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calling or occupation?

September 18, 2011

I have felt for some time that tradition has supplied the meaning for many words in the Bible. It seems that translators infuse their own theology into their translations, and that the lexicons are subsequent to, or contingent on, the translations. This is especially the case if the lexicon is formed within the biblical studies tradition.

Here is an excellent article by Scott Bartchy posted on Ben Witherington III’s  blog. HT Darrell Pursiful Let’s look at 1 Cor. 7:20 in Greek first, and in the King James Version,

ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει ᾗ ἐκλήθη ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω.

Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.

It seems pretty clear. Let each one stay in the same calling in which they were called. Here is the meaning of κλῆσις and you can see that 1 Cor. 7:20 is mentioned as meaning “religious calling.”

And yet, modern Bibles put quite a different twist on this. Let’s look at a few,

Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. NIV 2011

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. ESV

Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called. NASB

Que chacun demeure dans l’état où il était lorsqu’il a été appelé. Louis Segond

Ein jeglicher bleibe in dem Beruf, darin er berufen ist. Luther

Clearly, in the Liddell Scott lexicon, κλῆσις did not have the meaning of “condition,” “state” or “situation.” Where did this come from and why is it used today?  The German word Beruf typically means a trade or occupation. Where the King James Version has “calling,” Luther translated “occupation.” But was κλῆσις ever used with this sense in Greek? Bartchy argues that it was not.

So how does BDAG come to have entry number 2 “position that one holds, position, condition?” Bartchy deconstructs the examples used by the BDAG and demonstrates that κλῆσις was not used with the sense of occupation in these cases. It is instructive to find that the French Lexicon, Magnien-LaCroix did not have the added meaning supplied by the BDAG. Instead, it has only “1. appel vers soi, invitation, convocation, citation, assignation en justice, 2 invocation des dieux, appel au secours, 3 appellation, dénomination.”

Bartchy claims that it is due to Luther’s translation that κλῆσις was given a meaning in the BDAG which it never had in ancient Greek literature or in the New Testament. Here is Bartchy’s take,

But when Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German, he boldly decided to change radically Paul’s intended meaning by substituting the term Beruf (“occupation/status”) for the correct German word Ruf (“call/shoutname”).

However, anyone going to the BDAG will stand firm in their belief that the Greek word κλῆσις can correctly be translated as “condition/occupation/situation” when there is no evidence or support for this whatsoever. It is a good way, however, to have a verse which tells people to stay in the condition in which they find themselves, whether it be slavery, or some other oppressive situation. “Stay in the condition in which you were.” Something like that.

When I trace the history of translation, this is what I am looking for. If someone says that this history does not matter, as long as we know that the original languages actually meant, I can only ask how we know what the original meant without the history of translation.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2011 8:06 am

    Douay Rheims in 1582 had “everyone in the vocation that he was called in it let him remain.” The Vulgate had “vocatione.”

    And both Tyndale (1534) and the Geneva (1557) had “in the same state wherein he was called.”

    So Luther can’t take all of the blame for the shifting of Paul’s Greek meaning here.

    Good post to note what changes a translator can effect, Suzanne. This shift is particularly horrible since it has been used to perpetuate slavery.

  2. September 18, 2011 9:33 am

    This is an interesting one. But I wonder if the meaning of the German has changed. The word Beruf has a clear etymology suggesting a meaning “calling”. Is it only since Luther, as the modern concept of employment in specific occupations has developed, that the word has come to mean primarily “occupation”?

    Of course the Douay-Rheims word “vocation”, with the same etymology in Latin, is still in use in the sense “religious calling”, and perhaps in recent years only a little wider than “religious” but not of all occupations. This would seem to show how quickly meanings change in this general semantic domain.

    I suppose the real exegetical issue is whether this means the calling/occupation/state which the people were in at the time that God called them, or the one into which God called them. All the translations you quote imply the former. But the latter seems to fit the Greek better, unless an extra en is to be implied before the relative pronoun he. Also on the former interpretation one would have to understand a word play between klesis and eklethe, rather than the more probable, rather Hebraic, emphatic use of a verb with a cognate noun. I would suggest a translation more like “Let everyone remain in the calling to which called them”, i.e. continue to do what God called you to do.

