An e-response to e-opinions about e-giving

I’m all for ease and efficiency, and I love systems that work.  I am not, however, in favor of weekly church contributions that are electronically set up on a recurring basis—for more than one reason.  A recent article brought up this question, and several official church leaders were interviewed.  Below is an expanded version of the original comment I made under that article.

Sincere individuals will frequently have very nice, spiritually minded ways of working something like electronic contributions out for themselves.  The folks interviewed for the article, for instance, presented a nicely balanced, thoughtful view of the e-giving conundrum.  Thinking about the masses, though, I would put forward three reasons not to move in the direction of e-contributions:

  1. As pointed out, it tends to be neither very personal nor very communal to click or tap in a charity app—especially if that click/tap is for a one-time setup for a recurring transaction that it’s so easy to be unaware of later.
  2. Some of the “pro” rationale strikes me as very institutionally motivated rather than Reign-of-God-motivated.  Contributing to building upkeep and salaries as a member of an institution may be fine for some, but it is not as compelling for those of us more interested in simple/organic concepts and missions.
  3. Giving charitably is good, but the tithe, after all—and we simply must realize this—is not a New Covenant thing.  A payment service calling itself “easyTithe” is perpetuating the problem.  Other e-giving options may be less problematic in terms of overt nomenclature and illegitimate association with ancient Israel’s priestly tithe system, yet the very idea of regular contributions appears more connected to paying dues in a club than to the goals of the apostolic church.

I found it interesting that a (pretty good!) translation of 1Cor 16:2 was included in the above-referenced article.  It bears emphasis here that the import of the first few verses of 1Cor 16 is not a little ambiguous.  This passage certainly cannot be inextricably linked to weekly contributions to today’s church treasuries, though.

For more on this topic, please see the following posts:

In the second of the above posts, this on-target quotation appears:

There is no indication given whether this is meant to be a tithe (no such prescription occurs in the New Testament); but is is implied that it is proportional and substantial.  It seems this is to be done on a family basis and the funds kept at home.”  (emphasis the authors’, not mine)   – Orr and Walther, The Anchor Bible Translation and Commentary, v. 32, 1 Corinthians (1976), p. 356.

One can object to my objections on any one of several grounds (e.g., community-based, tradition-based), but the simple fact is that habitual, institution-supporting weekly giving to a church treasury is not explicitly supported—or dealt with at all—in canonical Christian scripture.

A unique meal

One of my grandmothers once taught that “unique” doesn’t take the modifier “very.”  A thing cannot be “very unique.”  It’s either unique (singular) or isn’t.  I doubt most Thanksgiving meals will be unique today, but one historic meal was truly, spiritually unique.  And I’m not talking about Pilgrims and Indians here.

Once, the Savior of the world took bread and wine—and gave both of those substances new, albeit historically connected, symbolisms.  I’ve come to understand that, in Hebrew tradition, one “blesses God” at mealtimes and other times, rather than asking for a blessing.  It seems likely that Jesus would have been acting in line with that tradition at His last meal with his closest associates.

Paul’s recounting of that unique meal goes something like this:

23 So, I obtained from the Lord’s hand the same thing I subsequently handed on to you—that our own Lord Jesus, on the night when he began to be turned over, 24 broke bread in his hands, giving thanks and commenting like this:

“Notice this bread.  See it as the representation of my body, given on your behalf.
Eat it, and in doing so, you’ll be calling me into remembrance .”

25 Similarly also he offered the cup after dining, and he expressed this message:

“Now, notice this cup.  Its contents are, in effect, the signature on my new, final ‘last will and testament.’
Drink it, and each and every time you do, you’ll be calling into remembrance my body and blood.”

26 The upshot is that, each and every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you will in effect be broadly declaring the symbolic meaning of the Lord’s death, in anticipation of his coming.

1Cor 11:23-26 paraphrase by Brian Casey, Fall 2015

Soon I’ll plan to share some detailed commentary and insights gained during the process of my wrestling with the above text.  There is so much here!  Mnemonic phrases, alliteration, emphatic forms, theologically significant metonymy, and thematic ties to other messages in 1Corinthians—all these and more help Paul to achieve his communicative aims.

For today, we might consider that a human can bless God.  This phrasing seems strange to us English-speakers, since the word “bless” has come to mean something that the greater does for the lesser.  Yet Jesus himself, in human form, blessed God:  in the more Jewish context of Matthew 26, the word at the final dinner is eulogeo (roughly, “good words,” from which later sprang our word “eulogy”).

In 1Corinthians, Paul’s word is eucharisteo (roughly “give thanks,” from which the transliteration “eucharist” was later derived, in what seems to me a linguistically unusual, but surely not unique, chain of events).  On the occasion depicted in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1Corinthians 11, the bread received in gratitude was coming to symbolize Jesus’ own striped, broken flesh.  That was and is something that merits lavish thankfulness.  To speak good words of thanks is to bless God.

