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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Matt. 22:16 - Does God care for no one?

In Matt. 22:16 the Pharisees sent emissaries to Jesus to ask about paying taxes to Caesar. They began by saying:
Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any [man]: for thou regardest not the person of men. (KJV)

Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. (RSV)
I have boldfaced the wordings I am concerned about in this post. The KJV and RSV use some meaning sense of the word "care" which I am unfamiliar with. I am not even able to find it in my dictionary.

Someone reading either of these wordings could get the idea that God doesn't care for people. And yet most of us know, at least cognitively, that he actually does. Some of us have memorized that great verse, 1 Peter 5:7:
Casting all your care upon him [God]; for he careth for you. (KJV)

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. (RSV)
1 Peter 5:7 makes it clear that God does care for us. So, I assume, that the word "care" is used with a different intended meaning in Matt. 22:16 from its use in 1 Peter 5:7 in the KJV and RSV.

The ESV only mildly revises wordings of the RSV which do not have to do with removing perceived liberal biases in the RSV. But Matt. 22:16 is one place where the ESV makes ordinary good literary revision of the RSV:
Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.
The ESV retains the word "care" but it now has a meaning which all English speakers today know. Notice also that the ESV increases the accuracy of the RSV: the ESV has "anyone" instead of RSV "man." "No man" is no longer an accurate translation of the Greek indefinite pronoun oudenos for most English speakers.

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23 Comments:

At Thu May 10, 05:07:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

A quick glance at care in the Oxford English Dictionary reveals that in its negative form care assumes different meanings:

In negative and conditional construction: a. not to care passes from the notion of ‘not to trouble oneself’, to those of ‘not to mind, not to regard or pay any deference or attention, to pay no respect, be indifferent’.

The Oxford English Dictionary shows this very verse (in the Coverdale translation) as one of the examples of that negative usage. (Its examples date from 1489 to relatively modern usage.)

I will note that the word continues to have that use in English today. If I say: "I don't care what people say" it does not mean that I should be somehow "taking care" of what people say in the same way that one "takes care" of a dog -- it means that what people say is indifferent to me.

Notice further the difference in meaning between "I own a kennel, I care for dogs" and "I don't like pets, I don't care for dogs." Notice that the meaning of "care" is different in the two sentences: in the first case meaning "take care of" and in the second case meaning (in its negation) "indifferent to."

Whether one can use a translated verse in 1st Peter to determine the meaning of a translated verse in Matthew could be a matter of some debate; especially since words sometimes change their meaning in English when used in negative form.

Is it possible for these English verses to be misinterpreted by those who are unable to understand moderately sophisticated English? I suppose so -- but that is not clear that was the audience that the KJV or the RSV was written for. In any case, in this day of numerous translations, certainly those who prefer literary English have the right to demand a translation a translation not aimed at the lowest common denominator.

 
At Thu May 10, 06:56:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Just for the sake of precision, Matt 22:16 does not say that Jesus doesn't care for people, even in the KJV. It says that the Pharisees said he doesn't care for people.

As far as translating the Greek, I think "care" is the usual way to translate μελει. And I don't think that another of it's normal options, such as "be interested it" or "be concerned about" really avoid the same problem you are noticing. The truth is, just like students of the Greek have to interpret μελει by the context, so do students of the English have to interpret "care" by the context. It may be an unusual thing to say in either language. But we all get the point. I never noticed this before, but now I can see the irony of the Pharisees claiming that Jesus cares for nobody. At any rate, it's a claim that led you to question what they said and to compare it to 1 Pet 5:7 (which also uses the word μελει). I certainly wouldn't advise English translators to render this verse in a way that glosses over the irony and that steals from them the opportunity to wrestle with the text like you have. Here's a case where the ESV got it wrong.

 
At Thu May 10, 07:02:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

More interesting options:

REB: Teacher, we know you are a sincere man; you teach in all sincerity the way of life that God requires, courting no man's favour, whoever he may be.

NEB: Master, you are an honest man, we know; you teach in all honesty the way of life that God requires, truckling to no man, whoever he may be.

Truckling?

 
At Thu May 10, 07:17:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anonymous noted:

Notice further the difference in meaning between "I own a kennel, I care for dogs" and "I don't like pets, I don't care for dogs." Notice that the meaning of "care" is different in the two sentences: in the first case meaning "take care of" and in the second case meaning (in its negation) "indifferent to."

Thank you very much. You're exactly right. And I expected that you would fill in what was missing in my understanding of that meaning sense of "care." I, of course, do have the negative context meaning sense of "care" that you have noted. I did notice the negative context in the Bible versions, but just forgot about the kinds of examples which you have given.

FWIW, I find it much easier to understand your example sentences than either of the clauses I posted about in the KJV and RSV. In fact, I still don't understand them, after understanding the intended meaning sense from your example sentences, although I will take, by faith (!), that some people presumably do understand the KJV and RSV wordings.

 
At Thu May 10, 07:20:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Truckling?

