Questions From Readers
At Matthew 3:7, why does the “New World Translation” use the longer expression “caught sight of” rather than “saw” as used in many other Bible translations?
Actually, either rendering could be used and would not be wrong. And not all languages readily lend themselves to expressing the flavor of the original Greek in this instance. But the way Matthew 3:7 is expressed in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in English conveys the flavor found in the underlying Greek text. We read: “When [John the Baptizer] caught sight of many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the baptism, he said to them: ‘You offspring of vipers, who has intimated to you to flee from the coming wrath?’”
As noted, many Bibles say simply that John “saw” Pharisees and Sadducees coming out to where he was baptizing Jews. Did the Bible mean, though, that John saw this happening over a period of time, as if he watched it for a while and was finally moved to comment on the hypocrisy of their course? The rendering “saw” could lead to such an understanding. In fact, that sense comes to the fore in the rendering by Ferrar Fenton, which says: “But observing many of the Pharisees . . .”
The Greek tense of the verb is what is called aorist. The aorist expresses a punctiliar, or momentary, action, whereas the present tense expresses progressive action (to be doing) and the perfect tense is essentially an action that is completed (to have done). So the sense of the aorist verb at Matthew 3:7 is that John the Baptizer at one point saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming, or “he caught sight” of them. As soon as he did, he responded, as we read in Mt 3 verses 7-12.
There are quite a number of instances of this aorist tense used with this sense. Our recognizing its flavor can lead to our gaining a richer feeling for what the Bible is saying.
For example, Matthew 9:9 says: “While passing along from there, Jesus caught sight of a man named Matthew seated at the tax office, and he said to him: ‘Be my follower.’ Thereupon he did rise up and follow him.” Jesus did not have to spend a long time observing Matthew, nor did he have to observe Matthew repeatedly. Jesus caught sight of Matthew, and He acted.
Those are two examples of the care of the New World Translation as to Greek verbs in the aorist tense. Consider some similar occurrences, and see what additional flavor you find:
“When, now, he came into the ruler’s house and caught sight of the flute players and the crowd in noisy confusion, Jesus began to say: ‘Leave the place, for the little girl did not die, but she is sleeping.’”—Matthew 9:23, 24.
“When they caught sight of him walking on the sea, the disciples were troubled, saying: ‘It is an apparition!’ And they cried out in their fear. But at once Jesus spoke to them with the words: ‘Take courage, it is I.’”—Matthew 14:26, 27.
“Now one of the presiding officers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, came and, on catching sight of [Jesus], he fell at his feet and entreated him many times, saying: ‘My little daughter is in an extreme condition. Would you please come and put your hands upon her.’”—Mark 5:22, 23.
“As he got near the gate of the city [of Nain], why, look! there was a dead man being carried out, the only-begotten son of his mother. Besides, she was a widow. A considerable crowd from the city was also with her. And when the Lord caught sight of her, he was moved with pity for her, and he said to her: ‘Stop weeping.’”—Luke 7:12, 13.
“So Mary, when she arrived where Jesus was and caught sight of [Jesus], fell at his feet, saying to him: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping and the Jews that came with her weeping, groaned in the spirit.”—John 11:32, 33.
If you would like to read additional instances, look up Acts 7:23-25; 9:39, 40; 21:32; 28:3-5; and 1 John 5:16. Doing so may further illustrate how satisfying it can be for keen students of the Bible to broaden, or deepen, their grasp of what is written in God’s Word.