  3. September 18, 2011 11:36 am

    Your exegesis makes a lot of sense, and your translation of v 20 reflects that. Would you say v 24 adds to your understanding?

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 18, 2011 12:51 pm


    Luther published his NT in 1522, Lefevre published his in 1523 and Tyndale published his NT in 1525. There is no doubt that Tyndale used Luther’s translation and likely Lefevre also. I have no idea how to find a copy of Lefevre’s translation.

    But it is interesting to see that the KJV is more literal, is back on track in a sense, using “the calling wherein he was called.”

    What I would really like to see is Bible software which includes all the influential Bibles of the Reformation. But I have not seen that anyone else is interested in this, although certainly scholarly papers from England and Europe have an advantage here. But perhaps there is a Lefevere in North America. I have not looked.


    You must engage with Bartchy’s article on whether the change originated with Luther. I will go back and read it over later today.

  5. September 18, 2011 1:01 pm

    Kurk, thank you for pointing me to v.24. V.17 also needs to be taken into account. But the wording is subtly different in the three cases. Should the three be taken as synonymous? Or perhaps v.17 is the generic case and v.20 and v.24 are different specific applications. After all v.20 sums up the “religious” discussion of circumcision and v.24 sums up the “secular” discussion of slavery. So there may be something more than synonymy here.

  6. September 18, 2011 1:20 pm

    Suzanne, thank you for the recommendation. I have now read Bartchy’s article. I think I can presume that the German scholars he names would have known of any major change in the meaning of Beruf between Luther’s time and their own. But I would guess that the word was in common use to render the Latin vocatio in the context of callings to the priesthood, monasticism etc, and that the misunderstanding originated from that rather than from Luther.

    I was surprised that Bartchy also failed to consider v.24. Even if v.20 is not about remaining in the situation in which one was called, what else can v.24 be about? Or is Bartchy simply assuming synonymy? And v.24 is the verse most relevant to slavery, at least on the SBL-GNT paragraphing.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 18, 2011 4:48 pm

    What is far more puzzling to me is that the French has “état.” I wonder what Erasmus had in his Latin translation and notes.

    But do you really think that slavery could be considered a “calling?” And isn’t there a difference between the condition in which one was called, and the “calling to which one is called?” And where does remaining single fit in. Certainly Luther was single when he was called, but felt that he was called to be married.

  8. September 18, 2011 5:01 pm

    I can’t see anyone considering slavery a calling, or even a Beruf. But did Luther actually think this verse was about slavery? As I noted before, SBL-GNT and at least some modern translations link it with what comes before. Did Luther? Maybe he thought there was an analogy between circumcision and the monastic tonsure. And I could surmise that he burned with passion and so took Paul’s advice, in the same chapter, to marry.

    I guess Segond, as a Protestant from Geneva, followed a Reformed tradition of translation which might go back to Luther. But how did Calvin understand this?

  9. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 18, 2011 5:21 pm

    Calvin’s commentaries are here.

    He had a strictly conservative take on this, that one should remain in one’s servitude and not be disheartened. Perhaps Paul meant that but Luther and Calvin had no diffitulty marrying themselves, and also they did not stay in the church in which they were called. They believed in revolution for themselves.

  10. September 19, 2011 3:46 am

    Don’t get me on to the hypocrisy of revolutionary leaders, in the church or in the world, who won’t submit to anyone else’s authority but demand that others submit to theirs.

  11. September 19, 2011 2:04 pm

    The term has a clear double (almost punned) meaning at 1:26; and that seems to be acknowledged at 7:17. Why would the word suddenly have only a single determined meaning at 7:20?

  12. September 19, 2011 6:01 pm

    At 7:24, at least Luther backs off a little. Compare (Luther, Segond, NIV, Vulgate, Paul):

    Ein jeglicher, liebe Brüder, worin er berufen ist, darin bleibe er bei Gott.

    Que chacun, frères, demeure devant Dieu dans l’état où il était lorsqu’il a été appelé.

    Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

    unusquisque in quo vocatus est fratres in hoc maneat apud Deum

    Ἕκαστος ἐν ᾧ ἐκλήθη ἀδελφοί ἐν τούτῳ μενέτω παρὰ θεῷ

    At 1:26, none gets the pun (and is Luther emphasizing ‘the calling’):

    Sehet an, liebe Brüder, eure Berufung: nicht viel Weise nach dem Fleisch, nicht viel Gewaltige, nicht viel Edle sind berufen.

