Bible to cold to garden. Ha Ha,took a class on Introduction to Greek, I have a New Testamen /English Bible, from 51, years ago. I enjjoy your teaching.. Blessings, to you, Grandmother of 9.6

Hi Bill. I'm studying BBG as part of my university course for training as a Church of Scotland minister. I'm trying my best to clear the fog! Should I do two translations? word for word and into English? or am I just adding extra work? We are on Chapter 10 at the moment. Thanks!

You especially should do two. It will help with sermon prep.