What Is a “Just” Man? (Matt 1:19)

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Bert Perry's picture

...and notice here that Mounce is more or less admitting he and his colleagues may have made a mistake with this verse in the ESV.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


It's not a translation's job to explain the text. Mounce wants too much... and too little. A concise translation empowers readers to do the interpreting. A verbose/paraphrastic one takes that opportunity away.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TylerR's picture


This kind of question is never solved - do you translate words or their meaning? Where do you cross the line between interpretation and faithful translation?

The phrase "literally" means "because he was a just man" (δίκαιος ὢν). But, in this context, is that what it really means? Every word has a different nuance depending on context. It is probably the most determining factor, especially when you have to decide on syntax with verbs (e.g. descriptive present, iterative present, etc.).

Mounce's question is whether it is contextually appropriate to render δίκαιος ὢν as "just man." I don't think it is, here. Translations that chose to stick tenaciously to the "literal meaning" (as if there really were such a thing, and semantic range was fiction!) are, in fact, making a decision for the reader. Sometimes it isn't a good decision. 

The problem is this - how far do you take this? As much as possible, I do my own translations for my weekly Sunday School class. I do this to keep up with Greek, and because I think it's the best way to understand the text - the best commentary on the NT is the Greek text! So, I deal with these issues on a practical basis every week. How much do I explain in my rendering? How much do I leave to the reader? Where do I cross the line? I'm not a professional translator, of course (just ask my former Greek professor!); but I do it enough to fully appreciate the dilemma Mounce is talking about. I think he's right here.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.