Re: Translator's New Testament

From: John M. Tait (
Date: Wed Nov 25 1998 - 18:30:13 EST

Ward Powers wrote:

>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.

The TNT translates "the two shall become one." Again, this would be
understandable in a translation intended for ordinary reading, but as a
basis for further translation it seems inadequate.

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.

While I agree with your treatment of the meaning of SARX in Paul, and agree
that TEV and NIV are begging questions by rendering it respectively as
"body" and "sinful" nature, I'm afraid I don't quite follow your reasoning
with regard to I Cor 6:16. Are you saying that Paul is here deliberately
drawing a contrast between SARX and SWMA in order to draw a contrast
between (a) the union of bodies which is involved in sex with a prostitute
("When you unite with a prostitute, what you get is a union of bodies:
nothing more"), and (b) the deeper union which is involved in marriage? In
other words, that Paul is saying that sleeping with a prostitute is _not_
the same as the union EIS SARKA MIAN which he quotes from Gen 2:24?

If this is the gist of your argument - and I admit that I may have
completely misunderstood - I would have thought that the opposite - or
something close to it - was the case. It seems to me that Paul is here
emphasising that union with a prostitute _is_ the same as the "one flesh"
relationship, in contrast to Gnostic approaches which regarded it as
irrelevant because of the perceived dichotomy between body and spirit.
(Insofar as I understand him, Grosheide seems to take this view).

Barrett regards SARX here as significant, considering that its use carries
Paul's argument forward in that it implies that the body, which is itself
innocent, in union with a harlot becomes flesh, which for Paul often has a
bad sense. However, this emphasis on a bad sense sees to be a strange
interpretation of the way in which Paul would have regarded his source in
Genesis 2:24.

It seems to me that not too much weight can be placed on the use of the
word SARX here, simply because Paul is quoting the LXX word for word. He
doesn't use SARX in the remainder of the argument, and to me this suggests
that he is here using the word simply because it is in his source, without
intending any particular semantic contrast with SWMA - unless it is to
emphasise that sexual union inevitably means more than the Gnostic
dichotomy between SWMA and PNEUMA would maintain. I would have thought the
main point which he is making is that sexual activity inevitably has the
original (ie, before the fall - cp. the similar appeal of Jesus to Genesis
1:27 with regard to the divorce question) God given significance however it
may have been corrupted by man, and that therefore it cannot be entered
into with impunity.

However, to return to the translation question, the very fact that this
passage is open to differences of interpretation would suggest that, in a
translation intended for further translation rather than reading, a more
literal rendering would have been appropriate. I would wonder what effect
the use of this translation might have on indigenous translations - and
even theologies - in the future.

John M. Tait.


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