Greek Translation


Notes on the Translation From the Greek

Vocabulary.

In general, the renderings given to the Greek words in the New Testament TransLine are of a broad, simple, standardized nature, and are not as finely nuanced as in other translations. Most translations try to reflect the particular shade or nuance of meaning in each place a certain word is used, minimizing footnotes. The New Testament TransLine tries to use the same rendering in all places a Greek word is used, adding a note containing the other shades of meaning and the other places that word is used so that the reader can compare all the uses of that Greek word. An attempt is made to render different forms of a Greek word (a noun, adjective, adverb, and verb of the same root word, for example) in a way that reflects the relationship between them. For example, see “sound-minded” in 1 Tim 3:2. Words are not independent islands, and by this method the New Testament TransLine seeks to reflect and display more of the interrelationships and connections between the Greek words than is normally done in English. The Greek student can find the more finely-tuned renderings in a lexicon, and English readers can see them in the standard English translations. In addition, the writers often use the same root word in its verb, noun, and adjective form in the same context. For example, “If the salt became tasteless, by what will it be salted?” (Mt 5:13); “the good-news which I announced-as-good-news” (1 Cor 15:1). Or they use the same verb multiple times, as “think” is used three times in Phil 2:2, 5. This repetition is mirrored in the New Testament TransLine whenever possible, allowing the English reader to see the words from the Greek perspective.

Word order.

Greek words have different endings that determine the part of speech of each word, so they can be placed almost anywhere in the sentence. English words do not have such endings, so word order is critical. Normal English word order is subject, verb, object, prepositional phrase, as in “Fred hit the ball with the bat.” In Greek the word order could be “The ball hit Fred with the bat” or “Hit Fred with the bat the ball.” Clearly these must be placed in English word order to be understood in English. Sometimes the Greek word order could be kept in English, but it sounds like poetry to us. For example, “Imitators of me be, brothers,” Phil 3:17. Since the writers of the New Testament wrote in the common language of the people, not poetry, the New Testament TransLine in general places words in normal English word order whenever possible, “Brothers, be imitators of me.” Thus the word order of the Greek is not retained in the New Testament TransLine, in the interests of understandability. Using English word order in general allows the New Testament TransLine to include other literal aspects of the Greek without overwhelming the English reader with foreignness. But in those cases where the word order is a factor in understanding what is being said, the Greek word order is retained, or an explanation is given in the notes.

Italics.

Words in italics in the New Testament TransLine are a vital part of the literal translation into English. They are not optional words, but words required or implied by the use in context of various aspects of Greek grammar and sentence construction. Do not skip over them when reading. Warning: Italics are used in a different way in the New Testament TransLine and are not directly comparable to their use in other translations! The need to use italics at all illustrates the fact that Greek and English express certain matters in different ways. The Greek can express things through the grammar of the words that the English can express only with additional words. In the New Testament TransLine, the expressed Greek words are in plain type; the words implied by the grammar of the Greek word, phrase, or sentence structure are in italic type. Both together make up a literal translation into English. Using italics to display these words is not a perfect solution, but it does permit more visibility of the Greek word relations than has previously been available to the English reader. Taking this approach, instead of putting all the implied words in plain type as is usually and properly done in English translations, allows the New Testament TransLine to more precisely display the forms of the Greek word relations. This allows the English reader to see things a little more from the Greek perspective. The English reader will understand that these words are implied; the reader who knows Greek will understand why. In the vast majority of cases, there is no dispute about what word is implied by the grammar, or about the alternate ways to express it accurately in English. It is all quite routine. Where there is uncertainty regarding the intended meaning, the alternatives are given in the notes. Here are a few examples of the use of italics:

In Greek, the relationship that a noun, pronoun, adjective or article has to the sentence is indicated by the ending on the word, and its use in the context. For example, one ending can imply “of ” or “from” or “than”; another, “for” or “to” or “with” or “by” or “in,” depending on how the word is used. Thus, the Greek says “the disciples of the Pharisees,” “of ” being part of the article “the,” so to speak, not an independent word. These implied helping words are in italics in the New Testament TransLine, since which one to use is based on the use of the word in context. But Greek also separately expresses these helping words (prepositions), for various reasons. When this is the case, they are in plain type. Thus, the difference in the form of expression chosen by the biblical writer can be clearly seen by the English reader in cases like Luke 1:55, “just as He spoke to [an expressed preposition] our fathers—to [implied by the grammar] Abraham and to [implied by the grammar] his seed forever.”

In Greek, the pronoun “you” has different endings for the singular and the plural. In English, it is not always clear in the context which is being used. So in order to make clear that the “you” is plural, sometimes the word “all” or “people” is added in italics. For example, “Do not marvel that I said to you ‘You all must be born again’ ” (Jn 3:7). “If I told you people earthly things” (Jn 3:12).