Just think how odd some of our Americanisms must sound to the Brits when they read American-produced Bibles. I was thinking tonight how many more Bible versions have been produced by speakers of American English than British English, at least since 1900. And I know of no major Bible version produced by Canadians or Australians.

As they say, the Brits and Americans are the only people separated by a common language!

:-)

 
At Thu May 10, 07:26:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Davies and Allison say something interesting in their commentary at Matt 22:16:

"και ου μελει σοι περι ουδενος ου γαρ βλεπεις εις προσωπον ανθρωπων. So Mark. Contrast Jn 10.13; 12.6. For other examples of μελει with ου + περι see Jn 10.13; Josephus, Ant.6.253; 12.163. Note the parallelism: both clauses consist of ου + verb + preposition + object. The contextual sense was rightly expressed by Chrysostom, Hom. on Mt. 10.1: because the speakers were hoping Jesus might speak like a usurper of the government, they, 'in saying, "You care not for anyone", and "You regard not the face of anyone," were hinting at Herod and Caesar.' In other words, v. 16 is designed to embolden Jesus to speak his mind, without regard for what authorities will think."

The only other example of this idiom (besides the ones D&A list) I could find via a Bibleworks search was in Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.1.3, where Hermas is accused of not caring about the transgressions of his family.

 
At Thu May 10, 07:31:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Eric commented:

The truth is, just like students of the Greek have to interpret μελει by the context, so do students of the English have to interpret "care" by the context.

Correct.

It may be an unusual thing to say in either language.

Now that anonymous has cited some contemporary English sentences with the indended meaning sense of "care" in a negative environment, I think that using English "care" in that environment is not really unusual.

But we all get the point.

I'm not so sure that "we all" do. I'm still having difficulty understanding the KJV and RSV wordings, as I noted above in my response to Anonymous. And my vocation (as well as avocation) is language, including a lifetime fascination with the details of English.

I suggest that when we translate for people who speak a language, our translation should be as transparent to people in that language as was the original biblical text. I don't sense any problem with the Greek text here. I do have difficulty understanding some of the English translations of it, even though I have spent considerable time trying to grasp the meanings of those translations today. I think that if it takes someone with as many years of formal study of English as I have this much time to try to understand a translation wording then we need to reconsider that wording for something that communicates the intended meaning more accurately and clearly.

 
At Thu May 10, 07:37:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

To try to be more precise, I have now changed the title of this post to have a negative context, parallel, as far as I can tell, with the RSV wording.

Maybe the revised title will help others better understand the difficulty I am having understanding the KJV and RSV wordings discussed in this post.

 
At Thu May 10, 07:42:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

"I'm still having difficulty understanding the KJV and RSV wordings"

You are not giving yourself enough credit. In your original post you seemed to understand both of them just fine. You noticed "Someone reading either of these wordings could get the idea that God doesn't care for people". I would only change that to say not that a reader (one who's paying attention anyway) could conclude that Jesus doesn't care for people, but that the Pharisees accused him of not caring for people. And if readers do conclude that, then they conclude correctly. For that is precisely what the Greek is saying.

 
At Thu May 10, 07:47:00 PM, Blogger sbhebert said...

I definitely prefer "truckling"...

 
At Thu May 10, 07:50:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

"To try to be more precise, I have now changed the title of this post to have a negative context, parallel, as far as I can tell, with the RSV wording."

An even more precise title that would even more accurately portray what the RSV says would be, "Did the Pharisees claim that Jesus cares for no one?"

 
At Thu May 10, 07:55:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

Just think how odd some of our Americanisms must sound to the Brits when they read American-produced Bibles. I was thinking tonight how many more Bible versions have been produced by speakers of American English than British English, at least since 1900. And I know of no major Bible version produced by Canadians or Australians.

Well, an Australian Bible would eliminate gender issues by using the universal "mate", right? :>

Kevin Sam just posted on the ASV's history; certainly there have been more revisions and spinoffs of that translation than the ERV it was based on. The NEB was a new translation; were there any revisions of the ERV on the British side of the pond?

 
At Thu May 10, 08:31:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

"Kevin Sam just posted on the ASV's history; certainly there have been more revisions and spinoffs of that translation than the ERV it was based on."

Isn't this claim a mathematical impossibility? I mean, since the ASV was based on the ERV, it would follow that every spin-off of the former is necessarily also a spin-off of the latter. But, since the ERV was also spin-off of the KJV (or so it was supposed to be), which was itself a spin-off of (I forget..the Bishop's Bible?).... Well, you get the idea.

 
At Thu May 10, 08:48:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Eric responded:

You are not giving yourself enough credit.

Thanks, Eric. I wish I could agree with you.

I would only change that to say not that a reader (one who's paying attention anyway) could conclude that Jesus doesn't care for people, but that the Pharisees accused him of not caring for people.

Yes, precisely. But the specific wording in question in the post has the same meaning regardless of who says it.

And if readers do conclude that, then they conclude correctly. For that is precisely what the Greek is saying.

