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An Odd “Even”–και and “The Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16

October 20, 2009

The phrase “the Israel of God” is connected to the rest of Galatians 6:16 in Greek by the word και as the following interlinear citation demonstrates. The και in question is the third one in the verse, appearing here in the first position on the bottom row.

και οσοι τω κανονι τουτω στοιχησουσιν
and / as-many-as / by-the / rule / this / walk

ειρηνη επ’ αυτους και ελεος
peace / on / them / and / mercy

και επι τον Iσραηλ του θεου
? / on / the / Israel / of-the / God

The first and second instance of και are glossed as “and,” but I have left the third one unglossed, marked with “?” The major options for και include “and,” “also,” and “even.” Listing glosses, however, is an imprecise and misleading way to consider the meaning or function of a word in another language.

Words almost always have more than one meaning or function. If we conceptually imagine a three-dimensional array of all possible meanings, called “semantic space,” each word is represented not by a single point, but by a particular constellation of points. Two words are considered synonyms if they share at least one point in common, but they will virtually never correspond at every meaning point of their semantic constellations. The characteristic constellation of a word is not static but may gain or lose points over time, that is, a particular word may be used for meaning X,Y, and Z today, but in 100 years perhaps only meanings X and Y will remain. (Look here to see a constellation for the word even)

When we speak of the translation or gloss of one word by its “equivalent” in another language, the situation is much like a synonym within the same language. Their constellations will match on at least one point, but the two constellations will almost never match point for point. This is why working with interlinear presentations such as the one above can be misleading. The gloss is only a convenient label providing a general idea. This is why lexicons do more than list glosses; they also include definitions and typical examples.

Now, how we understand the particular function of και in Galatians 6:16 feeds into how we identify what Paul is referring to as “the Israel of God.” Is it a designation for the Church? This is how it is generally understood by Covenant Theology and Amillennial eschatology. Anthony Hoekema makes this case for the gloss “even” in his classic work on eschatology, The Bible and the Future:

The word και, therefore, should here be rendered even, as the New International Version has done. When the passage is so understood, “the Israel of God” is a further description of “all who follow this rule”–that is, all true believers, including both Jews and Gentiles, who constitute the New Testament Church. Here, in other words, Paul clearly identifies the church as the true Israel. ( p. 197)

Here is the NIV rendering to which Dr. Hoekema is referring:

Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. (NIV)

There is, in fact, a problem with this argument, as even an intuitive reaction to this translation may suggest. Dr. Hoekema is certainly correct in general terms that even is an acceptable gloss for και, but to make this actually work as he asserts—with “the Israel of God” being a “further description of “all who follow this rule”—he invokes a specific meaning for even that is in fact (1) no longer employed in contemporary English, and (2) is not otherwise an attested meaning for και in the New Testament.

I am referring to the epexegetical use. Epexegesis is a word meaning “explanation,” and refers to adding on to a sentence additional words or phrases to further clarify or specify a statement previously made. This usage of epexegetical even is abundant in the KJV, but not likely to be a feature of any native English speaker reading this post, except when adopting an artificial speech style. The Oxford English Dictionary explains in its listing number 7 for the word even used as an adverb:

Prefixed to a subject, object, or predicate, or to the expression of a qualifying circumstance, to emphasize its identity. Obs[olete] exc[ept] arch[aic] Also in 16-17 c. (hence still arch[aic] after Bible use) serving to introduce an epexegesis; = ‘namely’, ‘that is to say’.

Now we can see how this works in the NIV if we substitute “that is to say” for “even”

Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, [that is to say] to the Israel of God. (NIV)

As the OED points out, this usage was present in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and thus we find it in the KJV. However, in our time it is obsolete, or no longer a productive aspect of the vocabulary of English speakers today, except as an archaism. Archaic speech refers to a deliberately old-fashioned manner of speech, such as some people might use in preaching or in prayer, the kind of thing that we might call someone speaking in “King James English.”

