Saturday, August 25, 2012

Galatians 6:1 - Same or Also?

Warning!  The following article contains intense nerdish language.  Those who find this sort of discussion annoying would do well to follow the advice of C.S. Lewis: "If this [article] means nothing to you, if it seems to be trying to answer question you never asked, drop it at once.  Do not bother about it at all."

This week in my study of Galatians 6:1-10, I was reading the New Living Translation and found myself quite disappointed with their translation of the last part of 6:1.  My disappointment stems from the fact that I am actually quite fond of the NLT.  It is an excellent translation for public and private reading as it preserves the "big picture" of each book's message without the more colorful exuberance of a paraphrase such as The Message by Eugene Petersen (which I also appreciate by the way).  This article is certainly not a criticism of the NLT and definitely not a boycott against it.  That would be ludicrous.  Rather, I hope this comes across as a friendly disagreement with the translators from a respectful admirer of their work.  Additionally, I offer an alternate translation that I believe is important to understanding the whole teaching of Galatians 6:1-10.

The NLT translates the last part of 6:1 as follows: "And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself."  My criticism is the addition of the word same.  The use of the word "same" introduces the notion that when we seek to restore a fellow believer who has been overcome by sin (see Gal. 6:1a), then we are somehow potentially vulnerable to that sin as if it is a spiritual virus.  For instance, if one seeks to encourage Brother Rupert because he has been struggling with an addiction to gambling, one should be careful lest he or she start following Rupert to the casinos.  If one if not careful, then one is afflicted with the same temptation.  Such a scenario is possible, but this is not the true nature of the warning in 6:1b.  Additionally, reading the warning as a warning of the "same temptation" might hinder us from having the prescribed spirit of gentleness and love that allows us to courageously and humbly confront sin.  Fear of a viral nature of sin may cause otherwise useful believers to back away from the one in need.  Such a misinformed concern for the "purity" of one's religious walk is the very attitude that Paul is condemning throughout Galatians.  

So what does one do with the word "same?"  My question is where did the NLT translators get the word?  A better translation would not include the word "same" as it is not found in the original text.  The original text reads as follows in the Greek:  σκοπῶν σεαυτόν, μὴ καὶ σὺ πειρασθῇς.  The first word, σκοπῶν, is a participle.  I would translate it as "being careful" or something similar.  It adds to the imperative command to restore the one overcome by sin.  So, Paul is saying restore the brother but do so with care.  Of what?  Let's continue. . . .

σεαυτόν is a pronoun that is easily translated as "yourself." Later in the phrase the pronoun σὺ is used.  This is the second person pronoun "you."  The warning is that those involved in the restoring need to be watchful of their own selves in the process.  Of what?  Let's continue . . .

πειρασθῇς is a passive subjunctive verb.  The meaning of the root verb is to tempt.  The subjunctive mood means that the possibility of temptation is potential.  The passive voice indicates that the "you" in the phrase is not tempting, but rather might be tempted.  Thus, the warning to the restorer is to be careful so as not to be tempted.  (The small word μὴ is the negative that makes πειρασθῇς read "might not be tempted).

This leaves one word in our phrase that we haven't discussed yet - καὶ.  This is the word that the NLT may have chosen the translate as "same."  καὶ is a conjunction and is rarely translated as "same."  Most often, its English equivalent is "and."  The second most likely translation of καὶ is "also."  I suggest that "also" makes more sense.  Thus, the warning is not that the restorer "might be tempted with the same temptation," rather that the restorer "might also be tempted."  Perhaps with the same temptation, but the warning includes other temptations.  For instance, the temptation to be prideful, self-righteous, and condemning against a brother or sister overcome by a sin involving more public shame.  The context of Galatians 6 supports this with the additional warning in 6:3 that reads: "If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important."  (For the record, that is the NLT's translation of 6:3 and though NLT did not translate the verse literally, the translators have captured the meaning of the phrase expertly.)

I offer the following translation of 6:1b and accept critique but also the hope that others may find it useful in the context of chapter 6 . . . 

". . . paying attention that you yourselves should not also be tempted."