Nine times in the Greek Scriptures we find the rendering "in part" or its equivalent, in most versions; and nobody appears to take any notice of the fact that in four places the original Greek has ek merous, out of part, and in five apo merousi from part. The best Commentaries notice the difference, but all of them appear to fail to indicate concordant renderings to bring over the difference into English. Thanks to the kindness of Mr. Alexander Thomson, I have been able to get a sight of the opinions on this subject in T. S. Green's "Critical Notes on the New Testament," Meyer's Commentary and the Grimm-Thayer Greek Lexicon as well as the books I have myself. Collation of these has thrown on the problem some light which I wish now to pass on.
The essential idea in ek merous is that it "is a contrasted term, in express opposition to the idea of a complete whole." Where apo merous is used, this aim to express complete contrast is not in view. The form ek merous is, in the Greek Scriptures, confined to 1. Corinthians 12 and 13. The occurrence that displays its force most plainly is 1. Cor. 13:12,
which reads literally:
Now that I have been led to examine this word teleios, mature, more thoroughly I realize that none of the expositors whose teaching about it is generally accepted among us has been anything like as careful and thorough as the subject demands. For instance, the C.V. renders it maturity in 1. Cor. 13:10, without any regard to the fact that there is another word teliotEs (Col. 3:14; Heb. 6:1 only) which does properly mean maturity. By this discordance it effectually conceals the truth in the verse in question.
A further point that is concealed in the C.V. rendering, though it is clearly set out in the way the A.V. or King James' Version renders it, is that the Greek has the mature. The words in the A.V., that which is perfect bring out very adequately the sense of the Greek.
Only in this place do we find the expression the mature, just that. In 1. John 4:18 we read, "Fear is not in that love, but the mature love is casting out the fear"; and in Rom. 12:2, "for you to be testing what is the will of God, the good and well-pleasing and mature." In the fourteen other occurrences of teleios, there is no article written or implied. Heb. 9:11 has the comparative form of the word, more mature. So 1. Cor. 13:10 stands alone as regards this word, and we must read: "yet whenever that which is mature may be coming, that which is incomplete shall be discarded."
What, then, is the difference between "the mature" here and "the maturity," which is how both occurrences of teliotEs should read? The first of the two is rendered literally: "now over all these is the love, which is the tie of the maturity"; the second: "Wherefore, leaving the rudiments of Christ's Word, we should carryon (to) the maturity." Here, as one might expect from the English usage of the word, "maturity" means the personal state, the condition of being a mature person. The other, "the mature," means "whatever is mature," "that which is mature." Thus, we see that 1. Cor. 13:10 has nothing whatever to do with the abstract state of maturity, with anything that happens in that respect to or within ourselves. Still less is it concerned with the notion of "dispensational maturity" which some have rashly read into it, as at least one well-known writer has done; for Mr. C. H. Welch in "Dispensational Truth," pp. 194, 195 tells us that "'Gifts' are termed 'partial' as compared with the 'fulness' of the present dispensation ('that which is perfect')."
The trouble with all such assertions as this and the C.V. rendering examined above is that they contain a considerable element of truth, but it is thrown out of gear and mingled with a dangerous element of error. They are made in order to support theories, not in order to conform to Scripture.
By "the present dispensation" Mr. Welch plainly means the "dispensation" which he asserts started at Acts 28:28 at the close of what he names "the Pentecostal dispensation," and for him "that which is perfect" is that which belongs to this "the dispensation of the Mystery." Yet, what are the facts? The word teleios occurs only four times in the Prison Epistles—as many times, in fact, as in James' Epistle! It occurs twice in Hebrews, thrice in Matthew. And that is not all. Mr. Welch declares that "The Corinthian assembly was as babyhood is to manhood, when compared with the dispensation of the Mystery." How comes it, then, that in 1. Cor. 2:6 the Apostle Paul says, "Yet wisdom we are talking to the ones (who are) mature?" And in 1. Cor. 14:20; "Yet as to the disposition become mature?" As these three (since Mr. Welch is writing of 1. Cor. 13:10) are the only references to teleios in this epistle, is it not somewhat remarkable that two of them are exhortations to become something which (according to Mr. Welch's declared teaching) was not yet possible?
Yet even that is not all. In Heb. 5:14 we read: "Yet the solid nurture is of mature (people)." So there were some such among the Hebrews, to whom this was written. Moreover, James 3:2 refers to "mature man"—and this not simply to Israelites, not simply to the twelve tribes, but actually to these "in the dispersion," scattered, bereft of covenant and promises, as far separated from the glories of the Prison Epistles as can well be imagined for any of God's people.
Why not read 1. Cor. 13:10 without prejudice, particularly without human preconceptions like personal "maturity" as in the C.V., or "dispensational" maturity as with so-called "Dispensational Truth?" Why not simply read it as telling us that whenever what is mature may be coming, what is incomplete, partial, has to be discarded? Nothing could be simpler, and certainly nothing could better illuminate the Apostle Paul's wonderful revelation in 1. Corinthians 13.
That leaves only one passage containing ek merous, namely, 1. Cor. 12:27: "Yet ye are Christ's body and members out of part." It is by no means certain, as yet, that we have learnt all that is to be known about the usage here of the word body, so I propose to defer consideration of this passage to a later paper.
We may now turn to the other expression apo merous, from part, which, as remarked at the start, is used when there is no aim to express complete contrast. The Grimm-Thayer Greek Lexicon gives for this expression: "somewhat, in a measure, to some degree, as respects a part" and, even, in Rom. 15:15 "here and there." It occurs five times, and we will proceed to examine each in turn.
Rom. 11:25 reads, "insensitiveness, in a measure, has come about to Israel." Here the point is not a contrast between a part and a complete whole, but that some degree of insensitiveness has come about on Israel. The fact that insensitiveness exists, and that it exists in some measure, is what matters; the question of how complete it is does not arise, as it is irrelevant to the Apostle's purpose.
As already noted, we can render Rom. 15:15 by: "yet more daringly I write to you, here and there, as prompting you"; but to be concordant we ought to use the less striking phrase and render it by: "yet more daringly I write to you, in a measure, as prompting you." Similarly Rom. 15:24 would read: "if ever, of you, first in a measure I should be finding satisfaction." Here again "here and there" would probably be regarded as a better rendering in a paraphrase; but it is not so good as to justify departure from concordance; for it could not suitably be used in Rom. 11:25, as it does not suit the context.
In 2. Cor. 1:14 we may read: "according as you also acknowledge us, in a measure, that we are your boast." Lastly, we come to 2. Cor. 2:5: "Now if anyone has caused sorrow, not me has he sorrowed, but, in a measure, (that I may not bear heavily) you all."
So there is no sufficient reason why we should not be both concordant and accurate in our rendering of these two forms. The careless way they are usually treated is far from a credit to translators.
R.B.W. Last updated 7.11.2005