    Considérez, frères, que parmi vous qui avez été appelés il n’y a ni beaucoup de sages selon la chair, ni beaucoup de puissants, ni beaucoup de nobles.

    Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

    videte enim vocationem vestram fratres quia non multi sapientes secundum carnem non multi potentes non multi nobiles

    Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν ἀδελφοί ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα , οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί , οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς

  13. September 19, 2011 9:47 pm

    On checking the incoming links to the blog, I see comments by Carl Conrad and Stephen Carlson here.

  14. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 19, 2011 10:24 pm

    Even in 1 Cor. 1:26 it does not seem that κλῆσις could possibly refer to the condition of those who were called, that of “being not wise” or “not noble” or “not mighty.” I don’t think anyone could be “called” to mediocrity, even mediocrity of the flesh.

    My concern is that BDAG adds a whole range of meaning that does not appear elsewhere.

    Considérez, frères, que parmi vous qui avez été appelés il n’y a ni beaucoup de sages selon la chair, ni beaucoup de puissants, ni beaucoup de nobles.

    This says, “Consider that among you who were called there are not many wise according to the flesh. …”

    The meaning of “condition” or “state” which turns up in 1 Cor. 7:20 does not appear here.

  15. September 19, 2011 10:45 pm

    I’m not sure I agree Suzanne — even though it seems strange in English to be “called to mediocrity”, it is what is implied by the subsequent verses 1:27-28 — God chose the foolish, weak, base, and despised and God chose to make them foolish, weak, base, and despised.

  16. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 19, 2011 11:15 pm


    I would be interested in knowing if there were any translation at all that implied that people were called to mediocrity, rather than living a mediocre life when they were called.

  17. September 19, 2011 11:35 pm

    Most of the Tyndale family translations preserve the pun — with it being especially clear in the NRSV:

    Tyndale: Brethren loke on youre callinge / how that not many wyse men after the flesshe / not many myghty / not many of hye degre are called: but God hath chosen the folysshe thinges of the worlde / to confounde the wyse.

    The Geneva includes this long note of explanation: “A confirmation taken of those thinges which came to passe at Corinth, where the Church especially consisted of the basest and common people, in so much that the philosophers of Greece were driuen to shame, when they saw that they could do nothing with their wisedome and eloquence, in comparison of the Apostles, whome notwithstanding they called Idiots and vnlearned. And herewithall doeth he beate downe their pride: for God did not preferre them before those noble and wise men because they shoulde be proude, but that they might bee costrained euen whether they willed or not, to reioyce in the Lorde, by whose mercie, although they were the most abiects of all, they had obteined in Christ, both this wisedome, and all thinges necessary to saluation. ”

    KJV: For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.

    NRSV: Consider your own call, brothers and sisters [Gk brothers]: not many of you were wise by human standards [Gk according to the flesh], not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

  18. September 19, 2011 11:58 pm

    Actually, look at paragraph 5 of Bartchy’s paper for a long list of translations that prefer “condition”, “state”, or similar terms.

  19. September 20, 2011 12:10 am

    Or, look at Gordon Fee’s commentary: “Paul wants them to live out their Christian life (i.e., their ‘calling’ to Christ) in the situation (‘calling’) where they were when God called them to Christ. The emphasis is on both, that they can be Christians in whatever situation God called them, and therefore that they do not need to change situations—precisely because they are in Christ. Let their ‘calling’ (becoming believers) sanctify the setting of their calling.”

    I’m not saying that Fee is right, just that there are written translations/commentaries that do translate the term as a pun.

  20. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 20, 2011 12:12 am

    Yes, Godon Fee does seem to think that κλῆσις has this double meaning. However, I am not convinced that it does.

