Translation hiccups and Greek remedies

Sometimes translations can be deceptive, preventing you from weaving together an argument or story how the original author presented it. But being aware of certain signposts evident in the Greek text can help you piece the text together with more sensitivity to an author’s intentions.

17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Present Suffering and Future glory

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Rom 8.17-18, NIV)

As it stands, the new paragraph between verse 17 and 18, in addition to the bolded tag line, suggest that the two verses are unrelated to one another. But one little word in the Greek text suggests otherwise.

Although it isn’t translated, the Greek connective γαρ is situated at the beginning of verse 18. This connector indicates that the following material should be understood as supportive or strengthening material of some previous comment. A gloss like “after all” gets the point across nicely, here.

17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, provided we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

18After all, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Rom 8.17-18, NIV)

It’s now clear that verse 18 directly supports Paul’s second comment in verse 17 about sharing in the sufferings of Christ, whereas in the NIV’s portrayal, this connection was less than transparent.

Most of the time translations do just fine detecting the relations between sentences, and presenting them accordingly. But we can be even more grateful to the original authors for some of the explicit markers they used to help specify these relations. For instance, try to think about how James 4:13 relates to 4:12.

12Who are you, judging your neighbor?

13The ones who say, “Today or tomorrow…” (James 4.12-13)

One option is to read verse 13 as the answer to the question in verse 12—but this is not the case. Verse 13 actually begins a new subsection, and is not directly related to verse 12. But how can this be? Well I admit, to prove my point of how indebted we are to these explicit signposts I’ve taken out two of them that James used, which help suggest an alternative reading. The actual text reads,

12Who are you, judging your neighbor?

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow…” (James 4.12-13)

In discourse-lingo we could call these two signposts a metacomment and direct address—both of which function as speed bumps to interrupt the conversation, create anticipation for what’s to come, and oftentimes when paired together, point to a transition in a story or argument. So maybe more than a speed bump, it’s like a five-car pile-up. But regardless, you get the point. The presence or absence of these signposts can be make or break an author’s ability to communicate clearly, and to have his or her message make sense on the first pass.

If you find this type of stuff interesting, there’s some great free resources out there for you (with specific aims at helping people translate the Bible more accurately). If any of these seems a little over your head, then maybe a more friendlyintroduction is a better fit.