1Cor 12:23

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Mon Sep 17 02:54:05 EDT 2001

> Dear Fellow B-Greek Members,
> I am having trouble understanding 1Cor 12:23.
> I am not sure where my failure lies in trying to translate the verse.  It
> may at least in part be in the term EUSCHHMOSUNH where Louw & Nida says;
> "a state of beauty or fine appearance, with the implication of being
> attractive and well-suited - `beauty, attractiveness, loveliness.'
> ....`our unattractive parts (acquire) more than ordinary attractiveness'
> 1Cor 12:23."
> But BDAG says;
> "the state of being appropriate for display, propriety, decorum,
> presentability, of clothing... of modest concealment....our unpresentable
> (parts) receive greater presentability (=are treated with greater modesty)
> 1 Cor 12:23."
> I have the verse:
> "And [those parts] of the body which we deem to be without honor, to these
> we assign excessive honor and our unpresentable parts have excessive
> beauty."
> But I am not even convinced of what I have done.  Have I misunderstood the
> meaning of other terms?  This just doesn't make sense to me.  If we think
> that a part of the body is without honor, why would we then assign it more
> honor?  Why would one say that our private body parts(genitalia)has
> greater beauty or is even more presentable?  Please help.

The root of the problem for you in this case seems to be Louw and Nida. They
have lumped two greek words together in one entry: EUPREPEIA and
EUSCHMOSUNH. The definition you quote fit the first word quite well, but it
does not fit the second word. These two are not synonyms and should not have
been lumped together in this way.

It is useful to compare EUSCHMOSUNH with the corresponding EUSCHMWN in the
next verse which means 'respected, respectable'. This word is used several
times, e.g. in Mark 15:43 about the respected, prominent member of the
Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, and in Acts 13:50 and 17:12 about some
highly respected people in the society.

Another problem is the translation of TOUTOIS TIMHN PERISSOTERAN PERITIQEMEN
as "we assign excessive honor". The verb means to place or wrap
something(accusative) around something(dative) else.  The NRSV has
translated this well by saying "those ... we clothe with greater honor".

In the context in 1 Cor 12 Paul is talking about the relative value members
of the body appear to have or the value they place on themselves and other
members. From 12:21 it is clear that the "eye" would be considered one of
the most important and prominent members of the body. Generally, the head
and face were considered most important, both because they are "up front"
and in the "limelight", and because of the all-important functions of
seeing, hearing and speaking. They don't need any special honor or
treatment, because everyone recognize their importance. The eye was in that
culture and time apparently considered more important than the hand, and the
hand more important than the foot. But Paul is saying no to that or rather,
using it as an illustration. Some members may seem to some people of less
importance, but you should not think like that about the members of the Body
of Christ. Those who work "behind the scenes" are as valuable and
indispensable as those who are up front and being noticed. This thought is
what he develops in verses 22-26.

It is certainly part of Jewish custom and values that the private parts are
to be covered carefully with clothing. Just think of Noah's sons. Their
function belongs to the private scene, not the public one. That does not
mean that they are unimportant. On the contrary, says Paul. They are
important and they are to be honored. But they are not being honored by
being put on public display. The face does not need to be covered up, but
that does not mean it is more important than those parts which ought to be
covered and protected in an honorable fashion.

Those are my thoughts. I think both NRSV and NLT did a good job in
translating these verses, but TEV and N&L are misguided on this verse.

Iver Larsen

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