Matt. 18 mercy, binding, and loosing

Daily reading today is Matthew 17-20. Here are some thoughts on MEV translation.

Matthew 18:33

οὐκ ἔδει ⸂καὶ σὲ⸃ ἐλεῆσαι τὸν σύνδουλόν σου, ὡς κἀγὼ ⸄σὲ ἠλέησα

MEV: Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, even as I had pity on you?

Note that same Greek word in a parallel construction is translated two different ways. NKJV does the same as MEV.

NKJV: Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?

Consider other translations

NAS: Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?

NET: Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?

ESV: And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?

HCSB: Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?

NIV: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

GW: Shouldn’t you have treated the other servant as mercifully as I treated you?

ἐλεέω

Other uses of the same word (“have mercy”) in Matthew in MEV:

5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy

9:27 “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

15:22 Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David

17:15 Lord, have mercy on my son

20:30 Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David

Every occurrence of ἐλεέω in MEV in Matthew is translated as “have mercy.” It is even more strange then, in this passage (18:33) that it be translated two different ways, and neither consistent with the way it was translated throughout the book. Since the intent of the entire pericope (Matthew 18:21-35) is the parallel response between the master and the unforgiving servant, it would make better sense to translate the word the same way in this context (“have mercy”) especially within the same sentence.

Matthew 18:18

This verse has been a sort of litmus test. How do we translate the future perfect passive participles?

ἔσται δεδεμένα (bind)

ἔσται λελυμένα (loose)

The MEV translates as simple future passives, as do most other translations

MEV Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven

NKJV Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven

HCSB I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.

(with footnotes: earth will be bound… earth will be loosed. The text version catches the passive sense and prior action by God, “already done”)

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ESV Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

(with footnote: Or shall have been bound . . . shall have been loosed, which indicates future perfect passive)

NIV Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

(with footnote: Or will have been, in both uses, which indicates future perfect passive)

I think NAS offers a consistent translation of the verb forms:

NAS Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

What difference does this make?

In one sense it doesn’t seem to make much difference. As we explore the options, notice that most translations offer a future passive sense (“will be bound” “will be loosed”). Such a translation makes the authority rest on the person making the declaration. “I declare it… it will be done.”

Looking at NAS (and ESV and NIV with footnotes) the the focus of authority resides with God and His prior action, not the person making the declaration. In essense, when the person declares “it is bound,” he or she can do so because “it will have already been bound in heaven (by God) prior to the declaration.” Likewise, when the person declares “it is loosed” he or she can do so because “it will have already been done in heaven (by God) prior to the declaration.” It is God’s prior authority and declaration that is being announced, not the individual’s own authority. The person announces God’s already determined response.

This frees the person making the declaration from being the source of authority. And it let’s God Word be determinative.

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
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One Response to Matt. 18 mercy, binding, and loosing

  1. This is true. We are mirroring what is in heaven on earth…as it is in heaven. Not just a bunch jamboree doing whatever pleases

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