So as I was writing my midterm paper for my New Testament class, I encountered an odd translation blip that I find most, most interesting. We’ve been talking a lot in class about the “Epistolary Formula” that all literate Greeks knew how to use, which had elaborate rules for opening, closing, and introducing the main topic of the letter.* One of the closing points is “a reflection on the act of writing and a promise to visit”: ie, the writer of the letter usually says something like “I have much to say to you but I would rather not write with pen and ink, but I will visit you soon and we can speak face to face.”
In the English, “face to face” is a totally normal idiom. However, this is not a correct translation. If it were truly face to face, the words would be “prosoton pros prosoton” (πρόσωτον προσ πρόσωτον). But in the Greek, the idiom is στόμα προς στόμα, stoma pros stoma, or mouth to mouth. I find this hugely fascinating because it does not signal a visual reunion, but rather a connection via the physicality of speech: what is important about a meeting in person is not that they see one another, but that they share sound with one another, sound coming from breath, and breath being an enormous component of life. In 3 John, he also tells Gaius (the recipient of his letter) to greet all of his friends (and this is truly translated as friends, since the word is φίλος and not αδέλφος, or brother, which is usually used to address Christians in the early community) each by name, also recalling act of speech, rather than the act of seeing.
Knowing Greek is totally rocking. I’ve accidently used the phrase “greeking out” multiple times.
*Footnote: I consistently misspell Epistolary as epistulary because of my NT teacher’s EXTREMELY STRONG German accent.)