I disagree, if I understand correctly what you are saying here. Instead, I would agree with Davies and Allen (and Chrysostom), who you quoted above:

In other words, v. 16 is designed to embolden Jesus to speak his mind, without regard for what authorities will think

One of the options in the new poll tests whether people get this latter meaning from the English translation wording in question.

 
At Thu May 10, 09:54:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

OK. I see what you mean. For you it is a matter of the difference between caring about people and caring about what people think. That's a fair distinction.

But, for the purposes of a translation, I would just say that the Greek does not specify that it is about Jesus caring about what people think, just that he does not care about people, using the same word as 1 Pet 5:7, when it says he cares for you. The idea of it being a concern for what people think in Matt 22:16 is something we need to get from the context, both in Greek and English. The claim that Jesus doesn't care about people is an ironic and untrue claim in both languages. Filling in the ellipsis in an English version may be a way of clarifying what the Pharisees meant, just the Greek could also be clarified by filling in such an ellipsis. But the author did not include that clarification, and neither should the translator.

The KJV and RSV come closer to saying in English what is actually said in the original Greek than the ESV does.

 
At Thu May 10, 10:02:00 PM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

As we've been hashing this out, more and more I do think that the KJV and RSV could both be improved by changing the preposition from "for" to "about". Saying Jesus "does not care about anyone" does not have the exact same connotation as "Jesus does not care for anyone." "Care for" allows the notions of taking care of people and also liking people, whereas "care about" definitely doesn't connote "taking care of" and doesn't even quite connote like versus dislike as much as "care for" does. And beyond that, "about" is a better match for περι in general than "for" is anyway.

 
At Thu May 10, 10:04:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

X: Who do you like at this party? Do you like Alice?

Y: No, I don't particularly care for Alice.

X: Well, do you like Betsy?

Y: No, I don't care for Betsy either.

X: Well, do you like Carol?

Y: No, I don't care for any of the women here.

X: You care for no one?

Y: That's right, I care for no one.

In other words, Y has no special preference for any of the women at the party.

He views them all equally.

He does not specially care for any one of them.

He does not care for any one of them.

He cares for no single one of them.

He cares for no one of them.

He cares for no one.

 
At Thu May 10, 10:43:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The KJV and RSV come closer to saying in English what is actually said in the original Greek than the ESV does.

I wonder which comes closest to what the original Greek meant by what it said. The rules for ellipses vary from language to another so we cannot necessarily assume that Greek ellipsis can be formally matched to ellipsis in English and come up with an accurate match. We have to know what are allowed ellipses in each language and that takes very careful study.

 
At Thu May 10, 10:48:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Y: That's right, I care for no one.

In other words, Y has no special preference for any of the women at the party.


Sorry, Anon., but that's not the reading I get from Y's statement in that helpful context which you set up. In this context I get the meaning that Y doesn't like anyone. I simply can't get the reading of special preference, preferential treatment.

My wife and I discussed this on our walk tonight after supper. Her understanding of the meaning of "care" in this context turns out to be the same as mine. And she processes these things faster than I do. I trust her English language intuitions. She's quite good.

 
At Thu May 10, 11:08:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Well, obviously at the time the RSV was written, it was acceptable usage. And the OED and some of this in the thread see it as valid.

But here is another way to try to see it.

X: You care for three of them, don't you? You care for Debra, Ernice, and Felicia?

Y: No, I care for no three.

X: You care for two of them, don't you? Georgia and Henrietta?

Y: No, I care for no two.

X: Well at least your care for one of them, dont you? You care for Irme, don't you?

Y: No, I care for no one.

 
At Fri May 11, 06:41:00 AM, Blogger Nguyễn Đức Kim Long said...

Please understand that the Greek verb "μέλω" has only one meaning which is "CARE".

The question here is: WHO said in Matthew 22:16 that 'JESUS CARES FOR NOBODY'?

It was the Pharisees' disciples (who were Jesus's enemies) that said to Jesus, "WE KNOW YOU CARE FOR NOBODY."

Do we Christians believe in our Lord Jesus's enemies' words?

What a pity for anyone who thinks so.

I'm Nguyen Duc Kim Long
From Saigon, Vietnam
My Blog:
http://360.yahoo.com/mongterlis

 
At Fri May 11, 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Penny said...

In British usage, the phrase "care for" is becoming much more associated with the idea of "physically looking after" someone, on a regular basis, possibly daily.

You might "be a carer" for an elderly person who needs help with washing or eating. In this case, you might say "I care for my great-aunt". Nothing to do with whether you like her, more to do with the physical needs of hers which you are meeting.

FWIW, this is a relatively recent development. (At least as far as I aware.)

 
At Sat May 12, 07:01:00 AM, Blogger Eric Rowe said...

Penny, I don't know how recent that is. But I would say the same thing about the usage of that idiom, as I've heard it. I'd say the two ways I've heard "care for" the most are to mean "take care of" or "like". OTOH "care about" or "be concerned about" would be ways to express the Greek without filling in the ellipsis and avoiding those connotations.

 

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