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I'm used to reading the Bible in Finnish, so 1 Corinthians 9:27 seems very non-literal in most English translations. The Finnish 1992 translation is usually quite dynamic, but in this case it starts "Kohdistan iskut omaan ruumiiseeni" which literally means "I focus the blows to my own body". The way for example ESV renders this almost seems like a paraphrase in comparison:

1 Corinthians 9:27 (ESV)
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

What really interests me is that someone suggested the Greek really literally means "I focus the blows under my eye". This would really make the passage way more severe. So what does the passage literally say?

For reference, an interlinear translation. I looked at it and it looks to confirm the Finnish (vs. English) translation, but also suggests to me that the "under my eye" part is inconceivable.

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That's an interesting question. The confusion in translation lies with the second word here. –  Richard Oct 13 '11 at 17:37

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The confusion with the translation lies in this word: hypōpiazō. If we look at Strong's Concordance for this, we see the following definition:

Strongs G5299

  1. to beat black and blue, to smite so as to cause bruises and livid spots
    1. like a boxer one buffets his body, handle it roughly, discipline by hardships
  2. metaph.
    1. to give one intolerable annoyance
      a) beat one out, wear one out b) by entreaties
  3. that part of the face that is under the eyes

The first two definitions seem pretty clear that it involves beating or annoyance. The third makes me seriously question Strong's...

Etymology

The Blue Letter Bible shows that that the source of this word is the conjunction of hypo with a derivitive of optanomai. These two words combined form the basis for that third definition of hypopiazo.

The definition of these two words:

hypo - "by, under"
optanomai - "to look at, behold" or "to be seen, to appear"

So the idea of the conjunction of these two concepts could be seen as being defined as "the part of the face under the eyes".

Translation/Context

I believe that Strong's adds that third definition of the word purely based on the etymology. If we keep in mind the fact that this is a verb, we see that "the part of the face that is under the eyes" doesn't really do anything. If this third translation was related to some other part of our body that had action (mouth, legs, feet, lips, eyelids, hair, etc.) I can see that the definition could be that. However, with the etymology being an area that has no action and cannot take part in action, I feel that the third definition is probably not useful for this.

So we see the passage:

αλλ' υπωπιάζω μου το σώμα

[But] [?????] [My] [... body]

What is Paul doing to his body? Is it something to do with the part of the face under his eyes? I doubt it.

I think we can be confident in the translation of "bruise". We could even be confident of the translation "beat" or "beat black and blue" in this sense. The translation "discipline" is more of a loose translation than "bruise". In this sense "bruise" is the literal translation.

See Translation Philosophy of the English Standard Version for more information.

Summary

The literal, word-for-word translation from Greek would be:

"But [I beat-black-and-blue] my body"

Although that word has roots that mean "under the eye", it is a verb and should be understood based on the word definition, which is "to bruise" or "to beat black and blue", rather than the source of the word, which would be "under the eyes".

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Great explanation! Thanks! –  dancek Oct 13 '11 at 22:33
    
A. T. Robertson mentions Aristophanes, Aristotle, and Plutarch in using "buffet". –  fumanchu Oct 14 '11 at 1:08
    
Paul sounds very paganistic - penance himself by punishing himself violently. –  Blessed Geek Oct 19 '12 at 9:24
    
This is an interesting answer, but do keep in mind that Strong's is a concordance, not a lexicon, and generally free tools that use Strong's rely on outdated lexical resources. Could you also reference what a more recent (and more reliable) lexicon says? –  Daи Sep 16 '13 at 15:25

Also I've often just quoted the verse 1.Cor9:26 to support the importance of being well trained in teaching the Scripture and defeating false ideas, but here the passage from vss 24-27 are a uniformity, ie. seem to now show the whole process of copying the life sacrifices and almost Spartan way of life to lead oneself in the race of life, everlasting reward promised to all victors...and the pummeling strokes are aimed at oneself,even as ones trying to become representatives in world sports....

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Artie - thank you for your input. Do you see this verse as a struggle with the old nature, which Paul describes in Romans 7? Paul describes people in his epistles to Timothy who have been discredited; that is, some had turned to follow Satan and/or the world. Can you develop these points while minimizing your opinion as much as possible? In other words, can you make the text tell us what it says about itself with as little of your opinion as possible? That would help us to find what the texts really say, since so many people have so many views about what the texts say.... Thanks! –  Joseph Jun 4 at 11:51

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