Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Conjunction Junction

How one word makes a difference.

Dan Phillips' recent Pyro post reminded me of something I've been meaning to write about.

    Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

    Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." (John 11:1-7, ESV).

No doubt, you're familiar with this passage--the first part of the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Like me, many of you have probably also read it in the NIV:

    1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."

    4When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

    7Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."

Did you catch the difference? Vs. 6 in the ESV says "So," while the NIV says "Yet."

So how do we account for this difference? Well, my first thought would be "maybe there is a variant involved." But I can't find anything in either UBS4, NA26, or Zack Hubert's cool Text Critical parallel column.

Next, a quick look at the word. Even though I'm just a beginning Greekling and bound to make mistakes, I'm only really checking what many others have done before, so I'm on safer ground that if I was striking out in a new and novel direction on my own.

The word ὡς can mean a great many things, but for our purposes, the meaning in context is "when." So perhaps the case could be made that the best thing to do is to simply translate it that way (as the King James does by saying simply "When he had heard therefore that [Lazarus] was sick..."). I could live with that.

But the statement in vs. 5 is odd, almost parenthetical (so much so that the HCSB & NET both render it as such), and nearly begs that something other than simply "when" be put there. And, in that sense, the "yet" may seem a good fit.

But the problem with this is that you get the idea that although Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, despite this he waited (compare GNT "yet," CEV, NCV "but," NLT "although," & MSG "but oddly"). However, given the nature of the word ὡς and the context of the sentence, "yet" doesn't seem an appropriate addition to the text. If John had wanted it there, he would have included some word that made it clear.

So we're left with the other rendering, which tells us that it wasn't in spite of loving them, but rather because of his love that Jesus did this (see NASB, NKJV, HCSB, NET--all have "so").

This is a huge difference, and it has broad implications. Consider what this does to a theology that says "God doesn't allow Christians to suffer," or alternatively how it affirms that God can use even the death of believers for His glory.

I might also add, though we're not delving into this issue today, it is interesting that all of the major "formal" translations render it "so," and all of the functional translations render it "yet." Something to think about there.

All this to say, I think the correct rendering of the passage is this: Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and so when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he waited. Why? So that all of them could see the power of God work in a spectacular way.

Amazing the difference one little word makes.

A quick footnote: the 2001 TNIV renders vs. 6 as "yet," but the latest edition has "so," conforming it to all of the major literal translations.

1 comment:

Even So... said...

Definitely interesting, and a big reason why, instead of going for one version, we need to look at several in our study, and look to the Greek or Hebrew as well.

Thanks for pointing this out.