The word "For" in our English Bibles

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Liam | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Oct 12 2013 8:55 AM

I learned a few years ago that the word "for" (Greek "γάρ") in our Bibles can have one of three different meanings. This has completely changed the way that I read the Bible.

1. It most often means "because" and indicates a cause of the previous statement.

2. It can sometimes mean "as evidence" or "to prove this" making it a proof of the previous statement.

3. It can also mean "to explain" and be simply an explanation of the previous statement. (I understand that the reason this is typically translated with the word "for" is because it is the only English equivalent that can have all of these 3 meanings like the Greek γάρ.)  

Since learning this, I constantly look at Greek morphologies when I read Scripture in order to find which use of the word is meant in any given circumstance. This becomes a little tedious though, and I find myself creating visual filters or making highlights so that I can see the differences more naturally as I read the text. (So much of the meaning is lost with the word "for", which means little more than the word "and" to most readers.)

I would love to find a Bible translation that actually translates the morphology of this word into the appropriate English word (or words; something like these three: 1. "because" 2. "as proof" or 3. "to explain") so that the reader has a clearer sense of what the author was trying to communicate. It seems that a translation that did this would hugely increase the average Bible readers comprehension of what was being said. 

Does anyone know of an English Bible translation that actually does this consistently? I have several translations that sometimes translate it "because", sometimes "for", but the translation "for" doesn't have a consistent meaning, it can still mean "because".

Thanks all-

(I understand that I could just continue to use morphologies, but it seems to me that they are pretty often wrong and that some are made without much wrestling with the text. Also, the words "because" "as proof" "to explain" sometimes need a different expression that makes them fit into the context that a visual filter can't really provide. A translation would be the best solution.)

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DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 12 2013 10:23 AM

NJB is the closest to what you're talking about.  But obviously, the distinction is pretty iffy, especially if you assume cultural usage.  NAB/NABRE makes a run at it, but not like NJB.

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Josh | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 12 2013 6:08 PM

Amplified Bible maybe. You didn't list any specific verses...

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 12 2013 6:50 PM

Liam Walsh:
Since learning this, I constantly look at Greek morphologies when I read Scripture in order to find which use of the word is meant in any given circumstance.

You lost me here - how does the morphology help you? I'm not understanding what you want.

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 12 2013 7:20 PM

The fact is that in many cases there is no agreement on which of 2, 3, or 4 possible meanings was intended when a given preposition is used in the Greek. "For" isn't the only one that causes trouble. Whole denominations exist because of the various possible ways certain Greek words are interpreted.

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Lee | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 12 2013 10:42 PM

I too don't understand what the OP means by "morphologies".

As for γάρ, Steve Runge has an interesting discussion in A Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament. There was another book with a fairly detailed discussion about this word, but I can't remember the title off-hand. Perhaps it is not in Logos.

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Dave Hooton | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Oct 13 2013 2:21 AM

Liam Walsh:
I would love to find a Bible translation that actually translates the morphology of this word into the appropriate English word (or words;

The NIV and the NLT are by far the most prolific with a translation other than "for"; which you can see from a search of interlinear bibles using lemma:γάρ  NOTEQUALS for

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Tes | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Oct 13 2013 5:59 PM

I am very interested on conjunctions, because I can only understand the flow of thoughts and the structure of the text. I struggle most of the time to figure out from the context by reading carefully the sentences surrounding them. But if there would be any resource which can help that might be very helpful. I do the samething with "so that" as well ,since it is some times result and other times is purpose.

Blessings in Christ.

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Tes | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Oct 13 2013 7:15 PM

Thank you Lee.

Blessings in Christ.

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George Somsel | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Oct 13 2013 10:13 PM

The diverse usage of γάρ has resulted in a wide variety of claims being made about it. Both Wallace and Young contend that it functions as both a coordinating and subordinating conjunction. BDAG describes it as expressing   p 52  cause, clarification, or inference. Robertson advocates that it is best viewed as explanatory in nature, before making an appeal for other senses.53

Robertson’s "explanatory" assertion has largely been confirmed as the core constraint of γάρ in modern linguistic treatments. Heckert concludes that it introduces material that strengthens or confirms a previous proposition. Levinsohn states,

Background material introduced by γάρ provides explanations or expositions of the previous assertion (see Winer 1882:566–67, Robertson 1919:1190, Harbeck 1970:12). The presence of γάρ constrains the material that it introduces to be interpreted as strengthening some aspect of the previous assertion, rather than as distinctive information.

In other words, the information introduced does not advance the discourse but adds background information that strengthens or supports what precedes. Black also correlates the use of γάρ with background information, noting a tendency for it to be used with forms of εἰμί and imperfect-tense forms. She states, "Γάρ is used to direct the audience to strengthen a preceding proposition, confirming it as part of the mental representation they construct of the discourse."

