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Saturday, July 19, 2008

1 John 3:1 (T)NIV

I love 1 John 3:1 in NIV and TNIV, especially the first part:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (NIV)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (TNIV)
There is something wonderful about the thought that the Father has lavished his love on us, and I mean in the idea, not just in the alliteration. But is this translation justified? The word translated "has lavished" is dedoken, which is just the normal Greek word for "has given". There is nothing in the text to suggest the extra generosity implied by the word "lavish".

Also potapos doesn't really mean "how great" or "what great". In classical Greek it meant "from what country", and I'm sure that preachers could craft a nice creative sermon from that thought. But in Koine Greek it seems to have meant more like "what kind of", although Barclay Newman suggests the gloss "what wonderful" for this verse and for Mark 13:1.

So in this case the more prosaic ESV rendering is actually better justified by the text:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; ... (ESV)
To me, this illustrates the danger of allowing literary flourishes like "love ... lavished" to have precedence over accurate rendering of the meaning.


At Sat Jul 19, 08:49:00 AM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Smalley's rendering in his 1,2,3 John "Word Commentary" seems to support that NIV/TNIV rendering, as does his comments on this, on pages 140-141.

My old BAGD seems to back this on potapos, anyhow.

So I'm not sure the NIV/TNIV is necessarily so amiss, here.

At Sat Jul 19, 10:45:00 AM, Blogger David Ker said...

I'm resisting making comments about a hippopotapos...

Lots of interesting stuff here.

This is not an IDOU (As in Rev 3:20) but rather "Look!" or the more pedestrian "Notice..."

You're right about "lavish."

In terms of discourse the verb could be anaphoric, referring back to the previous argument and explaining it. The NIV in essence does this by putting the heading before 2:28.

I love this verse by the way and have the children's round going through my head.

At Sat Jul 19, 07:36:00 PM, Blogger tc robinson said...

Colin G. Kruse in his commentary says "Look at the sort of love the Father has given us!" (p. 114).

At Sun Jul 20, 01:41:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

My guess is that KJV, with its "bestowed upon us" authorized other translators to embellish further. NJB also has "lavish." I've noticed this principle at work rather often.

RSV=NRSV is better than ESV:

"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God."

As far as I can see, potapos has become a typical pleonasm, as in Italian "che razza di risposta e' quella!" "what kind [race] of response [to my question] is that?"

Still, ESV is unnecessarily heavy with "what kind" here, and with "given to." The Greek is less prosaic than ESV would indicate.

At Mon Jul 21, 03:55:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...

But surely in English people don't talk about "giving" love. At least I've never heard anyone say that. People may "show" love, or "demonstrate" it, even "lavish it on" someone, but not "give" it. So while "give" may be "what the Greek says", it's just not good idiomatic *English*.

At Mon Jul 21, 06:35:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

@John Mayfield:

apparently you don't listen to enough pop music. How about the hit single "Give me your love"? Wrong kind of love? Get over it. Most languages describe love of variety of kinds, divine and human with the exact same idioms.

However, I think your larger point stands. RSV/NRSV/ESV uses language that is not completely natural. But I think the same applies to NIV/TNIV.

For example, my Grandpa married my Grandma (maternal grandmother), a widow, adopted her three children and then had three more with her. All of us grandchildren were fully enfranchised. Natural English to express this:

"Notice what love x has for us, that we should be called his children. And so we are."

Even more idiomatically:

"Notice the love the Father has for us, that we are called children of God. And so we are."

At Mon Jul 21, 07:17:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

That should have been:

@John Radcliffe.

At Mon Jul 21, 08:29:00 AM, Blogger Charles said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Mon Jul 21, 08:34:00 AM, Blogger Paul Larson said...

If one bestows love ( if it said earth worworms then it doesn't work)I can't see why it couldn't be lavish which is certainly more poetic and because it moves more from the temporal to the spiritual with poetry, as long as it isn't inaccurate then we benefit in its reading in the NIV, the KJV to has its own charm
On another topic when people change wordings where exactly do they get the authority.

