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Friday, August 10, 2007

1 Cor. 3:9 co-workers

Most of the translation items from 1 Corinthians that I have discussed on this blog so far are not central to Gordon Fee's main teaching, but they are matters that we have discussed previously and do, in fact, affect the understanding of certain words. However, this verse is of more interest to Fee as it describes our role in building up the church.
    For we are God's co-workers; you are God's field, God's building. TNIV

    θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί θεοῦ γεώργιον θεοῦ οἰκοδομή ἐστε
The question is, of course, whether Paul is saying that they are co-workers with God, that they work alongside God; or that they are co-workers of each other and they all belong to God.

Fee proposes that the Greek suggests the latter because God is fronted, or emphasized, in the sentence. "It is of God that we are the co-workers," Fee intoned. However, it still seems ambiguous to me. This is one instance where the KJV and the NRSV, supposedly literal translations, have each chosen a different non-ambiguous interpretative translation.
    For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. KJV

    For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building. NRSV
It all really brings me to believe that if people really want a literal Bible they should learn the original languages. No one Bible can really be classified as literal except on a relative scale. I don't think there is anything wrong with appreciating a literal Bible, but it is not a matter of knowing that in one Bible we get God's truth and in another we don't. It's all relative.

One has to consider, of course, that once one has learned the original language, the ambiguity remains. At least now you would know for sure, yup, that verse is ambiguous! Learning the language should teach us humility. Guess what, we don't know the answer either.


At Sat Aug 11, 02:48:00 AM, Blogger Carl W. Conrad said...

I really think that Fee is right here: it is θεοῦ that is emphasized in each of the three clauses; I'd English it, perhaps more awkwardly than others, as "It is God's partners that we are, it is God's sown field, God's building-site that you are.!

At Sat Aug 11, 04:17:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Fee proposes that the Greek suggests the latter

Did you in fact mean "the former"? Certainly this is how Carl seems to have understood Fee, as "they are co-workers with God, that they work alongside God" rather than "they are co-workers of each other and they all belong to God".

At Sat Aug 11, 09:02:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I meant "the latter" that we are coworkers of each other and we belong all of us to God. I think that is what Carl means too but I am not sure. Carl? (It is very awkward to disambiguate.)

But the fronting, the emphasis is clear in Greek and certainly is not translated very well in any version.

At Sat Aug 11, 10:45:00 AM, Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

"It is of God that we are the co-workers," Fee intoned.
Am I right in thinking that you interpret this statement as meaning "It is God who has made us co-workers together" whereas I read it as saying "It is God's co-workers that is our calling". Peter and Carl seem to read it as I do, you seem to take it differently. It's a lot more ambiguous than Paul (who I don't find that ambiguous here)! :-)

At Sat Aug 11, 10:46:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

OK, well I see that Fee is indeed in his commentary preferring "we work together with one another and belong to God", not "we work with God". It seems he has not changed his position. I agree with you that "It is of God that we are the co-workers" is totally ambiguous. But to me Carl's "It is God's partners that we are" is not ambiguous but means the opposite to what Fee is saying, i.e. working with God rather than belonging to God. Perhaps Carl can clarify whether he has misunderstood Fee and doesn't really agree with him, or whether he has simply confused the issue further with a misleading rendering.

At Sat Aug 11, 10:53:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Well, this is a great muddle. I believe that Fee agrees with the NRSV rendering and not the KJV rendering. How is that?

Doug, you bring in a further level, but I was only asking, 1. Are we co-workers with each other and together are called by God; or 2. Are we co-workers with God?

Which of those two do you think the Greek says?

Of course, the emphasis in Greek is clear, the stress is that it is of God that we are the co-workers, but what does that mean?

Maybe we need Lingamish to do a little grasshopper greek for us.

At Sat Aug 11, 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

Okay, I'll be unambiguous if I can, and say that this is what I think it means (and for the sake of the emphasis I reverse the English clauses:
You are God's own farm, God's own building, and we are God's own partners [farming and building with him].

At Sat Aug 11, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


That sounds like the KJV option. This is the opposite of the NRSV option. I had the impression that Fee went with the NRSV option, although the TNIV is still ambiguous and literal in this case.

At Sun Aug 12, 02:08:00 AM, Blogger Carl W. Conrad said...

It is now evident, upon two or three re-readings of Suzanne's original blog, that I misunderstood the primary thrust of the argument. I do think that the ambiguity of "partners"or "co-workers" does lie in the Greek. Although θεοῦ is certainly emphasized by the word-order, there's nothing in the Greek that indicates clearly whether the συνεργοί work with God or with each other.

At Mon Aug 13, 04:41:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Carl, thanks for the clarification. I am happy to accept that this is ambiguous in Greek. I am not at all convinced by Fee's attempt to resolve the ambiguity.

At Mon Aug 13, 09:22:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

You note that the TNIV has left it ambiguous. The KJV and NRSV have disambiguated.

At Mon Aug 13, 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

You note that the TNIV has left it ambiguous. The KJV and NRSV have disambiguated.

Indeed. So which are the "interpretive" or "dynamic equivalence" translations here? Given the uncertainty, the TNIV rendering is probably as good as we can get. Personally, if I had to choose, I would go with the KJV option, but I am glad that I don't have to choose.

At Mon Aug 13, 01:19:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

That would be my point. You cannot say, well this translation is a literal one, therefore its rendering of such and such a verse must be literal. Not so.


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