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Paul’s own “nation”

June 25, 2012

Ethnos is a word of extraordinary difficulty to translate. Even in English, “nation” it has many meanings. In Canada, we are a nation, but Quebec is also a nation, as are First Nations. Here is the entry from Liddell, Scott, Jones,

later, τὰ . foreign, barbarous nations, opp. Ἕλληνες, Arist.Pol.1324b10; . νομάδων, of Bedawîn, LW2203 (Syria); at Athens, athletic clubs of non-Athenians, IG2.444, al.; in LXX, non-Jews, Ps.2.1, al., cf. Act.Ap.7.45; Gentiles, τῶν ἐθνῶν τε καὶ Ἰουδαίων ib.14.5, etc.; used of Gentile Christians, Ep. Rom.15.27.

at Rome, = provinciae, App.BC2.13, Hdn.1.2.1, PStrassb.22.19 (iii A. D.), D.C.36.41, etc.: so in sg., province, “ τυραννήσας τοῦ ἔθνουςD.Chr.43.11; ἡγούμενος τοῦ ἔθνους the governor of the province, POxy.1020.5 (iii A. D.).

part, member, Hp.Loc.Hom.1.

So what is Paul saying in this verse and how is it best translated?

Τὴν μὲν οὖν βίωσίν μου τὴν ἐκ νεότητος τὴν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς γενομένην ἐν τῷ ἔθνει μου ἔν τε Ἱεροσολύμοις ἴσασι πάντες Ἰουδαῖοι,

My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; KJV

And my life indeed from my youth, which was from the beginning among my own nation in Jerusalem, all the Jews do know:D-R

“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. ESV

 “The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. NIV 2011

All the Jews know how I lived from the earliest days of my youth with my own people and in Jerusalem. ISV

First, is it better to translate ἔθνος as “country”, “nation” or “people.” And should τε be left untranslated, translated as “and” or “and also?” Is Paul referring to all the Jewish people, Judea, Cicilia, the Jews in Cicilia? I tend to think it is better without the “and” but I am not sure.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2012 9:57 pm

    Here I think ἔθνος is certainly “people,” and the verse should be rendered, “Indeed, the way I’ve lived my life—which started out among my own people, in Jerusalem, as everyone in Judea is well aware—” because he’s contrasting his early life in an exclusively Jewish setting with his latter ministry to the Gentiles. (And no “and,” of course.)

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 25, 2012 10:09 pm

    Craig, thanks. So what does the NIV mean with “and also?” It sounds as if “my own country” and “Jerusalem” are two separate and distinct entities. But perhaps I am misreading this?

  3. June 25, 2012 11:36 pm

    If ethnos is translated as “country” then “in Jerusalem” stands in apposition, so the “and also” is needed. But honestly, I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying there, so the context helps us translate ethnos properly, and doesn’t require adding new words to the text!

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 26, 2012 12:15 am

    The “and” or “and also” must be a translation of the Greek te. But they do suggest that “my nation/country” and Jerusalem are two contrasting entities. If I said, “I grew up among Canadians and in Toronto” you would think that Toronto is not in Canada. I think the translations have really lost the drift by adding “and.”

  5. June 26, 2012 7:14 am

    Isn’t part of the issue here that “the Greek te” [ἐν τε Ἱεροσολύμοις] is not in the Textus Receptus, which the Rheims and then the KJV are based on? The NASV, based on the Nestle’s 26th, tries to keep the KJV sense it seems and still attempts to translate the particle, word for word, like so: “So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem;”

    Ann Nyland, Richmond Lattimore, and Willis Barnstone have the following, respectively:

    “my life from my youth, from the very beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem.”

    “both in my own country and in Jerusalem,”

    “. . . in my own country
    In Yarushalyim.”

    Barnstone, in a footnote, makes clear that Agrippa is a “Hasmonian Jew” but that “[t]he Paul in these verses, written after his death [in Acts], in which Paul speaks of the Jews in the harshest speech, as if by his conversion he no longer thinks or identifies himself as a Messianic Jew, is not related to the Paul of his own letters.” I wonder, then, if Barnstone could have translated Luke’s Paul’s speech, having him say “among my own people / in Yarushalyim.”

