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Double check my work?

Posted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 11:07 pm
by uberdwayne
Hey guys, havn't posted in a while, but, here I am.

A friend of mine emailed me asking me about a passage in Matthew 3:3, I sent him a reply and was wondering if what I sent him is good greekerey or if I'm off my rocker. Here is his initial email, followed by my response.
different translations give different meanings to matthew 3:3.. think you can get a good literal translation from it? to 'make his paths straigh't and to 'make straight paths' say two different things..
My Response

The greek that is behind this phrase is:
"εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ."

"make straight paths for him", from what I've learned so far, cannot be a literal translation because "for him" would require the greek word "αὐτῷ" instead of the one that is in the text, which is "αὐτοῦ" (of him) I'm assuming your reading this from the NIV as this is the only "mainstream" version that translates this way. Two other versions that translate this way are the cev and the Good news bible, but these two are paraphrases and not translations as the NIV claims to be.

The grammar behind it could potentially allow for two possible translations of this text:
1) make his straight paths
2) make straight the paths of Him

the first translation assumes the word "straight" is an adjective that modifies the word "paths" while the second translation assumes "straight" is an adverb which modifies the verb "make".

the first example although possible is unlikely, because the word "straight" appears before the verb while the rest is after the verb. Typically, an adjective will normaly come directly before or directly after the noun it modifies (there are a few exceptions). While the two words share the same case, the distance between them diminishes the possability of it being translated this way. Also, if it is an adjective, the article appears in front of the noun "paths" instead of the adjective, this would make it a predicate statement rather than an attributive one. Again, it seems like its in need of "an exception to the rule." Don't get me wrong, they do exist, but to have two exception in 5 words implies that the writer A) doesn't know greek very well, or B) is saying something else.

The second example treats the word "straight" as an adverb. It fits more easily as an adverb and doesn't have the hangups that the adjective has. One other thing to note, is that this whole passage is a quotation from the book of Isaiah 40:3. Ironically enough, the NIV translates "straight" as an adverb and not as an adjective in this passage. Its Old Testament so I can't comment on the hebrew behind it, but it does say something about the inconsistancy in the NIV.
so, am I accurate? pls let me know your thoughts.

Re: Double check my work?

Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2011 7:28 pm
by NateD26
The explanation why only the 2nd option is possible is simple.
several verbs take double accusative, of which one usually comes with article, and the other
doesn't. The second functions as a modifier of the first, much like a predicate in a nominal sentence.

Here we have ποιέω + definite direct object + modifier (not adverb; simple adjective agreeing
in case, number and gender with the word which it modifies).

Therefore, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ can only mean make his paths straight,
whatever the context may be.

Re: Double check my work?

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2011 2:53 am
by uberdwayne
Thanks, I totally forgot about the double accusative :) Im guessing that this is an "object compliment" double accusative? Its interesting because Daniel Wallace's New testament syntax, shows that an accusative word can also be adverbial, as well as an object compliment.

Re: Double check my work?

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2011 12:16 pm
by jswilkmd
Nate is absolutely correct, but I think there's another way to look at it beyond the "double accusative" or "object-complement" constructions, for those constructions typically refer to two nouns.

What's going on here is a question of whether the adjective is attributive or used as a predicate. To illustrate, let me give some examples in English. In the statement, "That is an expensive necklace," expensive is used attributively. However, in the statement, "That necklace is expensive," expensive is used predicatively. Sometimes, however, it's not so easy to tell from context which meaning is intended. For example, the song, "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by the Police contains the line, "You know how bad girls get." Now, in that song lyric, is bad attributive or predicative? If attributive, one might then ask, "No, how do bad girls get?" If predicative, one might reply, "No, how bad do girls get?"

In "Make his paths straight," straight would be a predicate adjective; in "Make straight paths," straight would be attributive. The adjective in this verse is clearly not attributive because it would have to be in either the first or second attributive positions with τὰς τρίβους: it would have to read "τὰς εὐθείας τρίβους" (1st attributive position) or τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ τὰς εὐθείας" (second attributive position). Instead, εὐθείας is clearly in the first predicate position. Indeed, a copula separates εὐθείας from τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ and the relationship could not be more clear. It's "straight make his paths," better rendered into English as "Make his paths straight." See Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp. 306-309 for a discussion of adjectives.