Re: Translator's New Testament

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Mon Nov 23 1998 - 21:17:33 EST

At 21:11 98/11/22 +0000, John M. Tait wrote:
>Dear B-Greekers,
>EU CARISTW (looks more like Welsh than Greek in your orthography, but never
>Thanks for the greetings and info re. I Cor 5:5. I see this list is not
>averse to discussing exegetical as well as grammatical problems - and you
>say the more talkative members are away partying!
>The main concern behind my query was translation philosophy - ie, granted
>that there are these interpretations of the passage, is the TNT justified
>in supporting the physical death view so unequivocally - remembering that
>this translation is intended for the use of translators into indigenous
>languages, many of whom will not know Greek? The fact that Clayton and
>Trevor disagree illustrates this, and I'm inclined to agree with Ben that
>the TNT are being pre-emptive. After all, the word "flesh" is at least
>adaptable to both views - especially, perhaps, to readers who are not _au
>fait_ with the normal distinction between SARX and SWMA in Paul - whereas
>"body" is not.

I agree entirely. It is a VERY bad choice to translate SARX here by "body",
just like that, and thus pre-empt possible interpretations.

Another place where some translations do this (render SARX by "body") is in
the next chapter of 1 Corinthians, in 6:16. Here the whole point of what
Paul is saying turns on differentiating the two words he uses, SARX and
SWMA. Paul writes, "Do you not know that he who unites himself with a
prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become
one flesh.'" (NIV; similarly most translations.) However, the TEV (Good
News Bible) renders it, "Or perhaps you don't know that the man who joins
his body to a prostitute becomes physically one with her? The scripture
says quite plainly, 'The two will become one body.'": SARX (in the
quotation) has been rendered "body", and the two words SARX and SWMA
treated a synonyms.

In Scripture SARX is used in reference to "all that a person is as a human
being". Thus in the purposes of God, marriage, referred to several times as
being or becoming "one flesh" is much more than just physical union, "one
body": it is a commitment of two people to each other across all the levels
of what it means to be human.

This, ISTM, is the centre of the point which Paul is making. When you unite
with a prostitute, what you get is a union of bodies: nothing more. Why is
this wrong? In a compressed argument, Paul cuts straight to the reason it
is to be condemned. "For he/it [God/Scripture] says, 'The two will become
one flesh.'" (Genesis 2:24; also Matthew 19:5-6; Mark 10:8.) That is, a
union which extends across all the levels of what husband and wife are as
human beings.

Taking SARX and SWMA as synonyms in 1 Corinthians 6:16 results in reading
this verse as saying that a mere act of sexual intercourse with a person
puts the two people involved into a "one flesh" relationship - which would
have HUGE personal and pastoral implications, but this is in fact
contradicted by the rest of biblical teaching about being one flesh and
what constitutes a marriage.

The word SARX in numerous places in Scripture refers to a person in all his
humanity, including [sometimes, especially] in his human weakness. But SARX
in itself never implies sin or sinfulness. (An earlier post to this thread
said, I seem to remember, that SARX did imply sin - if I recall this
correctly, I would invite a presentation of the evidence for such a meaning
of the Greek word.) Jesus came in flesh (SARX, John 1:14) yet was without
sin. God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (SARKOS hAMARTIAS,
Romans 8:3: the word "sinful" has to be explicitly included because SARX on
its own does not convey this implication of "sinful"). The NIV has done us
a GREAT disservice by choosing frequently to translate SARX by "sinful
nature" (23 times) or "sinful man" (thrice) - or "body" (20 times!!) - this
is going to mislead a great many who are users of this translation.

Thus the question of the differentiation of SARX and SWMA is basic to the
understanding of 1 Corinthians 6:16. I suggest this differentiation may
also throw light back on the question of the correct understanding of SARX
in the preceding chapter of this Epistle.


Ward Powers

Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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