Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, July 3

There is Always a Reason (John 2:1)

We just completed another week of work on the NIV in Cambridge, and I was again reminded that there is always a reason. No matter how unusual a translation of a certain verse may appear, there is always a reason. Like Jason Bourne, nothing is random.

A good example is John 2:1 in the NLT. “The next day (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ) there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee.” Someone might respond, how would you ever get “next” from τρίτῃ? But before you pronounce the NLT translators as incompetent — which they are not — repeat after me: “There is always a reason; nothing is random.”

The problem, of course, is that when John says “third,” the reader looks in vain for the “first” and the “second,” which don't exist. So since the NLT is committed to communicating meaning in the most natural way possible, they had to find some way to help the reader understand.

Check out their footnote. “Greek On the third day; see 1:35, 43.”

1. The sequencing starts at 1:19-28 with the testimony of John to the Jewish leaders.

2. “The next day” (Τῇ ἐπαύριον) begins the account of John attesting that Jesus is the Lamb of God (1:29-34).

3. “The following day” (Τῇ ἐπαύριον) is when several of John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus (1:35-42). (Morris, page 159, believes that v 41 actually is another day.)

4. “The next day” (Τῇ ἐπαύριον) introduces the story of Philip and Nathaniel (1:43-51). According to Morris, this would be the fifth day.

So when we come to John 2:1, when John begins the story of the wedding at Cana and he begins τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ, you can see the problem. Where are the first and second? And frankly, if we start at the beginning, it looks like this is actually the fourth day or even the fifth.

Morris’ explanation is that nothing happened on day 6 (our day 5), and so “the third day” (2:1) starts with 1:43-51, includes the unmentioned day, and includes the day of the miracle of the water to wine, hence “the third day” after (and including) the last mentioned day.

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Hi Dr Mounce, Thanks for clearing up issues such as these! I have been thumbing through different translations and it's nice to hear that "there is always a reason!" Could you elaborate on the NIV translation work you're currently doing? Is the NIV being revised again?

According to Chuck Missler's commentary, the "third day" should refers to the third day of the week, which the Jews consider to be the day of "double blessing" as per Gen 1, the luckiest day to get married. Why not just take it literally?

thanks for the suggestion. I never actually thought of this, nor did I find it in my commentaries. I will run it down. --Bill

Isn't it just as likely that 1:19 and 1:35 are the same day (palin meaning again) day two. Likewise, cannot 1:43 and 2:1 both be day three just described differently? I don't see any grammatical reason to preclude this scenario and it fits the author's timeline. The NLT translation seems to assume the inspired author was mistaken. Tim

This was an interesting point. Would it perhaps be more correct to translate this as Tuesday, being that Sunday was considered the first day of the week to the Jews? I don't have an issue with the translation they chose. Just asking the question.

Is this the appropriate place to ask a question on translation of a particular verse? Or is it only for comments on todays BLOG post?

It is probably best to use the Comments for just this one blog. Thanks.

I was wondering if the passage in question could be translated as "third day of the week" or Tuesday, etc. It seems to me that the third day could also be referring to which day of the week the event occurred based on the Jewish calendar assuming that Sunday would be the first day of the week. I don't think it significantly changes the meaning of the passage. I was just curious.

If the translators just leave the text as it is "the third day", people will know exactly what it says, and that way the readers can make their own proper interpretation according with their own knowledge. There should be a note with the interpretation of the translators out of the actual text, not setting the interpretation of the translators instead. I know there is a big translator's worry about people understanding what text means, but the worrying should be more about changing what the inspired writer meant with the text, for what it means to the translator. What if the idea of the original writer was different of that interpretation?

This is always the chalenge of translation. But I think the argument is that "third day" doesn't convey meaning, or is easily misunderstood. But it is a hard one.