K A T A R G E O : A Word Often Mistranslated

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a word often mistranslated

KATARGEO, a very interesting New Testament word, has not fared well at the hands of well-meaning translators.

Here are all twenty-seven occurrences (including some in passive) of the word in the New Testament, twenty-five or twenty-six* being in Paul’s writing. The words underlined show the various ways this word has been translated in the NKJV. Notice that in 1 Cor.13:8 the word occurs twice, translated two different ways.

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Luke 13:7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’

Rom. 3:3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?

Rom. 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

Rom. 4:14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect,

Rom. 6:6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

Rom. 7:2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.

Rom. 7:6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

1 Cor. 1:28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,

1 Cor. 2:6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.

1 Cor. 6:13 Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

1 Cor. 13:8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

1 Cor. 13:10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

1 Cor. 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Cor. 15:24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.

1 Cor. 15:26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

2 Cor. 3:7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,

2 Cor. 3:11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

2 Cor. 3:13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.

2 Cor. 3:14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.

Gal. 3:17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.

Gal. 5:4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Gal. 5:11 And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.

Eph. 2:15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,

2 Thess. 2:8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.

2 Tim. 1:10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

Heb. 2:14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,

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I realize that, at this point, this seems to be just a tedious word-study. But follow along please, when we go a little further in this article I will hopefully demonstrate – among other things – that:

1. The choice of words translators employ to render the exact same word (though in different tenses) reveals more about their theology than the actual meaning of the text, and

2. When these twenty-seven occurrences are rendered more faithfully it will make clearer a more consistent interpretation of the texts.

Yes, I know that one single word may have various shades of meaning. But I maintain that a reader or translator of a text should always at least consider consistency of meaning before he allows his personal viewpoint to subtly suggest ways to nuance the sacred text. And that is exactly what is going on here, I believe, with KATARGEO; an a priori assumption of futurist eschatology biasing the translator away from the straightforward impact of these verses.

This will be demonstrated later when we get down to particulars and inconsistencies of some of these verse quoted above.

The first problem, I have noticed, is unwarranted variation on the part of translators when they come to this word. In many cases words are chosen that are not at all accurate. Other times the translators are plainly inconsistent, using two different words for this one word.

First, the variations. The King James Version translates KATARGEO, in all its forms, as:
abolish, cease, cumber, destroy, do, effect, fail, loose, nought, pass, put, sever, vanish, void. Yet the reason for using this considerable spread of words comes from without – from the translators perception of what ought to be in the text, not what is plainly signified. A futurist, for instance, expects Jesus to come with visible fire, clearly dealing with His enemies. Thus we have 1 Cor. 15:24:

“Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.”

But the real meaning becomes clear when we maintain consistency, keeping other KATARGEO passages in mind. Consider these from the same epistle, 1 Cor. 1:28 and 2:6:

“and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,”

“However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”

Just who are these rulers? They are the spiritual leaders of the Jewish age. Hardened in their antipathy toward their Messiah they were to feel the force of this word we are studying. They were coming to nothing, made irrelevant, rendered useless. They have lost all real power. Their rule is abolished.

But here is the point that is overlooked: 1 Cor. 2:6 and 1 Cor. 15:4 describe the very same event, the “rulers of this age” have their power “put to an end“. Their “kingdom” that Christ delivers to the Father is the theocratic Jewish Kingdom, now obsoleted by the Kingdom of God. Spiritual Zion** now replacing Geographical Zion.

Inconsistency in translation is perhaps most notable in 1 Cor.13:8:

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
KATARGEO appears twice in this one verse. Can you guess which one? Read it over and give it your best shot.

Did you guess “fail“? Well, you are half right. Unbelievably, the two “fails” in this one verse are from entirely different words (PIPTO, “to fall“, and KATARGEO). The second “fail” is our KATARGEO.

Also “vanish away” is the second appearance of KATARGEO. Now two questions come to mind:

1. Why did the translators needlessly limit themselves, rendering two different Greek words with the same English “fail“?

2. Why did the translators see fit to vary the same Greek term in the same verse into “fail” and “vanish away“?

I can only surmise, along with the previously mentioned theological preconceptions, a concern for Paul’s style.

But I would rather have the Bible’s at times admittedly inelegant style, with all of its occasional unstylistic repetitions (as here) and seeming non-sequiturs to find out what the Spirit of God is actually saying. Amen?

Katargeo, part two

This is the whole purpose of studies like this, to peel away needless editorial meddling in order to get to the Truth.

The next step is for me to group the usages of this word according to category in order to move on to what these verses are actually saying, not just how they are currently misconstrued. This will take a little more time and will be a separate article.

In all of these studies of mine please don’t think that I see myself as infallible. I have been wrong many times on the past. But usually my errors have come from relying too much on books and authors. The slower but safer approach is always to carefully sift over the Biblical text, including the Greek, at the same time keeping up a personal neutrality concerning the tenets being investigated.

I appreciate any and all insight from fellow lovers of God and His Word. What a wonderful blessing it is to be digging into this Word of Life!

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Tom Riggle

About asterisktom

I breathe, therefore I blog.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian Trends & Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to K A T A R G E O : A Word Often Mistranslated

  1. Alexander Thomson says:

    I came across your exchanges, on another site, with some individuals. Frankly, you were wasting your time! The translation of katargeo has always been poor and misleading….and the modern translations are as guilty ad any (and more culpable, as they claim to be more accurate, etc, blah, blah, blah). We live in an age when even the scholars, with all their degrees, cannot TRANSLATE
    the text that results from all their learned activities! Every blessing, Alex.

    Like

    • asterisktom says:

      I just came across this reply now, Alexander. Thanks (in case I haven’t replied already). The Internet is often slow here in China and just recently I got my VPN back so I can revisit my WordPress.

      Your points are well taken.

      Like

  2. Pingback: BAGD has BAGGAGE – like all of us! | Asterisktom's Blog

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