Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What a Difference “And” Makes!

Word Studies constitutes one of the most popular Bible interpretation processes. By “word studies” one usually means evaluating the historical meaning of words as it changes through time or at a particular juncture in time or both. Obviously the interpreter cannot do this for every word in the text so a choice must be made about which words need in depth study. However, at some level every word needs to be studied. Every word plays a role in the author’s communication. No word can be ignored or interpretive error will arrive unannounced and often unknowingly. Ephesians 3:18-19 illustrates the importance of every word, even the words most commonly neglected for in-depth analysis.

The essential verse portions from the New American Standard Bible and the flow of thought can be outlined accordingly with the conjunction “and” (τέ) inserted appropriately:

“that you, . . . 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and (τέ) to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge . . . .”

that you, . . . may be able
to comprehend [the dimensions of something]
and (τέ)
to know the love of Christ


The presence of “and” creates two parallel but separate infinitive complements for the verb translated “may be able” —parallel in that they both complete the meaning of the verb but separate in that each has a different direct object. The first infinitive, “to comprehend,” has as its object “what is the breadth and length and height and depth;” the second, “to know,” has “the love of Christ” as its object. If “and” were absent, the second infinitive could be understood as epexegetical or appositional, that is, further explaining or restating the first infinitive idea. This occurs in some English translations and popular theology.

Consider the International Standard Version, “you will be able to understand, along with all the saints, what is wide, long, high, and deep — 19 that is, you will know the love of Christ . . . .” By translating the conjunction τέ as an appositional conjunction and rendering it “that is,” verse 19a effectively restates verse 18.

The New International Version reads like this, “that you, . . . 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love . . . .” Without translating “and” as appositional, the NIV openly and periphrastically accomplishes the same transfer of meaning.

Notice the New King James Version, “that you . . . 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge . . . .” Here a different method of creating an English appositional interpretation occurs—by not translating the conjunction at all! As such it departs from the time-honored King James Version that does contain the conjunction “and.”

At this point two interpretation questions need to be asked. First, can τέ function appositionally and be translated “that is” or exhibit some other form of apposition? Second, what contextual data explains the measurement language serving as the object for the first infinitive if the “love of Christ” cannot represent that object?

With regards to the first question, neither Robertson (The Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 1179), nor Danker (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition, 993) include an appositional function for τέ (“and”). This appositional use, however, does exist for the most frequent Greek conjunction regularly used by Paul and commonly translated “and” (καί, see Robertson, 1181; Danker, 495). Consequently, if no other meaningful rational for the presence of τέ in the text can be established, the appositional use must be viewed as a last resort, and then only with serious reservations.

Concerning the second question, the measurement language of verse 18 may be referring to: (1) the dimensions of love, or (2) the measureable concept or concepts in the earlier portions of Paul’s prayer.

Regarding view (1), “love” occurs before and after the infinitive “to comprehend.” However, the mention of “love” in verse 17 clearly serves to set the spiritual basis for one’s ability “to comprehend” whatever verse 18 references. It does not serve as its object or explain the measureable concept. Also, and most importantly, the presence and use of the conjunction “and” (τέ) at verse 19 effectively separates “the love of Christ” as the sole measureable object of comprehension in verse 18. As Robertson further states, τέ (“and”) introduces “something additional, but in intimate relation with the preceding” (page 1179, italics mine)

This leaves view (2) to be developed. What constitutes “the breadth and length and height and depth” of which Paul speaks? A forthcoming posting will examine this phenomenal aspect of Paul’s prayer. Stay tuned!