Friday, December 31, 2010

Jesus Christ and “The Glory”

James 2:1 in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” The portion in bold font reads the same in the New International Version (NIV) but differently in the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and the English Standard Version (ESV) where one reads the Lord of glory.

This article interprets the preposition of in connection with glory as seen in the KJV, NKJV and ESV, and evaluates the use of “glorious” in the NIV and NASB translations. Which, if any, satisfies the textual requirements, and how does this issue affect the meaning of the passage?

First, the Greek text of the affected portion reads: τὴν πίστιν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῆς δόξης. The noun “Lord” (κυρίου) appears only once but the KJV, NKJV and ESV sought to make sense out of the puzzling reading, “our Lord Jesus Christ of the glory,” by introducing “Lord” a second time, “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (KJV). This same problem presented itself to the translators of the NIV and NASB, but they chose to change the prepositional phrase “of the glory” into an adjective “glorious” presumably based on their understanding of the function of “glory” as merely descriptive.

The preposition “of” defines the function of the Greek noun within the sentence which is in the genitive case and which carries a general sense of description. However, at least 33 distinct nuances of meaning are embedded in this case (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 72). In James 2:1 the nuance of simple apposition accounts for the relationship between “our Lord Jesus Christ” (τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) and “the glory” (τῆς δόξης). Wallace describes simple apposition in these terms (Greek Grammar, 96, italics added):

It gives a different designation that either clarifies who is the one named or shows a different relation to the rest of the clause than what the first noun by itself could display. Both words thus have the same referent, though they describe it in different terms.

The translation with this simple apposition understanding reads like this, “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the glory.” Such an interpretation of the relationship between “Jesus Christ” and “the glory” would have helped the KJV, NKJV and ESV translators avoid the error of unnecessarily inserting words not in the original text, namely, the Lord. But what can one say of the NIV and NASB change from “the glory” (τῆς δόξης) to the adjective “glorious?” The presence of the definite article in the Greek text (τῆς, “the”) renders this translation unacceptable.

The definite article in Greek and English does not function in the same way. The Greek article has broader uses. Wallace comments (Greek Grammar, 209-210):

In terms of basic force, the article conceptualizes. In terms of predominant function, it is normally used to identify an object. That is to say, it is used predominantly to stress the identity of an individual or class or quality.

However, the absence of the article in Greek can render a noun indefinite, where English would use the indefinite article “a” or “an.” Or, it can give a qualitative aspect to a definite noun. Again, Wallace writes (Greek Grammar, 243-44),

A qualitative noun places the stress on quality, nature, or essence. It does not merely indicate membership in a class of which there are other members (such as an indefinite noun), nor does it stress individual identity (such as a definite noun).

When a definite but qualitative Greek noun is translated into English the definite article is typically used but in so doing the important qualitative nature of the original term is unfortunately hidden from the reader.

Returning to James 2:1, the word “glory” is preceded by the definite article. The noun points to something definite. The “glorious” translation as a descriptor of Jesus Christ could fit nicely with a Greek noun not preceded by the definite article. It does not fit with “the glory.” In other words, James is not attributing the quality of “glory” to Jesus Christ,” hence “glorious,” but he is identifying Him as “the glory.” Therefore, the NIV and the NASB do not accurately communicate the meaning of the original text. This, then, leads to the ultimate question, To what does “the glory” refer? Or, to incorporate the identification aspect of the phrase, How does “the glory” give a different designation to Jesus Christ?

The New Testament meaning of “glory” (δόξα) when used of God or Jesus Christ was discussed in an earlier blogspot to which the reader is referred (, and a conclusion bearing upon the present discussion follows:

The abstract English word “glory” as a reference to God, speaks of His “divine nature,” His self-revelation, those definable, and one might add measurable, characteristics revealed in Scripture. . . . To make definite “the glory of God” means to break away from the abstractness of the word “glory” and to reflect concretely on God’s attributes.

In James 2:1, the writer identifies Jesus Christ as God revealed. This identification gives tremendous theological and interpretive weight to the verse.

Three applications grow out of this study:

Grammatically, this discussion helps the Bible interpreter realize that “of” is a notoriously weak preposition capable of various nuances of meaning that must not be ignored (see Webster’s College Dictionary and Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Appendix B on “The Usage of the Genitive Case,” pp. 989-1002). Also, one should make a practice of comparing the English text to the Greek original whenever the English definite article (“the”) is encountered. One can never know whether the original text included it or not based on a reading of any English Bible, and both the presence and absence of the article is exceedingly important in the Greek New Testament!

Theologically, this blogspot posting encourages the Bible reader to augment the mysterious English word “glory” with deeper meaning when referring to Jesus Christ.

Practically, the present conversation reminds the student that the New Testament is a Greek book and that English provides a good but imperfect means for accessing its truths.