  21. September 20, 2011 7:09 am

    Paul, writing from his state and condition of being a prisoner maybe literally in chains, tells his protégé Timothy not to be ashamed of that, because the calling transcends and precedes this situation:

    τοῦ σώσαντος ἡμᾶς καὶ καλέσαντος κλήσει ἁγίᾳ, οὐ κατὰ τὰ ἔργα ἡμῶν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ ἰδίαν πρόθεσιν καὶ χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν ἐν χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων

    Is this a different and a more qualified (i.e., a sanctified) and a less ambiguous “calling”?

    der uns hat selig gemacht und berufen mit einem heiligen Ruf

    par la puissance de Dieu qui nous a sauvés, et nous a adressé une sainte vocation

    He has saved us and called us to a holy life

    qui nos liberavit et vocavit vocatione sancta

    2 Tim 1:9 (Luther, Segond, NIV, Vulgate)

  22. September 20, 2011 7:54 am

    Does Chrysostom only muddy the waters of possible ambiguity?

    μή σοι μελέτω. Ταῦτα εἰς τὴν πίστιν οὐδὲν συντελεῖ, (5)
    φησί· μὴ τοίνυν φιλονείκει μηδὲ θορυβοῦ· ἡ γὰρ πίστις
    πάντα ἐξέβαλε ταῦτα. Ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει
    ᾗ ἐκλήθη, ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω.
    Γυναῖκα ἔχων ἄπιστον
    ἐκλήθης; μένε ἔχων· μὴ διὰ τὴν πίστιν ἐκβάλῃς τὴν
    γυναῖκα. Δοῦλος ὢν ἐκλήθης; μή σοι μελέτω· μένε (10)
    δουλεύων. Ἀκρόβυστος ὢν ἐκλήθης; μένε ἀκρόβυστος.
    Ἐμπερίτομος ὢν ἐπίστευσας; μένε ἐμπερίτομος.
    Τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν, Ἑκάστῳ ὡς ἐμέρισεν ὁ Θεός.
    Ταῦτα γὰρ οὐκ ἔστι κωλύματα εἰς εὐσέβειαν. Σὺ δοῦλος
    ὢν ἐκλήθης, ἄλλος γυναῖκα ἔχων ἄπιστον, ἄλλος (15)

  23. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 20, 2011 10:25 am

    I think there is a difference between staying in the condition in which one was called, and considering that condition to be a “calling” in itself.

  24. September 20, 2011 12:55 pm

    There is certainly a difference. But the question is not what we think, but (a) what the writer of 1 Corinthians thought; and (b) the reception history. There is a difference between a labor action and missing the ball in baseball, even though we call both a “strike” in English and can thus make a pun.

    Checking another commentary to 1:26, this time Anthony Thiselton’s, I see:

    “(3) κλῆσιν, calling, raises a difficulty. Especially in view of its use in 1:1 to denote a called apostle and in 1:2 to denote a called holy people who call on the name of the Lord, the word is likely here to carry its regular and frequent meaning in the NT as called to faith rather than the less common use of calling in the sense of vocation or profession. Apart from older commentators such as Olshausen, Witherington is one of the few to claim that it means ‘socio-economic status.’ The emphasis falls clearly on God’s calling to faith ‘to underscore both the dynamic nature of the call of God and God as the agent of the call.’162 In 1:26, however, κλῆσις alludes not simply to the act of call but to its attendant circumstances. Allo and Barrett refer to ‘circumstances’ and ‘conditions’ relating to their call, and Senft and Grosheide to ‘the manner‘ (Senft’s italics) in which they were called. Thus Robertson and Plummer paraphrase: ‘summon before your mind’s eye what took place then; note the ranks from which one by one you were summoned into the society of God’s people; very few came from the educated, influential, or well-connected class.’164 Anticipating Allo, they call this ‘an unanswerable argumentum ad hominem, clinching the result of the above passage.’ To make the point of emphasis clear, we have translated Think about the circumstances of your call, even though ‘circumstances’ remains implicit rather than explicit in the Greek text.”

    Here is Thiselton’s full translation:

    (26) Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters, that not many of you were intellectuals, as the world counts cleverness, not many held influence, not many were born to high status. (27–29) But the foolish things of the world God chose in order to shame the clever; and the weak things of the world God chose to shame positions of strength; and the insignificant of the world and the despised God chose, yes, the nothings, to bring to nothing the “somethings.” So that all kinds of persons should not pride themselves before God. (30, 31) It is as a gift from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom given from God: our righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who glories, glory in the Lord.”

  25. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 21, 2011 2:06 am

    Thayers has an interesting take on this here.

  26. September 21, 2011 7:12 am

    But I thought you disagreed with the view that Thayer espouses — did you see his comments about 1:26?

