Matthew 22:35: Traduttore, traditore

The Pharisees are about to put a question to Jesus.

καί ἐπηρώτησεν

εἷς ἐξ αὐτῶν

νομικός

πειράζων αὐτόν

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  (ESV)

Notes:

Ἐπηρώτησεν is the aorist indicative active of ἐπερωτάω, ‘I ask, question’.  There seems to be a shading of ‘interrogate’ possible with this verb.

Note the augment, which is both internal (between the prepositional prefix ἐπί and the root verb ἐρωτάω) and temporal (lengthening of the initial vowel ε of ἐρωτάω to η).

Do not confuse εἷς, ‘one’ with the preposition εἰς, ‘into’.

Νομικός is a substantive use of the adjective ‘νομικός, νομική, νομικόν’, meaning ‘learned in the law’.  Some English versions translate νομικός simply as ‘lawyer’, others use phrases like ‘an expert in the law’, ‘an expert in religious law’, ‘an interpreter of the law’, and so on.

Πειράζων is a present active participle (masculine singular nominative) of the verb πειράζω (‘I try, I tempt, I test’).  And about that verb —

I generally try to stay as far away as possible from interpretation and exegesis in these posts.  My primary focus is the language itself, and I make no claims to theological expertise.

But here’s the problem: every translation is an interpretation.  And the various English versions of Matthew 22:35 – with that verb πειράζω = strike me as being a good demonstration of this principle.

We have, for example, the ESV*, above:

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

plus several close translations to the ESV, all using some form of the English verb ‘test’:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question (NIV)

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him (NASB)

One of them, an expert in the Law, tested him by asking (ISV)

But we also find these:

One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question (NLT)

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying (King James)

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him  (ERV)

And one of them, a doctor of the law, asking him, tempting him  (Douay-Rheims Bible)

Test. trap, tempt.  I would argue, not on the basis of any scholarly knowledge of theology whatsoever, but solely on the basis of being a native speaker, that these English words do not mean exactly the same thing.  That, in fact, there are significant differences suggested by each word.

(Not to mention that the English words themselves can shift in meaning over the years. This is something to keep in mind particularly when reading older translations, such as the King James.)

At any rate, we’ve been warned.  As in the Italian aphorism ‘Traduttore, traditore’ – to translate is to betray.

_____________________

* ESV = English Standard Version;  NIV = New International Version;  NASB = New American Standard Bible;  ISV = International Standard Version;  NLT = New Living Translation;  ERV = English Revised Version

 

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