  6. John Radcliffe permalink
    June 26, 2012 11:00 am

    By rendering “in my own country” might not the NIV, Nyland and Lattimore be alluding to the fact that Paul was brought up in Tarsus, before (presumably) moving to Jerusalem?

    However, even if we see it as referring to his own “people” rather than his own “country” (or “Roman province”? LSJ 2(c)?), it is still the case that he lived “among his own people” BEFORE he did so “in Jerusalem”, and so two stages would be in view.

  7. June 26, 2012 1:28 pm

    I think that Craig and Kurk are almost certainly right, since this is the way “nation” is used consistently in Jewish literature. A non-Jew is called a “gentile” (in Hebrew “goy” meaning “of the nations” — note: in many contexts, “goy” has acquired an offensive meaning so it should be avoided in English). It is a little hard for us to see with the modern notion of nation-states, so the example you give “I grew up among Canadians and in Toronto” is a little confusing. A Canadian Jew is not called a goy or gentile by an Israeli Jew, because both are believed to belong the same “nation.”

    A better analogy might be “I grew up in an environment of learning and at the University.” where the University represents the intensification of learning. Because of the presence of the Temple, Jerusalem was not just another Jewish city — it was where the Shechina dwelled, and thus living there represented an intensification of Jewishness.

  8. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 26, 2012 2:05 pm

    But when you add the “and” it certainly seems in English as if “the nation” and “Jerusalem” are in contrast. The example “in an environment of learning and at the University” sounds like two different places – home and school.

    At the bottom of my last post, I showed how Dan Wallace misunderstood the Greek also.

    When the Greek said “ou monon en th patridi ouk alla en tw ethnei” it means “in the home town and in the nation as a whole.” But Wallace misunderstood this as “not only in his home country but also to the nation” and said that the “nation” must refer to an “ouside population”, a population that is different from the home country, in contrast. Of course, he also misunderstood “patris” as “home country” rather than “hometown.” The basic citizenship at that time was citizenship in a city and not in a country.

    I think there must have been set phrases to refer to identity that made “in the city and in the nation” make sense in Greek. So even though it sounds like two different places to us, it isn’t. This means the NIV 2011 is giving the wrong impression, the impression that there are two contrasting places.

    In English, “my own country and in Jerusalem” certainly sounds like two different places. “My own nation and in Jerusalem” is perhaps a little better, but “my own people and in Jerusalem” is better yet. However, the “own” is inserted in English. What about “among my people and in Jerusalem”?” Does that make it clear that one is an intensification of the other?

  9. June 26, 2012 2:50 pm

    Yes, that is an interesting point you make about “and” in English translation. But do we not use “and” sometimes in English without a contrast effect? For example:

    that number is prime and has no divisors other than itself and one.

    that number is even and is also divisible by 10

    In the first case, the two qualities are identical, so “and” functions as a definition. In the second case, the two qualities are related, since all numbers divisible by 10 are also even.

    More examples:

    I grew up in the Land of the Free and I grew up in the Home of the Brave.

    I grew up in the Windy City and I grew up in the City of Big Shoulders.

    Having said all that, I think the NIV’s translation of this verse (particularly given that the NIV is often a paraphrase) is to be regretted, since it is possible to misinterpret.

  10. June 26, 2012 3:28 pm

    By the way, sorry for the Star-Spangled Banner reference. As you know, this is the bicentennial of the War of 1812, so the Francis Scott Key lyrics, penned during Battle of Fort McHenry in that war, are getting a lot of play.

    The War of 1812 is particularly interesting since, as far as I can tell, American children are taught in school that America won that war, while Canadian children are taught in school that Canada-Britain won that war.

    Someone definitely LOST the War of 1812, though: the various native tribes belonging to Tecumseh’s Confederation.

  11. June 26, 2012 3:35 pm

    Sometimes the Greek phrasing gives clues, and in this case suggests, as Craig notes, less “apposition” and more “contrast” between “τῷ ἔθνει μου” and “[τε] Ἱεροσολύμοις.”