That is why I say there may likely be an intuitive reaction to the NIV rendering. The NIV describes its own approach as aiming for an English that is “contemporary without being dated.” Yet in this verse they employ an archaic form.

We can see how epexegetical even works from some clear examples from the KJV:

(1) Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. (John 5:45)

Here the clause “there is one that accuseth you” leaves the identity of that “one” indefinite. The epexegetical phrase introduced by even specifies that one as Moses.

(2) But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. (Eph. 4:15)

Here “into Him…which is the head” leaves the specific identity of “the head” implicit. The epexegetical phrase introduced by even explicitly specifies “Christ.”

(3) For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection. (2 Cor. 13:9)

In this case, the clause “and this also we wish” is manifestly incomplete without a following epexegetical phrase, identifying what the “this” is referring to.

As mentioned above, this structure is not at all uncommon in the KJV of the New Testament. Further examples include: Matt. 23:10; Rom. 1:20; 1 Cor. 2:7; 1 John 2:25; 1 John 5:4. One glaring feature is present in all these examples as it is in every use of epexegetical even in the KJV New Testament: in every case the word even is in italics, indicating that it is not representing any word present in the original. None of these instances of epexegetical even is a translation of και.

In fact there is only one case, involving six verses where the KJV translates και with even, when it is probably intended epexegetically, though it is very different from the preceding examples. The verses involved are: Rom. 15:6; 1 Cor. 15:24; 2 Cor. 1:3; 1 Thes. 3;13; 2 Thes. 2:16; Jas. 3:9. In each case the KJV rendering is “God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” or a variation of this. What is happening here is that the translators are encountering constructions covered by the Granville Sharp rule, where two nouns joined by και share a single article. Rom. 15:6 reads in Greek:

τον θεον και πατερα του κυριου ημων Ιησου Χριστου
the / God / and / father / of-the / Lord / our / Jesus / Christ

The translators knew that “God” and “Father” referred to the same Person, but that to render it “God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” tended to make it sound as if two separate individuals were intended. Furthermore, English does not generally use the definite article with “God,” though Greek does do so with θεος. So “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” was also awkward. Therefore they employed the expedient of epexegetical even for και in this case, to show that “God” and “Father” refer to the same person. In fact, however, it is not really introducing an epexegesis which serves to clarify or specify a previous statement that was generic or indefinite.

Granville Sharp did not formulate his rule until the late eighteenth century (it first appears in a 1778 letter). So in fact the above six instances are not at all examples of an epexegetical use of και, though the translators of the KJV may have taken them to be so.

Apart from these six verses, where και in a Granville Sharp construction is rendered “even” by the KJV translators, there are no instances of και rendered as epexegetical even in the KJV of the New Testament. Even Galatians 6:16 itself is not.

And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (KJV)

Now let us turn specifically to the Greek usage of και. When we do so we discover that there is next to no justification for seeing an epexegetical use for και in New Testament Greek. In general, και works like this:

(1) It is by far the most common coordinating conjunction, equivalent to our “and,” and this is by far the most common use that it has. It serves to join nouns, phrases and clauses.

(a) Andrew and Peter (John 1:44)

(b) …to find his brother Simon and tell him (John 1:41)

(c) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

(2) It is not far from the idea of “and” to the idea of “also,” and και may be used adverbially with the idea of “in addition” or “too” (only the meaning of too that is equivalent to also.)

Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water… (John 3:23)

(3) From “also” we move to “even,” which is a kind of emphatic also, or too, the emphasis being due to surprise, what is called in semantics, contrary to expectation.

(a) Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. (John 12:42)

That is, many believed in him, including some among the leaders (though you would hardly expect this.)

(b) The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. (Acts 10:45)

That is, not only on Jews and Samarians, but on Gentiles, too, but with a strong implied idea of unexpectedness.