On this day, it would not be inappropriate to remember Jesus’ offering of Himself as we both bless God and thank Him for blessings.

B. Casey, 11/26/15

Translations of 1Cor 16:1-6

During recent months, I’ve been involved in 1Corinthians as a translation project, along with a group of others whose Greek skills are far better than mine.  As part of this program, a short description of which may be found at (scroll down to #3 under “More Information”), study partners work on both a “literal” and a “paraphrase” or “idiomatic” translation and receive feedback both in a live presentation and via e-mail.  As I’m able, I become somewhat familiar with other translators’ texts, and I learn along the way, but this is the third time I’ve tried my hand; 16:1-6 was my text this time.  [My first text was 4:1-5 (one blogpost here); my second was 11:23-26 (which I may post soon).]

Below I’m offering my translations of 16:1-6.  If you have questions or comments, I’m all ears.  “Why did you translate _____ instead of _____ or ______?”  “Why did you go in X direction with Y phrase?”  I may or may not have a good answer to your question, but I’ll appreciate the question, just the same.

One difficulty I had with this text—and there were many—was the very use of the word “collection” when Paul is clearly not recommending a weekly collection of funds into a common treasury.  An eventual bringing-together of the stored funds is in view in v2, but I’ve opted for “scare quotes” in the idiomatic translation of v1.

Should you want to compare my renderings with more reputable but less salient 🙂  English translations, here’s one place to go (opens a 2nd window).


1 Now, about the for-the-saints collection . . . as I instructed the Galatian churches, so also you should all do:   2 On the first [day] of the week, each of you should put aside [money], storing it, according to how well things are going,[1] so that no collections[2] need occur when I get there. 3 Then, whenever I arrive, I will send the approved ones [3] with letters so they may convey the gift to Jerusalem; 4 and, if my going is advisable,[4] as well, it’s with me they’ll go.

5 And I will come to you when I’ve passed through Macedonia[5]—and I will pass through Macedonia—6 and I will perhaps remain with you or even spend the winter there, so that you might send me on my way to wherever I should go.


1 Now, getting to the matter of the “collection” for the ones who’ve been made holy . . . all of you, please do follow the same directions that I gave the Galatian churches:

2 On the first day of the week, each one, put some money aside—saving it up (according to your financial prosperity)—so a focused collection effort as such shouldn’t be necessary when I get there.

3 Then, when I do show up, I will send these you’ve approved, commissioning the combined gift onward to Jerusalem with my endorsements. 4 If at that point my also traveling seems to be a good idea, well, then it’s with me they’ll go.

5 And I will visit you in conjunction with my journey through Macedonia—yes, I’ll definitely be going through there—6 and I might stay a long while with you, up to and including wintering there, so that you can send me on my way wherever I go next.

[1] εὐοδῶται | euodōtai—traditionally, “how you are being prospered” or some such. BDAG offers, “. . . in our lit. only the pass. is used, and not literally ‘be led along a good road.’” The word (used only 3x in the NT: here, Rom. 1:10, and 3John 2) appears to suggest how things are going financially, i.e., how one is prospering. The NRSV goes a bit further with “whatever extra you earn,” and some have suggested allusion to any recent business deals. These translations leave the particular reference open here, rather speaking to a general sense of “how things have been going.”

[2] λογειαι | logeiaiL-N suggests a verbal meaning for this plural noun (a word used only in 1Cor 16 in the NT): “the act of collecting contributions, especially those involving voluntary response.” Other lexicographers have pointed out the distinction between this “collection” on the one hand and the Jewish tithe for Levites on the other. Found primarily in inscriptions and papyri, λογειαι has connotations of being voluntary (i.e., no “taxation” sense) and for “religious purposes.” This plural would seem to have a different shade of meaning than the singular λογεία in 16:1. I read the 16:1 instance as a nonstandard or special-sense use of “collection”—perhaps with the “scare quotes” I have included in the paraphrase—since Paul goes on in v2 to prescribe individual action. At some point, v3, the individual reserves are come together in some sort of collected whole.

[3] Greek texts differ in where a comma is inserted to segment the passage. The resultant question is whether the words διʼ ἐπιστολῶν | di’ epistolōn go with the verb πέμψω | pempsō or with the verb δοκιμάσητε | dokimasēte. That is to say, the comma-less Greek text does not clarify whether the Corinthians are writing approval letters or Paul is writing letters to send with them to Jerusalem. To an extent, my translations leave this question open.

[4] Or, fitting, worthwhile, or valuable.

[5] Lit., Μακεδονίαν | Makedonian. English convention has been to render the kappa with a c.

Of commentary, commentaries, and commentators

  1. Offering commentary on something one can be very helpful and informative.  Or not.
  2. Published Bible commentaries can be very helpful and informative.  Or not.
  3. Sports commentators are pretty much never very helpful or informative.

