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By Anthony D. Palma
The little Greek word kai is usually translated by the conjunction and in our English versions. The most common meaning of the Greek word is the conjunction and, but its usage is much broader and richer than our English equivalent. Our purpose is to look at two additional renderings of kai that will give a better understanding of some passages of Scripture.
The word is sometimes used to coordinate two nouns, one of which is dependent on the other. The technical term for this is hendiadys. In this usage one noun modifies the other in some way.
In Acts 23:6 Paul says he is on trial for “the hope and resurrection of the dead!” A better translation would be “the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
In Luke 21:15 Jesus promises, “I will give you power of utterance [mouth] and a wisdom which no opponent will be able to resist or refute.” The word wisdom should be taken to modify the word utterance so the translation would be, “I will give you wise utterance.”
This principle is sometimes important for theological reasons. In a number of passages we have expressions such as “our great God and Savior Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13; see also 2 Peter 1:1,16). Is Paul here talking about both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ? A better translation would be, “Our great Savior-God.” In Acts 13:52 we are told that the disciples were continually “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Again, a better understanding would be that they were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
In Colossians 1:2 is Paul talking about two distinct groups within the church when he says “to the saints and faithful brethren”? Nowhere else does he make distinction between those who are saints and those who are brothers. A better translation, therefore, is “to the faithful brother-saints.”
This Greek word kai has an additional meaning and at times may be translated “and so, that is, namely.” When it is so used, the noun that follows it explains something about the noun that precedes it.
This could very well be what Jesus had in mind when He talked about being born “of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). There are a number of interpretations of the particular passage, but perhaps Jesus simply meant, “Except one be born of water, that is, of the Spirit … ” As we know, water is often used in Scripture as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. At another point in John’s Gospel (7:38,39) we are clearly told that the water about which Jesus spoke was the Holy Spirit. Therefore in John 3:5 He may simply be stressing that the new birth takes place only by the agency of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is spiritual water, not the waters of baptism or the ceremonial cleansings of the Jews, which effect the new birth.
In Acts 10:38 Peter says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” He certainly did not mean that Jesus received two specific anointings — one with the Holy Spirit and one with power. The obvious meaning is that Jesus was not anointed with oil but with the Holy Spirit, and this was an anointing of power such as Jesus himself speaks of in Acts 1:8. Peter’s statement could also be taken as a hendiadys, and would therefore mean that Jesus was anointed with the powerful Holy Spirit.
The same thing applies to Matthew 3:11 where John the Baptist speaks of Jesus baptizing in the Holy Spirit and fire. These are not two separate baptisms — one in the Spirit and one in fire. The word fire could be an explanation telling us something about the Holy Spirit. Or perhaps this is also a hendiadys and ought to be translated, “He will baptize you in fiery Holy Spirit.” There is, of course, here an association with the fire on the Day of Pentecost.
One three-letter word in Greek (kai) most of the time is adequately translated by a three-letter word in English (and). But an understanding of the added meanings of the Greek word helps us interpret some passages more adequately and may also keep us from doctrinal error.
Anthony D. Palma, Th.D., a longtime Assemblies of God educator, lives in Springfield, Missouri.