    τὴν μὲν οὖν βίωσίν μου
    τὴν ἐκ νεότητος
    τὴν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς γενομένην
    ἐν τῷ ἔθνει μου
    ἔν τε Ἱεροσολύμοις
    ἴσασι πάντες Ἰουδαῖοι, *

    Lattimore’s “both … and” – like the NIV’s and Nyland’s “and also” – can only mean contrastive places, since they all use “my country” as if opposed to “Jerusalem” (and John Radcliffe rightly speculates where that country would have to be if ἐν τῷ ἔθνει μου had to refer to some other place, besides Jerusalem). The NIV phrasing shows all of this much differently than the Greek does, and as Theophrastus notes, it can be misinterpreted (but cannot really be interpreted at all as people, as can the Greek):

    The Jewish people all know *
    the way I have lived
    ever since I was a child,
    from the beginning of my life
    in my own country,
    and also in Jerusalem

    Maybe Lattimore’s Iliad gives further evidence that he should not have gone with “people” for ἔθνει here. In Book II, at line 87, he writes “Like the swarms of clustering bees that issue forever” for ἠΰτε ἔθνεα εἶσι μελισσάων ἁδινάων. Although ἔθνεα is a different form, it seems much more like the ἔθνει in question — it deals with a group of individuals (in this case a swarm) and not a place, not a country or a beehive, if I can mix these metaphors.

    * The NIV changes the location of this line in the English paragraph.

  12. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 27, 2012 12:27 pm

    I am still feeling ambivalent here. In Acts 10:22 does this mean “province of Judea” or “Jewish people?”

    οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· Κορνήλιος ἑκατοντάρχης, ἀνὴρ δίκαιος καὶ φοβούμενος τὸν θεὸν μαρτυρούμενός τε ὑπὸ ὅλου τοῦ ἔθνους τῶν Ἰουδαίων, ἐχρηματίσθη ὑπὸ ἀγγέλου ἁγίου μεταπέμψασθαί σε εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκοῦσαι ῥήματα παρὰ σοῦ.

    The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” NIV

    In Acts 24, the word ethnos is used several times and seems to refer to the technical territory under Felix jurisdiction – surely a Roman province.

  13. June 27, 2012 1:54 pm

    In Acts 10:22 τοῦ ἔθνους τῶν Ἰουδαίων seems clearly to refer to people.

    In Acts 10:35, ἐν παντὶ ἔθνει seems less clear: it seems to be a Lukan partial quotation of either LXX Exodus 34:10 or LXX Esther 10:3 — both speaking of “all people.” Or Luke is putting Greek words into Peter’s mouth, partially quoting the Greek of Judith 5:21 and/or 14:7, in which case it’s not really clear whether its “all people” or the “every nation.”

    The context, in these cases, usually makes clear. So back to Acts 10:22 then 10:35, here’s how translators have chosen their English, but I think few have considered 35 as a partial LXX quotation and what that implies:

    Craig Smith’s Inclusive Bible: “the Jewish people” (22); “any person of any nationality” (35)

    NIV: “the Jewish people” (22); “[people?] from every nation”

    Nyland: “the whole nation of the [people who are] Jews” (22); “race of people” (35)

    Lattimore: “all the Jewish people” (22); “any nation” (35)

    KJV: “all the nation of the [people who are] Jews”” (22); “in every nation” (35)

    DR: “all the nation of the [people who are] Jews”” (22); “in every nation” (35)

    ESV: “the whole Jewish nation” (22); “in every nation” (35)

    ISV: “the whole Jewish nation” (22); “in any nation” (35)

    Barnstone: “whole Jewish nation” (22); “in every nation” (35)

    ps – I’m not sure how to represent how DR and KJV and Nyland have “the Jews” except by interpolating with brackets to show that they may be implying “people”; and even then I don’t like it compared to Craig’s and Richmond Lattimore’s better, clearer, more sensitive and nuanced use of the phrase, the “Jewish people.”


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