Acts 4:20: Translating Double Negatives

I read Acts 4:20 the other day, and wondered about the best way to translate the verse in to English.

DiagramGrammatically, the sentence goes like this: after the initial conjunction (γαρ) there is a negated 1pl verb which happens to be δυναμαι. As is often the case, this verb requires a complementary infinitive to make sense of the verb (e.g. “we are not able…to do something). In this case, the infinitive is also negated (with μη since it is non-indicative). Inbetween the verb and its complement is an accusative relative clause acting as the object of the infinitive (“what things we saw and heard”).

Here’s how a number of English translations tackled the construction (in no particular order):

ESV: for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard

NIV: For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard

NET: for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard

NLT: We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard

NRSV: for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard

HSCB: for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard

KJV: For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard

NASB: for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard

One thought on “Acts 4:20: Translating Double Negatives

  1. Hey Simon, never heard of the HBSC translation before. Fancy telling us your thoughts on the translation, it’s accuracy and it’s textual basis? Maybe a blog post on it?

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