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Revisiting Acts 17:26

Revisiting Acts 17:26

Yesterday I blogged about the HCSB of Acts 17:26, and in particular the portion that reads something like “made of one ______”. The KJV reads “blood” which is one of the textual variants, while the HCSB says “man” which apparently does not occur in any of the ancient manuscripts.

Since I read these lectionary texts daily for two weeks, today I encountered it in a different version, this time the TNIV, surely not one that could be accused of supporting anything like “male representation”, and it also read “man” in this case.

I’m not at home right now, so just looking at the immediately available Bible versions, I see the following:

  • REB reads “from one stock”
  • NRSV reads “from one ancestor”
  • CEV reads “from one person”
  • ESV reads “from one man”
  • TEV reads “from one human being”
  • God’s Word (GW) reads “from one man”
  • ISV reads “from one man”

I think that’s enough to see that most of the versions break where I would expect, with the exception of the TNIV. I wonder what their justification is here. It seems to me that since a number of ancient scribes appear to have provided options, but none thought of “man” here, it is unlikely that ancient readers would have understood this to refer specifically to the one man as human ancestor.

I’d be interested in comments on the reasoning behind the use of “man” in this verse.

Galatians 3:2: AKOE PISTEOS

Galatians 3:2: AKOE PISTEOS

Or should I make that AKOH PISTEWS? Note that a similar question can be asked in Galatians 3:5, but I will assume due to theme that one will give the same answer in both places.

Writing an exegetical article on this verse could be quite lengthy, but I agree with J. Louis Martyn in his commentary on Galatians when he says:

. . . Paul is not asking the Galatians which of two human acts served as the generative locus in which they received the Spirit, a decision on their part to keep the Law or a decision on their part to hear with faith. On the contrary, he is asking rhetorically whether that generative locus was

  • their act in becoming observant of the Law or
  • God’s message (akoh).

— page 288 [some punctuation/formatting including Greek rather than transliterated text is mine-HN]

The specific translation of akoh pistewj depends on two factors. First, should the word “hearing” be active or passive, in other words is the thing that generates the reception of the Spirit the act of hearing, or the content of what is heard, the message? The second is how does faith relate to the message. Is it a message that is faith, or is it a message that elicits faith? Martyn (op. cit.) Romans 10:16-17, where the message is much more clearly established as that which elicits faith, and the word akoh is also pretty clearly established as passive in intent.

So how do translations compare on this. Here are some examples, showing the variety on these two points:

  • TNIV – Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard. [This agrees with the NIV, which is surprising considering the accusations of Calvinist bias in the NIV translation.]
  • REB – did you receive the Spirit by keeping the law or by believing the gospel message?
  • NLT – Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ.
  • ESV – Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
  • CEV – How were you given God’s Spirit? Was it by obeying the Law of Moses or by hearing about Christ and having faith in him?
  • TEV – did you receive God’s Spirit by doing what the Law requires or by hearing the gospel and believing it?

I don’t see any translation that gets quite the nuance that I see in this passage, though perhaps I’m being a bit too tense. In this case, I think the NLT actually has the best translation with the CEV and TEV following very close after.

Of course, it’s hard for translations to get everything right. In this case, however, I think that formal equivalent translations, such as the ESV really leave the English reader hanging, because “hearing of faith” cannot possibly elicit the same semantic ranger as akoh pistews, with unfortunate results.