How should we understand λαμβάνω in John 5:34?

ἐγὼ δὲ οὐ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου τὴν μαρτυρίαν λαμβάνω, ἀλλὰ ταῦτα λέγω ἵνα ὑμεῖς σωθῆτε. (John 5:34, NA27)

While many more literal translations translate λαμβάνω as receive or accept:

Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. (John 5:34, ESV)

I don’t receive man’s testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. (John 5:34, HCSB)

Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. (John 5:34–35, NIV)

The more paraphrased translations translate λαμβάνω differently, but with a somewhat common theme:

It is not that I must have a human witness; I say this only in order that you may be saved. (John 5:34, TEV)

Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. (John 5:34, NLT)

It is not that I need what humans say; I tell you this so you can be saved. (John 5:34, NCB)

But my purpose is not to get your vote, and not to appeal to mere human testimony. I’m speaking to you this way so that you will be saved. (John 5:34, The Message)

More specifically, I’m asking is there a linguistic reason for how λαμβάνω is paraphrased, or is it solely based on context? Even BAGD only assigns a more literal meaning to this verse:

d. receive, accept … J 5:34; ….

Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 464). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • There is also συλλαμβανο (conceive or take) and καταλαμβανο (comprehend or apprehend) to consider. Which makes the 'paraphrased' translations look somewhat inadequate, in my own view. +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 28 '19 at 21:40
  • 1
    I like to consult the LXX and see what Hebrew word/phrase is translated in the Greek. And vice versa. Especially since the NT authors I imagine thought in Hebrew and it was their mother tongue even if they were born outside of Israel. I found this word to be translated from נסה / נשׂא nâśâ' / nâsâh and the best word I see in the English for both in English would be ‘regard’. As in to take into account, to consider. Examples 2 kings 3:14, Isaiah 49:25, Jeremiah 23:39, Ezekiel 24:16. Thought I’d share, might help some. Jul 29 '19 at 3:17

BDAG offers two translations of John 5:34:

  • the testimony I receive is not from a human being, or,
  • I will not accept mere human testimony (note that "mere" had to be added)

The matter at stake here is: What, primarily, is the word "not" [οὐ (ou)] attached to? In the first option above it is attached to "from man" and thus serves as a negation of the entire sentence; and in the second option it is attached to "receive/accept".

The most literal word-for-word rendering (which is often misleading) is the first because of placement and proximity. However, οὐ (ou) is an adverb of negation which (strictly grammatically) applies to the verb, λαμβάνω (lambanō = accept/receive) which lends weight to the second option - hence the more literal Bible versions.

Neither option is completely wrong. I presume that the more paraphrased versions have noticed the literary contrast made between v33 & v34 - the Jews wanted John (a human's) testimony (v33), but Jesus does not accept nor need a human testimony.

I personally prefer "But I do not accept the testimony from humans … ", because the alternative implies here (but is absent from the immediate text) that Jesus has available the testimony from heaven. While this is true, that is not what the text is saying. Jesus wants us to accept Him for what He is, "so that you might be saved" (John 5:34b).

The Pulpit Commentary notes that:

Verse 34. - But I for my part receive not the witness which affirms my Sonship from a man; or, yet the witness which I receive is not from man. Some have given the stronger meaning of "take hold," or "snatch," or "strive after," to λαμβάνω. But this is unnecessary, for emphasis is laid on the article, "the witness," which is real, infallible, convincing, commanding, must come from the highest source of all. Yet, though Christ cannot depend upon John's testimony, it ought to have had weight with his hearers. It called them to repentance, to holy living, to faith in the Coming One.

  • I guess if this were a Greek or Hebrew idiom meaning what was paraphrased, we would find it stated in the commentaries. The Pulpit Commentary makes sense, but is not easy to translate.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 29 '19 at 0:30
  • I chased a lot of rabbits, but couldn't get any farther than your answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 30 '19 at 1:50

Thayer has two pages on the verb λαμβανο which are headed up :

I - to take with the hand, lay hold of

II - to receive

My 1,700 page Liddell & Scott (American Edition 1854), similarly has a couple of columns summed up as :

A - to take hold of, grasp, seize

B - to have given one, receive, get

The KJV, Young's Literal, and the Englishman's Greek New Testament all agree :

But I receive not testimony from man [KJV]

But I do not receive testimony from man [YLT]

I but not from man witness receive [EGNT literal]

The Douay Rheims also agrees :

But I receive not testimony from man [D-R]

and the Wycliffe . . and J N Darby . . . and Tyndale :

But I take not witness from man [Wyc]

But I do not receive witness from man [JND]

But I receive not the record of man [Tyn]

I can see no reason whatsoever for the 'paraphrased' versions to depart from the above.

  • This does not address the central question of the OP - what is the subtlety in the Greek
    – user25930
    Jul 29 '19 at 22:58
  • @Mac'sMusings I have answered the head question : How should we understand λαμβάνω in John 5:34 ? And I have answered the question 'Is there a linguistic reason for how λαμβάνω is paraphrased ? To which I have answered 'no reason'.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 29 '19 at 23:32
  • That is factually correct but there is no justification given for that view except to quote a number of "preferred" versions. I think the Greek text does provide some justification, perhaps not enough but there is some.
    – user25930
    Jul 30 '19 at 0:49
  • @Mac'sMusings I am content to be 'factually correct'. And I am content to follow established authorities. I disagree that the Greek text provides the 'justification' to which you refer. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 30 '19 at 8:51
  • 1
    @Mac'sMusings As they say in the House of Commons - I refer the Honourable Member to the answer I gave previously. (I am content to follow established authorities.)
    – Nigel J
    Jul 30 '19 at 9:43

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