WHEN WORDS MEAN WHAT THEY DON’T

Every once in a while, one discovers a verse that is simply impossible to translate. No matter what you do, you over-or under-translate, or worst, mistranslate. 2 John 12 is one of those verses.

“Though I have many things to write (γράφειν) to you, I do not want to use (οὐκ ἐβουλήθην) paper and ink (διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανος); instead, I hope to be with you and speak face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”

The meaning is obvious. There is much that “the elder” needed to communicate to “the elect lady and her children” (2 John 1). Most of what he wanted to express required to be accomplished in person (face to face). However, there were also some things he needed to communicate with paper and ink.

So far, so good, except that is not what he wrote. It is what he means, but it is not what he wrote.

He wrote that he did not “want to use paper and ink.” How else did he intend on writing? A stylus and stone? Carrier pigeon? The internet? He has other things to write, but he does not want to use writing utensils.

1 John 12 is an impossible verse to translate if you want to stay true to the meaning of the words used. And yet, it still does communicate.

How many of us have noticed this issue, or did we just read over the verse, understanding the meaning.

There is so much more to communication than mere words, a phenomenon not attached merely to this kind of verse. Our terms create pictures, and those images communicate and fill in the blanks (and sometimes straighten out the absurdities of the words we use).

I wonder how many times we have a message to communicate and the words we use are like 2 John 12?

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