NET Eph. 1:4
In this post let's look at the wording of Eph. 1:4 in the NET Bible:
For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.I suppose the overall wording of the NET for this verse is better than that of some versions. I think I can figure out most of the intended meaning.
The major idea is that he (God, previously referenced) chose us for a certain purpose. That purpose was that we would live the kind of lives that he wants us to, which here is specified as being "holy and unblemished in his sight in love."
Reflecting the long original Greek sentence, the English sentence of the translation is also long and has many smaller syntactic parts. And it is not initially easy to figure out how all the parts relate to each other, at least if we approach the wording as if we were reading it for the first time. Being difficult to comprehend on first reading is not necessary bad. In our translation consultants workshop, which I am attending now, someone pointed out that we don't necessarily need to aim for all parts of a translation to be understood the first time it is read. It's all right to read something more than once to get more of its meaning. Literary critics know this and it is often pointed out in reviews of Bible translation approaches.
We can examine the major syntactic parts by temporarily dropping out some of the details. For instance, to get at the setting of the time frame for the verse, we can read "For he chose us before the foundation of the world." I know what the NET translators are trying to convey here. It is that God chose us "before the creation of the world" or "before the world was created". I'm not sure what "the foundation of the world" refers to in English. I know what a foundation of a building is. I know about the foundation of some things that are more abstract than a building. For instance, I understand what it means to refer to "the foundation of our democracy." I would think that the Greek word katabole could more naturally be translated here as "creation" even though the lexicons give one of its glosses as 'foundation.' To me both English words refer to the same event, and the word "creation" brings to a reader's mind more easily what that event is. But I can't say that it is wrong to translate with the word "foundation." To my mind, the word "creation" would translate Greek katabole as accurately as "foundation."
Now let's look at another major syntactic construction, the purpose clause (again, only temporarily leaving out those details which are not directly part of the purpose syntax): "For he chose us that we may be holy." I understand this wording all right, but if I were a teacher of an English composition class, or one of the NET Bible editors, I would probably recommend that the NET wording be changed to have a purpose infinitive clause instead of a purpose "that ... may" subordinate clause. I think a wording with an infinitive clause sounds more natural in English: Interestingly, this revision would be closer to the syntactic form of the Greek which also has an infinitive clause for which the English infinitive seems more natural, in English.
I suggest that the conjoined purpose clause "to be holy and unblemished in his sight" may reflect a Semitic doublet where the two parts conjoined are near synonyms and may be combined to give added emphasis to the necessity of having the kind of holy life that God wants to see in us.
Exegetes and translators have struggled with how the English phrase "in love" syntactically connects to its context (and whether it is relating to what precedes or follows). In the NET wording, as in the wording of a number of other English versions, this prepositional phrase is tacked onto the end, but it is not clear what it relates to syntactically or semantically. Again, if I were a composition teacher or an editor for this translation, I would suggest that they work some more to try to make it clearer in the translation how the Greek phrase en agape relates to something else in its context.
Well, these are the kinds of things a Bible translation consultant or editor looks for in a translation, all with the purpose of helping the translation become a better Bible, more accurate, if there is the need for that, clearer, more natural, and, when possible, with greater stylistic elegance or literary beauty.
Categories: Bible translation, clarity, literary quality, NET Bible