“A little help!”

The NRSV has a strangely bland translation of Romans 15:24:

when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while.

The bland part is where it says “to be sent on.” That’s a unfairly wooden translation of the Greek word propempto. Literally, the word means just that: pempto (“I send”) plus pro- (“forth”). But what it really means is to help someone go forth.

To send someone that way sometimes means to accompany them. That’s what it means in Acts 21:5, where Luke writes that “all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city,” and Acts 20:38, when the Ephesian elders brought Paul to the ship.

But more typically, especially in the Epistles, to send someone forth means to provide them with material support for their journey. This is particularly clear in Titus 3:13, which tells the recipients to send on Zenas the Lawyer and Apollos, “and see that they lack nothing.” BDAG offers this definition: “to assist someone in making a journey, send on one’s way with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc.”

ESV is better, if still a little awkward:

I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

NIV is better still:

I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

The problem with the NRSV’s bland translation is it disguises what Paul is doing: asking for money. In Romans 15:24, Paul is saying he wants the Roman church to help him get to Spain. In 1 Corinthians 16:6, he says he doesn’t even know yet where he’ll be going.

By disguising what Paul is saying, this failure-to-translate hides the implicit teaching, that this is what churches do: provide support to people who are doing ministry beyond their immediate neighborhood. And worse, it fails to teach people (e.g., pastors and elders) to ask for such support, the way Paul used to.

One thought on ““A little help!”

  1. Luke,

    Our little country church commissioned our first foreign missionary in thirty-some years on Sunday, sending a member of our congregation, a young lady affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, to Asia for a year. (We aren’t her only financial support.)

    Thanks for the post. Appreciated.


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