Matthews 25:46. KOLASIS : "cutting-off"- New World Translation
When an English translation is sought a variety of things must be considered including the Classical use of the Word. The classical Greek meaning revolves around "correction" and "rehabilitation" while an older idea was "the cutting off of branches of fruit trees". So, from the point of view of the concept signaled by KOLASIS, both "punishment" and "cutting off" are legitimate renderings, But which one should be chosen? Several factors must be considered.
It is not always easy to know the NT meaning of
a word, first, because of the diachronic element - the use of a
word changes through time, second, because NT words often
have a very different application compared with their Classical
Greek counterparts, and third, because there is a Jewish
background to the NT. To illustrate the situation:
Please consider the words BASANOS/BAZANIZW/BASANISTHS which comes from an Egyptian word meaning "touch-stone" for testing gold and silver. In different Greek texts BASANIZO is used in the sense "to test by the proving stone", "to examine/try", "to apply means of torture to find the truth", and "to torture". When we find these words in the NT, how shall we render them? There is no doubt that "pain" is included BASANIZW in some of the uses, such as in Matthew 8:6, but in Matthew 14:24 a boat was BASANIZOMENON. In Matthew 18:34 we find the noun BASANISTHS with a reference to jailers. Because jailers sometimes used torture, BASANISTHS seems to be a "nomen professionis" of such people also when torture was not being used. In Norwegian , and in some English dialects, the expression "tormenting spirit" is used of a person who causes us trouble, without insinuating that he literally is a spirit. So the diachronic use of the words connected with BASANIZO has changed from "a touch-stone" to "examination", "torture", and then to the metaphorical use "jailer. In order to avoid "the etymological fallacy", James Barr is correct when he stressed that the only thing that counts is the meaning at the time a word was used (its synchronic meaning). In additon to that one must keep in mind that different contexts may show that different sides of the concept signalled by the word is made visible. This illustrates the problems with a word that just occurs twice in the NT, such as KOLASIS.
Given that Matthew in his 25th chapter translates words that Jesus uttered in Hebrew, the Jewish background is just as important as the Greek one. Which Hebrew word was the one probably used by Jesus? I see two possible candidates, namely YSR ("chastice", "correct") and KRT ("to cut off"). The first one is not used in connection in a context similar to Matthew 25 but KRT is often used in such a context. The verb KRT is often used when someone breaks the law or does something vicked, and it is used regarding the eternal destiny of the vicked. Three examples below, from the 289 uses of KRT (all from NIV):
Ex. 30:38 "Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people." Obad. 1:10 "For the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off for ever." Zeph. 1:3 "I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. I will overthrow the wicked; I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth," says the LORD."
Different translators make different choices. The NIV and other translations have "punishment" both in Matthew 25:46 and 1 John 4:18. This is also the case with the Norwegian Church Bible of 1930. However, the Norwegian Church Bible of 1978/75 has "evig avskjaerelse" ("everlasting cutting off") in the first case and "for frykt virker hemmende" ("because fear causes restraint") in the second case.
In addition to considering lexical semantics, translators must make a choice regarding the cultural background. In the OT there is a contrast between "life" on one hand and "death" on the other, and there is no third choice.
Deut. 32:39 NIV "'See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. 1Sam. 2:6 NIV "The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up."
After the conquests of Alexander the Great,
Hellenistic influence started to grow in Palestine, and the
Hebrew concepts signalled by NEPES (soul), SHEOL (grave) etc were
reinterpreted. While there is no evidence in the OT that any part
of man survives death, the very opposite was a part of Greek
mythology. What was described by KRT (a cutting off) was the
final end in the OT, but for the Greeks, life continued in some
form also after death. So, while death was the entrance to
different qualities of life for the Greek mind, death
was nothing, the very opposite of life for the writers
of the the OT. (Some writers have tried to find evidence for the
Babylonian and Ugaritic teaching of the dead living as shades
in the OT, but with little success.).
The Bible translator, therefore, must choose. He or she must either take Jesus' words in Matthew 25:46 as an expression of Greek thought or as a continuation of the OT thought.
What the NWT translators have expressed in their footnotes and Appendix, seem to show that they have reasoned as follows:
1) The word KOLASIS can be translated either as "punishment" or as "cutting of".
2) The teaching of the OT (which is not disputed by the NT) is that death is the opposite of life.
3) The NT says that there is only one way to have life, and that is by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). Those who do not believe in Jesus will not have life.
4) There is nothing in the context of Matthew 25 (or elsewhere in Matthew) that suggests any Greek influence on Jesus.
5) On the basis of 1)-4) we take KRT to be the antecedent of KOLASIS and translate it as "cutting off", a rendering that is lexically legitimate.
It might be added that the rendering "everlasting punishment" has several connotations in the direction of Dante's inferno, The rendering "everlasting cutting of" favors the idea of extinction, as the first three quoted passages do as well, but they do not exclude the possibility of life after death. Thus the rendering "everlasting punishment" in a way closes the case; the translator has made a decision on the part of the reader, but the rendering "everlasting cutting off" leaves an opening for the reader to decide.
Rolf Furuli, Bible Translation List, 1/8/2002
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