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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference When does a singular better translate a plural? — Phil 4:13 (Monday with Mounce 134):


But Dr. Mounce, while I agree with you, wouldn't that be better to have this writen in a study note or explained in Bible study than translating the words into something else? While I agree with your interpretation, your interpretation would go against many popular theologies today (word of faith). I still think the KJV, ESV, and NASB do better on this verse, though I get your point. Alas if only one of those things refered to winning a free copy of that new NIV (2011)- Greek leather New Testaments!

Or. ""...all of these things," if you want to retain the plural

Could "all (these) things" also be a possible translation?

A thought on the new NIV trasnlation. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” what if the panta in the verse was not meant to be limited to only those things listed. "this" limits the things I can do through him that strengthens me to the previous list only. What if it means these things and much more. In fact all that I am faced with through God's providence, I can do by him who strengthens with grace. The previous list gives example and broad scope and verse 13 expands upon it.

Given that choice implies meaning, I'm not sure why Paul wouldn't have used the singular if he wanted to convey what the NIV translation says.

Even if you think that the word is entirely backward referencing to the preceding verse, wouldn't the appropriate translation be "all these things"?

if we were still concerned with keeping the plural, what's wrong with saying "I can do all these things..." ?

What a fantastic suggestion for a popular, dynamic translation!

Great post! But I guess I'm not going to fly, huh?

Lest in my above question/comment, it is assumed by my describing the possibility that panta is not meant to be limited to only the preceding list but rather expanding upon it and therefore even "I can fly" would be included, consider Paul's "thorn in the flesh." It was described as excellent when "this" ins included in the translation so the reader is forced to limit his understanding to only the list for after all, "There are many things Paul could not do. He couldn’t fly. He couldn’t remove the thorn in his flesh. He couldn’t get released from his second Roman imprisonment." Yet, I would suggest that the "thorn in the flesh" may be included in the panta, not because Paul should have been able to remove it but rather this also illustrates how Christ strengthened him so that he could even persevere through such trials of providence. The "thorn in the flesh" illustrates how even in this Paul was taught how Christs "strength is made perfect in weakness." Paul was strengthen even in that though the thorn was not removed he could in fact persevere by the strengthening of him who strengthens him. It may be also in our eagerness to keep readers from memorizing and then misappropriating a verse freedom in translation is taken resulting in readers not choosing to memorize the verse at all.

Dear Dr. Mounce,

Thank you for this thoughtful post! I love discussions like this one about translation.

"All this" assumes that Paul only meant πάντα to refer to verse 12. But in verse 11, Paul says "all circumstances" (ἐν παντὶ καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν) and then follows with an ad hoc list of "circumstances." Verse 12 is a representative list but not an exhaustive list of "all circumstances." Paul may intend for πάντα to include more than the ad hoc list in verse 12. If you translate as "all this," it precludes that interpretation. Whereas if you keep it as "all things," it allows for both an expansive use of πάντα and your more narrow sense.

Readers are constantly taking verses out of context, but I would not want to let that reality become a constraint on translation.

Great discussion! Thanks!

Denny Burk

I would have to agree with Scott D. Anderson and would add that changing the translation to singular is a dangerous decision that seems to be driven by a reaction to a poor use of scripture in general rather than by an incorrect decision of the translators. Paul's word choice was inspired. I would suggest that God intended for us to apply this to more than just the few trials mentioned in verse 12. The context is about enduring trials, specifically being in need & facing difficult circumstances, not about violating physical principals, so in the context, yes, I can do all things (endure all trials that God brings my way) through Him who strengthens me.

Thank You Dr. Mounce - your posts make me think. Your weekly posts are so helpful presenting us with an opportunity to exercise and stretch and practice our use of the original language. I look forward to your new blog post every week.

Denny Burk, you said very well what I was trying to convey. Thank you for making it clear.


Thanks for the feedback. I do think that "all these things" might be a better translation. I will bring it up in the committee. It keeps the plural and forces a closer reference to the preceding verse. But I think some of the comments are confusing two things: what the text means, and how the theology of the passage can be applied. Regardless of application, the παντα is limited by grammar to the preceding verse. Adjectives have to refer to something, right? Now, you may believe that the verse by implication extends beyond issues of circumstance, and that is fine; perhaps you are right. But that is not what the verse says. Exegetically, the verse is limited to its context. Theologically (not sure that is a valid distinction but hopefully you understand what I mean) you may see the principle of the verse extend beyond its context. But the fact of the matter is that Paul could not do ALL things. He couldn't. Unfortunately, I know of people who live in expectation that they in fact can do/have whatever they want based on this verse. (I suspect their expectation is based more on a deficient view of God than just their holding on to this verse, but that is a different topic.)

