Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Paul the "Seed Picker"

Today my devotions were in Acts 17, where Luke is describing Paul's encounter with the philosophers of Athens. In verse 18, they ask an interesting question. Here's how the NASB renders it:

What would this idle babbler wish to say?

Compare this with Phillips' rendering:

What is this cock-sparrow trying to say?

Are you as confused as I am? 

I've mentioned this again and again, but we English speakers are incredibly blessed to have such a variety of translations and paraphrases of Scripture. I rarely study a passage of Scripture without comparing these versions. This includes reading languages other than English. 

So what is behind the expression "idle babbler" -- or "cock-sparrow"? The CSB reads "ignorant show-off." Its predecessor (the HCSB) has "pseudo-intellect." Young's Literal Translation has "seed picker."

 How about this one? 

Was will eigentlich dieser sonderbare Vogel mit seinen aufgepickten Weisheiten?

Here the Neue Genfer Bibel nicely captures the imagery of the Greek word spermologos. In English, this reads:

What does this strange bird actually want with the wisdom it has picked up? 

The idea is of a person who randomly collects bits of information from others and then passes them on frivolously like a gossiper. BDAG even uses the gloss "scrapmonger." Thus, Paul is apparently being accused of being an impertinent show off, passing on ideas he's picked up here and there as though they were his own. This is why so many translations (in both English and French) use the word "charlatan" in rendering spermologos. That said, I think I'll go with the CSB here: "ignorant show-off." Either that or the DAV's "self-promoting grandstander" (Dave's Authorized Version).* Either way, this is obviously rather severe language!

Isn't Bible study a blast?

*The Cambridge English Dictionary defines "grandstander" as "someone who acts or speaks in a way that is intended to attract attention and impress people watching."