James 1:5

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Tue Sep 4 05:42:47 EDT 2001

> If it would not be too much to ask another question, this time concerning
> word order in James 1:5...
> I would have expected TOU DIDONTOS to follow QEOU. Is there any
> significance to its location? And am I correct that it seems a bit
> Rob Matlack

As Carl has said repeatedly, this order would not be awkward for a Greek
speaker of the time.

It is a feature of Greek word order that moving an item to the left
increases its relative prominence. Jim West has said that this is also a
feature of Hebrew and Aramaic. I won't speak to  that, but I believe we
don't need to assume an underlying Semitic thought pattern here. This is
good Greek, as far as I can see. Where Semitic thought pattern is crucial is
usually at the higher level of discourse, that is how a big chunk of text is
organized into a rhetorical structure or how sentences are connected
together by the use of discourse particles.

When we think of translation into English, we should remember that English
in spite of its very limited word order freedom tends to put focus on the
last item(s), which is directly opposite to Greek. A translation that
follows the Greek word order rather slavishly is therefore likely to miss
the focus.

I think a translation like the NRSV: "(let him) ask God who gives to all
generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you" communicates the
prominence of "giving" very nicely. The focus is not on who to ask (that is,
God), but on the fact that God is a God who gives generously, and he gives
to all who ask. One could move "God" completely out of focus by removing
QEOU, but James apparently did not want to de-emphasize "God" that much. It
is still God that we need to ask for wisdom, first, above and beyond asking
wise people.

Iver Larsen

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