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Sunday, August 27

What’s the Point? (James 1:18)

One of the things I am sensitive to is the difference between an indicative and a non-indicative form. English style often blurs the distinction, but for Greek students it can be important to feel the difference. Often, the difference is one of nuance, but a difference nonetheless.

Look at James 1:18 in the English and tell me what is the main point?

  • “He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word” (NLT, see also the NIV).
  • “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (ESV; see also the CSB).
  • “In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth” (NLT).

If you read the NLT or NIV, it feels like the main point is that God made a choice. This is highlighted by the fact that in English we usually start a new sentence here, even though v 18 in Greek is dependent on v 17 (βουληθεὶς ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς λόγῳ ἀληθείας).

Actually, the indicative ἀπεκύησεν indicates the main thought—we were given birth—and the adverbial participle βουληθείς indicates that this happened according to God’s desire.

I know this is a little thing, but when multiplied over the hundreds of times this type of construction occurs in the NT, it can be significant. Again, it is a nuance, but nuance is part of language and meaning.

By the way, this verse illustrates my last blog on the role of metaphors. I have no recollection why the ESV (also the NASB) abandons the metaphor of “give birth” (as did the RSV) and uses the boring “brought us forth,” especially in light of the previous use of the same metaphor: “Then desire when it has conceived (συλλαβοῦσα) gives birth (τίκτει) to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth (ἀποκύει) death” (1:15). It is a powerful metaphor, evocative, and easily understood in our culture, with no real opportunity to be misunderstood in some physical way. An unfortunate translation decision to drop the metaphor.


Hi Bill,. For quite some time, I have been intrigued by many pastors who reference Greek in their sermons and start a sentence "In the Greek language, this word means......." and started to look into understanding the words behind the Gospel. I came across your website and made mention of it to our pastor, here in Honduras. It turned out to be that he is one of your students. I give you that very brief intro to ask you what your real intention is when comments like " An unfortunate translation decision to drop the metaphor", "One of the things I am sensitive to is the difference between an indicative and a non-indicative form", etc. It appears that the more education one has and uses it to delve deeper into the bible, one begins to criticize more the wording, syntax and feeling of the bible. I have seen many pastors, who have never studied Greek, yet perfectly understand the meaning behind the words of the Bible. Even better, they don't "criticize" why a certain word/style/inflection was used instead of another. I remember when, a few months ago, our church organized a trip to a local beach and the same pastor brought along one of your books (the blue one) to study. I flipped through many pages and I must admit, that it was dry reading, but at the same time made me realize that maybe I was reading/understanding the bible wrong, because I did not understand biblical Greek. Months later, I still read your blog, but am convinced that, better to not understand biblical Greek and understand the way the Bible was translated, then to nit-pick the SMALL details that you pick/choose to focus on. Yes, I did read on your website that it is not your intention to impress on others that the bible was written wrong or their are errors in the bible. I appreciate and respect your education and your desire to evoke thought on how the bible was translated. My question/worry is that you will impress on other the thought/belief that the bible, written as it is (in any version) does not correctly convey the correct meaning that was intended by God Himself. Just penny's worth.

My issue is not to criticize the Bible. It is to point out the challenges of translation. If you were to sit in a translation session, you would see that we focus, intently, on every single word. What may seem to be nit picking, when multiplied by the words in the Bible, becomes something substantial.

I know what you're saying. I used to think that you can have a perfect translation. Then I realized that it is impossible to make a perfect translation. However knowing that the Bible is from God, I want to know as much as I can about what he is actually saying. So I want to get into the nitty-gritty of the translation. However, I understand that this can be scary for Lay people. It can be scary for them to hear that we don't always know exactly what the Bible is saying or because the Bible had to be copied for over a thousand years that we may not even know the original text in places. However, I'm don't believe hiding the truth is ethical. The truth is, for the most part, the Bible is clear and we can be pretty sure that we have the original text. That has to be conveyed along with there are translation issues.

It took a bit, but eventually, I saw it.

