Translation Problems in Ephesians 1.22

There are several ways that translations render this verse. Here are a couple of them:

HCSB: And He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church

NCV: God put everything under his power and made him the head over everything for the church

These are two popular renderings a good number of other translations have them (such as the [T]NIV & NRSV). The problem is that they are all wrong – very wrong.


Its the verb “appoint” and “made” in the two translations. The verb is δίδωμι. This is an issue in lexicons too (BDAG gives 15 definitions). There are times when either of these two words fit well with an instance of δίδωμι. But this isn’t one of them. When such a translation is possible the grammatical constituents of the clause very different. Like the English word, “give,” when δίδωμι has that particular meaning, it also takes an Agent (either a Nominative NP [Noun Phrase] or Pro-drop), Theme (Accusative NP), and recipient (Dative NP). That is, there is always some one who gives, something, to someone else. In linguistics these are called semantic roles required by a verb. And δίδωμι is consistent in this regard.

When there is an Accusative NP and Dative NP, δίδωμι always means to give. When translations make choices like this, they are ignoring the grammar of Greek. I’m not asking for syntactic transliteration. Just that the semantics are fairly represented. The two translations above take the Dative NP as a dative of advantage. Such a meaning unknown among occurrences of δίδωμι with an NP Acc, & NP Dat. If there’s a Dative NP is must be the recipient. I challenge anyone to give me an example otherwise where there is both an Acc NP & a Dat NP – and it has to be obvious if it could “go either way,” then it probably isn’t an example and actually probably can’t go either way. And for that reason, this verse is in accurate. God is not appointing his head for the church’s advantage or benefit, he is giving Christ the head, to the church.

Okay, rant over now.

By the way, the ESV & NET get it right.

10 thoughts on “Translation Problems in Ephesians 1.22

  1. But are there cases of δίδωμι with two accusative NPs, as here, meaning “give” rather than “appoint”? I note that the two accusative NPs are close to the verb whereas the dative NP is remote, which suggests to me that the accusatives are the core components which control the sense of the verb.

    In fact I would suggest that this is not an either-or case, as in this kind of context, where the “gift” is not an inanimate object, there is no real semantic distinction between “give as … to …” and “appoint as … for …”. But the HCSB and NCV renderings are much more natural English than anything using “give”.

  2. I’ve worked through nearly 200 of the 416 NT instances of δίδωμι, including all of those that have both an dative NP & an Accusative NP, and I’m yet to have found an instances where δίδωμι could mean anything other than “give.” I’m still working through the rest of the instances, but at this point, I don’t see it as likely – at least in Greek.

    So I suppose the question then becomes, for an English translations, is the difference between a dative of recipient and a dative of advantage significant? You think so, apparently. And I’ll admit that you’ve caused me pause to think – which will probably mean another post…I’m double checking on a search for any other occurrences of double Accusatives…

  3. Here are some anomalous examples of δίδωμι which may be relevant: Matthew 13:11 ~ Luke 8:10; Mark 3:6; John 5:22 which implies appointment, cf 5:27 where exousia is explicit; John 7:22; Acts 1:26 where the dative is of advantage, not recipient; Acts 2:27=13:35, 10:40; Romans 12:19; 1 Corinthians 9:12; Colossians 1:25 which implies some kind of appointment; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 which is more a dative of disadvantage; Revelation 3:9, 11:3, 13:5,7,14,15, 16:8, 19:8. These references found with the help of “A Modern Concordance to the NT” published by Darton, Longman and Todd, which classifies and gives JB renderings for every Greek word in the NT.

  4. Matthew 13:11 ~ Luke 8:10; Acts 2:27; 10:40; 13:35; are an infinitival construction with no NP Acc.
    Mark 3:6 lacks an NP Dative.
    John 7:22 is definitely giving, not appointing.

    The only ones of those that I’d take as being best translated “appoint” or “put” are:

    Colossians 1.25 & Rev 11.3 are exactly the kind of construction we would expect for the meaning “put” or “appoint” – A Dative NP & a Prepositional Phrase.

    The rest of the Revelation instances are in the words of my grammatical analysis prof “a different animal.” I agree that in the passive the translation “appoint” works very well, since its an idiom, “it was given to x.” But even still the Greek semantics roles are still agent [implied to be God], theme [Subject NP], recipient [Dative NP].

    I can’t talk about the rest of them right now because I need to head to work…

  5. I know none of them are quite the same animal. But I don’t think there are any other animals of this kind in the NT: δίδωμι with two accusatives and a dative. At least if there are I have not come across them. In fact are there any with two accusatives and no dative? There are cases where one of the accusatives is governed by eis, but these are usually translated “put”.

    Ah, yes, here is a case with two accusatives: Ephesians 4:11. (Or is it? I read tous men as a separate NP as it can be, I think, and as it is often translated, but not I see in TNIV.) Of course the “give” sense of δίδωμι here ties up with “gifts” in verses 7 and 8. But the grammar does not tie up, verse 11 does not say that Christ gave apostles etc to humans, but that he gave some people (as) apostles, implicitly to us humans inferred from verses 7 and 8. I think this one is a real parallel to 1:22: in 1:22 God gives Christ as head to the church; in 4:11 Christ gives people (as) apostles etc implicitly to us, i.e. the church. (Or should we simplify this to the TNIV understanding “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers”?)

  6. How about Ex. 31:6 (LXX), where δίδωμι is used to mean ‘appoint’

    31:6 καὶ ἐγὼ ἔδωκα αὐτὸν καὶ τὸν Ελιαβ τὸν τοῦ Αχισαμαχ ἐκ φυλῆς Δαν καὶ παντὶ συνετῷ καρδίᾳ δέδωκα σύνεσιν καὶ ποιήσουσιν πάντα ὅσα σοι συνέταξα

    6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you: (NIV)

    Several other references (all Koine, I believe) can be found in the Great Scott.

  7. That’s an interesting example, Rich. The first occurrence being the important one for “appoint.”

    καὶ *ἐγὼ* ἔδωκα αὐτὸν καὶ τὸν Ελιαβ τὸν τοῦ Αχισαμαχ ἐκ φυλῆς Δαν.

    ** = NPsubj, italics, = NPobj1[acc] (I typically have NPobj2[dat] underlined), though we don’t have one here.

  8. Peter & Rich,

    I’ve going to have to put this conversation on pause for a couple weeks (hopefully not longer). I’m just finishing Second Language and Culture Acquisition this next week and have a lot to do, and I’ll have Field Methods & Field Data management for the next two months. I’m still studying the argument structure of this verb as I have time. When I finish, I’ll post something again…

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