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Musings -- A Continuing Series of Comments on Specific Translation Issues within the International Standard Version New Testament

by Dr. David Alan Black

"So great is the force of established usage that even acknowledged corruptions please the greater part, for they prefer to have their copies pretty rather than accurate."

Jerome

drblack.jpg (5141 bytes)
Dr. David Alan Black
Associate Editor
, ISV NT

Mustering the Mystery out of Musterion

What does the Greek word musterion mean? Well, of course it means "mystery." At least that’s what you’d conclude by reading the majority of English translations.

Actually, there’s nothing mysterious about a musterion. The word simply refers to something that cannot be known unless it is revealed, that is, a "secret." This is what Paul was describing in Ephesians 5:32 ("This is a great secret, but I am talking about Christ and the church") and in 1 Corinthians 15:51 ("Let me tell you a secret. Not all of us will die, but all of us will be changed….").

Linguists call the confusion of a Greek word’s root with its English counterpart "etymologizing"— an evil to be avoided like the plague. We English speakers should, of course, know this already. There is no butter in buttermilk, no egg in eggplant, no worms (or wood) in wormwood, no pine (or apple) in a pineapple, no ham in hamburger.

Why, then, should we be told that the Greek word agon (Hebrews 12:2) refers to "agony" (it simply describes a "race"), that dunamis (Romans 1:16) has something to do with "dynamite" (dynamite was unknown in the first century), and that hilaros (2 Corinthians 9:7) describes a "hilarious" giver (perhaps we should play laugh tracks when taking the offering)? Unfortunately, etymologizing is still alive and well in preaching and teaching.

Isn’t it time to muster the mystery out of musterion?

Introduction Poetry Lettuce? Press on? Good Giving Good Citizens Can Faith Save? On Poets & Liars An Ode to Love The Disciple Teachable? Sloppy Agape Mustering Mystery Alliteration Whom Sweet Whom Conclusion

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