James 2:1 “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (NASB). “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism” (NIV). “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (ESV). “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (NKJV).
The phrases in bold font read the same in the NASB and NIV; likewise, the ESV and NKJV, are in agreement. The burden of this article focuses on the differences in wording among these popular translations and whether these differences are significant.
The Greek text of the bold font portions read, τὴν πίστιν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῆς δόξης (literally, “the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [of] the glory.” Note the following interpretive issues:
- The noun “Lord” (κυρίου) appears only once in the NASB and NIV but twice in the NKJV and ESV. Since the phrase “[of] the glory” is syntactically ambiguous (more below), the translators of the NKJV and ESV chose to keep the phrase intact but added “Lord” a second time presumably to smooth out the reading.
- This same problem of ambiguity presented itself to the translators of the NIV and NASB, but they chose to change the prepositional phrase “[of] the glory” into an English adjectival genitive and translated the phrase “glorious.”
- The word of is an ambiguous preposition and, followed by the genitive case, carries a overall sense of description. At least 33 distinct nuances of meaning are tied to this genitive construction (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 72), one of which is the genitive of apposition.
- In James 2:1 the nuance of simple apposition accords well with the syntax relationship between “our Lord Jesus Christ” (τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) and “the glory” (τῆς δόξης). Wallace describes simple apposition in these terms, “It simply gives a different designation that either clarifies who is the one named or shows a different relation to the rest of the clause than what the first noun by itself could display. Both words thus have the same referent, though they describe it in different terms” ( Greek Grammar, 96).
- The translation with a simple apposition interpretation reads, “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, namely the glory.” Such an interpretation of the syntactical relationship between the words in this phrase eliminates the need to insert “Lord” a second time (and does not remove the ambiguity of the preposition “of”). But what can one say of the NIV and NASB noun change from “the glory” (τῆς δόξης) to the English adjective “glorious”?
- The definite article, “the,” in Greek and English functions differently. [The absence of the definite article is also highly significant in Greek but will not be included in the present discussion.] The Greek article has broader uses than does the English article. Wallace comments (Greek Grammar, 209-210), “In terms of basic force, the article conceptualizes. In terms of predominant function, it identifies. That is to say, it is used predominantly to stress the identity of an individual or class or quality.” He summarizes, “. . . all articles that make definite also identify; all articles that identify also conceptualize.” The definite article in “the glory” (τῆς δόξης) identifies Christ who embodies the biblical concept of “glory.”
- Returning to James 2:1, the word “glory” is preceded by the definite article. The noun points to something definite. The “glorious” translation as a descriptor of Jesus Christ could fit nicely with a Greek noun not preceded by the definite article. It does not fit with “the glory.” In other words, James is not attributing an abstract quality of “glory” to Jesus Christ,” hence “glorious,” but he is identifying Him as “the glory.” To what, then, does “the glory” refer?
- The New Testament meaning of “glory” (δόξα) when used of God or Jesus Christ was discussed in an earlier blog to which the reader is referred, “The REVEALING of God–His GLORY!, and a conclusion from that blog bearing upon the present discussion follows.
- The abstract English word “glory” as a reference to God, speaks of His “divine nature,” His self-revelation, those definable characteristics revealed in Scripture. Robertson writes, “Whenever the Greek article occurs, the object is certainly definite” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 756). To make definite “the glory of God” means to break away from the abstractness of the word “glory” and to reflect concretely on God’s attributes. James 2:1 identifies Jesus Christ as God revealed. This identification gives tremendous theological and interpretive weight to the verse.
Three applications grow out of this study:
Grammatically, this discussion helps the Bible interpreter realize that “of” is a notoriously weak preposition capable of various nuances of meaning that must not be ignored (see Wallace, Greek Grammar, 72 above). Also, if possible one should make a practice of comparing the English text to the Greek original whenever the English definite article (“the”) is encountered. One can never know whether the original text included the article or not based on a reading of any English Bible, and both the presence and absence of the article are exegetically important in the language of the Greek New Testament!
Theologically, this posting encourages the Bible reader to augment the abstract English word “glory” with deeper, more concrete meaning when referring to Jesus Christ.
Practically, the present conversation reminds us all that the New Testament is a Greek book and that English provides a good but imperfect means for accessing its truths.