Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gordon Fee and the Pauline Greeting

The other night I was perusing through Gordon Fee's new commentary on 1&2 Thessalonians and came across his comments regarding Paul's typical greeting χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη which occurs in some form of the majority of Pauline letters, both disputed and undisputed, at Rom. 1:7; 1 Co. 1:3; 2 Co. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4; Phlm. 1:3.

It has been noted that Paul transforms the typical Greco-Roman letter greeting χαίρειν ("greetings"; cf. Acts 15.23), but what concerns me here is not the well documented and supported argument that Paul transforms the greeting, it is simply how the phrase is translated.

To clarify, the phrase χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη can be translated in one of two ways. First, the most natural reading "Grace to you and peace" is supported by translations such as the ESV, NAS, and the NRSV. The second option is "Grace and peace to you" supported by the NIV without being changed in the more recent TNIV.

On the surface it appears that there is very little that is significant in choosing between the two options. Fee, who interestingly enough, serves on both the NIV and TNIV committees, believes that following the word order in Greek makes a big difference. He writes:

It is worth noting that this is the invariable order of Paul's words, not "grace and peace to you" as in most translations. Very likely there is significance to this order: the grace of God and Christ is what is given to God's people; peace is what results from such a gift. Hence, "grace to you--and peace." In a profound sense this greeting therefore nicely represents Paul's larger theological perspective. The sum total of God's activity toward his human creatures is found in the word "grace"; God has given himself to his people bountifully and mercifully in Christ. Nothing is deserved, nothing can be achieved. The sum total of those benefits as they are experienced by the recipients of God's grace is "peace," God's eschatological shalom, both now and to come. The latter (peace) flows out of the former (grace), and both together come from "God our Father" and are made effective in our human history through our "Lord Jesus Christ," so that in all subsequent appearances, beginning with 2 Thessalonians, Paul adds the source already assumed here, but not expressed: "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (The First and Second Letters to The Thessalonians; 18).
Two thoughts come to mind here. First, I fully agree with Fee's point on this verse. I am curious, however, about his judgment that "most translations" favor the other reading "grace and peace to you." I noticed that Fee's quote is nearly verbatim with his Philippians commentary (70), so I thought maybe at the time of publishing (1995) there were more translations other than the NIV whom translated the Pauline greeting this way, but I was unable to establish this. Even the RSV, precursor of the NRSV, and the KJV translated this greeting in a way Fee would approve.
Secondly, I wonder what the NIV/TNIV translation committee meetings were like when they came upon these greetings. I have heard and read both Fee and Doug Moo, who serves on the TNIV committee, that they are not satisfied with how this verse or that verse ended up being translated in the end.
So, what do you think? Is Fee on the money or is he making much ado about nothing?

Postscript: Correction: Fee has only served on the TNIV committee.


Unknown said...

Looking quickly through Bibleworks, I saw that the NET consistently translates the phrase as "grace and peace to you" as well as sometimes the New Jerusalem Bible. Here are my totals

Rom 1:7 – NET, NIV, NIB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
1 Cor 1:3 – NET, NIV, NIB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
2 Cor 1:2 - NET, NIV, NIB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
Gal 1:3 - NET, NIV, NIB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
Eph 1:2 - NET, NIV, NIB, NJB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
Phil 1:2 - NET, NIV, NIB, NJB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
Col 1:2 - NET, NIV, NIB, NJB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
1 Thess 1:1 - NET, NIV, NIB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
2 Thess 1:2 - NET, NIV, NIB, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)
Phlm 1:3 - NET, NLT (“…give you grace and peace”)

And interesting aside was Rev 1:4, which is the same phrase (thought not from Paul) - all 6 versions translated it the same "grace and peace to you."

NET – New English Translation
NIV – New International Version
NIB – New International Version (UK Edition)
NLT – New Living Translation
NJB – New Jerusalem Bible
CSB – Holman Christian Standard Bible

Hope this helps,


Matthew D. Montonini said...


Thanks for the statistical layout--it is extremely helpful.