Re: Translator's New Testament

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Wed Nov 25 1998 - 22:35:20 EST

At 23:30 98/11/25 +0000, John M. Tait wrote:
>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.

Yes, indeed!

>>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.'"


>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).

Yes, this is exactly what I am saying: that Paul is deliberately
contrasting the meaning of SWMA and SARX, the one-body relationship which
is all you get with a prostitute, and the one-flesh relationship of
marriage. If we recognize the use in Scripture of SARX to mean a person in
all their humanness and weakness, and without any inherent connotation of
sinfulness, and that marriage, "one-flesh", involves (when it is in accord
with the purposes of the Lord) a union of the man and the woman at all
levels (and not just the physical), then we can see that the interpretation
of 1 Cor 6:16 as a man and a prostitute becoming one-flesh by a mere
physical act flies in the face of this.

If we were to adopt this interpretation, then one-flesh would not refer to
the commitment of marriage but just the act of sex. Which would require
quite a re-assessment of the meaning of the various passages of Scripture
which use this expression "one-flesh".

Or else we are left with the position that all that is required to
constitute a marriage is an act of sex, and an act of sex makes you
married. Is the prostitute who is envisaged in 1 Cor 6:16 to be regarded as
married ("one-flesh") to each of her customers in turn, seriatim? Or does
she remain married to all of those with whom she has had sex, so that she
is a multiple poygamist?

>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.

I agree with your assessment of Barrett's comment. To attribute a bad sense
to "flesh" here in "one-flesh" is to import a meaning of implied sinfulness
into SARX which it does not have anywhere else, and to set the meaning of
the term "one-flesh" here in this verse against its positive and favourable
connotations in Genesis 2:24, in the teaching of Jesus (Matthew
19:4-5//Mark 10:8) and elsewhere in the Pauline corpus (Ephesians 5:31).

>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

If Paul were wanting to say that sex with a prostitute meant them together
becoming one-flesh, so that he could then use the quotation of Gen 2:24 in
this connection, then all he had to do was use SARX rather than SWMA in 1
Cor 6:16. Then his meaning would have been crystal clear (even if the
theological implications would have been mind-blowing!).

Instead, what he does is to say they become "one-body", and THEN to quote a
passage of Scripture which sets out the intention of God for the context of
sex, which is "one-flesh". Such a deliberate differentiation of words leads
us (leads me, at any rate) to see that Paul is intending to CONTRAST them.
Understood this way, the meaning is clear (and also in concord, not
contrast, with the rest of biblical usage): if you join your body with that
of a prostitute, what you get is a union of bodies. Whereas the purpose and
intention of God from creation is that sexual intercourse is to involve,
and be experienced in the context of, the one-flesh relationship of
marriage, with all that Scripture has to say about marriage.

>- 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.

It is hard to estimate how far Gnosticism had developed by AD 55 (the time
of 1 Corinthians) or to what extent it had influenced the Corinthian
church. But it would seem pretty certain that we can say there were indeed
people at Corinth who were adhering to, and teaching, the view that sins
committed just by the body did not affect spirit or soul or one's standing
before Christ. This is implicit in the "broadmindedness" of the church in
proudly tolerating the incestuous man (1 Cor 5:1-2); and in 1 Cor 6:18-19,
if we perceive in this a dialogue:

Paul (in response to the temptation to consort with a prostitute): FEUGETE
THN PORNEIAN, "Flee the sexual immorality", i.e. a sexual encounter with
the PORNH of 6:16; note the use of the article, referring back to what has
just been discussed..

SWMATOS ESTIN, "Every sin that a person commits is outside the body." [In
other words, sin does not relate to my body or what I might do with it;
what I do with my body, in having sex with a prostitute, is not a sin - a
response to Paul's assertion that this IS sinful.]

Paul: hO DE PORNEUWN EIS TO IDION SWMA hAMARTANEI, "On the contrary: the
person who is engaging in sexual immorality IS sinning, against his very
own body." He then adds: Surely you know that your body is a temple of the
Holy Spirit, who indwells you!

However one takes it, it must be noted that this last clause (about sinning
against one's own body) is in disagreement with the one which proceeds it
(the sin which a person commits is external to the body).

The use of SWMA here in these verses is precisely because Paul is now
discussing the human body and what it is permissable and appropriate for
the Christian to do with it. This all the more highlights the significance
of the ONE use of SARX in the Gen 2:24 quote in 6:16.

>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.

Yes - here again I wholeheartedly agree with you. Whether or not one sees
Paul's use of SWMA and SARX as being in contrast (in the way I have
indicated above), the fact is that Paul DOES USE these two different words
here. It is poor for ANY translation to obscure this point, and absolutely
reprehensible in the Translator's New Testament, the purpose of which is to
provide a reliable text which can be used as the basis for retranslation
into other languages.

How could we draw this to their attention?

>John M. Tait.



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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