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5694Translation of Jn. 4:22

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  • Kevin Snapp
    Mar 10 11:45 AM
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      Greetings/Shalom/Xaire

      Is there a NT Greek expert who would take a look at Jn. 4:22 with me? I'm in the awkward position of thinking I know better than the standard translations and don't trust my competence.

      Because people had trouble reading my Greek font when I posted in the past, I have transliterated, and included what I think are relevant cites in my copy of Smyth's Greek Grammar, if I understand it correctly.

      In John ch. 4, Jesus converses with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well near Sychar. In v. 4:22, he tells her, as it is usually translated, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (This is NRSV, but others are substantially the same.)

      That doesn't make much sense. In v.20, the Samaritan woman says, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain,” without specifying who or what they worshiped, but it is understood, as Jesus confirms in v.21, that Samaritans worship the God of Israel, whom Jesus calls “the Father.” So who or what is it that Samaritans worship that they don't know?

      Here's how I analyze it, for brevity taking the second parallel clause together with the concluding clause, i.e.,“we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

      The verb “proskunew,” “worship,” in the Septuagint and the New Testament takes an indirect dative object, while “know” takes an accusative direct object. If the translation “we worship what we know” is correct, the singular accusative relative pronoun “ho” serves as the object of both verbs.

      The problem is not only that “ho” is accusative and “worship” requires a dative object; Jesus has just said that both Samaritans and Jews worship the indubitably masculine “Father,” yet “ho” is the neuter singular accusative relative pronoun.

      John’s Jesus might have employed a dative demonstrative pronoun followed by an accusative relative pronoun, i.e., “hHmeis proskunoumen toutw, hon oidamen,” “We worship Him, whom we know.” The demonstrative pronoun could have been omitted, but then we would expect the relative pronoun to have been “attracted” into the dative case, giving, “hHmeis proskunoumen hw oidamen,” “We worship whom we know.” [See Smyth, Greek Grammar (1956) §§2522,2531, p. 567-68] But that isn’t what Jesus said.

      I think the reader was intended to apprehend from what Jesus said, “hHmeis proskunoumen hon oidamen,” that (a) since there is no dative object, the object of “we worship” is unspecified, as in v.20; (b) the relative pronoun “ho” serves as the object of “oidamen,” “we know,” and effectively serves as a conjunction, forming a “relative clause of cause”; [Smyth, §2490-91, p.560-61; §2555, p.574] and (c) its referent, what “we know,” is not “what/who we worship,” but rather “that salvation is from the Jews,” reading “hoti” to mean “that” rather than “because.”

      This portion of the verse should consequently be translated, “We worship, [because] we know it, that salvation is from the Jews.” In context, “we worship” could be understood to imply “we worship as we do,” or “we worship in Jerusalem.” Adding the first third of the verse yields, “You worship [on this mountain] because you don’t know it; we worship [in Jerusalem] because we know it, that salvation is from the Jews.” In better English, “You worship here because you don’t know, while we worship there because we do know, that salvation is from the Jews.”

      To me, this makes perfect sense. Jews “knew,” as Samaritans did not, “that salvation is from the Jews,” but Samaritans did know whom they worshiped. But that's not the standard translation. What am I doing wrong?

      Thanks!

      Kevin Snapp
      Chicago, IL
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