Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Friday, November 3

When καί is a Comma, and Deceptive Marketing (Mark 3:16–19)

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One of the differences between Greek and English style is in expressing a series. When English translations mimic Greek style, they are writing poor English style, or miscommunicating altogether.

Greek tends to say conjunction + item + conjunction + item + conjunction + final item. English says item + comma + item + comma (if you use the Oxford comma) + conjunction + final item. Take, for example, the listing of the 12 apostles. The NASB goes very much word for word.

“And [καί] He appointed the twelve: [καί] Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and [καί] James, the son of Zebedee, and [καί] John the brother of James ( [καί] to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); and [καί] Andrew, and [καί] Philip, and [καί] Bartholomew, and [καί] Matthew, and [καί] Thomas, and [καί] James the son of Alphaeus, and [καί] Thaddaeus, and [καί] Simon the Zealot; and [καί] Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.”

But notice the inconsistencies: twice the NASB fails to translate a καί. Why? This type of examples explodes the myth that an advantage of formal equivalent translations is that they reflect the underlying Greek structure. No they do not! I doubt there is a single verse in all the Bible whose structure, vocabulary, and grammar are precisely reflected in English.

The ESV omits four occurrences of καί.

The CSB omits seven, but does a most peculiar thing. They include καί twice, making it look like Jesus paired these four apostles. “Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas.” This simply miscommunicates.

It is time that Bible marketers stop this deceptive claim, that their “literal” translation of the Greek reflects the structure of the Greek. The CSB makes up a term, “optimal equivalence,” which really doesn’t mean anything. They are a formal equivalent translation sitting between the ESV and the NIV. I like the CSB, but that is what it is.

The NIV uses English style to communicate to an English audience, translating some of the occurrences of καί as punctuation. “These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

The NET is also quite good, using semi-colons twice in place of καί, and an initial “and” in v 18 to set off the final part of the listing. “He appointed twelve: To Simon he gave the name Peter; to James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, he gave the name Boanerges (that is, “sons of thunder”); and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

Style is part of the communication process, even for Yoda, and we should not make the Greek writers sound like they are writing with poor style.


Dr. Mounce, If you had to choose, which would it be: (A) be accused of making a translation of Mark 3:18 with mildly turgid style due to an excess of "and" in a list, or (B) be accused of deliberately failing to represent one-third of the divinely inspired words in Mark 3:18?

First of all, I have moved far beyond worrying about being "accusaed" of anything. Secondly, inspiration has to do with meaning, not individual Greek and Hebrew words used to convey meaning; otherwise, we all must read only Greek and Hebrew. τοῦ θεοῦ are the words God used to convey his message that we can't translate exactly but must turn it into a prepositional phrase, "of God."

Hello Mr. Mounce, I don't see a prepositional phrase here (τοῦ θεοῦ) at all. τοῦ is a genitive article, and θεοῦ is a genitive noun. Where's the preposition? If you're assuming that τοῦ θεοῦ means ek τοῦ θεοῦ, meaning out of the God, then that's your're private interpretation. But that's not what the text says. Maybe since God's Spirit was working in the biblical writers to say exactly what God wanted said, the way He wanted it said, then maybe there's a connection between that and how that same one Spirit was going to work on the other end, in the heart and mind of a biblical reader, to see those exact words, exactly what was written, and the way it was written, to better facilitate the biblical reader's learning and understanding with God's Spirit in him or her teachong him or her (Isa. 54:13; Jer. 31:31-34; John 6:45; Heb. 8:8-12, 10:16-17). Maybe translators are playing God a bit too much. The NASB and NASB77 actually ignored kai (meaning and or also) three times, once in verse 16 and 17, and once in verse 19. What the prophets and apostles wrote, and meant, trumps what translators say they meant, and not the other way around.

I'm most grateful for my initiation into your ministry. Thank you. (As a Viet Nam veteran who had the Dean of the Faculty of the seminary I attended write to the Commandant of the Marine Corps for my 6 day early release to study Koine Greek in June, 1969). The Greek points way beyond mere words to inspirational meaning of God as correctly pointed out. You have my trust for further work as this is my first visit to website. Hope inspired for aging well in sunset years. Thank you.