So I’ll comment a little on the first two.  🙂

In the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 150, I found this commentary:

“In 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul recommends that each person in Corinth save what he can and put it aside to be collected weekly.”

The first part of that is fairly good, although brief.  The second part, however, is formulated out of thin air or tradition (take your pick).  No responsible exegete or commentator is able to find actual evidence, in this passage, of a weekly collection, whether in practice or in Paul’s instructions.  The notion of a weekly taking up of money from a group and putting it into a collective pot simply doesn’t appear in 1 Corinthians 16:2.  What Paul asks—and he uses two words that connote this—is that people put aside some money somewhere, in accordance with their “prosperity.”

The Anchor Bible series commentary, generally recognized as a fine source, with each volume authored by a different scholar with notable credibility in the respective texts, supports my assertion:

“There is no indication given whether this is meant to be a tithe (no such prescription occurs in the New Testament); but is is implied that it is proportional and substantial.  It seems this is to be done on a family basis and the funds kept at home.”  (emphasis the authors’, not mine)   – Orr and Walther, The Anchor Bible Translation and Commentary, v. 32, 1 Corinthians (1976), p. 356.

collection plate

In my own study life, I’m finding that most commentaries I would have consulted a decade or two ago simply don’t go deep enough into the text, and/or they make assumptions or leaps that are not textually warranted, and/or they spend too much time in dogma instead of scriptural interpretation.  Frankly, I was surprised that a book with the title Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament made such an exegetical leap as the one documented a few paragraphs above (from saving to “the collection”).  But every commentator is human and therefore prone to error, manifesting bias and carelessness on occasion.

The commentaries I’m currently gravitating to—and I doubt this pattern will change much—are those that show clear, deep, sustained attention to both historical and literary contexts.  If the commentary attends to rhetorical devices and textual structure, all the better!

This has been a PSA on the need to be choosy with your commentaries.  I think, for my part, it may be time to throw away a few I have in a box.

Out of order (emphatically)


If you haven’t traveled in WY or SD or similar areas, you might not have seen signs like these.  They still make me do a double-take, even after having driven thousands of miles on these roads.  The words are out of order!

Why was the sign fashioned that way?  I figure the police and highway care crews got together and decided they needed to be extra-clear with the warnings. . . .  “Hey,” they must’ve agreed, “let’s put the word ‘Closed’ at the top so that no driver can argue he didn’t see the warning.”

Problem is, the sign is confusing because of word order.  It should read more like this:

When [lights are] flashing

I-90 closed ahead

Must exit now

Which brings up matters related to word order in the Greek New Testament.  Word order considerations are somewhat different when comparing Greek to English, but in certain instances, we find that Greek words have been “promoted” or moved toward the first of a clause or sentence.  Just such a case is found in 1Cor 11:24, where I have spent some time recently.

A typical word order might have been this:

τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα μού
(touto estin to soma mou)
this     is    the body my

But, in the actual text, the word “mou” (the personal pronoun “my”) has been “promoted”—moved to an earlier position in the word order.  Here is the phrase as it appears in 1Cor 11:24:

τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ σῶμα
(touto mou estin to soma)
this   my     is    the  body

Compare any one of the lines of blue text to the corresponding line of brown text above.  See the difference?  One word (mou) moved toward the front means that the whole expression may reasonably be rendered in written English this way:

This is my body.

I trust that my bold italics (incidentally, a relatively new technique in written language) help to show the emphasis placed—by the change in word order—on the word “my.”

In the course of an effort to make sense in a different language, word order and other elements may sometimes be adjusted during the process of translating.  Why?  Well, if a driver speaks “literal” English, he would tend to move his foot toward the brake before reading the words “when flashing” in the sign below:


And if a reader of 1Cor 11:24 didn’t know that “my” had been promoted in the word order to show emphasis, she might not be able to ascertain the import of the emphatic “my” . . . and she’d probably not be impelled into further consideration of the larger context of 1Corinthians, chapters 8 through 14 and beyond.  It is a context that deals not only with cup multiple times, but also with multiple senses of body.  Here, there is a special emphasis on its being the Lord Jesus’s body.  The Corinthians appear to have been in need of some pointed instruction about Whose body it was they were dealing with!

Intriguing comparisons may also be made with Luke’s (and Matthew’s and Mark’s) record of the same event, and also with the oral tradition that was surely part of early Christian practice.  In any version of this phrase, the essence is the same, but the emphasis is changed when the word order is changed.

B. Casey, Aug. 5-12, 2015

It’s Greek *for* you

If I had a quarter for every time someone said, “It’s all Greek to me” after I said something about an original-language word or text structure or studying Greek grammar. . . .

Well, here’s a tiny bit of Greek that should be at least mildly interesting, even for those who don’t know even the Gk alphabet!

A recent reference to 1Corinthians 2:13, in the context of an e-mail discussion of “spiritual” and “spirit,” led to a discovery.  Below I’ve pasted in 2:13 from three of the most up-to-date, reputable Greek texts available.