Runge, Steven E. Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis, pp 51-52. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

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Lee | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 5:05 AM

Snippet from pp. 261-2 of Sentence Conjunctions in the Gospel of Matthew:

 

   In indicating material that is off-line with respect to the sequence of narrative events, both γάρ and οὖν are used to guide inferences the audience makes in discourse processing. The term 'inference' does not refer here only to explicitly logical operations. Rather than indicating logical relations between the contents of propositions, γάρ and οὖν signal discourse relations between the sentences themselves -- that is, how the sentences are to fit together in a mental representation of the discourse. By 'inferential' I mean that a mental representation is strengthened or otherwise enhanced by the integration of additional material, using pragmatic inferences in the Gricean sense rather than rules of inference from formal logic. As I explained in Chapter 2, Grice was one of the first to suggest that much of the process of making sense of conversation (and, by analogy, other discourse) relies on the hearer making a number of inferences not about the logical content of individual sentences, but about how the speaker intends a statement to be taken in the context of the unfolding conversation.

 

   In Matthew's narrative framework, γάρ and οὖν are concerned with inferential relationships in discourse processing rather than just the recounting of narrated events. While καί, δέ, τότε and asyndeton guide the audience in various ways through a sequence of events in the narrative framework, γάρ and οὖν serve to help the audience make connections between additional information and the current thread of the narrative. Γάρ and οὖν are used to help the audience integrate material which is offline with respect to the main narrative events, but which aids in comprehending the events in the narrative which are on-line. In terms of mental representations in discourse processing, γάρ and οὖν each signal the audience to modify the mental representations they construct of discourse: γάρ by introducing material which confirms and strengthens the preceding proposition (usually but not necessarily by giving either a reason or elaboration), and οὖν by signaling that the ongoing representation is dependent in some way on material which precedes. Winer's observation that etymologically γάρ is a compound of γε and ἄρα or ἄρ, and 'expresses generally an affirmation or assent (γε) which stands in relation to what precedes (ἄρα!)' appears -- whatever the value of etymology per se -- to capture the pragmatic function of γάρ quite well.

Technical-level stuff, for sure.

For me, the non-technical upshot is: go with the flow and be very careful about staging a doctrine or a sermon on a γάρ. E.g. once I heard a preacher (who had just completed his doctorate) holding forth on a γάρ that was "very critical" to the understanding of a passage. It was unconvincing at best.

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Tes | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 6:11 AM

I think it might be very helpful, if we could quote some verses of the Bible with Varity usage of it to come up with more clarification

Blessings in Christ.

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Lee | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 6:16 AM

Those books do discuss many examples. Smile

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Milford Charles Murray | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 6:40 AM

Thanks to all who contributed positively to this thread!                 *smile*                         I found it very helpful indeed!       *smile*           A study of this  helped me "put together" a few concepts that were slightly "out of kilter" in my mind!                

                                                                                                                                       Psalm 29:11

Philippians 4:  4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand..........

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DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 7:41 AM

Mark 3:9-10 is an interesting contrast (and not having any theological content).  It certainly demonstrates causal vs expansion, which NLT promptly ignores!  But I'd still argue, whether greek or even in english, you'd need to know who the author was and his practices.  'Causal' carries another layer of meanings, while expansions are implied causality (else no need for the expansion).

"God will save his fallen angels and their broken wings He'll mend."

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Tes | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 7:56 AM

Denise:

Mark 3:9-10 is an interesting contrast (and not having any theological content).  It certainly demonstrates causal vs expansion, which NLT promptly ignores!  But I'd still argue, whether greek or even in english, you'd need to know who the author was and his practices.  'Causal' carries another layer of meanings, while expansions are implied causality (else no need for the expansion).

I think "for" is here reason.And "so that" is result.

Blessings in Christ.

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DMB | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 8:09 AM

Tes ... did you notice in v9 vs v10, the Mark author distinguished the usage?

"God will save his fallen angels and their broken wings He'll mend."

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Mike Childs | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 9:11 AM

Liam,

You are right, and "γάρ" can have more than just those three meanings.  They correct meaning of such a word has to be derived from the context, and one's theology will color one's translation.  It is unavoidable.

And it is often a matter of opinion which meaning the word has.  Translation is just not an exact science, and sadly many people do not realize that.  That is why a "word for word" translation is impossible.

Personally, I prefer translations that do not try to make such translation decisions for me, whenever possible.  Just leave "γάρ" as "for" and let me wrestle with the context to determine which meaning is correct.  Same for other similar words.

 

 

"In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church," John Wesley

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David Thomas | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Oct 14 2013 9:25 AM

 

Lee:

Sentence Conjunctions in the Gospel of Matthew provide rich discussion on these oft-neglected words.

I have Runge's works. I am waiting for publication of works similar to Stephanie Black's on other NT texts. It could be quite erroneous to transfer Matthew's use of conjunctions upon other human authors and other Genre's of NT literature.

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