Monday, December 05, 2011
Punctuating the Bible: Ephesians 4:11-12
In speaking, we indicate emphasis and pauses simply by the way we pronounce the words. Punctuation and other ways of marking a text are used to attempt to accomplish with the written word what it cannot do, that is, imitate the spoken word. Thus someone might say the three simple words “I love him” in three different ways. He might say, “I love him,” putting the emphasis on “I,” which is indicated here by putting “I” in italics. The meaning communicated is that “I” as opposed to others, love him. Or he might say, “I love him” putting the emphasis on the verb (again, indicated here with italics). Thus the meaning is I love him as opposed to “hate” or “like” or “put up with.” Or he might say, “I love him;” communicating the idea of loving that particular person as opposed to others. The pauses and emphasis indicated by punctuation therefore help clarify the meaning of what is written, in place of the emphasis provided by voice and facial expression in conversation.
The importance of proper punctuation is well-illustrated in Lynne Truss’s recent bestseller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. This is particularly pointed out in the publisher’s note (p. xv) to the effect that the book is written in English English as opposed to American English, and so follows the rules of English rather than American punctuation. All of this is to say that the punctuation of the text of the Bible in English serves an important interpretive function that might be easily overlooked by the causal reader.
Ephesians provides a useful example. For context, I have also included verse 11. In the KJV, the verses read, “11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” Notice that the commas in verse 12 indicate three purposes for the work of the officers listed: perfecting the saints, the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ.
In the NKJV, the passage reads, “11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” In this version, there is only one comma in verse 12, indicating a two-fold purpose for the work of the officers: equipping the saints for the work of ministry and edifying the body of Christ. The whole range of modern translations, from the
NASB to the NLT, does exactly the same thing that the
NKJV does, indicating two purposes for the work of the officers.
The modern reader probably reads only one English version, and for the most part probably pays little attention to the punctuation. Therefore, he might not notice the different possible understandings that the verse provides. Next time we will look into the matter of determining which punctuation of the verse is probably right, why, and what it means for the reader.