13 ἃ καὶ λαλοῦμεν οὐκ ἐν διδακτοῖς ἀνθρωπίνης σοφίας λόγοις ἀλλʼ ἐν διδακτοῖς πνεύματος, πνευματικοῖς πνευματικὰ συγκρίνοντες.

13 ἃ καὶ λαλοῦμεν οὐκ ἐν διδακτοῖς ἀνθρωπίνης σοφίας λόγοις, ἀλλʼ ἐν διδακτοῖς πνεύματος, πνευματικοῖς πνευματικὰ συγκρίνοντες.

13 ἃ καὶ λαλοῦμεν οὐκ ἐν διδακτοῖς ἀνθρωπίνης σοφίας λόγοις ἀλλʼ ἐν διδακτοῖς πνεύματος, πνευματικοῖς  συγκρίνοντες.

[Aside:  text critics might be interested in looking at other/older Greek texts, but any one of those above may generally be trusted as standard, according to current knowledge, and attested by scholars.  The differences among the various texts have to do with textual notes/apparatus, and the focus of such notes, not the text itself.]

Now, the purpose of the comparison here is that one of the above texts is not like the others.  (Do you hear the old Sesame Street song in your head?)  Can you find the discrepancy?  You don’t have to know anything about Greek.  It’s not difficult, really.  Just look at the length of the 2nd line in the NA28, and compare it to the other two. There it is: an entire word missing.  In the NA28 text, the word πνευματικὰ is completely missing in the 2nd line.

The back-story:  this discovery was made through the combined efforts of three study partners.  We were comparing notes somewhat hurriedly in the process of a larger exegetical effort.  I did a word search using my Logos software, and two others did similar searches—one other using Logos, and one using BibleWorks.  The results: the other two guys’ counts showed 1 instance more than mine.  Hmmm.  I checked my search criteria and performed the search again.  Same results.  Exactly the same verses found, but there were 25 total instances of the adjective form of “spiritual” instead of the 26 the other guys found.

Only on 3rd or 4th examination did I find the source of the discrepancy:  NA28 did not contain the word πνευματικὰ before συγκρίνοντες.  So I mentioned this, figuring it was a textual variant, and figuring I would find a note about this word in one or more textual apparatus compilations, but I did not.

Then, another study partner checked another source for the NA28 and found that it did contain πνευματικὰ.  The discrepancy, therefore, was not in the NA28 itself but in Logos’s electronic edition of the NA28.  Someone, or some system, somehow, at some point, had inadvertently omitted this word within the Logos electronic library.  I reported the error to Logos electronically and presume it will be corrected in the near future.

This, it seems to me, is a modern example of how “scribal errors” may occur.  Even in the digital age!

1Cor 4:1 — dialoguing with Paul

An obviously hypothetical, personal, interactive dialogue with Paul about his use of the word ὑπηρέτας | hupēretas in 1Cor 4:1. . . .

Me:  Hi, Paul.  Nice to see you.  Haven’t met up in a while.

Paul:  You, too.  And it’s OK.  We’re both busy.

Me:  [smiles embarrasedly]

Paul:  And don’t give me that “your work is so much more important than mine” stuff.  We are both doing things for the Lord.

Me:  I’ll try.  So, I have this question. . . .

Paul:  Shoot.

Me:  Do you remember writing to the Corinthians about your role, and Apollos’s, and theirs?  It was in a context of sort-of sizing things up and assessing things.

Paul:  I think I remember what you mean, yes.  Crispus & Gaius & Co. needed to know more about what I was doing and why, and how it all was working under Christ.

Me:  You used the word hupēretas.

Paul:  Hmm.  An uncommon word.  I think I remember.  What about it?

Me:  Well, I’m trying to figure out what it meant, and then to translate it for a new English version.

Paul:  [furrows] English.  I hear that’s a difficult language!

Me:  Yep.  And the language has a lot of influence and circulation, so I want to do a good job, no matter how far this little translated passage goes. . . .  I’ve been back and forth on this one word, changing it to this and that, trying to satisfy multiple people and goals.  Some people — good people with good goals and more devotion than I have — seem to think it’s all about using the best, most well-attested lexicons to make a translation choice.  I get that, but in considering this text and this particular word, it gets a little squirrel-y.

Paul:  What’s a squirrel?

Me:  Oh, sorry.  It’s just a figure of speech.

[We interrupt this non-scheduled, hypothetical conversation for a non-commercial, instructive message. . . .

The “squirrel” thing came out as I wrote, without thinking.  I actually laughed out loud — not only at the possibility of talking about a squirrel with Paul, but also, about how this ended up being an illustration of the whole “figure of speech” thing.  I hadn’t mentioned squirrels in this post, or in this series, or in this month-long focus on scripture, or in the whole 6-7 years of blogging.  (Relate those, respectively, to this small 4:1-5 text block in 1Corinthians, the sub-context of chapters 3-6ish, the whole letter, or the whole New Testament.)  But the squirrel image might still be used, and it might still communicate something.  One might have to research what a squirrel was, which subspecies were in the author’s experiences, and how the cognate adjective “squirrel-y” might relate.

