Need 2 Posts Read the short article: “PUNCTUATIONINTHENEWTESTAMENT.” Make an initial post that explains the most significant claim the article makes for u

Need 2 Posts Read the short article: “PUNCTUATIONINTHENEWTESTAMENT.”

Make an initial post that explains the most significant claim the article makes for understanding and interpreting the New Testament. Provide 2 supporting arguments for why your chosen claim is (most) significant. PUNCTUATIONINTHENEWTESTAMENT
By Roger L. Omanson

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Bible scholars, as BR readers know all too well, spend a lot of
time quibbling over what the Bible says.

Many of the disagreements arise because we do not have a
single original text to work from. For the New Testament, the
earliest manuscripts date to around 200 C.E., but they are only a
scrap or two. Most existing manuscripts come from the fourth
century C.E. or later, and all of these are copies of copies of
copies. Variations among the manuscripts are often blamed on the copyists, who may have
changed passages for stylistic or theological reasons or tried to harmonize differences among
different passages, or who may simply have made mistakes.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had the original manuscripts? Then we’d know the precise
words Paul used to excoriate the Corinthians, say, or just how Mark described Jesus’ miracle
working in Galilee.

Or would we?

Unfortunately, even if we had a letter in Paul’s own hand, there still would be much to debate.
For in the days of Paul and the other New Testament writers, and indeed for the next few
centuries, people wrote in a style called scriptio continua, that is, without any breaks between
words, sentences and paragraphs, and without any punctuation at all.1 Texts flowed in
continuous streams of letters, leaving modern copyists and translators with significant
decisions to make about every sentence, every clause, indeed every word of a manuscript.

Modern translations of the New Testament are usually based on a widely accepted critical
Greek text, such as the United Bible Societies’ The Greek New Testament2 or the Nestle-
Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.3

But the editors of these editions do not always agree on where breaks and punctuation marks
should appear. And translators sometimes depart from the segmentation and punctuation
found in these critical texts based on their own understanding of the New Testament writings.
Their decisions can create real differences in meaning, as is shown by comparing several
modern translations.

Let’s look at some examples, punctuation mark by punctuation mark:

Accent Marks


The most minute punctuation marks can have a surprisingly strong impact on our
understanding of the biblical world. For example, Romans 16:7 mentions a person named
either ’Iounian or ’Iounißan, whom Paul describes as 041“prominent among the apostles.” The
difference in names might not seem like much, but the shift in accent marks transforms this
name from Junias (RSV, NIV, NJB), a shortened form of the man’s name Junianus, to Junia
(GNB, NRSV, REB), a woman’s name.a Is this person a man or a woman?

Some interpreters, considering it unlikely that a woman would be among those referred to as
apostles, argue that the name must be Junias. However, the female name Junia occurs more
than 250 times in Greek and Latin inscriptions found in Rome alone; the male name Junias
never appears. Further, when the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament first began to be
accented, copyists wrote the feminine Junia. Thus the extrabiblical evidence suggests that
Paul was referring to a woman. If the biblical name is Junia, then it provides a direct
challenge to the common assumption that women were not included among the apostles in
the early church.4

Quotation Marks

Like any letter writer, Paul sometimes quotes the letters he is replying to. The final words of 1
Corinthians 7:1 may be a quotation from a letter that the Corinthians wrote to Paul—a
quotation with which Paul disagrees in the next verse:

1Now for the matters you wrote about. You say, “It is a good thing for a man not to
have intercourse with a woman.” 2Rather, in the face of so much immorality, let
each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

1 Corinthians 7:1–2 (REB)


1Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: 2“It is well for a man not to
touch a woman.” But because of…

1 Corinthians 7:1–2 (NRSV)

However, these may just as well have been Paul’s own words of advice. This understanding
is reflected in nearly all traditional translations:

1Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto 042me: 2It is good for a man not
to touch a woman.

1 Corinthians 7:1–2 (KJV)

Here we find two diametrically opposed translations, with no quotation marks to let us know
whether Paul did or did not believe it was good for men to “touch” (a euphemism for sexual
intercourse, as the REB translation makes clear) women.


Imagine a news report stripped of its quotation marks: It would be impossible to know who
said what to whom. We find the same problem in Acts 1:16–22, in which Peter is speaking to
Jewish believers in Jerusalem about Judas. Without any quotation marks, it is extremely
difficult to differentiate between Peter’s speech and the author’s own words.

