Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reading the Bible Can Be a Two-Way Dialogue

My students frequently ask, “How well do I need to know the original languages?” My answer—study the languages until you can “hear” the text speak and a two-way dialogue is established.

1 Corinthians 6:2 provides one small example of a two-way dialogue.

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? (New American Standard Bible, NASB)

οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἅγιοι τὸν κόσμον κρινοῦσιν;
καὶ εἰ ἐν ὑμῖν κρίνεται ὁ κόσμος, ἀνάξιοι ἐστε κριτηρίων ἐλαχίστων;

Four verbal clauses carry the thought (bold above): one perfect aspect (know, οἴδατε), one future, (will judge, κρινοῦσιν) and two presents (is judged/are you, κρίνεται/ἐστε). The perfect functions as a present (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 693), the future is predictive; and, in light of this, the first present (is judged, κρίνεται) can only be understood as futuristic, (see below), finally are you forcefully focuses the author’s question.

The first and last clauses speak to the Corinthians’ immediate situation; the two middle clauses use the future reality to reinforce the final question. Temporal chiasmos, “introverted correspondence” wherein the first and last and the two middle clauses interrelate, ties the verse into a powerful and complete package.

The two-way dialogue begins by noting all the textual data, without which two-way communication is next to impossible. Then, effortlessly the present time frame in the first and last clauses focuses the author’s point. Next, the two center clauses coordinate, being semantically locked together and assisted by the conjunction “and” (καί, which the NASB translators decided to leave out!) and the same verb in both clauses. This coordination means that the future will judge (κρινοῦσιν) “bleeds over” into the present is judged (κρίνεται) and is futuristic, an acceptable translation that touches on the future for the second present is “is going to be judged.”

The text itself speaks clearly and unequivocally. Can you “hear” it? How well do you need to know the original language? Asked differently, what will it take for the text to be able to get through to you? And, what is it worth to you to be able to dialogue with the authors of Scripture?