Re: 1Cor 8:4

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue May 30 2000 - 09:34:31 EDT

At 9:49 AM -0400 5/29/00, Dmitriy Reznik wrote:
>I wonder which translation would be correct for OUDEN EIDWLON EN KOSMW
>KAI hOTI OUDEIS QEOS EI MH hEIS. Should it be "there is no idol in the
>world, and that there is no God but One", or "idol is nothing in the
>world, and none is God but One"?

At 1:44 PM -0500 5/29/00, Harold R. Holmyard III wrote:
>Dear Dmitriy,
> Both translation possibilities for 1 Cor 8:4 that you suggest are
>valid grammatically; so it is just a question of which one makes more sense
>in English. There were idols; so I agree with Mike that it is better to say
>that "an idol is nothing in the world," meaning that it has no value. On
>the other hand, it is more natural modern English to say "there is no God
>but one" than to say "none is God but one." So I would translate: "we know
>that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one."
>It seems impossible to duplicate the close parallelism of the Greek, but I
>think that Mike's translation "and especially" ignores the parallelism in
>the verse. The second hOTI depends on OIDAMEN just as the first hOTI does.
>I checked about eight translations and they all replicate the parallelism.
>Mike is good to draw attention to Deut 6:4, however. The New Living
>Translation has: "Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and
>that there is only one God and no other."


I quite agree with Harold that the two clauses are parallel and that
therefore the KAI is simply a connector: each clauses is introduced by hOTI
because each is a distinct object of OIDAMEN: Paul is setting forth the
presuppositions of his argument.

And I agree with Harold that Mike was right to point to the Shema.

I am inclined to think that there's an existential ESTI(N) in both clauses;
I would phrase them then thus: OIDAMEN hOTI OUDEN (ESTIN) EIDWLON EN KOSMWi
KAI hOTI OUDEIS (ESTI) QEOS EI MH hEIS,and I would understand (and
translate, if I had to) thus: "We know that there doesn't exist (any) idol
in the world and that there doesn't exist any god except the One (God)."

OUDEIS/OUDEMIA/OUDEN is not quite equivalent to English "no one" or
"nobody": it tends to be used predicatively, which is to say, adverbially.
Not infrequently OUDEN is used as an emphatic negative adverb in place of
OU/OUK/OUC in the sense "not at all" In modern Greek, OUDEN has come to be
abbreviated as DEN, and it has supplanted the ancient OU/OUK/OUC as the
regular adverb of negation.

If what I'm arguing so far as the first clause is concerned is still not
clear, let me just note, I don't think Paul's saying "there are no idols
in the world"--it is, after all, quite obvious that people pay homage and
obeisance to all sorts of things that have no authentic divine status; I
think that what Paul actually means in that first sentence--what the Greek
text means--is "There really ISN"T any idol in the world" = "An idol HAS NO
EXISTENCE in the world (despite the fact that people attribute
reality to idols)."


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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