(c) The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Gal. 2:13)

That is, Barnabas was also led astray, though you would have expected better of him (c.f. et tu, Brute).

This use of even, which is a kind of unexpected also or including is the predominant meaning of adverbial even in English, according to the OED. However, there is really no question of this meaning of even in Gal. 6:16, and if it were, it would mean “the Israel of God” was at most a subset of “all who follow this rule.”

So while και may be glossed “even” on occasion, such as we have seen above, there is next to no justification for seeing an epexegetical use in the New Testament.

(1) Wallace does not include such a category in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.

(2) Zerwick (Biblical Greek) includes the category, but with a question mark and cites only two possible examples (section 455 ζ):

(a) Gal. 6:16 itself

(b) Acts 5: “the council and all the senate of the people of Israel” (ESV) on the supposition that both “council” and “senate” refer to exactly the same group, and that therefore the και functions as “that is to say.” Possibly Luke is explaining the term “council” (Greek: συνεδριον, i.e. “Sanhedrin.”), even though he has already used the word συνεδριον in Acts 4:15 and Luke 22:66. “Senate” is a translation of γερουσιαν, which means a grouping of elders. The Sanhedrin had 71 members at any time. This would by no means include all the elders of the people.

(3) BAGD includes the category “explicative,” but lists only the following three NT possibilities (and not Gal. 6:16). The word translating και is underlined in each citation:

(a) Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (Rom. 1:5, NIV)

This is again assuming that “grace” and “apostleship” are referring to the same thing, which is possible, but not at all certain.

(b) Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. (Matt. 8:33)

Here και introduces a clause that serves as a subset of “all this,” translated here by “including,” and in ESV as “especially.” Whatever we might label this use, it is not an instance of epexegetical και.

(c) For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. (John 1:16, NASB)

Granted, “and” doesn’t make for the clearest English style, but it is hard to see how “grace upon grace” would function as an epexegesis for something in the first part of the verse. At any rate, it is not very analogous to Gal. 6:16.

In short, interpreting και in Galatians 6:16 simply as the conjunction “and” is entirely non-problematic in Greek, whereas positing an epexegetical use of και, glossed perhaps as “even” in English, is highly unlikely in New Testament Greek. It is without any clear parallel that I am aware of.

In addition to the above, Dr. Hoekema’s suggestion is doubtful because of two other considerations.

(1) If it were a case of epexegetical και, it is not at all clear what the epexegesis would be clarifying. What occurs before the και that is indefinite or unclear? In fact,“the Israel of God” is actually less clear than what precedes it. The suggestion might make sense if the elements were inverted from their actual order:

* Peace and mercy to the Israel of God, [that is to say] to all who follow this rule.

Then it could plausibly fit the pattern, and an unclear expression “the Israel of God” would be clarified by “all who follow this rule.”

(2) Even if we accept the idea of an epexegetical και, such that “the Israel of God” is a restatement of “all who follow this rule,” it doesn’t take us where Dr. Hoekema suggests, because “all who follow this rule” is itself not a designation for the entire Church. The rule he is referring to is: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal. 6:15, NIV) This is the rule the Church should follow, not that which every member did in fact follow. The entire passage would not be necessary if all Christians already followed this rule. He specifically points in verse 12 to “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly,” who he states “are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” These are not unbelievers but misguided believers, believers who do not walk by the rule.

Now, I should point out that Dr. Hoekema’s explanation is not the only grammatical way to understand “the Israel of God” to be the Church, but I think it is the most common way, and the easiest way—despite the fact that it is very poorly supported by Greek grammar. It could be explained even with και understood as “and,” though it would still be a stretch to see why “and” does not imply that “the Israel of God” is something that is not equivalent to “all who follow this rule.” I can think of a way to make it work (sort of) myself, though I wouldn’t very much believe it. The question I have is why try to make it fit a preconceived notion of “the Israel of God” being a reference to the Church, when the simplest explanation works perfectly well?

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