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English Style and Loss of Meaning (1 Peter 5:6–7)

Alistair Begg preached a sermon the other day on Truth for Life about 1 Peter 5:6–7. “Humble yourselves (ταπεινώθητε), therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast (ἐπιρίψαντες) all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (NIV).

His question was on the relationship between ταπεινώθητε and ἐπιρίψαντες. In the Greek, as well as the more formal equivalent translations, the answer is obvious. ἐπιρίψαντες is an adverbial participle explaining something about ταπεινώθητε; part of humbling yourself is to cast your anxiety on God. A proud person thinks that they can handle life and wants to stay in control; the humble person realizes that they can trust God to handle the anxious issues of life. So the ESV writes, “Humble yourselves ... casting all your anxieties on him” (see also the NASB and CSB).

Part of the thinking behind more dynamic translations is to shorten the length of the Greek verse, which all translations do to varying degrees, due to English style; it is common to find participles translated as indicatives (NIV, NRSV, NLT).

The NET makes the connection explicit: “And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand, by casting all your cares on him.” The KJV also makes it more explicit with a colon; “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him.”

This becomes an example of a translation losing information for the sake of English style.

Personally, I like longer sentences. I know English is shortening its sentences, but I don't like it. When my kids were young, I would not let them watch a certain cartoon show Saturday mornings because the hero never used more than five words in a sentence. I later discovered that there are areas of the brain that are only developed through the discipline of reading longer sentences, so I felt vindicated.

Along with longer sentences I like semicolons, another wonderful tool that indicates connections between thoughts and allows you to formulate ideas that are more complex. But if we give in to short sentences, then we lessen our ability to specify the precise relationship between two thoughts. Greek did this by beginning sentences with conjunctions; we used to do this with longer sentences and punctuation. It is much harder to indicate those relationships now.

Comments

Question about 1 Peter 5:6. Your article today was helpful. But what do the translations translate Ταπεινώθητε as an active, "Humble yourselves" (NASB, ESV, ASV) rather than as a passive, "Be humbled" or "Let yourself be humbled"?

In normal categpories, it would be called a "causative passive." I am to cause myself to be humble. In some of the modern debate, it would be treated as a middle, which would make good sense, if in fact the θηforms are middle. That is the debate.

As an animation fan (and since Saturday morning cartoons are no more), I gotta ask: What was the cartoon?

Sonic the Hedgehog

I agree too much effort is given to precise translation of the Greek. My translation: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the powerful hand of God, so that he can lift you up at the proper time; cast all your worries on him because he cares for you. I think starting a sentence with a conjunction weakens it; starting it with an imperative commands attention. I also believe we are still grounded in traditional words, e.g. mighty, due (time) - I call it "easy translation." Note that in my translation above "because" weakens the effect. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the powerful hand of God, so that he can lift you up at the proper time; cast all your worries on him - he cares for you." I always try to translate in terms of speaking it.

Thank you for this post, and I agree with you in being partial to longer sentences. I'm in my early 30's, and I now have a greater appreciation for punctuation, longer sentences, and semicolon use. -Donovan

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