The mention of squirrels was a completely serendipitous thing here.  But a beautiful thing it was, since part of the problem in translating hupēretas has been the fact that the word is used only this once in Paul’s letters, so it’s impossible to conclude with any finality what he meant by the word.  And now, back to our conversation.]

Me:  Apparently, the word can have all sorts of nuanced meanings, all relating to working for an authority figure like a king or a master helmsman.

Paul:  In this case, working for our Lord Christ!

Me:  Yes!  And I’m trying to figure out how to communicate the idea in English, without direct knowledge of what was in your head as you wrote for God’s kingdom back then.  I figured, why not use an image that emanates from the literal components?  When there’s not much to go on, and/or when lexicons emphasize different things, maybe this kind of paraphrase can be useful.  Or can it?

One of my chief instructors believes etymology is pretty low on the totem pole as you translate.  I’m still thinking that through and recently read something about Hebrew’s being more subject (more so than Greek) to this kind of meaning-based-on-semantic-development process.  On the other hand, I wonder if, sometimes, factors other than word usage — like poetic effect and etymology — might be helpful in getting the sense of the original.  Along with the context, of course.  Anyway, I don’t meant to bore you, but I got pretty overwrought about this.  No one has any idea what all this did to me internally, although I showed a trifle of my feelings in a couple of things I wrote, all the while trying to be a part of a group effort.

All I wanted to do was use one likely, or possible, or whatever, image that could have been in your mind as I said in English what I think you were saying, overall, in Greek.  The word “servants” is inadequate since two other, common Greek words are translated “servants” in a whole covey of English versions.  The New English Bible from, like, 50 years ago has “underlings,” and that at least makes one notice the expression, but the Revised English Bible from 25 years ago has a somewhat less potent word — “subordinates.”  Seemed like a regression to me.

I figured, why not do a little more in a paraphrase?  I also noticed that you used of a form of symbasileuo — another uncommon word — in 4:8.  Maybe you were extending the idea of being both under and with Christ there by saying something like “reigning with.”  Just because Christian workers aren’t referred to in this manner anywhere else in the NT doesn’t mean you didn’t want the wording to stand out as a figure of speech, right?  It seems plausible — although obviously not the only possible reading — to say that ὑπηρέτας could mean “oarsmen who are subordinate to, and rowing with, Christ our captain.”  Am I right?  I’m only trying to do something meaningful here.  What I got was critique that was mostly helpful, but it brought on some other background stuff that was anything but helpful.  It got to me.

Paul:  Brian, don’t let all this steal your spirit.  I don’t honestly remember if I had the ship image in mind with hupēretas, but there’s a good possibility I did.  And you’re right, at least, that the word stands out since it’s so uncommon.  That mere fact means it’s more squirrel-ly, as you say, to try to translate it.  All I can say now is that I do remember how I felt when I left Corinth by sea, headed back toward Caesarea.  I might very well have been recalling my voyage when I wrote to them a couple years later.  You know, now that I think about it, I remember sitting on that ship and thinking about whether the Corinthians would be fulfilling their own missions with, and under, Christ.

Me:  Thank you so much.  This really helps.

Paul:  [pauses]  You know, it’s not really a big deal how you translate that one word.  It’s more important that you understand how I was working for, and with, Christ.  There are several ways you could say that.  You made one good choice by writing “an oarsman rowing with, and subordinate to, Christ,” and since I’m a “word guy” kind of like you, I might have even been thinking about the etymology of hupēretas — “under-rower,” or “one who steers under a master helmsan,” something like that.  But there are other options when translating that into another language.

Me:  Yeah, I know.  And I know one word isn’t a big deal, but the whole thing required so much of me.  I spent way too many hours on this comparatively tiny translation project.  And it all became a big deal because of relationship dynamics . . . related communications led to all sorts of hurtful stuff.  I probably shouldn’t go into that more here.

Paul:  Understood.  And what is it those later Italians started saying?  Que sera, sera?  Anyway, see you again soon?

Me:  Maybe sooner, yeah.  I think I’ll have more time in the near future.  I think I should probably read some OT history now, along with studying Mark, but I’ll try to stay in what we call 1Corinthians, too.

Paul:  Sounds good!

Me:  And may I just say that I love your letter to Philemon so much.  I think I have a better understanding of that (and your relationships with Philemon and Onesimus) than I have of 1Corinthians.

Paul:  [winks]  I loved both those Colossian guys so much.  Grace and peace to you.

