Sunday, September 19, 2010

John 14:2, But if not...

2 ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ πατρός μου μοναὶ πολλαί εἰσιν· εἰ δὲ μή, εἶπον ἂν ὑμῖν ὅτι πορεύομαι ἑτοιμάσαι τόπον ὑμῖν; 
There are many dwelling places in my father’s house, and if that were not so, I would have told you because I am going to prepare a place for you.  John 14:2
I used to be super critical when I would read a passage and it would have some words in italics noting that those words were not found in the original language.  Studying greek has cured me from that.  Let’s take this passage for instance.
εἰ δὲ μή  The literal translation to this phrase is “if but not” or “if and not”.  It was common in greek for the “and/but” (δὲ) to be placed somewhere else in the sentence or clause other than at the beginning (most of the time, it is the second word as it is here).  With that said, we can get this phrase down to “and if not”. That makes it a little better as now the passage would read, “There are many dwelling places in my father’s house, and if not, I would have told you...”  Still, I think some helping words are in order here.
There is no such thing as a literal translation from biblical greek to english.  2000 year-old greek just didn’t work the same way that english works today.  Translators will always have to add helping words in order for the translation to make sense.

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