Thursday, August 20, 2009

Open Letter to John Piper

Dear Dr. Piper,

I noticed that you were disappointed not to find the word "therefore" in John 4:45 in the NIV or TNIV. I was not able to find "therefore" in this position, in any translation at first, but eventually "therefore" was found in the Darby translation. (I was raised in the Darby Brethren and this translation saved me from KJV onlyism which was a good thing.)

I am going to guess, however, that you were referring to the fact that the Greek word oun was not translated and represented by the English word "therefore" in the NIV. Here is the verse,
    ὅτε οὖν ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, ἐδέξαντο αὐτὸν οἱ Γαλιλαῖοι, πάντα ἑωρακότες ὅσα ἐποίησεν ἐν Ἱεροσολύμοις ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, καὶ αὐτοὶ γὰρ ἦλθον εἰς τὴν ἑορτήν.

    When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there. NIV
In the Liddell Scott Lexicon which is the standard and by far most comprehensive lexicon, one can see that there are three main entries for oun,

I certainly, in fact, really,
II. to continue a narrative, so, then
III. in inferences, then, therefore,

In fact, the combination of ὅτ'οὖν can be translated as "since" or "then." It seems that the meaning of "therefore" - that there is an inference involved - is only one possible interpretation among several.

I am disappointed to hear what you have said about the NIV and TNIV, based on the fact that you disagree with how they translate oun; considering that they have used a legitimate approach supported by the lexicons and suitable to the context of this verse.

It has been on my heart for several years now that there is a need for reconciliation between the translators of the TNIV and those who have chosen to publicly criticize this translation.


Suzanne McCarthy

PS Peter Kirk has just alerted me to the overuse of oun as an all purpose connective in the Gospel of John. I was able to find several references to this in recent commentaries through google books.

PPS Please read the comments here and on Piper's post for more details.


David Reimer said...

Hi Suzanne - Here are a couple quotes of interest (from older works!):

1. A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 1191.

On οὖν:

‘It is merely a transitional particle relating clauses or sentences loosely together by way of confirmation. It was common in this sense in Homer, though rare in the Attic writers save in μὲν οὖν . But it is very frequent in the Gospel of John as a mere transitional particle. In this Gospel it occurs about 200 times, nearly as frequent as all the rest of the N. T. ...’

2. Marcus Dods, in the Expositor’s Greek New Testament (vol. 1, p. 733):

‘…but the obvious interpretation is that which finds in the statement (w. 43, 44) a resumption of the narrative of w. 1-3, which had been interrupted by the account of the Lord’s experience in Samaria. That narrative had assigned as the reason for our Lord’s leaving Judaea and making for Galilee, His own over-popularity, which threatened a collision with the Pharisees. To avoid this He goes to Galilee, where, as He Himself said, there was little risk of His being too highly honoured. — Ver. 45. Neither is οὖν of ver. 45 inconsistent with this interpretation. It merely continues the narration : “when, then, He came into Galilee”.’


Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks, David. This is very helpful. I think the TNIV has done the right thing here, but it is better to get a clear understanding of why.

Andrew Rozalowsky said...

I'm currently unable tonight to do this sort of work due to some other committments, but what does BDAG have to say on the issue? Not that BDAG has the final say in all translation issues, but the reason I ask is LSJ is a classical greek lexicon as opposed to hellenistic, is it not? And again, not that that lexicon doesn't have its uses, it does, but words can change usage over a couple hundred years or so. If I'm wrong about LSJ being a classical greek as opposed to hellenistic/koine greek lexicon, please correct me.



Andrew Rozalowsky said...

Sorry, nevermind, didn't read your other blog post below!

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks very much for asking. First, let me explain that LSJ covers from Homer to the Byzantine era, which straddles the NT quite nicely. It is NOT a classical as opposed to Hellenistic lexicon, but it is the single most recognized resource for Hellenistic as well as classical Greek.

The BDAG mentions two categories of meaning,

1. inferential
2. marker of continuation of the narrative

With respect to the gospel of John it says,

"John boldly uses oun alone and needs no apology for doing so. It just carries along the narrative with no necessary thought of cause or effect." page 737

In both the LSJ and BDAG there is a two page, nuanced discussion of "oun."

I am very disappointed at this new attack on the TNIV and NIV.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Andrew,

I see you read the other post. In any case, thanks for asking for important clarifications.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that was a weird tangent to make in a sermon, especially about an issue that one is not expert in.