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Sunday, February 11, 2007

All things are lawful

I heard a vote for the New King James Version last night from a young man who is currently studying English literature and classics. So I had to pay attention. He supplied 1 Cor. 10:23 as his proof text. I did not have a chance to pursue this discussion at the time so I am taking a few minutes today to meditate on why 1 Cor. 10:23 could be considered exemplary in the NJKV. Tell me what you think. There are no right answers.

    πάντα ἔξεστιν ἀλλ' οὐ πάντα συμφέρει πάντα ἔξεστιν ἀλλ' οὐ πάντα οἰκοδομεῖ Zhubert

    “Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. NET

    "Everything is permissible" but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" but not everything is constructive. NIV

    "I have the right to do anything," you say—but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"—but not everything is constructive. TNIV

    All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. NASB

    You say, "I am allowed to do anything "but not everything is helpful. You say, "I am allowed to do anything" but not everything is beneficial. NLT

    "All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. NRSV

    All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. NKJV

    All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. KJV

    "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. ESV

Which is more literal? In the first place, panta can be translated by 'all things' which reflects the plural but is actually two words, rather than one word. 'Everything' does not reflect the plural but, on the plus side, it is a single word translation. Does that make it more literal? Is it at all relevant if the translation of one Greek word is one word or two words in English? Is it less word-for-word if the English demands two words?

Now for the real stuff. Translating exestin with lawful gives the impression, in my view, that this verse refers to the law - nomos. It does not. So there is a disadvantage in translating exestin by 'lawful'. 'Permissible' or 'I have the right' are to me contenders for a literal translation.

Translating sumpherei with 'beneficial', 'helpful', 'expedient', or 'profitable', are all equally literal for this rather vague Greek expresssion. I would suggest that 'expedient' is the closest to the Greek. 'Helpful' has been chosen by the ESV and is the easiest English word to use in this case. It has the lowest register, and occurs in the NKJV and the NLT. There seems to be no rational for this grouping. But these translations are the favourites of the ESV general editor. The main difference seems to be in stylistic register rather than literalness.

Finally, oikodomew. This is more interesting. It was a literal and transparent metaphor in Greek. There is no doubt in my mind that the word 'build' is the best rendering. Perhaps 'edify' was a transparent and concrete word for the KJV translators. Maybe the connection to edifice was obvious and automatic. But no longer. 'Edifying' today has spritual reference first. Not so the Greek word. 'Constructive' maybe.

Now for the placement of the negative. In the Greek there is a contrast between 'all things' and 'not all things'. So the KJV does not perform well here. This word order is retained in every other translation.

Let's try this for consistency and Anglo-Saxon roots. If anyone can supply another word for 'permissible' that would be great.

    All things are permissible, but not all things are helpful. All things are permissible, but not all things build up.

What do you think? I was not able to find an answer to my question regarding the NKJV. I don't know why it would be considered better. I do know that the use of quotation marks was an irritant to my young friend.

You may notice that the title reflects my propensity to identify verse by their rendering in the KJV.


At Sun Feb 11, 06:03:00 PM, Blogger John said...


REB, NIV, NJB, and ISV also stay away from 'lawful' here. NJB, NIV, and ISV translate 'permissible,' just as you do.

Over against REB and NJB, your translation stands out for its compactness and aphoristic quality, both aspects of the original.

Did you know that your translation is identical to that of ISV?

I concur with the choice to leave out quotation marks. But the decision does create difficulties later on. In my view, almost all modern translations botch 1 Corinthians 10:29b-32. The verse division itself is misleading. But the real problem, as often, is tracking the flow of Paul's logic. Not always an easy task! If I read the passage in NRSV, NAB, NJB, NIV, ISV, or ESV, I get the impression that Paul ties himself up in knots rather than come to a strong conclusion. I suppose that's possible - I can think of other passages where Paul ends in a flurry of convolution.

But I think REB, alone among the translations I consulted, hits upon the right interpretation. First of all, REB puts a paragraph division between v29a and v29b. This seems right to me.

(People sometimes assume that verse and chapter divisions are infallible guides to the sense divisions of the underlying text. That is a very naive point of view.)

Secondly, REB translates as follows:

'What?' you say. 'Is my freedom to be called in question by another's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I blamed for eating food over which I have said grace?' You may eat or drink, or do anything else, provided it is all done to the glory of God; [but] give no offence to Jews, or Greeks, or to the church of God.

Homework for those who wish ISV to fulfill its stated goals. Come up with a readable translation of 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1, which constitutes a rhetorical unit. I don't think the current draft qualifies.

At Sun Feb 11, 08:25:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Let's try this for consistency and Anglo-Saxon roots.

A for Consistency.
A- for Anglo-Saxon roots (one word was permissible!)

Seriously, Suzanne, your translation does deserve a high grade. I like that way you laid it out in parallel lines. That makes the parallelism in the text itself clearer.

And I do appreciate your using almost entirely Anglo-Saxon roots. There is a special power that comes to our English compositions when we use concise, rough, tough, earthy, pungent Anglo-Saxon roots. I think those roots reflect the heart of what the English language is about, even though we all know that English has freely borrowed (for our benefit) from Latin, the Romance language, and many other languages. But English is still an Anglo-Saxon language and if we translate mostly with A-S words our translations will speak with greater integrity and beauty, IMO, to English speakers.

I also notice, BTW, that the syntax you use in your two lines is that of English's natural Anglo-Saxon lineage. There are no syntactic transliterations from Hebrew or Greek which pervade so many other English Bible versions, reducing their communicative accuracy and literary beauty (IMO, of course).

At Mon Feb 12, 05:53:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Great post, Suzanne.

Here's my translation from The Better Life Bible, in which verse 24 precedes verse 23 (better logical flow for my target audience):

"You should be concerned about the welfare of others as well as your own. Although you can do whatever you choose, not everything you do is helpful to others."

At Mon Feb 12, 07:10:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Did you know that your translation is identical to that of ISV

No, but I enjoy the ISV very much - I just forgot to check on it this time. I didn't cast a wide net. I am glad to know that this translation is used.

At Mon Feb 12, 10:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, you have failed to note the textual issue here. KJV and NKJV add "for me" twice because they follow the Textus Receptus which adds μοι moi twice. I guess NLT has "I" to fit the context rather than for textual reasons. In the very similar passage in 6:12 moi is found twice also in the latest scholarly texts.

You have also failed to note which parts of this are quotations, although all the translations you cite except for KJV, NKJV and NASB do mark the quotations. (In fact even RSV marks them.) The marks may have irritated your friend, but they are necessary for clarity and accuracy.

I agree with you that "lawful" is not good. "Permissible" is better. But from my recent study of exestin I decided that it should be understood as the verb related to exousia "right, authority". Thus the sense here something like "(we) have the right to do anything". Indeed you mention "I have the right" as a possible literal rendering. But I'm not sure how to express that in good English, as I am currently too much involved in how to express things in another target language. In that language we have used a word meaning "develop" for oikodomeo, so maybe "develop" would work in English, or at least something like "not all things help our development".

At Tue Feb 13, 03:22:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

I like the GW rendering more than the NLT, because the text doesn't necessarily imply the Corinthians themselves were advocating this view, changing from "you" to "someone".

Someone may say, "I'm allowed to do anything," but not everything is helpful. I'm allowed to do anything, but not everything encourages growth. GW

But I do like your translation, Suzanne.


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