Several years ago, my church’s Bible College offered a course in beginners Greek. I took the course and failed. Later, I decided to obtain a Bachelor of Theology. To obtain the degree, I needed to pass beginners Greek. This time I had a professor who used a book that compared English grammar to Greek. I hoped to for a low C, and was pleasantly surprised when I passed with a B. The course taught me that understanding Greek is an asset to understanding the Bible.
The proliferation of Bible versions that range from word for word translations to thought for thought, often put the translations at odds. One example is found in a comparison of 1 John 1:4 in the King James Bible with The New American Standard Bible 2020.
“And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.” KJV
“These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” NASB
A survey of other versions confirms the translator’s disagreement about whose “joy” was full or complete. The New International Version, God’s Word, and English Standard Version use “our joy”. The King James Version, New Kings James and Youngs Literal Translation use “your joy”. The New Living Translation approaches the problem diplomatically by including both: We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.”
The discrepancies’ make the ability to read and understand Greek an invaluable asset for the Bible student. The Greek rendering of 1 John 1: 4 “καὶ ταῦτα γράφομεν ἡμεῖς, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ἡμῶν ᾖ πεπληρωμένη” reveals the use of two pronouns, ἡμεῖς and ἡμῶν, with distinct meanings that place the student who possesses a knowledge of the Greek language in midst of the translator’s disagreement to draw his or her own conclusion. Since we are exhorted to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” it is expedient to use all possible aids as we strive to grow in the knowledge of God (Philippians 2:12, NIV).
The Greek language has four cases, nominative, genitive, dative and accusative. Each case has a distinctive function. In verse 4 the pronoun ἡμεῖς is in the nominative first person plural form making it the subject the author is writing to. The pronoun ἡμῶν is in the genitive first person plural case making the writer the possessor of the joy. Since the number of translations that use “our joy” far outweigh the number of translations that use “your joy” the student can safely accept “our joy” as the correct translation.
The King James “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full” leave the subtle suggestion that simply communicating something in writing contains the power to impart joy to the reader. But many have read the words of John’s first letter without receiving a full measure of joy. There are a number of examples in my family. My father, sister and brother read the entire Bible and attended church for a season. My father died an alcoholic, my sister never escaped the bondage of drug addiction, and my brother denied the power of God in his own life. He died in his forties.
The New American Standard’s “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete” gives us a sober and accurate presentation of the truth. While the readers joy hangs in the balance, the writers joy is made complete because the writer proved his love for Jesus by feeding his sheep the truth (John 21:15-17).
Those who follow Jesus can make their joy complete by proclaiming the truth, but never produce joy in others by what we write or say. The Apostle Paul made it clear to the members of the Corinthian church quarreling over their favorite teacher that God’s messengers can plant and water, but only God has the power to impart life to planted seeds and thereby produce the joy of knowing and obeying God (1 Corinthians 3:7, NIV).