Acts 10:34-35 – Formal or Frank?

Daniel & Tonya have written a post on Acts 10:34-35 (Comparing Acts 10.34-35), looking at the Greek & a few other translations along with their own.

What jumped out at me as the phrase Ἀνοίξας δὲ Πέτρος τὸ στόμα and their discussion of it.

They write:

1. Some translations try to hammer out this more formal speech introduction (”opening the mouth”), most do not. Why is it that the NET Bible can have awful translations and fantastic notes?

Now I’m not necessarily against the idea that the phrase is a formal one, but I am somewhat skeptical. I looked through a few commentaries, did a few searches across texts, looked at the context, and I really think that this is an idiom and less than a formal introduction to a speech.

Why?

Well, for one, I’m always skeptical of this sort of thing because foreign sounding phrases always sound formal  in English. I’m not saying that this is the case here. I’m just saying that’s always my initial gut reaction. So I dug through the lexicons. Louw & Nida say that it a formal Semitic idiom. Perhaps.

But BDAG and LSJ are interesting here.

BDAG cites the verse in question in its definition 5, but in definition 7, we’re given this little tid-bit:

to be candid, be open, intr. (s. 6 beg. for grammatical ref.; s. also 5a) τὸ στόμα ἡμῶν ἀνέῳγεν πρὸς ὑμᾶς our mouth is open toward you, i.e. I have spoken freely and openly 2 Cor 6:11 (cp. Ezk 16:63; 29:21 and ἄνοιξις).

Incidentally, its important to note that the 5a referenced in definition 7 is exactly the place where our reference to Acts 10:34 appears. This caught my attention.

So then, I turned to LSJ. Not much there. But more helpful was LSJ’s entry for ἄνοιξις.

ἄνοιξις, εως, ἡ, opening, πυλῶν Th.4.67, 68; πόρων Thphr.Od.13; χειλῶν Plu.2.738c, cf. PMag.Lond.46.274 (iv a.d.): pl., Porph.Antr.27; ἄ. τοῦ στόματος, Hebraism for παρρησία, LxxEz.29.21, 2Ep.Cor.6.11, Ep.Eph.6.19, etc.

And now my Greek studying friends, what does παρρησία means?

If you said, outspokenness or frankness, then you’re on the right track.

And that is why I do not think that Ἀνοίξας δὲ Πέτρος τὸ στόμα is a formal expression.

Besides, I think it fits the context, what Peter says in the following verses wasn’t planned or at least not completely. I’m sure Peter had a planned message or speech, but what Cornelius told him about the events of the previous several days changed things. And that’s why he says ἐπʼ ἀληθείας, which I think makes more sense as an adverbial usage (cf. BDAG ἐπί, definition 5).

6 thoughts on “Acts 10:34-35 – Formal or Frank?

  1. Mike,

    Thanks for thinking on this with us. Very helpful.

    The labeling of the speech intro as ‘formal’ came from the NET Bible notes (hence the comment about the NET Bible). Thanks for looking further.

    On the prepositional phrase (which was our main interest)- would you translate ‘truly’? Is ‘adverbial’ a big enough category to include our rendering? Or do you understand it differently?

    D&T

    1. Would I translate it as “truly”? I’m not sure.

      I like the CEV’s use of “certain.” I think that comes close…and the idea of certainty could very well tie into your translation…though I’m not sure that I would call “In accordance with reality” natural English – I tend to only use the word accordance with reference to Bible software.

  2. Mike,
    While this may be (also) a semitic idiom, Aristophanes does have his Messenger saying this (in Birds 1719):

    Μούσης ἀνοίγειν ἱερὸν εὔφημον στόμα.

    How foreign is this (mouth opening) really? And more to your point, is the phrase indicative of anything “formal” (as per the NET bible commentary)?

    1. LSJ claims its a Hebraism as does L&N, but your reference here definitely challenges that.

      Contextually, is there anything formal about Aristophanes’ use of the phrase? Or does it express candidness?

      1. Is there anything formal about Aristophanes!? Don’t know if his use of language, as ostensibly formal, can be classified as anything but candidess.

        The context, – as with so much in the plays of Aristophanes and especially in Birds with its Cloudcuckooland (Νεφελοκοκκυγία) – , has the Messenger heralding in the arrival of the protagonist (Pisthetaerus) and his bride, as king and queen of the birds.

        It’s faux formality:

        ἀλλὰ χρὴ θεᾶς Μούσης ἀνοίγειν ἱερὸν εὔφημον στόμα.

        (“Let the sacred Muse open her lips in a triumphal holy song.” trans. Ian Johnston, 2003;

        “Now let the heavenly Muse Open her lips with pure auspicious strains.” trans. Benjamin Bickley Rogers, 1924.)

        Eventually, the Chorus starts chirping (what to humans is) birdlike nonsense (1764-65):

        ἀλαλαλαὶ ἰὴ παιών, τήνελλα καλλίνικος, ὦ δαιμόνων ὑπέρτατε.

        (“Alalalalai—Raise triumphal cries of joy, sing out the noble victor’s song—the mightiest and highest of all gods!” – Johnston)

        Eugene O’Neill, Jr. (1938) can only transliterate most of that:

        “Alalalai ie Paian! Tenella kallinikos! Loftiest art thou of gods!”)

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