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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

causal "for" in English Bibles

In my preceding post I asked how you use the English word "for." I was hoping to get input on whether or not "for" is still used by English speakers for a causal meaning. You did not disappoint. Thanks for your comments and especially thanks for commenting on whether or not you use "for" when others might say "because" or "since".

A few days ago I noticed that I do not express a causal relationship with "for," when it is used as a conjunction. Instead, I use the word "because," and, less frequently, "since." For instance, I would say:
I did not go to work today because I'm sick.
but I would not say:
I did not go to work today for I'm sick.
I checked with my wife and she says that she does not use "for" as a causal conjunction either.

I *think* that a majority of English speakers today likely do not use causal "for" in either their speech or writing. But much more field testing and observation needs to be done to feel confident about this hypothesis.

If my suggestion is true, then most English Bibles are out of step with current English usage. For example, most English Bibles begin Isaiah 9:6 with "for": KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, REB, NIV, TNIV, HCSB, NLT.

Similarly, most English Bible versions begin Ephesians 2:8 with "for": KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, REB, NIV, TNIV, NET, HCSB, TEV.

I have not found any English version begin either verse with "because" or "since.

In Genesis 2:23 the versions are mixed with regard to the causal conjunction used for explaining why the woman was called woman. The NRSV and several other versions have "for":
for out of Man this one was taken (NRSV)
for from man was she taken (REB)
for she was taken out of man (NIV, TNIV, NET)
for she was taken from man (HCSB)
Several other versions, including the KJV, use "because":
because she was taken out of Man (KJV, RSV, ESV, NASB)
because she was taken out of man (TEV, NCV)
because she was taken from ‘man.’ (NLT)
because she was taken from man (GW)
It seems to me that more study of current English language usage and the distribution of causal conjunctions in English Bibles needs to be made before any strongly supported suggestions for causal use of "for" can be made for English Bible translators. It does seem to me, however, that the decreasing use of causal "for" in English needs to be noted by English Bible translators as one of several widespread language changes occurring among English speakers today.

4 Comments:

At Tue Jan 08, 07:23:00 PM, Blogger mike aubrey said...

Wayne, you're correct. Although, I think that often times, many Greek scholars have studied Greek so long that they bring some of its syntax into English. A good example is D. A. Carson who uses an over abundance of appositional clauses in his books, especially A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers, which is still an excellent book.

With that said, I think the problem is that γαρ (often translated "for") is introductions independent clauses and functions as at a discourse level in a sort of causal manner and there really isn't any way to represent that in English very well. I think that often in such cases the English "for" that is used is perhaps a kind of short hand for the PP "for this reason."

 
At Tue Jan 08, 08:19:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

The afore-cited ERV has this rendering for Ephesians 2:8 --

I mean that you have been saved by grace because you believed. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God.

Does that count? I don't know if you could start that verse with "because" or "since" - the "for" seems a little more emphatic or declarative rather than causal.

 
At Wed Jan 09, 09:59:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

more study of current English language usage and the distribution of causal conjunctions in English Bibles needs to be made before any strongly supported suggestions for causal use of "for" can be made for English Bible translators. It does seem to me, however, that the decreasing use of causal "for" in English needs to be noted by English Bible translators

Yes, language is changing and English Bible translators, of all people, ought to be up on the common changes that grammarians note. (Henry Neufeld has a good post today saying "grammarians and grammar teachers . . . shouldn’t be early adopters of every new way of expressing a thought. But uptight prescriptions are just silly, and can, nay should be ignored.")

On the "conjunction for, I think the issue is as much "change" as it is "social register."

The late Dr. Charles Darling, in his wonderful online "Guide to Grammar and Writing," says this about for:

"Some people regard the conjunction for as rather highfalutin and literary, and it does tend to add a bit of weightiness to the text. Beginning a sentence with the conjunction 'for' is probably not a good idea, except when you're singing 'For he's a jolly good fellow'. For has serious sequential implications and in its use the order of thoughts is more important than it is, say, with because or since."

But from the 1950s, there has been published conversation about the register and rank of this English preposition. See: Vivian S. Peeling's "The Classification of the Conjunction 'For'" in American Speech, Vol. 25, No. 2. (May, 1950), pp. 112-117, and Henry L. Wilson's "The Classification and Punctuation of the Conjunction 'For'" by in American Speech Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1952), pp. 257-260.

 
At Fri Jan 11, 05:35:00 PM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

> I have not found any English version begin either verse with "because" or "since.

The Better Life Bible does for Ephesians 2:8:

"Since we’re enjoying life much more by following his example instead of our own selfish desires and religious traditions, it’s obvious that we can’t take credit for it ourselves."

 

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