For example I absolutely love "... lift up his countenance upon you.."

look upon you with favor I hate. First look upon me, and lift up his countenance (his powerful essence of being) are two very different things to me.

with favor is also really weak, I mean God's favor is a nice thing but lifting his countenance on me, now that's really something! Huh?

Where do they get off watering this down?

At Mon Jul 21, 08:48:00 AM, Blogger John Radcliffe said...

John H,

Am I to take it that you regard pop music as a good source of natural idiomatic English?

More seriously, perhaps we should see a distinction between "having" love for someone and "expressing" or "showing" that love in how we treat them. (I could be wrong, but isn't that what "Give me your love" is about?)

"See how the Father shows his love for us: he calls us his children, and that is what we are!"

At Mon Jul 21, 09:19:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

John R, you are of course correct that "give love" is not the best English. But, unless I am mistaken about the Greek, the original text does not imply anything especially generous about the way in which the love is had/shown/demonstrated/bestowed. But the English word "lavish" does imply special generosity. Of course this thought of the special generosity of God's love is found elsewhere in Scripture, but not in this passage in the original, as I understand it. This implies that the translation is not an accurate one.

I also agree that "give love", "have love" and "show love" are not entirely synonymous. "Have love" could be an attribute apart from any actions. "God gave me love" could mean "God imparted into me the ability to love". But in this context the meaning is clearly more like "show love". So I would be happy to see ESV revised with "shown" in place of "given".

At Mon Jul 21, 09:54:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

@Paul L:

'bestow upon' and 'lavish on' have a more poetic flavor than simple 'give.' It would be possible to translate all of 1 John into a style at a considerable remove from its author's preference for simple but profound vocabulary, relatively uncomplicated syntax, frequent repetition of key terms, etc.

But I wouldn't want to. The unadorned style of the original has a beauty of its own.

@John Radcliffe and Peter Kirk

John's question about the propriety of using the lyrics of popular music as a term of comparison is a good one. What corpus of texts should be used to define "natural English"?

If I were a linguistics professor like Rich Rhodes, I would be compiling corpora of texts of "natural English" according to a variety of disparate criteria, corpora to be used as terms of comparison with a number of interesting linguistic artifacts, such as high prestige texts in translation like the Bible, transcripts of the work of simultaneous translators, and so on.

I understand why Peter says that 'give love' is not the best English, but it is perfectly intelligible English, and other considerations might militate in favor of using the expression in translation here (see below).

That said, I think the translation John offers is natural and succeeds in not upscaling or downscaling the register of the original. The point of 'show love' being more faithful to the sense of the original than 'have love' is an excellent one.

But perhaps I am being too generous.

One might argue that John's passive-to-active switch, demodalization, and reduction of redundancy in the base text, favorite moves of translators schooled in DE (dynamic equivalence), mutilates the original text. '[T]hat we should be called children of God' has become ': he calls us his children.' Are you sure that you have not deleted semantic content in the process of simplification? What would you say to the objection that you are pursuing simplification for simplicity's sake?

It is also not clear that John and Peter will be able to translate didomai, a favorite Johannine term, with 'show' everywhere, and preserve concordance.

DE translations often eliminate linguistic and semantic equivalences across a given book and the whole Bible by being single-mindedly concerned with translating into natural English one clause at a time.

What one gains in intelligibility at the clause level results in a loss of intelligibility at the composition level and the level of the whole Bible.

Another alternative: learn the biblical languages well enough that they are in your bones. Learn them well enough that you can read through the Old and New Testaments without scratching your head constantly and reaching for a dictionary.

I know of Christians who are top researchers in the physical and biological sciences, others who are engineers, doctors, or lawyers. They possess a mastery of their subject matter that is positively awesome. It would be nice if I knew of more OT and NT profs and pastors who had mastered the biblical languages to the same degree.

Sorry: I got a bit off topic with the last two paragraphs.


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