    Here is the full entry.

  27. September 21, 2011 2:57 pm

    Chrysostom is actually providing grounds for Luther’s interpretation here. If we keep reading Chrysostom, we see that he’s being pro-slavery.

    Some of the phrases quoted above, again, suggest this:

    Ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει
    ἐκλήθη, ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω.

    Γυναῖκα ἔχων ἄπιστον ἐκλήθης;
    μένε ἔχων·

    Δοῦλος ὢν ἐκλήθης;

    Ἀκρόβυστος ὢν ἐκλήθης;

    Σὺ δοῦλος ὢν ἐκλήθης;
    ἄλλος γυναῖκα ἔχων ἄπιστον,
    ἄλλος περιτετμημένος.

    In essence, he’s considering that condition (of having an unbelieving wife, of being a slave, of being circumcised or not) to be a “calling” in itself.

    And then Chrysostom goes on:

    Βαβαί! ποῦ τὴν δουλείαν ἔθηκεν!

    “Wow-wee! Where does this put slavery?”

    Ὥσπερ οὐδὲν ὠφελεῖ ἡ περιτομὴ, οὐδὲ βλάπτει ἡ ἀκροβυστία,
    οὕτως οὐδὲ ἡ δουλεία οὐδὲ ἡ ἐλευθερία.

    “Just as there’s neither a benefit for the circumcised nor any hurt for the uncircumcised,
    so there’s nothing gained by either slavery or by liberty.”

    Καὶ ἵνα δείξῃ τοῦτο σαφέστερον ἐκ περιουσίας, φησίν· Ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι· τουτέστι, μᾶλλον δούλευε. Καὶ τί δήποτε τὸν δυνάμενον ἐλευθερωθῆναι κελεύει μένειν δοῦλον; Θέλων δεῖξαι, ὅτι οὐδὲν βλάπτει ἡ δουλεία, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὠφελεῖ.

    “And that he [Paul] is showing this totally clearly, he says: ‘But especially if he [a slave] is able to become freed, more instead.’ This is what’s meant: more slavery. And what at this point is the one called to liberty able to remain enslaved for? He [Paul] wishes to show that there’s no hurt in slavery; but there’s especially a benefit.”

    Καὶ οὐκ ἀγνοῶ μὲν ὅτι τινὲς τὸ, Μᾶλλον χρῆσαι, περὶ ἐλευθερίας φασὶν εἰρῆσθαι, λέγοντες, ὅτι Εἰ δύνασαι ἐλευθερωθῆναι, ἐλευθερώθητι· πολὺ δὲ ἀπεναντίας τῷ τρόπῳ τοῦ Παύλου τὸ ῥῆμα, εἰ τοῦτο αἰνίττοιτο. Οὐ γὰρ ἂν παραμυθούμενος τὸν δοῦλον, καὶ δεικνὺς οὐδὲν ἠδικημένον, ἐκέλευσε γενέσθαι ἐλεύθερον. Εἶπε γὰρ ἄν τις ἴσως· Τί οὖν; ἂν μὴ δύνωμαι, ἠδίκημαι καὶ ἠλάττωμαι; Οὐ τοίνυν τοῦτό φησιν, ἀλλ’ ὅπερ ἔφην, θέλων δεῖξαι ὅτι οὐδὲν πλέον γίνεται τῷ ἐλευθέρῳ γενομένῳ, φησί· Κἂν κύριος ᾖς τοῦ ἐλευθερωθῆναι, μένε δουλεύων μᾶλλον.

    “And I’m not ignoring at all the fact that some say, ‘more instead’ is concerning a declaration of liberty, stating, that ‘If one is able to be freed, then be free.’ In many ways, however, this is absolutely contrary to what Paul says, if this is the intention. He would not, in fact, when encouraging the slave, and when showing that there’s no injustice, call him to become freed. One might say, indeed, ‘What then? Should I not be able [to be freed], injustice and a lesser [state being my position]?’ No, this is not what he [Paul] declared; but just as I declared, he wishes to show that nobody gets much of anything by becoming freed, as declared. ‘Should Master be one who frees, then remain in slavery instead.'”

  28. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 22, 2011 11:04 pm

    Let’s remember that Paul was not slow to remind people of his rights as a Roman citizen.

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