Bucket Full of ΓΑΡs

The other day I went to the mailbox and discovered to my great surprise and joy that I had been sent a copy of the Common English Bible.

I sat down with it more or less immediately, eager to see how it treated some of my favorite difficult passages. I had already heard that it translated πίστις χριστοῦ as “faithfulness of Christ,” and so was looking forward to reading Romans 1 and 3 in particular.

And in fact, I think that the Common English Bible has one of the most readable and accurate renderings of Romans 3:21-26 in print.

I have seen in a couple of spot-checks that CEB tends to translate “repentance” as “change of heart and life,” which I find to be a compelling rendering. In fact, looking over several swaths of Romans, such turns of phrase, and translational decisions at the word-and-clause level have the potential to jar the reader with an unfamiliar beauty. “The whole creation waits breathless,” says Romans 8:19. I like that.

And, it uses inclusive language to speak of humanity which, as many of you know, is quite important to me.

One recurring tendency in recent translations (cf. the NIV) that I am not happy with, however, is the relegation of connecting words to the dustbin. What in Greek is lengthy, logical argument becomes in English renderings a series of sentences ambiguously related to one another.

One reason I regret the loss of connecting words in the CEB and NIV is that their absence changes the aesthetics of the passage. What used to read as a fast-paced stream of thought now appears much more punctiliar and deliberate. Sometimes, as in Galatians 3, I think that Paul intentionally stops using logical connectors such as “and,” “for,” and “therefore” right when the argument takes its crucial turn. The difference in cadence that happens in the absence of a “for” or “therefore” forms an aural marker of the importance of what is about to come.

And all that is lost in the CEB and NIV.

But perhaps my more important grammatical question is this: how important are the γαρs (γαρ means “for” in Greek) and their kindred for making sense of Paul’s argument?

I’ve never met a γαρ I didn’t like and think was vital for understanding the flow of thought in a Pauline passage. I’ve met a lot of fors and therefores that didn’t add so much in John’s Gospel, but Paul is a different story.

So when I read these passages I wonder how much sense a native English speaker, with no access to Greek, will be able to make of them? On the one hand, the absence of the connecting words makes the sentences much easier to deal with. We can deal with smaller units, not lengthy complex, dependent thoughts. But is that the best way to understand a letter that Paul has written?

I confess, when it comes to Paul I find myself, at times, an old NASB fundamentalist. Put in all the words and trust the reader to wrestle with the text.

But maybe my desire to go around collecting all the discarded γαρs is misplaced? Maybe they’re not that important for following arguments and interpreting texts? What say you? I’m curious what those of you who know Greek think about small connecting words. How important are my beloved γαρs for making sense of Paul? And I’m curious about the positions of those of you who only have access to the text in English translation. What do you want from your Bible?

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