1Cor 4:1 — applying etymology (2)

In considering etymology‘s place in biblical studies, my primary new source of instruction has been Moisés Silva’s book Biblical Words and Their Meaning:  An Introduction to Lexical Semantics (1983-1994).  Here is the conclusion to his chapter on etymology:

Modern studies compel us to . . . distrust a word’s history; at the same time, we must use the past history of a word in coordination with its present use by means of the notion of transparency.  (p. 51)

For Silva, “transparency”¹ refers to one of three varieties of an inherent relationship between the word itself and its meaning:

  1. phonological — meaning connected to the sound made when uttering the word
  2. morphological — meaning connected to the component parts
  3. semantic — meaning connected to words used figuratively and yet understandably without background knowledge of the combined figure (Silva’s example — “foot of the hill”)

1.  Now, I can’t resist #1 above, because it relates to my poetic/aesthetic and musical sensibilities and training.  Silva suggests that some words may be “phonologically motivated” — impelled by the very sound they make.  Think onomatopoeia here — words like “sizzle” and “shush.”  It’s probably too much of a stretch to think that the Greek eresso [etymologically a component of hupēretas] might have been onomatopoetic, sort of making the sound of the oars in the water, or the mechanical steering components of ancient boats, but maybe it’s not too much of a stretch after all, and that’s the kind of thing my weird head goes to sometimes.  (Say the word out loud, repeating it at intervals, and you might think I’m less crazy:  ehr – ESS – oh . . . ehr – ESS – oh.)  This human, at least, hears the sounds of words in addition to their derived meanings, and I suspect a segment of humanity has always noticed sounds in this manner.  The questions in this case are at least two:  could this word have been phonologically motivated?  And could Paul have been conscious of that connection on some level?  The odds of affirmative answers for both of those together, I suppose, are not good, but I still feel like asking Paul about it.  (Please see the next post on Friday — a highly unusual type/style for me. . . .)

2.  Beyond a possible sound-connection, #2 above is also potentially related to the meaning of Paul’s word hupēretas or eresso.  Morphology (the identification and consideration of  linguistic units such as roots and prefixes) is more directly tied to what most of us think of as etymology, and this was the root impetus for these recent blogs.  The word hupēretas has two components; whether Paul might have been consciously aware of those components as he wrote remains my essential question.  The problem comes in not knowing what was in Paul’s head.  (Again, please see Friday’s post.  It’s not as heavy and hard to wade through as this one; it might be just as significant; and it was more fun to write.)

3.  With #3, I think Silva has in mind the semantic relationship of whole words, not the smaller morphological components such as roots . . . but figures of speech are perhaps in the background with both hupēretas and eresso. 

Silva has also contrasted the following two etymological approaches:

  • diachronic — an approach that considers evolution of words, moving through time
  • synchronic — an approach that analyzes language in one era, not considering historical change

These labels initially threw me off the scent—ironically enough, because of etymologically analyzable components:  the prefix “syn” implies “together” — which initially might suggest considering the developmental/historical senses of a word together, but that’s not what Silva means.  For him, the diachronic approach is more like what is commonly conceived of as “etymology,” which works with the components that have arisen in any time period.

“Even in the closest ties between historical and descriptive studies, however, the priority of synchrony, the dominant function of usage, must be maintained,” concludes Silva.  (p. 51)

While he gives some credence to (diachronic) etymology in determining NT Greek meanings, he allows more such latitude in Hebrew studies, noting, “The relative value of this use of etymology varies inversely with the quantity of material available for the language” (p. 42).  Because of 1) the nature of Hebrew, and 2) the relative paucity of documents available in Hebrew, “diachronic” etymology will play a more significant role in OT studies than with NT Greek studies.

Here are some other, summary points, when considering the place of etymology in translating:

    1. Some terms may only be apparently connected to the historical meanings, or to meanings of their component parts. (49)
    2. Compounds (such as hupēretas) and derivatives may lose their associations with earlier elements if those elements are no longer used. (49)  So, if eresso was falling out of use by the middle of the 1st century, hupēretas might no longer have been consciously associated with rowing.
    3. “Greek — a rather synthetic language – is relatively transparent.”  A compound word that at one point was associated with a certain idea could possibly be recalling that idea although no longer directly associated with it.  (49)  So, a compound word like hupēretas could still be recalling the idea of rowing or steering, although it might have lost any conscious association with eresso.
    4. a. A derivative term that retains its spelled-out components might well undergo semantic changes over a period of years, decades, or centuries.  b. It is also possible for a word to take on a new sense, disconnected from its historical etymology. (50)

So, what should one do — one who is reading, trying to understand, and trying to arrive at a translation of a rather obscure Greek word or expression?

Should he go with a basic, “gloss” meaning for a word, perhaps intuiting a bit from the immediate context?

Should he zoom out to a book-level context to see what might be possible in the mind of an author who uses a word?

Should he zoom out even further to consider other authors’ (biblical or otherwise) uses of the same word?  Their uses of similar/cognate words?  Their uses of other words in the same semantic domain?

Should he investigate the etymologically attested meaning and/or the semantic development of the term?