Hello Dr. Mounce. I've had a couple of your books on my shelf for years, your Basics of Biblical Greek, and The Analytical Lexicon. Just noticed your link on the back of the blue book, and this is my first visit. I've been a fanatic of the biblical Greek for many years, because I've been a fanatic over the Truth of God's Word, instead of massive amounts of mortal-made theoretical paraphrases and creative "synonyming" in virtually all English Bible translations (and I'll bet it's true in any language). I have a college education but not in Greek. Here's my translation of James 1:17-19a from the UBS4 texts: James 1:17 Every (pasa) good (agathē) act of giving (dosis) and (kai) every (pan) complete (teleion) gift (dōrēma) above (anothen) is (estin) coming down (katabainon) from (apo) the (tou) Father (patros) of the (tōn) lights (phōtōn), alongside (par’) to whom (hō) there is (eni) absolutely not (ouk) a parallax (parallagē), or (ē) a shadow (aposkiasma) of a revolution (tropēs);   James 1:18 He having been caused to wish (boulētheis) [for us, AE], He gestated us from (apekuēsen hēmas) a Word (logō) of Truth (alētheias), into (eis) the (to) [gestation, RE] of us (hēmas) to be (einai) a beginning offering (aparchēn) of some (tina) of the (tōn) creatures (ktismatōn) of Him (autou),   James 1:19 [as] you have seen (iste), brothers (adelphoi), beloved ones (agapētoi) of me (mou)!   I believe the answer to the question you proposed about its meaning can be found is some in some remote contexts related to the discrete topics of believers becomming spiritually gestated, and becomming beginning offerings. Here are some remote contexts for your readers. (For a beginning offering see John 6:35-40; Rom. 8:23, 11:16, 16:5; 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 16:15; Heb. 11:1-6; James 1:17-19; Rev. 14:4) I very much agree with you about the quality of translation in many passages of English Bibles, but I am probably much more critical about it than you. If one of your recent posters knew a little Greek he would most likely become disgusted, fairly quickly, from discovering the truth about Bible translations. Show me a Bible translation, any one, in which its producers care much about preserving into the English a verb's type, mood, tense, voice,case, gender, person, and number! Thanks for your great work. Hald  

Hello Dr. Mounce. I noticed something in your Basics book which has be baffled. In section 5, paragraph 32.15, 3., pages 304-305, after looking up all the uses in the UBS4 texts for the infinive form blepein, of which I found 10 uses of it by the biblical writers, not one of them appears in the biblical texts with a preposition, contrary to your 6 examples you present on page 305. In the first paragraph under part 3, on page 304 you say, "These should be learned well because the construction is common. The preposition will always precede the infinitive, never follow." I don't think they're that common, because I can't find any constructions like that in the texts. Hald

Hello again Dr. Mounce. I neglected to mention in my post to you that AE means Absolute Ellipses, and RE means Relative Ellipsis, and ER means Ellipsis of Repitition, so you can see what i mean in James 1:17-19a. And about blepein, the 10 verses in which blepein appear in the UBS4 texts are Mat. 12:22; Luke 7:21; Acts 8:6, 12:9; Rom. 11:8, 10; Rev. 1:12, 5:3, 4, 9:20. Hope all's well. Brother Hald

Having in mind the various choices made by translators to produce a translation of the New Testament (and the Old for that matter), is there an english translation that you feel is superior to all of the others. In other words, what do you consider to be the best and most accurate english translation of the Bible, particularly the New Testament ?

It is not that I am biased since i am on the NIV translation team, but I got on the team partly because I was convinced it was the best.

Bill, is this something you've recently changed your mind on? I'm asking because in your Reverse-Interlinear it reads: According to his sovereign plan boulomai , he brought apokyeō us hēmeis into being through his word logos of truth alētheia , so that eis we hēmeis would be eimi a kind tis of first fruits aparchē of ho all he autos created ktisma .

I think I just missed it. I will put it in the file to fix as we can. Thanks.

"As God decided would be best, it is by the truth that we are born". The way that I understand that is that people are not born "by the will of a parent" or by fiat but by the truth of the gospel: John 1: 12But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God. 1 Peter 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.