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Nuances of loss meaning (James 1:6)

I just came home from Houston where we were recording Bruce Waltke’s class on Psalms for BiblicalTraining.org. We didn’t quite finish so I will be traveling to his house in a month or so to finish, so the class should be ready in a couple months. It will be a good companion class to his on Proverbs. But sorry I missed the blog last week.

I was looking at the NIV of James 1:6, and while the point I want to make may seemed nuanced, perhaps even picky, I think it becomes an issue when this same situation is repeated hundreds of times throughout the Bible.

1:5 sets the stage: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask (αἰτείτω) God.” “Should ask” is an acceptable translation of the imperative.

The problem is when you get to v 6. “But when you ask (αἰτείτω), you must believe (ἐν πίστει).” ”When you ask” is the NIV’s pickup from v 5, connecting the two thoughts, and the prepositional phrase ἐν πίστει is confusingly translated as a verb, “you must believe.” See also the NLT: “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.”

Does this translation adequately convey the meaning of v 6? Yes. Is there something loss in translation? Yes. The Greek is αἰτείτω δὲ ἐν πίστει, “But let him ask in faith” (most translations) It is imperatival, not temporal (“when”).

This is my point. There are two imperatives in this discussion, not one, and the repetition is driving the point home that we must ask, albeit ask in the right way.

Earlier I said that “should” is acceptable. It is acceptable, but do you hear a difference between “you should do something” and “Do something!”? Yes. One conveys the oughtness of some action, and the other demands the action. We must petition God.

These are nuances, but nuances pile up, one after another, and overall there is a loss in meaning. So what are the lessons?

1. Use more than one translation.

2. Learn a little Greek.