Gal 6:16—Some Additional Thoughts

If you read my previous post about the function of καί and its implications for the various interpretations of τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ, you may have been left with some lingering questions—as was I. In addition, I was missing one vital piece of information that makes view #1 slightly more plausible. Since I don’t think I expressed the issues quite cogently enough the first time, I’m going to take another shot at it.

The two questions that I was left asking myself were:

  1. If the interpretation which understands καί to mean and is so clearly wrong, why do the majority of English translations translate it that way?
  2. Is the English word and capable of being used to join two items when the former encompasses the latter? For example, is and being used properly in this statement: I love food and pizza? Or does and—to be used properly—have to join two distinct items?

Allow me to (1) recap, (2) revisit the view that understands καί to mean and, and then (3) answer the two questions posed above.


There are three possible ways to handle καί. The first translates it as and, the second as even (or that is), the third as especially. Views #1 and #3 share the same conclusion—that τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ refers to ethic Jews. They arrive at that conclusion in different ways. The second interpretation maintains that Paul applies the label τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ to the whole church composed of Jews and Gentiles. (As we’ll see below, views #2 and #3 agree that the first group Paul addresses is not limited to Gentiles.)

View #1 Revisited

The first view argues that καί should be understood in its most natural sense of and. The point that I was missing in Benware’s argument is that he maintains that ὅσοι τῷ κανόνι τούτῳ στοιχήσουσιν and αὐτοὺς refer to Gentiles only. Thus, he can maintain the meaning of and for καί. This limitation of ὅσοι and αὐτοὺς is necessary to make sense out of and, or, as O. Palmer Robertson so aptly demonstrates, we have Paul pronouncing a blessing on those Jews who refuse to obey his rule (whom he wishes would castrate themselves!). But is this limitation warranted? Does not Paul intend for believing Jews to obey this rule, or is this merely for Gentiles? Surely to ask such a question is to answer it. Paul is not concerned only that the Gentiles not submit to circumcision, but that the Jews correct their faulting thinking and stop insisting that Gentiles Judaize. So I still think that this view has little to commend it, but it is slightly more viable than the way I first presented it.

(A different form of this view sees τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ as a reference to Jews who would be saved in the near future or in the eschaton, so that Paul’s pronouncement of blessing becomes a prayer for God to have mercy on Israel. This view doesn’t seem to fit the flow of thought well, but it does escape the problems above.)

Two Questions

What about the fact that most of the translations go with and? Is and a possible translation if one follows interpretation #3, or does and necessitate interpretation #1. To put it another way: is and capable of joining two items when the latter is a subset of the former?

1. My guess is that many English translations go with and, not to identify with view #1, but in an attempt not to get too involved in the task of interpretation. And, they feel, is the best way to avoid taking a side on this debated passage. I make this speculation based on the NET Bible note on this passage, which says,

The word “and” (καί) can be interpreted in two ways: (1) It could be rendered as “also” which would indicate that two distinct groups are in view, namely “all who will behave in accordance with this rule” and “the Israel of God.” Or (2) it could be rendered “even,” which would indicate that “all who behave in accordance with this rule” are “the Israel of God.” In other words, in this latter view, “even” = “that is.”

It is interesting to note that the translators see only two possible views here—my view #1 and view #2. But the point I want to make from this quote is that the they regard the translation of and as capable of either interpretation. So I doubt that all of the translations that go with and are necessarily taking a position. Rather, many are probably trying to stay out of the realm of interpretation—and being the safest way to do that.

2. I’m inclined to say that the English word and is not being properly used when it is joining two items that are not distinct, i.e., when the latter is a subset of the former. E.g., to say, “I love pizza and Pizza Hut pizza,” is a misuse of and. It would be more accurate to say, “I love pizza, and (or but) especially Pizza Hut pizza.” The Greek word καί is capable of both. I don’t think the English word and is. I’m willing to be proved wrong here. I haven’t had a chance to look at OED. My concise OED hardly deals in enough depth to make a judgment.

It seems like translators are in a difficult situation here. And doesn’t really have the breadth that they need to remain neutral, yet it’s the best option available. This may be a situation where it is necessary to pick a position and translate accordingly—noting the other options in a footnote.

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One Response to Gal 6:16—Some Additional Thoughts

  1. Misha DX October 7, 2006 at 5:38 am #

    Nice post! I appreciated your observations.

    This verse surely presents difficulties for the interpreter, but, in my opinion, not as much work for the Greek-English translator. The English ‘and’, as I understand it, is more accommodating than what is described in this post. See the Webster’s 3rd article on ‘and’ (and be sure to check out what OED has to say on the matter).