Should he dump the best definitions into a hopper to see what the average, common, consensus rendering might be?  What happens if he inadvertently seasons the mixture with one or two of the second-best definitions?

(Merit is found in all the above.)

Might a reader and would-be interpreter/translator also be so bold as to “dialogue” intuitively with the apostle Paul — in this case, to ask him, in absentia, what he meant by hupēretas?

[To be continued — in hypothetical dialogue with Paul]



¹ The opposite of transparent is opaque; an opaque word would be one with no apparent relationship between spelling/sounding and meaning — an arbitrary meaning, if you will.

Brian Casey, 2/18-25/2015

1Cor 4:1 — probing the application of etymology in translation

I’m still exploring translation.  Following the sharing of my 1Cor 4:1-5 translations and abbreviated thoughts on the role and processes of lexical works, I want to consider the application of etymology in biblical studies.

[Caveat lector for the sake of any NB* or CB* or QQB* who may happen in here:  this is no seminarian blog; neither am I subject, by reason of salary or conscience, to any denomination.  Rather, I am a sincere believer who tries—among pursuits in Christian, musical, and other spheres—to study the original NT language, toward a more apt application, in this era, of well-attested, ancient texts.   * NB = non-believer; CB = closeted believer; QQB = questioning or quasi-believer ]

I confess this:  it is difficult for me to give up etymology.  I am a “word guy”often thinking about words, punning and teaching my child to pun, and looking for the perfect expression. . . .  When I began to realize that etymology would often steer me off course (eresso/hupēretas | row or steer reference intended!), it was painful.

In the last day of preparation of this post, I found someone else’s blog that’s even titled with the word eresso (the root etymological component of hupēretas).  On that blog, a single, etymologically derived definition has taken on a life of its own.  Says that writer, Brad Besson, “‘Eresso’ describes the galley slaves in the belly of the ship whose rowing propelled the ship through the sea.”  Besson has apparently taken as his jumping-off point this same text, 1Cor 4:1, but he has perhaps been a bit more careless than I:

  • he misspelled hupēretas (an easy mistake to make)
  • he conflated two related words as though they are one and the same
  • he advanced one etymologically derived definition (presumably Robertson or Thayer) to the exclusion of others

I think Besson was seeking to create, for the sake of his readers, an image of a dutiful slave, rowing a boat for Christ.  Devotionally speaking, that may in fact be a rich or helpful image, but it is less textually justified than my own translation.  The question may be one of purpose:  what is the purpose of this or that blog or translation?  Besson doesn’t appear to have text translation as one of his primary purposes, so he should probably be graciously excused from the requirement to adhere strictly to the most stringent translation principles.  Or should he not be excused?

How far afield from the text can one go in order to make a devotional point?

When one uses an etymologically based definitionin Besson’s case, sort of amalgamating definitions of two related wordsto support a preconceived point, he is in danger of saying something the text doesn’t say.  (For the record, I don’t think Besson has said anything remotely “dangerous.”  He has made a point in keeping with general NT thoughts about serving under Christ.)  On the other hand, when one uses appropriate resources appropriately, he is much more likely to say what the text actually says.)

Etymology’s berth in textual studies is not a particularly elevated one.  Yet etymology may at times be judiciously pressed into service.

Moisés Silva deems etymological research “the backbone of comparative linguistics” (Biblical Words and Their Meaning:  An Introduction to Lexical Semantics, 1983-1994, p. 41), but 1) the value of comparing cognates inside a family of ancient languages is more on-track than 2) attempting to determine the meaning of a single, Koiné Greek word based on its components.  In other words, etymology is not as valuable in NT Greek word studies as it is when an ancient, Semitic language is being compared, say, to Aramaic or Hebrew.

Many a time have I heard preachers and others make the points given as negative examples in Silva’s book.  ShootI have made those points myself!  Hermeneutically speaking, I have been guilty of the crime of stealing identitiesidentities of words, that ishijacking them without harmful purpose, but taking them where they didn’t want to go nonetheless.  It’s hard not to make connections, for instance, between 2000-year-old Greek and contemporary English when I’m a teacher who naturally searches for metaphors to communicate important ideas to students.  The Greek dunamis (dynamis), for example, may easily be connected by morphemes to the English “dynamic” and “dynamite,” but any real, conceptual linkage is tenuous at best.

In over-exuberance, I might be caught saying something like this to a music ensemble when they are being conservative with musical dynamics:

“You guys are playing more like hibernating rabbits than lions right now.  The dynamic shape here should be larger and more dramatic.  You know, the word “dynamic” comes directly from a Greek word that was sometimes used to describe powerful displays — miracles — beyond the naturally observable.  Let’s make the dynamic shape of this passage more powerful — almost miraculous.”

