Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NASB)
A Fond Affection – While most readers of the Bible don’t know it, there are often minor differences in the various Greek texts that underlie our translations. The original text is no longer available to us, so we rely on copies. There are literally thousands of fragments of these copies, and they don’t always agree. So, if you picked up the latest Greek text of the New Testament (the Nestle Arland, 27th edition from the United Bible Society, usually abbreviated as NA27), you would find footnotes on nearly every page showing you which of the extant manuscripts agree and which do not. The King James Bible is based on a Greek text called the Textus Receptus, which is outdated, thanks to major archeological finds since the translation in 1611.
What does all this mean? Well, in this verse, the TR (Textus Receptus) uses the Greek word himeiromenoi but the NA27 uses the Greek word homeiromenoi. Doesn’t look like much of a difference, does it? The TR Greek means “to yearn after, to long for,” while the NA27 Greek means “to have a kindly feeling.” Perhaps it is only a small change in intensity. The Greek word is found as the translation of the Hebrew hakah, but only in Job 3:21 (“waiting for death”). This certainly cannot mean “fond affection,” since no one has a fond affection for death. The translators of the TR recognized that the LXX took the word to mean “longing for,” and on that basis translated Paul’s phrase as “Longing over you.” But things have changed since the King James translation. This is complicated by the fact that this Greek word appears only once in the New Testament and is used only once in the LXX. Hunting this one down is great detective work.
Now you’ll probably say, “What’s the point? Who cares about such a tiny change? If both words mean sort of the same thing, we can understand that idea without all these nit-picky details.” You would be right. We can understand the idea. Translating the text so that we get the idea is the basis of a lot of current Bible translations. These translations are not so concerned with the actual words. They just want to communicate the message. While this is a noble pursuit, it raises a serious issue. Is the meaning of the text found in the text or is it found in the understanding of the reader? Do I read the Bible in order to understand what the author of the passage had to say or do I read the Bible for what it means to me? Is it OK to just get the idea or do I really need to know the exact details of the author’s statement?
These are very important questions principally because if I think that the reader is the focus of the translation, then I am free to change the language so that it has meaning for the reader. I can ignore the details and even the vocabulary of the original author if the author’s choices don’t communicate to the reader. I end up with a translation that doesn’t look like the original words at all. Take The Message as an example. While it is easy to read in contemporary vocabulary and ideas, it is impossible to work from The Message back to the original language. The Message is Eugene Peterson’s personal vocabulary choices.
Here’s the point. Every translation has to deal with the details. Every translation adopts some method for dealing with them. But not every translation takes the same approach. If you read the Bible in any language except Greek and Hebrew, you need to know how your translation approaches these issues. Otherwise, you will be subject to the whims of the translator. So, pick up your Bible and, perhaps for the first time, read the Introduction or the explanation of how the translation was done. You just might be surprised.
Topical Index: translations, Textus Receptus, Nestle-Arland 27, longing, affection, 1 Thessalonians 2:8