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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Who will be joyful?

A few days ago I was checking an English translation of 2 Cor. 2:3. It ended with these words:
that my gladness would be for all of you
I had difficulty understanding that wording and so I flagged it for its translation team. Then I looked at other English versions to find out how they had translated the underlying Greek, which is itself not very clear. I was surprised to find that English versions split along an exegetical divide:
  1. Paul wanted the Corinthians to have the same joy that he did
  2. Paul wanted the joy of the Corinthians to make him joyful
Versions following option (1) include:
  • that my joy is [the joy] of you all (KJV)
  • that my joy would be the joy of you all (RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB)
  • for me to be happy is for all of you to be happy (REB)
  • that you would all share my joy (NIV/TNIV)
  • that my joy would be yours (NET)
  • when I am happy, then all of you are happy too (TEV)
  • whatever makes me happy also makes you happy (GW)
  • that you would share my joy (NCV)
  • that my joy is yours (HCSB)
  • if I am happy, it means that all of you will be happy (The Source)
Versions following option (2) include:
  • when you should make me feel happy (CEV)
  • my joy comes from your being joyful (NLT)
If we simply counted versions, option 1 would win by majority rule. But exegesis can't be determined just by voting. Some kinds of evidence may be more important than others. Sometimes a minority position eventually becomes a majority position.

We must also take into account internal evidence (such as logical flow) for understanding a passage: What makes most sense in the context? For me, it makes most sense for Paul to be saying that he wanted to be made happy by how the Corinthians responded to his previous instructions to them. But the Greek doesn't tilt me one way or the other. In such a case, many say that we should leave an English translation "ambiguous" since the Greek is "ambiguous." But I cannot think of a way to leave the English ambiguous in this case. (I'd like to hear from you if you can.) Sometimes, when translating, there is no way to leave a translation ambiguous when we are unsure what the source text meant. At a minimum, in such cases, I believe we should include a footnote explaining that the Greek could have two different meanings.

Do you think that the linguistic evidence in the Greek text tilts us more strongly toward option 1 or 2? And what leads you to think that if you do? And if you are not sure which option should be chosen in translation of 2 Cor. 2:3, what do you suggest an English translation have in its text and in its footnote?


At Wed Aug 29, 02:37:00 AM, Blogger Charity said...

It seems to me that the KJV is ambiguous here:

You could understand from it that Paul wants his joy (or his reasons for being joyful) to be passed on to his readers...

Or that his joy should come from the joy of his readers...

That being said, the wording is clumsy in modern English, and I'm still wondering how it could be done. I generally find that the KJV is good at keeping ambiguities in.

At Wed Aug 29, 04:07:00 AM, Blogger Zephyr said...

bIn addition to the KJV, other equally ambiguous translations are the RSV, NRSV, ESV, and NASB. This is because "of" in English can work similarly to the way that Greek genitives can be subjective genitives or objective genitives. Although joy isn't the kind of verbal noun that we normally think of as having a subject and object, we can still compare it to the subjective and objective genitive in exactly the way that Wayne is asking this question. Does the joy come from 'you all' as the subject who somehow give it to Paul, or does Paul's joy get transfered to 'you all' as the object? In the above English versions, Paul's joy could be the joy of (that comes from) you all [subjective genitive], or it could be that his joy would be the joy of (that will belong to) you all.

Having said all that, I really don’t think the English should be left ambiguous here. It’s true, if we just look at the Greek of this last clause in the verse, it appears quite ambiguous. Alternate interpretations of the genitive phrase ‘of you all’ could be read as “my joy is [from] you all” or “my joy is all of yours.” However, I think the immediate and wider contexts in the letter argue against an interpretation that has anything to do with joy being transferred from one party to another. This has to do with Paul’s joy coming from their repentence and obedience, not coming from their joy (cf. 2 Cor. 7 –especially vv. 4, 7, 9, 11, 13). This does not mean that the end result is also a joy that they share. But in 2:3 Paul was not talking about one’s joy coming from the other’s joy. He was talking about how he was confident when he wrote them his harsh “grieving” letter that his joy would come from them—from their Spirit-led response to his letter. So Paul says in 2:3 that his joy is “from all of you” because he expected the Spirit to work in them the way he describes so explicitly in ch. 7.

At Wed Aug 29, 04:16:00 AM, Blogger Zephyr said...

I meant to say in the 2nd paragraph, "This does not mean that the end result is NOT also a joy that they share."

Indeed, the last verse in ch. 1 is talking about Paul working with the Corinthians for their joy. But even there the joy doesn't come directly from Paul's joy. It comes indirectly from the fact that they are standing firm in their faith.

At Wed Aug 29, 06:07:00 AM, Blogger David Lang said...


One way to preserve the ambiguity might be to focus on the connection between Paul's joy and that of the Corinthians, rather than on who brings joy to whom.

Possible wordings might be:

1. "being confident in you all, that my joy and yours go hand in hand."

2. "...that my joy is connected (joined? linked?) to your joy."

3. "...that my joy is connected to all of you."

4. "...that my joy depends on all of you."

Of all of these, suggestion 1 is the least "literal," but I think it sounds the most natural. Suggestion 3 is the closest to the original Greek construction, while still being ambiguous. Suggestion 4 is the least ambiguous and comes down on the side of saying that the Corinthians' joy would make Paul joyful (your option 2).

At Wed Aug 29, 07:40:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

zephyr noted:

In addition to the KJV, other equally ambiguous translations are the RSV, NRSV, ESV, and NASB.

Thanks, you're right. I hadn't noticed the possible ambiguity. I can "get it," but the English is awkward for me, in both cases. I wonder if the ambiguity in English was intended. We might be able to find out from a member of the ESV team.


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