Wednesday, May 15, 2024

How Should We Translate Kai in Heb. 12:1?

An adverb describes how, when, where, and to what extent something happens. Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, and even other adverbs. Adverbs give additional detail to how things happen. 

In my reading this morning, I ran across the word kai in Heb. 12:1. 

Although kai generally functions as a conjunction ("and") in the New Testament, here it functions adverbially. Below is the kai as it appears in the first three words of Heb. 12:1:

Remember, in exegesis our concern is "What do I see?" Pay special attention to terms and grammatical structures. This includes conjunctions and adverbs. I use a pen or a pencil to circle words I find interesting. 

Is the kai important there? Not if you consult the majority of English versions. Here's a brief list of translations that decided not to translate the word:

  • CSB
  • CEB
  • ERV
  • ESV
  • GW
  • GNT
  • NET
  • NIV
  • NLT
  • RSV

In the following translations, the kai is rendered "also":

  • ASV
  • HCSB
  • KJV
  • NASB
  • NKJV

The idea is, "Therefore, we too have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us...." I like that. But I like Koester's rendering even better. Often in Greek, a kai can be used to mean something like "in fact" or "indeed." This is how Koester translates it in Heb. 12:1: 

"Therefore, since we indeed have ...."

Again, I think this is a perfect illustration of how words like conjunctions and adverbs can make all the difference. I checked the Spanish, German, and French translations but couldn't find anything comparable to Koester's rendering. Schlachter 2000 has: 

"Da wir nun eine solche Wolke von Zeugen um uns haben ...." 

Please don't think me impudent, but I might tweak this as follows:

"Da wir in der Tat eine so gro├če Wolke von Zeugen um uns herum haben ...." 

If you don't like this, that's fine. I'm no expert in the intricacies of German grammar!

Now that you've seen an illustration of how to deal with adverbs in a text, you might want to use that observation the next time you engage in Bible study. Come up with your own analysis. And if you don't find a translation you agree with -- in any language -- try your hand at producing your own.

Have a wonderful day!