Translating ΛΕΓΩ IN Acts 1:3 -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 64:2 (Fall 2002)
Article: Translating ΛΕΓΩ IN Acts 1:3
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Translating ΛΕΓΩ IN Acts 1:3

Vern Sheridan Poythress*

[*Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.]

Acts 1:3 indicates that during the forty days prior to the Ascension, Jesus spoke to the apostles about the kingdom of God. In Greek the key clause runs, λέγων τὰ περὶ τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ. The KJV translates this literally, “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” The NKJV has identical wording, and the NASB is almost the same.1 But the RSV reads, “speaking of the kingdom of God.” The RSV simplifies the English, apparently ignoring the Greek article τὰ. As might be expected, less literal translations follow this trend.2 But, despite the appearance of looseness, the RSV may actually be as accurate or even more accurate than the KJV.

There is not a huge difference between these renderings, but there is some. At first, it may appear that the difference represents a simple trade-off between greater literal accuracy on the one hand (KJV) and smoother English on the other (RSV). But it is not quite so simple. The KJV, NKJV, and NASB render the Greek word λέγω with the English expression “speak of.” But this is not what λέγω most commonly means in the NT. The most common use is with the meaning “say, tell,” followed by an object giving the contents of what is said.3 For example, Luke 5:36 says, ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς, “he told them a parable also” (RSV).We would not translate it, “He spoke about the parable to them.” In English, “spoke about” is followed by an indication of the topic or subject about which one speaks. “Say” or “tell” is followed by the actual contents of what is spoken. The latter, not the former, represents the common pattern with the verb λέγω. The contents that follow λέγω can take a number of forms. λέγω can be followed by direct discourse, with no other connecting word, as in Luke 1:66: “and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying [λέγοντες], ‘What then will this child be?’ “ Or the word ὅτ...

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