Dr Mounce, I like your explanation here, http://www.billmounce.com/blog/09-14-2008/i-can-do-all-things-phil-4-13, where you allow that panta could possibly refer to all of chapter four. "To me, “All this” sounds to be a larger concept and I suspect it goes back to all he has been saying in chapter 4."

I'm still learning and have much to learn and appreciate your willingness to teach. Hoping you will explain just a little further: Must a Greek adjective used substantively always refer to something else or can it stand as a noun if context allows or demands it? I had thought this was the case but now I'm wondering if that is actually correct based on your feedback.

"Adjectives have to refer to something, right?"

thanks again for a great article, and thanks especially for your further comment.

Dr. Mounce,

Thank you for your helpful post on a verse (and its translation) that has concerned me for a long time. Might it be helpful to point out to those with a little less language training that the original Greek does not have a word for "this," "these things," or "things" and that the word panta is "standing in" (substantival) for a noun? Literally, Paul is saying, "I can do all through Christ..." This might help in the greater context of understanding what Paul is referring to. Some have suggested that Paul has a broader intention for this little word "all" but to suggest that quickly leads to the very misinterpretation that has been discussed. Suggesting that Paul means more than the previous list yet doesn't hold to the belief that he can fly seems a bit arbitrary. The greater flow of the paragraph lends itself toward the narrow interpretation that your NIV translation seeks to illuminate. As many of us know, all translation is interpretation whether we want to admit it or not. And the English language (as well as the Greek) has a certain flexibility to it such that, at the end of the day, the phrase "all this" may in fact capture the intention of the word panta better than "all things." I'm not an advocate of loose "dynamic equivalence." However, at this point, I think NIV is doing a good job.

The issue seems to me to be less about singular vs. plural (all things vs. everything) and more about whether adding a demonstrative ("this" or "these") is appropriate or helpful. You can say "all these [things]" with an extra "tauta" in Greek, but Paul just wrote "all [things]".

I suppose adding a demonstrative to point outside the verse becomes helpful when people move from reading the whole book in the way Paul would have assumed, to passing around single verses out of context. But maybe that's not a problem translation should focus on.

Loved this post - thanks!

If I may say so, I think it is unhelpful to insist that translators stick to word-for-word literal translations. That elevates each individual word above the thought that is being expressed. If we did that in real life, the result is the opposite of clarity. The TRUTH is what is sacred, not the individual words; and if the truth is lost in translation, what good has been done?

In an example using French, the word for potatoes is "pommes de terre" -- literally "apples of (the) earth". But if Francois and Gabrielle, through a translator, tell us that they had pommes de terre for supper, what translator would not use the word "potatoes"? How would anyone be helped by the translator's decision to announce that they had eaten Apples of Earth for supper?

If a Spanish speaker says "Lo siento" (literally "I feel it") to an English speaker, would not a translator be more helpful and accurate to relay the message as "I'm sorry"? Again, a word-for-word translation would actually obscure the accuracy of the truth being expressed through the Spanish idiom.

I'm not a trained linguist, merely an observer that some battles over translation issues sometimes exhibit a preference of word over idea. Just my two cents. :-)

I noticed frequent references throughout the article to the ESV, especially when it came first in a list. Then at the end, in the author's credentials section, read that Dr. Mounce had been the New Testament chair for the ESV translation and now serves on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. My first reaction was how someone involved with such an excellent work as producing the ESV could now be involved with any version of the NIV Bible. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced this would result in a better NIV than we had before. My bias is clearly showing, but when all is said and done this gives me hope for the future of NIV.

I was discussing this article at the lunch table with my wife and daughters and my 12 year old perhaps correcting me said, "Dad, we CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Just depends on HIM." I've been concentrating much more on the "panta" and whether the adjective is a substantive and what happens when we insert a "this" than on the "him who strengthens." What a qualification and a qualification subject to the will, purpose, and sovereignty of Christ. This has been a very good discussion and very good opportunity to think deeply on this verse. Do you think limiting the "panta" to only that which Christ strengthens us to do would lead to the kind of error we are wary of described in the article? That's limiting in a different way than the supply a "this" was intended to accomplish, but it does uphold the underlying text, avoids self-exaltation, and humbles us in dependency upon Christ, while yet allowing Paul to be exalting in Christ as he so often does. Maybe the abusers of the verse are really saying "I can do all things who cares what is the will of Christ."

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