Last Wednesday at Better Bibles Blog, Wayne Leman has asked Who Will Be Joyful? concerning the last part of 2 Corinthians 2:3. I have really enjoyed studying this letter ever since I took Scott Hafemann’s Advanced Koine Reading course on 2 Corinthians at the Wheaton College Graduate School in 1999. So I had to respond to Wayne’s questions.
The exegetical problem is indicated by the split between English versions…
1. Paul wanted the Corinthians to have the same joy that he did
2. Paul wanted the joy of the Corinthians to make him joyful
Versions following option (1) include…
- for me to be happy is for all of you to be happy (REB)
- that you would all share my joy (NIV/TNIV)
- that my joy would be yours (NET)
- when I am happy, then all of you are happy too (TEV)
- whatever makes me happy also makes you happy (GW)
- that you would share my joy (NCV)
- that my joy is yours (HCSB)
- if I am happy, it means that all of you will be happy (The Source)
Versions following option (2) include…
- when you should make me feel happy (CEV)
- my joy comes from your being joyful (NLT)
Versions that allow a somewhat ambiguous interpretation of options (1) and (2) include…
- that my joy is [the joy] of you all (KJV)
- that my joy would be the joy of you all (RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB)
Here is the heart of Wayne’s post (written before it was acknowledged that the last 5 versions are quite ambiguous and they were grouped with option )…
If we simply counted versions, option 1 would win by majority rule. But exegesis can’t be determined just by voting. Some kinds of evidence may be more important than others. Sometimes a minority position eventually becomes a majority positions.
We must also take into account internal evidence (such as logical flow) for understanding a passage: What makes most sense in the context? For me, it makes most sense for Paul to be saying that he wanted to be made happy by how the Corinthians responded to his previous instructions to them. But the Greek doesn’t tilt me one way or the other. In such a case, many say that we should leave an English translation “ambiguous” since the Greek is “ambiguous.” But I cannot think of a way to leave the English ambiguous in this case. (I’d like to hear from you if you can.) Sometimes, when translating, there is no way to leave a translation ambiguous when we are unsure what the source text meant. At a minimum, in such cases, I believe we should include a footnote explaining that the Greek could have two different meanings.
Do you think that the linguistic evidence in the Greek text tilts us more strongly toward option 1 or 2? And what leads you to think that if you do? And if you are not sure which option should be chosen in translation of 2 Cor. 2:3, what do you suggest an English translation have in its text and in its footnote?
Good questions Wayne! In response to his questions, it has been acknowledged that the KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, and NASB are quite ambigous. This is because the ‘of’ in English can indicate that Paul’s joy either comes from ‘you all’ or that his joy would move in the opposite direction. David Lang responded to Wayne’s post and suggested…
One way to preserve the ambiguity might be to focus on the connection between
Paul’s joy and that of the Corinthians, rather than on who brings joy to whom. Possible wordings might be:
- “being confident in you all, that my joy and yours go hand in hand.”
- “…that my joy is connected (joined? linked?) to your joy.”
- “…that my joy is connected to all of you.”
- “…that my joy depends on all of you.”
Of all of these, suggestion 1 is the least “literal,” but I think it sounds the most natural. Suggestion 3 is the closest to the original Greek construction, while still being ambiguous. Suggestion 4 is the least ambiguous and comes down on the side of saying that the Corinthians’ joy would make Paul joyful (your option 2).
This is a great translation discussion that stems from the ambiguity of the Greek genitive phrase πάντων ὑμῶν ‘of all of you’. I tend to agree that if the Greek is ambiguous that we should try to leave our translations ambiguous as well.
However, this verse is not talking at all about joy moving from Paul to the Corinthians or from the Corinthians to Paul. And I don’t think a translation should be left ambiguous here. It’s true, if we just look at the Greek of this last clause in the verse, it appears quite ambiguous…
πεποιθὼς ἐπὶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ὅτι ἡ ἐμὴ χαρὰ πάντων ὑμῶν ἐστιν.
having confidence in you all that my joy is [of] all of you.
Alternate interpretations of the genitive phrase “of all of you” could be read as “my joy is [from] you all” or “my joy is all of yours.” There is certainly a difficult exegetical question here concerning the cause of joy and how that joy is functioning in Paul’s argument. However, the immediate and wider contexts in the letter argue against an interpretation that has to do with joy itself being transferred from one party to another. More on that next time…