In Greek, a writer may deliberately leave routine words out of a phrase or sentence, expecting the reader to supply them from the context. The structure of the phrase or sentence demands that the reader supply the necessary word to make it complete. This is a very common feature of Greek, but not English, which requires more explicitness. For example, the writer may intend that the reader supply the verb, as Peter does in 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God”; “and His ears are open” in 3:12; “But if one suffers” in 4:16; “Because it is time” in 4:17, etc. Or, the reader may be expected to supply the object, as in “I exhort you” in 2:11; “blessing them” in 3:9; or a possessive pronoun, as in “observing your good works” in 2:12; “for His possession” in 2:9.

In Greek, the grammar of a participle in context often implies a personal subject, expressed in the New Testament TransLine with the word “one” in italics. For example, Peter says “the One having caused” in 1:3; “the ones being guarded” in 1:5. The “one” is implied by the usage of the participle. These are commonly rephrased in English as “who caused,” “who are being guarded.”

In Greek, the gender relation of a word is implied by the ending of the word as used in context. For example, Peter says the work of “each person” (1:17), the grammar of the adjective “each” in context implying the word “person,” or “one” (NASB), or “man” in a generic sense (NIV). The NRSV rephrases “each person” here as “their.” Peter’s intent is perfectly clear and may be properly expressed in English in these various ways. “Free ones” (2:16) and “all things” (4:7) are other examples.

In Greek, purpose and result are expressed in several ways, as in English. There are words that are translated “that,” “in order that,” and “so that.” Take for example, “He died in order that He might save us.”  But many times the word “that” is not stated or is represented by another word. The required words are added in italics. For example, “He died that He might save us,” “He died that He might save us,” “He died so as to save us.” These all mean the same thing, but represent different grammatical constructions.

In Greek, the usage of the article “the” is not like English. There are many places where Greek includes the article, but it is not needed in English (for example, “I thank God always” would read “I thank the God always”). In these cases, the article is not included in the New Testament TransLine. On the other hand, there are many places where Greek implies an article but does not write it (such as the object of a preposition, “for the praise of the glory of His grace”). If it is needed in English, it is included in italics. Finally, in many places smooth English prefers an article where the Greek does not have one for various reasons (“having taken the form of a slave”). These are also included in italics. Since Greek has no indefinite article, “a” or “an,” they are always included in italics.

Brackets.

When words are added to clarify the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence, they are added in brackets. These words are not implied by the grammar or sentence structure, but by the intended meaning of the biblical writer. If one skips over them, the actual words expressed in Greek may be read. For example, the word “deep feelings” in Mt 9:36 can refer to several specific emotions. The phrase “[of compassion]” is added to clarify the word, but the word is understandable without this clarification. In the phrase “reclining back [to eat]” in Mt 26:20, “[to eat]” is added to the word “reclining back” to bring out its meaning in this context. Others rephrase this idiom as “sat down,” since we do not recline to eat in our society as people did in that day. In Mt 9:31, “[the news about]” is added to clarify the meaning. As with words in italics, these words are rarely in dispute. Most are usually in plain type in the other translations; some are in italics. When they are in doubt, the various views are mentioned in a note.

The gender issue.

Words such as “sons,” “brothers,” “man,” and the pronoun “he” are often used in the New Testament when both men and women are in view, a custom also followed in English until recent times. Since the New Testament TransLine is reflecting the ancient Greek, these words are rendered as the biblical writers wrote them. Although this is not the modern gender-explicit or gender-neutral way of speaking, it accurately reflects the Greek point of view. The modern reader can easily make the transition between how the Greek states it, and how we in the 21st century prefer to state it. In the case of “brother” and “son,” the reader can discern from the context whether physical brothers/sons, fellow-members of Abraham’s physical family (Israelites, male and female), or fellow-members of God’s spiritual family (fellow-believers, brothers and sisters in the Lord) are in view. In the case of “man,” there are Greek words that always refer specifically to a male or a female, and they are translated as such. But there is another Greek word (anthropos, from which we get “anthropo”-logy) which means “man” in the sense of “male” and “mankind, a person, whether male or female.” In order to clearly reflect the writers’ intended meaning in English, this word is translated “man” only when a male person is intended. Otherwise, it is rendered “person, mankind, human.” This permits the English reader to see the meaning in places like Jn 6:10, which uses two different words to say that the “people” (anthropos) sat down to eat, and the “men” were counted.

Verbs.

In English we use helping words to convey the meaning of the verb. Forexample, consider the verb “walk.” We say “to walk,” “he has walked,” “I have been walking,” “having walked,” “while walking,” “he will walk,” “he had walked,” “I am walking,” “I was walking,” etc. The words “to, has, have been, having, while, will, had, am, was,” and the pronouns, are helping words. In Greek there are no helping words. Whether the verb means “I am walking,” “You will walk,” or “They have walked” is indicated by the form of the verb, by the ending on the verb itself (the context indicates whether the third person singular means “he,” “she,” or “it”). In the New Testament TransLine, the helping words are considered to be part of the verb form itself and are not placed in italics. Special renderings of the tense indicated by the context that overrule the routine meaning of the verb forms are described in the notes. If the pronoun (I, we, you, he, she, they) is separately expressed in Greek, it is done for emphasis. In the New Testament TransLine, such words are in bold.

