Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, January 18

When a Gloss is Not Enough

Sorry I have been gone for a while. Between a wedding, holiday’s, travels, and finishing a book, life has been a little chaotic. But things are back to normal, at least for a week.


I came across an interesting example of how words in idioms have different meanings.

νυμφίος occurs 16 times in the Greek Testament, always with the meaning “bridegroom.”

Its cognate νυμφών means “wedding hall” or “bridal chamber and occurs three times (Matt 9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34). It also occurs as a variant in Matt 22:10 where our text has the related word γάμος. Interesting, the translations all translate it as “wedding guests” (ESV, NRSV, CSB, NET, NLT) or “attendants of the bridegroom” (NASB). How can an inanimate “wedding hall” become an animate “wedding guests”

There are several clues. The NASB is so word-for-word that you should guess there is something behind the word “attendants.” Also, if you check BDAG, you see further down the definition, “οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος (gen. as Ps 149:2; 1 Macc 4:2 οἱ υἱοὶ τῆς Ἄκρας) the bridegroom’s attendants, that group of the wedding guests who stood closest to the groom and played an essential part in the wedding ceremony.”

In other words, when νυμφών occurs in the idiom οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος, word-for-word, “the sons of the wedding hall,” its meaning is changed. And this is exactly what we have in our three verses. The NASB’s use of “attendants” is an attempt to reflect the actual Greek word. Other translations interpret the idiom and thereby hide the Greek behind the English. (So much for “literal” translation.)

I would assume that even if a translator thought “the sons of the wedding hall” was remotely understandable, the use of male imagery would encourage them to interpret the idiom and not say “sons.”

I am hoping some day to update my free online Greek dictionary to handle these sorts of constructions, as well as similarly difficult grammatical constructions. Until then, be sure to read the entire entry in BDAG.

And don’t rely on the gloss. So many times when people ask me for help, the problem is that they are stuck on the gloss and then don’t understand that words have a range of meaning that can’t be handled by the gloss.

This is the kind of tidbit that encourages me to keep working on my Bible Study Greek approach that relies on computers. There is so much to be learned from the biblical text that even with a basic knowledge of Greek someone could dive deeper into the text, such as this idiom.

Comments

I quote "I would assume that even if a translator thought “the sons of the wedding hall” was remotely understandable, the use of male imagery would encourage them to interpret the idiom and not say “sons.” What's wrong with the use of male imagery in the Scriptures? Since God inspired the use of male imagery, or the use of a man as an example for everyone, who are we to think that we know better than God and change this?

¶ "How can an inanimate 'wedding hall' become an animate 'wedding guests,'" you ask? Because the word υιοι means "sons," and "sons" is animate! The genitive, του νυμφωνος, is descriptive about those "sons." Furthermore, I would suggest to you the reverse scenario, that νυμφων was used idiomatically in some Greek literature to refer to a place. But that is irrelevant to the root sense of the word and the New Testament use. So, for our purposes, there is no "idiom." The cognate root meaning is preserved. On top of that, we form the genitive into an English prepositional phrase, "sons of the bridegroom." The subject is "sons" (animate, not inanimate). When parsing English grammatically, we are instructed to first draw a line through any prepositional phrases before identifying the subject, object, etc. Even the English preposition "of" has a range of meaning, and English readers intuitively understand that. ¶ Also, similar to the comment by Angus J, "I find myself wondering why translators wouldn't simply translate the Greek and let the chips lie where they fall" (your last previous blog entry). We know what "sons" means, because he is referring to his disciples, in the context, who were not fasting as John's disciples were. Why the comment on "male imagery"? We all understand that his disciples were his "bride" as we, the "church," the body of Christ, claim to be now. Furthermore, everyone understands that the "bride of Christ" includes men, even though a "bride" is fundamentally a woman! We don't need to accommodate the feminists, or the present gender identity crisis, in Bible translation. Those are passing fads of our society attempting to force language change on us, incited by depraved, immoral, ungodly radicals, and throwing people into gender confusion that nobody ever had when reading English Bible translations, and still doesn't. "Amen and awoman"? ¶ Regarding γαμος (Matt 22:10), we have defined "marriage" differently in our language. For example, if I say, "they were having trouble with their marriage," our minds think about interpersonal conflict between a couple who are "married." But this is reading English back into Greek! The original noun, γαμος, refers to the wedding, not English "marital status," and the verb γαμεω refers to the act of marrying! Therefore, if you told an ancient Greek-speaking guy, "they were having trouble with their marriage," he would think there was some conflict in the wedding! So, the manuscript variation in Matt 22:10 doesn't really make a difference of any significance.

Dr. Mounce, you've made me curious again with this writing. I am not a Greek scholar; I am a guy who took 1st & 2nd Year Greek in college 45 years ago (I took 1st Yr three times, although I passed it each time!), learning and retaining enough that I can understand most of the simpler discussions of the language issues in the NT. That's why I follow your writing -- it's interesting and helpful for someone like me. In today's writing about the translations of the word νυμφων, you attach it to the last words of Matthew 22:10, commonly translated as "wedding guests" or something similar. But when I look to the Westcott/Hort text (which I assume to still be a standard go-to), it appears to me that νυμφων is the word that is translated to "wedding hall" or "wedding banquet" in almost all of the most common versions. The phrase in W/H that is translated to "wedding guests" is γαμος ανακειμενων. Of course, comparing your expertise to my not-even-semi-educated fumbling, I defer to your work. I'm hoping that you might explain what I'm getting wrong, if you have a spare moment and the inclination. Thank you, Dr. Mounce, for your good and helpful work. Respectfully, Sam Loveall Washington, NC