Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, October 30, 2017

We All Hear Words Differently (Gal 2:10)

The longer I translate, the more I realize how subtle language is, and how different people hear the same word or phrase differently.

In Galatians 2, Paul is talking about his relationship with the Jerusalem church and their agreement with his theology. His conclusion is in v 10. “All they asked was that we should continue to remember (μνημονεύωμεν) the poor, the very thing I had been eager (ἐσπούδασα) to do all along” (NIV).

μνημονεύωμεν is a present subjunctive, which the NIV makes explicit with the “continue.” The NLT has, “keep on helping the poor.” Other translations have the simple, “They asked only that we would remember the poor” (CSB, see ESV, NASB, NET, NRSV).

How do you hear “remember”? On one hand, the lexical idea of “remember” is imperfective so you don’t need the “continue” or “keep on.” However, just saying “remember” may imply to some readers that Paul had not been remembering the poor and they were asking him to start remembering the poor. In other words, while μνημονεύωμεν itself does not require a helping word to make it imperfective, perhaps the context does.

Then take ἐσπούδασα. The NIV has “the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” There is no Greek word or phrase explicitly paralleling “all along,” so where did it come from? Remember, there is always a reason, always. The NASB simply translates the words, “the very thing I also was eager to do” (also the ESV, CSB, NET, NRSV). The problem with this, at least to my ears, is that it sounds like Paul had not been eager to do this but now he was. Is that how it sounds to you?

I think that ἐσπούδασα is a constative, which means this is the most basic use of the aorist viewing the action as a whole without regard to beginning or end. It is the snapshot, the helicopter’s view of the parade. The poor have been, and will continue to be, a concern for Paul. This explains the NIV’s “all along,” not wanting to imply that Paul’s concern for the poor was something new.

This verse is a good example of how subtle language is, how words must be understood in context, not just the context of a sentence or a paragraph but of what we know from the Bible as a whole.


"how words must be understood in context, not just the context of a sentence or a paragraph but of what we know from the Bible as a whole." Amen! Very impressive!

I like the way Dr. Mounce makes clear why words are added in the English translations - and, I am sure, how those decisions are carefully agonized over in prayer by the translators. I especially like it when the margin notes indicate how difficult the decision was and what the alternatives were.

My pastor led a small (3) group of us in being able to use the Greek and translating deeper in word studies from the Bible. I have your “complete expository dictionary of the old and new testaments! It has been an enormous help in my understanding! My pastor, Verl Taylor, has also been such a great teacher and such a help in going deeper into what. 5he Lord wants me to learn! Looking forward to more of your columns!!

Love this column!

...are those we are instructed and also commanded to "continue" to help. Isn't the Word of God given to those in Covenant and Covenant alone?