Greek Reading: Matthew 7:1-12

1Μὴ κρίνετε, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε: 2ἐν ᾧ γὰρ κρίματι κρίνετε κριθήσεσθε, καὶ ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν. 3τί δὲ βλέπεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου, τὴν δὲ ἐν τῷ σῷ ὀφθαλμῷ δοκὸν οὐ κατανοεῖς; 4ἢ πῶς ἐρεῖς τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, Ἄφες ἐκβάλω τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σου, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἡ δοκὸς ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σοῦ; 5ὑποκριτά, ἔκβαλε πρῶτον ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σοῦ τὴν δοκόν, καὶ τότε διαβλέψεις ἐκβαλεῖν τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου. 6Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν, μηδὲ βάλητε τοὺς μαργαρίτας ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων, μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς. 7Αἰτεῖτε, καὶ δοθήσεται ὑμῖν: ζητεῖτε, καὶ εὑρήσετε: κρούετε, καὶ ἀνοιγήσεται ὑμῖν. 8πᾶς γὰρ ὁ αἰτῶν λαμβάνει καὶ ὁ ζητῶν εὑρίσκει καὶ τῷ κρούοντι ἀνοιγήσεται. 9ἢ τίς ἐστιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἄνθρωπος, ὃν αἰτήσει ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ἄρτον μὴ λίθον ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ; 10ἢ καὶ ἰχθὺν αἰτήσει μὴ ὄφιν ἐπιδώσει αὐτῷ; 11εἰ οὖν ὑμεῖς πονηροὶ ὄντες οἴδατε δόματα ἀγαθὰ διδόναι τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν, πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς δώσει ἀγαθὰ τοῖς αἰτοῦσιν αὐτόν. 12Πάντα οὖν ὅσα ἐὰν θέλητε ἵνα ποιῶσιν ὑμῖν οἱ ἄνθρωποι, οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ποιεῖτε αὐτοῖς: οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται.
I have two comments, the first related to Greek, the second just a reflection. First, there is a great example in this passage about why translation can’t simply be the substitution of one word for another. In fact, there is a key word in this passage that can only be translated into English by leaving it out entirely. Verses 9-10 contain two hypothetical questions, both containing the word μὴ, which any lexicon will tell you means “not”. It’s function, though, in a question in which its verb is in the indicative mood is to indicate a negative answer to the question. Look what happens, though, when you try to translate it into English. “What man is there among you who … would not give his son a stone?”

Uh-oh. That sounds wrong. That’s because rhetorical questions in English work by negation. “Who’s going to buy that crappy product?” Implied answer: “No one will.” On the other hand, “Who wouldn’t take free tickets to an NCAA Final Four game?” Implied answer: “No one wouldn’t.” Similar to this is, “You’d love to test-drive this new Ferrari, wouldn’t you?” [Note, this English construction is equivalent to the French “n’est-ce pas.”] However, Greek uses a negative regardless of the expected answer, but the negative used determines whether a positive answer (ου) or a negative answer (μη) is implied. So, the only way for us to reflect accurately in English the negative expectation is to drop the negative.
Second, it strikes me that many religious people have seen in Jesus’ “Golden Rule” (v. 12) an escape hatch from Christianity. When they read that, they think, “See? See? Jesus really was just trying to teach us to live better, kinder lives. We can demythologize the Bible, exclude those annoying supernatural elements, and still have what really counts. Just treat other people how you want to be treated.” I suspect that these people have not reflected very long on how they want to be treated. To me, this is an incredibly damning summary of the law. I don’t treat anybody like I treat myself. I don’t think about anybody else nearly as much as I think about myself. I don’t look out for other people’s needs the way I look out for my own. I don’t rejoice in their accomplishments without a subtle twinge of jealousy; I don’t lament their sufferings without a tiny sigh of relief that that didn’t happen to me. Supposing, just for a moment, I could treat even one person in this world just like I would want to be treated, what would that even matter? The Law enjoins me to treat everyone this way, a task that staggers me. This statement, like every other statement of the Law, is meant to condemn that it may lead to salvation. Those who see in it an opportunity for salvation, or justification, will only be condemned.

Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 8:21 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. 🙂 Thanks ~

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