Thursday, September 27, 2007

Doubts, Disputes and Distinctions of διακρίνω

In 2001 I submitted a suggestion to the NET Bible translation committee for translating διακρινόμενος in James 1:6 as 'making distinctions' instead of 'doubting'. The suggestion was rejected.

'Doubting' is proposed in the Greek lexicons as a special New Testament meaning, but this simply is not necessary. The same word is used in James 2:4 with its normal sense. James 1:6 should not be read as "he should ask in faith without doubting." It is better read like this...

But he must ask in faith without making distinctions, for the one who makes distinctions is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.
I wonder how many people have struggled to understand the logic of not allowing for doubts in James 1:6 when the whole point in James 1:5 is that a person lacks wisdom and God gives it generously to those who ask for it without finding fault...
If anyone of you is lacking wisdom, let him ask of God, the one giving generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.
We need a child-like faith when we ask God for wisdom. A child-like faith can doubt, but a child-like faith will ask the Father and trust him to give what is best. This is the force of what it means to ask "without making distinctions." When we pray, we need to pray according to the Lord's will (cf. James 4:15), not specifying how we want our prayers answered without allowing for the possibility that God may have a better answer for our needs.

This accords with the pattern of James's readers in 4:3...

You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order that you may spend on your own pleasures.
Peter Spitaler (2007: 202) writes...
It is problematic to deduce a special NT meaning "doubt" (using reflexive expressions like "dispute with oneself" or "being divided against oneself") from the middle voice διακρίνομαι. Such reflexive meanings are not present in the classical/Hellenistic Greek because the middle διακρίνομαι consistently denotes a contesting partner other than - and outside of - oneself.
Here is the latest research on the word διακρίνω...
Peter Spitaler. 2007. "Διακρίνεσθαι in Mt. 21:21, Mk. 11:23, Acts 10:20, Rom. 4:20, 14:23, Jas. 1:6, and Jude 22-the 'semantic shift' that went unnoticed by patristic authors." Novum Testamentum 49:1-39.

Peter Spitaler. 2006. "Doubt or Dispute (Jude 9 and 22-23). Rereading a Special New Testament Meaning through the Lense of Internal Evidence." Biblica 87(2): 201-222.

David DeGraaf. 2005. "Some doubts about doubt: the New Testament use of Διακρινω." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48(4): 733-755.

Norbert Baumert, SJ. 2002. "Das Paulinische, Wortspiel Mit krin-." Filologia Neotestamentaria 15: 19-64.
Perhaps with the recent outburst of scholarship on this word, translation committees will be more willing to hear suggestions for better translations where διακρίνω occurs.


Sam said...

Most interesting!

Anthony said...

I am convinced!!! I did not know there was debate regarding the status of how the greek word for "doubt" is translated in James 1:6, but in reading your post it certainly makes sence in regard to the whole message of James that that word should be translated "without distinction". Along with this, such an understanding of the passage ironically encourages me to put greater trust in God as I know his response is not contingent upon the quality of my faith, but rather on the surety of his character. I can ask for wisdom and have confidence that he will supply it as he sees fit in his wisdom and goodness. I can further see how if one does make distinctions, regarding how God should respond to their request, they will very likely miss how God responds.

Thanks for writing this. Again, I want to state that it is encouraging, much like the Gospel is encouraging.