The meaning of Almost in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
ol'-most (en oligo): In Acts 26:28 the Greek en oligo does not mean "almost," although scholars have for centuries translated the clause "Almost thou persuadest me to become a Christian." The revisers saw clearly the errors of their predecessors, so far as the signification of the first two words is concerned; but their explanation of the sentence is also erroneous; for the Greek cannot mean "With but little persuasion thou wouldst fain make me a Christian." Paul's reply proves that en oligo must be taken with the last word poiesai, not with peitheis, since he takes up Agrippa's en oligo, couples it with en megalo and continues with genesthai which is the regular passive of poiesai (compare Lysias xii.71 with 72). And the idea of "Christian" is also taken up and repeated in hopoios kai ego eimi.
An investigation of the usage of en oligo shows that it was never used in the sense of "almost." soil from the peoples, mostly of their own blood, who have given up
The phrase occurs first in the Hymn to Hermes, 240, and here it is evidently an abbreviated expression for the Homeric oligo eni choro (M 423). Compare K 161, P 394. But it was used for both time and place, with the substantive expressed or understood (Thuc. i.93.1; iii.66.3; iv.26.3; iv.55.3; ii.84.3; ii.86.5; iv.96.3; v.112; vii.67.3; vii.87.1; Pind. Pyth. viii.131; Eur. Suppl. 1126; Hel. 771; Isoc. iv.83; Dem. lviii.60; iii.18). These uses persist from Homer far down into the post-classical literature (Plut. Per. 159 F; Coriol. 217 F; Mark 427 A; Crass. 547 C; Polyb. x.18; Appian, Mithrad. 330; Themistius xi.143 C; Eustath. II.B, p.339.18). In the New Testament the phrase occurs also in Ephesians 3:3. Here too the common versions are incorrect. The clause in which the phrase occurs means simply, "as I said a little while ago"—the addition of en oligo merely indicates that the interval indicated by pro is short, an idea which would have been expressed in classical Greek by the simple dative, oligo and the adverb proteron (Ar. Thesm. 578; Aeschin. i. 2, 26, 72, 165; ii. 77, 147). Only a short while before Paul had expressed practically the same thought (Ephesians 3:3) and in almost identical language.
Consequently, en oligo, in the New Testament, means "a little," and is equivalent to oligos which occurs in II Peter 2:18. In classical writers the idea would have been expressed by oligon, or kat' oligon. So en oligo, which originally signified "in a little space" (or time), comes to mean simply "a little (bit)," ein bischen, but is never equivalent to oligou ("within a little") in any period of the language. The King James translators disregarded the real significance of poiesai, or adopted the reading of the inferior manuscripts (genesthai), so as to make the rest of the sentence harmonize with their translation of the first two words; and the revisers force the last two words into an impossible service, since the object of poiesai of which Christianon is the lucrative predicate, must be a third person, but certainly not Agrippa. Some scholars are of the opinion that the thought is: "You are trying to persuade me so as to make me a Christian." This is, indeed, the Spanish version; but examples show that the infinitive after peithein was used in a different sense. The best manuscript reads PITHEIS. This might, of course, stand for peitheis. But mepitheis may point to an original mepipotheis. Compare James 4:5 and II Corinthians 5:2, Plato Leg. 855 E. If these contentions be correct, the verb means simply "earnestly desire," and not "persuade." Compare Herod. v.93; Plato Protag. 329 D; Aesch. Persian. 542; Soph. Phil. 534; Eur. H.F. 1408; I.T. 542; Cycl. 68; Ion 1432, Ar. Lys. 605, tou dei; ti potheis; Agrippa is asking, "What do you want, Paul? What are you trying to do? Make me a Christian?" The implication in Paul's reply is that he is very desirous indeed of making him a Christian. And this interpretation harmonizes with the scene. The apostle's business at this juncture is not to convert heathen to Christianity; for he is in chains before Agrippa, Berenice, Festus and prominent men of Caesarea, meta polles phantasias (Acts 26:23), to answer the charges brought against him by the Jews. But he holds forth at length and with such ardor that the Roman king says (though not necessarily in irony): "You seem to be anxious to make me a Christian in small measure." And Paul responds: "both small and great." All the manuscripts, except Sinaiticus, have peitheis (Alexandrinus PEITHE). Several read genesthai (instead of poiesai). Wetstenius (Amsterdam 1752) and Knapp (Halle 1829) follow these manuscripts. So most of the old translates: Coverdale (1535), "Thou persuadest me in a parte to become a Christen"; Biblia Sacra (Paris 1745) "In modico suades me C. fieri"; a Latin MS, 14th century, now in Lane Semitic., Cincinnati; Rosenmueller's Scholia (1829), "Parum abest quin mihi persuadeas ut fiam"; Stier und Theile's Polyglotten Bibel (1849), Tregelles (1857-1879, with Jerome's version); Edouard Reuss, Histoire apostolique (Paris 1876), "Tu vas me persuader bientot de devenir Chretien." The translation of Queen Elizabeth's Bible is "Somewhat thou bryngeste me in minde for to become Chryste." Wycliffe renders "In litil thing thou councelist me for to be maad a Christen man." Erasmus takes en oligo in the sense of "a little." Calvin's rendering, "Thou writ make me a Christian in a moment," has been adopted in various countries (Wetstenius, Kuinoel, Neander, de Wette, Lange, Robinson, Hackett, Conybeare). The older scholars generally hold to "almost" (Valla, Luther, Beza, Grotius, Castalio, Du Veil, Bengel, Stier). Some interpret the phrase "with little labor" (Oecumenius, Olshausen, Baumgarten, Meyer, Lechler). Neander maintains that if we adopt the readings en megalo in Paul's answer, Agrippa's words must be explained "with a few reasons" ("which will not cost you much trouble"). Meyer-Wendt (Kritisch-exegetisches Handbuch uber die Apostelgeschichte) translates "mit Weregem imnerredest du mich Christ zu werden." Meyer himself conceives the words to have been spoken sarcastically. Se Classical Review, XXII, 238-41.
J. E. Harry
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