Verse 19 of this passage includes a reference to Aramaic—the language of Jews in Palestine
in Peter’s day—as “their” language. This is odd, because Peter is addressing the Jews; it
seems he would have spoken of “our” language. Some interpreters, therefore, understand
verses 18 and 19 to be a parenthetical statement inserted into Peter’s speech by the author of
Acts as an explanation to his readers. For these translators, quotation marks close verse 17
and open again as Peter resumes his speech at the beginning of verse 20:

15Peter stood up before the assembled brotherhood, about 120 in all, and said:
16“My friends, the prophecy in scripture, which the Holy Spirit uttered concerning
Judas through the mouth of David, was bound to come true; Judas acted as guide
to those who arrested Jesus—17he was one of our number and had his place in
this ministry.” 18(After buying a plot of land with the price of his villainy, this man
fell headlong and burst open so that all his entrails spilled out; 19everyone in
Jerusalem came to hear of this and in their own language they named the plot
Akeldama, which means “Blood Acre.”) 20“The words I have in mind,” Peter
continued, “are in the book of Psalms…”

Acts 1:15–20 (REB, see also NRSV)

Other translators (NJB, TOB), however, see the whole passage as part of Peter’s speech. If
verses 18–19 are the author’s parenthetical comment to the reader, the text presents no
historical problems, but if these verses are punctuated as Peter’s words, then the reader is
forced to recognize that Peter’s speech is really a creation of the author of Acts.

Paragraph Breaks

The absence of these breaks can make it difficult to determine when an author is turning to a
new subject. For example, the words “this is a trustworthy saying” (pisto;z oj logo;z), from
Paul’s First Letter to Timothy (3:1), appear at the end of a paragraph in the United Bible
Societies’ critical Greek text and in this English translation:

11Women must listen quietly in church and be perfectly submissive. 12I do not
allow women to teach or to dominate over men; they must keep quiet. 13For Adam
was formed first, and then Eve; 14and it was not Adam who was deceived, it was
the woman who was deluded and fell into sin. 15But they will be saved through
motherhood, if they continue to have faith and to be loving and holy, and sensible
as well. 3:1aThis is a trustworthy saying.

1 Timothy 2:11–3:1a5


But many scholars begin a new paragraph with this phrase.6 In these translations, the phrase
applies not to the preceding passages, but to the following verses:

Here is a saying you may trust: “To aspire to leadership is an honourable

1 Timothy 3:1 (REB)

Did the author mean to emphasize the accuracy of his words about women or those about
leaders? If the words “this is a trustworthy saying” refer to what precedes, then it must also be
decided whether they refer to verse 15 only or to all of verses 11–15. If the translation does
indeed include 2:11–15 as part of what can be accepted as true, Christians who single out
this passage as proof that women are to be submissive to their husbands will find stronger
support for their views.

Sentence Breaks

A period generally marks where one thought ends and another begins. Often, when a period
is shifted, so is the meaning.

An example: If a period is placed after the words “in love” (ejn ajgavph) in Ephesians 1:4–5,
then “in love” refers to the previously mentioned Christians:


…just as he [God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy
and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption…

Ephesians 1:4–5 (NRSV)

If, however, the major break precedes “in love,” then these words describe the loving way in
which God treats believers as his children:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless
in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons.

Ephesians 1:4–5 (NIV)

Breaks Between Clauses

Philippians 1:14 illustrates this type of segmentation. In this letter, written from jail, Paul
reassures the Philippians that his imprisonment is actually a good thing because it has given
his “brothers” the strength to speak the word of God without fear. He describes “most of the
brothers in the Lord, being confident because of my imprisonment, so much more dare
without fear to speak the word.” It is difficult to tell what the phrase “in the Lord” modifies. If the
phrase is attached to the preceding words—“most of the brothers in the Lord”—the sense is
that these brothers are fellow Christians (KJV, REB). If, however, the words “in the Lord” go


with the following participle, “being confident,” the meaning is that the brothers are “confident
in the Lord” (NRSV, FC).