In saying all the above, I would have been

  1. mixing animal and language metaphors (whatever . . .)
  2. communicating fairly well about interpreting music (yay, me)
  3. treading on very thin ice with regard to comparative linguistics (ouch).  Connecting the English “dynamite” or “dynamics” backward to dunamis can “tend to create certain associations in the mind of the modern Bible reader that might have been foreign to the original writers.”  (Silva, p. 45)

Generally, as a teacher, I’m reluctant at times, yet I should probably be more careful than I already am when thinking and teaching about biblical words and their usage.

This has gotten too long, so I’ll continue in a second, summary post on “applied etymology.”

Brian Casey, 2/18-23/2015

1Cor 4:1 — probing translation processes and resources

Following the sharing of my 1Cor 4:1-5 translations, I’d like to explore a bit.

In one sphere, I have submitted to certain translation principles and goals — principles and goals that I support with heart and with gusto — by altering some wordings.  I do think additional considerations are sometimes germane, so I’d like to float some other thoughts here.  This is “thinking out loud” as part of my learning process, mostly; it is not intended to be paradigmatic or prescriptive for anyone else.

Considerable concern¹ has recently resulted from my rendering of the Greek word ὑπηρέτας | hupēretas in 1Cor 4:1.  Let’s investigate this word as an example.

This word hupēretas  is a compound noun.  The first part is, etymologically speaking, a preposition that means “under”; the second part is from a derivative of eresso, which means, roughly speaking, to row.   (See forthcoming comments on etymology and semantic change.)  This word (like most other words to be translated from one language to another!) has no single equivalent, but a range of possible meanings, including those shown below:

  • rower; underling, servant, attendant (Liddell-Scott-Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon)
  • officers, attendants of magistrates, officers who execute penalties; a king’s attendants, servants, retinue, the soldiers of a king (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon)
  • under-rowers, subordinate rowers of Christ (Robertson’s Word Pictures)
  • general idea of “service” (Moulton & Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek NT)
  • servant (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT Based on Semantic Domains)
  • an under-rower, subordinate rower; anyone who aids another in any work; an assistant.  A closely related verb, hupēreteō, is to act as rower, to row; to minister, to render service (Thayer’s A Greek-English Lexicon)
  • steerer who follows orders as a free person, not a slave (“Little Kittel,” Theological Dictionary of the NT)


While good translation-scholarship, as I understand it currently, will gravitate to certain principles (vis-a-vis choice and use of lexical resources, for example), those principles may not represent the whole picture as one seeks to understand and translate a text for one or more audiences and purposes.

Given my relative inexperience, it’s probably too bold of me to question lexicographers’ choices for specific passages.  By that, I mean that when Thayer (or Liddell-Scott, or whoever) suggests that a given meaning we’ll call “(b)” is the meaning that should be attributed to a word in a given, ancient text, I sometimes wonder what the choice is based on.  Word usage often falls into patterns, and grammatical constructions across a corpus of literature can give strong clues as to the contextual meaning of a word.  In other instances, though, the intended/original meanings might be more elusive.

My growing-but-elementary understanding has begun to put certain lexicons in a more “trusted” category; this trustworthiness stems, in part, from broader scope.  Case in point:  the current Bauer, Dänker, Arndt, & Gingrich or Moulton & Milligan lexical works are considered more trustworthy than some other works because they have taken into consideration a greater number of discovered usages of a given word from more literature, both secular and sacred.

But there is still opinion involved.  Informed opinion, and perhaps extra-informed opinion, but opinion nonetheless.  Based on grammatical construction and extra-biblical literature, a lexicon might suggest that (b) is the best meaning for textual instance #14.  For my part, I wonder whether such a suggestion might turn out to have been a trifle hasty.

Essentially, I wonder whether a lesser reference tool might get a thing right, while the more currently academically accepted lexicons may be found to have missed the boat (rowing reference intended), in their attempts to be more circumspect.  The percentage of likelihood in any given case is not the point here; rather, it’s just that the possibility exists that Robertson or Kittel or Thayer might “get” Paul’s mind in 1Cor 4:1 more than, say, Moulton & Milligan or BDAG (Bauer et al).

Like music-making, linguistic translation is both science and art.  They both involve principles and empirically derived data as well as judgment calls, taste, and aesthetic sensibilities.  One might well be admonished to go with the science when the art appears to conflict, but. . . .

In the next post, I’ll further consider the place (value?) of etymology and will also set up a hypothetical dialogue with Paul, intent on uncovering what he meant by hupēretas in 1Cor 4:1.

¹ “Furor”  was my first word-choice here, but that was too strong a word, inasmuch as it implies a whole horde of people wrangling.  I also rejected “angst” above, but that has certainly been present.  The “concern” is, I suppose, primarily in my head, despite an indication or three to the contrary.  In some senses and in some private instances, I have been misunderstood.  I have apparently not done very well in my attempts to be actively engaged in dialogue.  My own soul is somewhere between grieving and recovering.  There are actually ramifications for my potential work in and for the Kingdom.

Brian Casey, 2/18-23/2015