The Greek tenses do not correspond precisely to English tenses. This is especially true of the Perfect tense. For example, consider “It has been written.” Put simply, the Greek perfect tense can either lay the stress on a past completed action (as in English, translated as “it has been written”), or on the continuing result of that completed action (translated as “it is written,” which sounds like a present tense in English). There is no clear way to bring both senses into English. Most translations choose which emphasis to bring across in each specific case. In general, the New Testament TransLine renders the tenses in an artificially strict fashion. Present tense, “I walk” or “I am walking.” Imperfect tense, “I was walking.” Future tense, “I will walk.” Aorist tense, “I walked” or “I walk.” Perfect tense, “I have walked.” Pluperfect tense, “I had walked.” This method displays the difficult cases in which the meaning of the Greek tense must be interpreted. For example, “I was well pleased” in Mt 17:5.

The Greek participle is one of the rich features of the Greek language and is used in various ways. For example, consider the participle “having come.” Based on the context, this could mean “when he came,” “after he came,” “since he came,” “although he came,” “if he comes,” “because he came,” “by his coming,” etc. In the New Testament TransLine, however, the participle is translated in an artificially strict fashion in order to communicate to the English reader that a participle is being used and to retain the Greek sentence structure. To illustrate using the word “walk,” the verbal use of the participle for the present tense is translated “walking” or “while walking”; for the aorist and perfect tenses, “having walked.” The substantive use of the participle for the present tense is translated “The one walking” (one is in italics because it is implied in the usage of the participle with the article); for the aorist and perfect tense, “The one having walked.” The reader can easily discern in most cases which nuance to place on the “while” or “having.” When this convention cannot be followed, a note is added to point it out. While the result may not sound like the way we would normally speak in English, it allows the English reader to “hear” the text from the Greek perspective. For example, note Matthew 2:10-12, and Mt 27:48.

Here is more detail on the verb and participle. Some readers may prefer to skip this section.
The New Testament TransLine rendering of verbs and participles is deliberately standardized with a nonnuanced, basic significance, reflecting the Greek form of the word. In other words, they are generally rendered in a “raw” form, to which a translator would then normally add a more explicit nuance in English, based on the implications of the context. English simply prefers more explicitness than Greek. In most cases, these nuances from the context are clear and obvious to everyone, and can be supplied by the reader, as intended by the Greek. In some places, there are different opinions about which grammatical nuance the context implies, and these are addressed in the notes. In general, the intent of the New Testament TransLine is to remain one step short of interpreting the grammatical nuance, allowing the reader to see the raw data from which such interpretation proceeds. For example, based on the context, the usage of the participle in “having known God, they did not glorify Him as God” in Rom 1:21 more explicitly means “although they knew”; the verb in “He was teaching them, saying” in Mt 5:2 may mean “He began to teach”; the verb in “I was compelling them to blaspheme” in Act 26:11 may mean “I was trying to compel”; the participle in “how shall we escape, having neglected” in Heb 2:3 more explicitly means “if we neglect.”

This does not mean that the New Testament TransLine’s rendering of verbs and participles is “more accurate” or “more literal.” Rather, the New Testament TransLine has more simple, more rudimentary, less explicit renderings that follow the Greek forms more closely. The renderings in other translations are fuller, more explicit expressions of the meaning of the word together with its contextual implications, in normal English forms. The one contains the raw data; the other, the finely tuned and polished end-product. But this does mean that the other versions are more interpretive, since they seek to make explicit what is implied by the context, although in the vast majority of cases the interpretation required is minimal, routine, obvious, and undisputed. And this explains, in part, why we see differences of phrasing in the various standard translations. There is more than one way to correctly rephrase these things in English!

The reader who knows Greek will understand the New Testament TransLine renderings for what they are, and will immediately begin considering how to properly nuance them. The English reader can also do this, to some degree. But with English readers, the renderings in the New Testament TransLine face a danger from their “rawness” and standardization, a danger of not being fully understood or perhaps of even being misunderstood. The English reader can avoid such dangers by using the other translations as a guide to the various ways in which the verbs and participles can be properly nuanced.

Linked contrasts.

About 90 times in the New Testament, the Greek uses a certain construction (men… de) to link two phrases or sentences together in a contrast, similar to “on the one hand… on the other hand” (but this rendering is too strong in all but a few cases). This idiom is normally not translated into English because we have no equivalent way of saying it. The New Testament TransLine attempts to reflect it by using a bolded word and a dash. For example, “The harvest is great— but the workers are few” (Mt 9:37). This idiom does two things: it links the two parts together as one unit of thought, and it alerts the reader at the beginning of the first part that a second part is coming, causing the reader to anticipate the conclusion of the contrast. If while reading you emphasize the bolded word, and pause at the dash, you will approximate the idea of the Greek. When this idiom is used, a note is added saying that the grammar is emphasizing the contrast between the two halves of the sentence.

The Gospels.

Because the Gospels each present the details of the life of Christ, there are many parallel accounts of the same events or words. Special care has been taken to ensure that when two Gospels use the same words and grammar, it is translated the same way in both. When they use different words or grammar, the New Testament TransLine reflects it. The cross-references to parallel accounts and verbally similar places are provided in the notes.