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Friday, April 11, 2008

Participle Theology

I haven't completely recovered from pronoun theology but now I have been introduced to "participle" theology. I am eternally baffled by these things. What should I make of these two posts?

Here the ESV Bible blog quotes Niel Nielson who claims,

The English Standard Version translation preserves the grammar of the original Greek, presenting [1 Peter 5:7] as a subordinate clause as follows:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

By faithfully rendering the grammar of the original, the ESV enables the reader immediately to see that there is a close connection between humility and getting rid of our anxiety. In fact, the reader is instructed to demonstrate true humility before God by casting all anxieties on him. Worry is pride, a refusal to acknowledge who God is and who we are.

But in another part of the blogosphere, Dan Wallace writes,
    There’s a myth foisted on the Christian public about the meaning of the Great Commission (Matt 28.19-20). It goes something like this: “In the Greek, the word translated ‘Go’ is really a participle and it literally means, ‘as you are going.’ But the words ‘make disciples’ are an imperative in Greek. That’s the only imperative in these two verses.

    Therefore, the Great Commission is not a command to go; rather, it is a command to make disciples as you are going, or make disciples along the way.” The exposition based on this understanding of the Greek text then attempts to salve the consciences of the congregation, permitting them to do nothing about the lost if it at all means going out of their way.
Read the rest here.

This is the ESV translation of that verse. It uses a syntax common to most translations, translating a participle followed by an imperative as two imperatives.
    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matt. 28:19.
The ESV blog should be very careful not to give the impression that translating a Greek participle into an English participle has theological import. I am not sure that they were doing that, but they need to make sure that they are not encouraging people to do exactly what Wallace is so concerned that people not do.


At Fri Apr 11, 07:27:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

nice treatment of participles - don't go out of your way, since the way is where you are not where you think you ought to have been.

At Sat Apr 12, 06:08:00 AM, Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

It strikes me that the ESV of 1 Pet 5:7 is not very good English either. The rhythms of normal English would lead us to expect the subject of "casting" to be the preceding "he", which, of course, makes no sense at all.

At Sat Apr 12, 06:20:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

I agree Suzanne; I think we build too much theology off of teeny, weeny, yellow, polka dotted...ummmmm....grammar.

Wallace's concern is valid. If the Great Commission is translated as "In your going, make..." then it places the participle in a prerequisite status. That is, if you don't go you don't have to make. The Greek grammar doesn't support that kind of conditional semantics we derive from the English pre-positioned expression. In other words, the problem with the English is in the pre-position of the phrase.

The issue I've had with translating the participle as an imperative is that it instills a coordinate status to the semantics such that you have "go and make." I think going should be subordinate. The focus is on the making. The original author did not use two coordinated main verbs.

That turns out to be rather difficult to pull off in translation. So, "Go and make disciples" is about as good as we can get. I think somewhere Wallace makes the valid point that the participle derives an imperatival force from the main verb. He's right.

I've wondered if reordering would work. "Make disciples of all nations. In your going, do this by baptizing them...teaching them..."

At Sat Apr 12, 12:15:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Believing that constructions (like participles used as subordinate verbs) have the same meaning across languages is just another version of the false friends mistake, only subtler and harder to root out.

As Mike just pointed out, a participle following a fully inflected verb in Greek can, and often does, function as semantically coordinated with the preceding verb. That reading requires two fully (identically) inflected verbs in English.

It's too bad there are no natively bilingual Koine English speakers around to double up in laughter every time some theologian makes such a ludicrous claim about what the Greek "really means".

At Mon Oct 27, 07:24:00 PM, Blogger Dave Gregg said...

"Poreuthentes" is known as an "attendant circumstance participle," which _borrows the idea of the mode of the main verb_. So, in this case, "poreuthentes" takes on the imperatival nature of "matheteusate"--hence the reason it is often translated "go," such as in "go and make disciples." However, as Mike has already noted, the use of the conjunction "and" makes the preposition seem equal to the verb in English.

The grammatical construction in Matthew 28:19 is similar to that of Matthew 9:13. In the former, it is "poreuthentes matheteusate," in the latter, "poreuthentes mathete." In the context of 9:13, Christ is not commanding them to physically "go" anywhere; He is commanding them to apply themselves to learning the meaning of the quote from Hosea 6:6. It makes little sense to translate this as "having gone, learn" or "as you go, learn."

In Matthew 9:13, "poreuthentes" means that they were to _pursue_ a true understanding of Hosea 6:6. In Matthew 28:19, "go" implies that we are to _pursue_ the discipleship of all peoples. In both cases, _the deliberate journey toward the achievement of the main task_ (the imperative) is meant by the inclusion of "poreuthentes." It is used in this way in many other verses in the New Testament. Here are just a few more: Matthew 2:8; 11:4; Luke 9:13; 13:32; 22:8.

These are the reasons why I think Matthew 28:19 should render "poreuthentes matheteusate" as "go make disciples" or "go disciple", just as its counterpart in Matthew 9:13 should render "go learn"--neither with "and."


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