Question Marks

Whether a sentence is translated as a question or a statement often has little significance,
especially when the question is rhetorical. But sometimes it does matter, as when Paul is
discussing the Corinthians’ choice of judges. Is Paul showing his disapproval by asking why
the Corinthian Christians have put their legal cases before pagan gentiles?:

Why do you lay [your] cases before those who are least esteemed by the church?

1 Corinthians 6:4 (RSV, NRSV, TOB)

Or is Paul stating that the Corinthians must avoid putting cases before non-Christians, even if
it means they have to put cases before the least reputable Christians:

“Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men
of little account in the church!”

1 Corinthians 6:4 (NIV)

Whether this verse is punctuated as a statement or as a question will not change our
understanding of Paul’s relations with non-Christians; either way, Paul is emphasizing that
Christians should not take lawsuits or other cases before non-Christians for judgment. If this
verse is translated as a statement, then “those least esteemed by the church” refers to
insiders, that is, believers of little account in the church. But if translated as a question, then
Paul is asking why the Corinthian Christians have the gall to take cases before non-
Christians, that is, people whose values the church rejects (in Paul’s view).7

If only Paul had used The Chicago Manual of Style!

People who read only one English version of the Bible are often blissfully unaware of how
many decisions translators have made for them. Some scholars have expressed concern that
knowledge of the translator’s input will bring confusion and doubt to the mind of the average
believer.8 That may be true, but the fact remains, whether readers know it or not, that literally
thousands of decisions are made by translators—decisions regarding the original wording,
the meanings of words and grammatical constructions, and the segmentation and
punctuation of the text. I believe that any readers striving for a complete understanding of the
Bible must at least recognize that these decisions have been made.


a. The translations referred to in this article are the FC (La Bible en Français Courant,
new rev. ed., 1997); GNB (Good News Bible, 2nd ed., 1992); NIV (New International
Version, 2nd ed., 1983); NJB (New Jerusalem Bible, 1985); NRSV (New Revised
Standard Bible, 1990); REB (Revised English Bible, 1989); RSV (Revised Standard


Version, 2nd ed., 1971); and TOB (Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible, 2nd ed.,


1. See Bruce Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Greek
Palaeography (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1981), p. 31. See also Kurt Aland and
Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1989), p. 287. Systematic separation of words and sections of the text did not occur until
the 11th century, and punctuation and accentuation were fairly elementary until the
seventh century (see Léon Vaganay and Christian-Bernard Amphouz, An Introduction
to New Testament Textual Criticism, 2nd ed.[Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,
1991], pp. 8–9).

2. The Greek New Testament, 4th ed., ed. B. Aland et al. (Stuttgart: Deutsche
Bibelgesellschaft, 1993).

3. Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed., ed. B. Aland et al. (Stuttgart: Deutsche
Bibelgesellschaft, 1993).

4. Several recent English-language commentaries support the translation “Junia.” See
James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9–16 (Dallas: Word Books, 1988), pp. 894–895; John
Ziesler, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989), p.
351; and Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans (New York: Doubleday, 1993), pp. 737–739. On
women as apostles, see Roger L. Omanson, “The Role of Women in the New
Testament Church,” Review and Expositor 83 (1986), p. 17.

5. This translation appears in The Bible: An American Translation (Chicago: Univ. of
Chicago Press, 1935). The New Testament was translated by Edgar J. Goodspeed and
the Old Testament by a group of scholars under the editorship of J.M. Powis Smith.

6. Augustinus Merk’s Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine, 10th ed. (Rome: Sumptibus
Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1984), begins a new paragraph with these same words, as do
most modern translations.

7. Gordon D. Fee (The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1987], pp. 234–236) makes a strong case for punctuating this verse as a question.

8. A.G. Newell, “Too Many Modern Versions?” The Evangelical Quarterly 53 (1981), pp.


Magazine: Bible Review, December 1998
Volume: 14
Issue: 6

Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan Library

Canyoureadthis? No punctuation separates the stream of Greek letters found in the earliest
known copy of Paul’s letters, dating to about 200 C.E. This particular page shows 2
Corinthians 11:33–12:9 written in a large, clear script, but the absence of word breaks and
punctuation marks challenges modern editors and translators as they try to reconstruct
precisely what Paul was trying to say.

Source URL (modified on 2015-11-13 21:02):


Accent Marks
Quotation Marks
Paragraph Breaks
Sentence Breaks
Breaks Between Clauses
Question Marks

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