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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Out of Egypt I have called my son

In my preceding post I mentioned that I wanted to start a series on how some English Bible versions have made the Bible even more evangelical than it already is. This series will be my attempt to answer Phil's questions quoted at the beginning of the preceding post.

Here is my first post in the series "Christianizing the Old Testament through translation." This first post is about a hypothetical translation issue. I decided to start with an easy, hypothetical example, since they sometimes are easier to understand in terms of the underlying translation principle. I have not seen a Bible version actually translate this hypothetical way, but it is a possible translation, and the translation issue exhibited here is one that is very real in some other passages.

As many of you know, the New Testament "quotes" the Old Testament in some interesting ways. There has been much scholarly discussion about this. It is not necessary to refer to all that discussion (Ahah! Just maybe we'll get a shorter post this time!!) to follow the translation issue involved.

In Matthew 2:14-15 we are told:
14 And he [Joseph) rose and took the child [Jesus] and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” (RSV)
OK? A New Testament author (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, according to my theological system) has taken an Old Testament passage and found in it messianic fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew takes the Old Testament wording, "“Out of Egypt have I called my son" to refer to Jesus, God's son.

Now, let's look at the Old Testament passage which Matthew quoted. It is Hosea 11:1-2 (I include v. 2 to make the context even clearer):
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and burning incense to idols.
Who does it sound like Hosea, the prophet, was referring to by "my son" who was called out of Egypt? Well, it is quite clear that Hosea is referring to the people of Israel, who are explicitly named in Hosea 11:2.

So, what is the potential translation issue here? Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, finds messianic fulfillment of prophecy in the fact that baby Jesus was brought back from Egypt. Many of us who accept Jesus as Messiah find great value in New Testament passages which quote Old Testament passages as fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew 2:15 is another one of those wonderful passages of messianic fulfillment.

OK, let's keep going with our messianic line of thinking. Matthew says that "my son" who was called out of Egypt was Jesus. We who believe in progressive revelation (as I do) would value the Matthew quote of Hosea. If we follow some typical Bible translation principles, we would then take Matthew's (and the Holy Spirit's) interpretation of "my son" as referring to Jesus, and use that to help us translate Hosea 11:1. Now, instead of simply referring to "my son" we could make the messianic connection clearer. One way would be to capitalize "Son" to indicate that it refers to divinity, the Son of God, like this:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My Son.
Have you followed the logic so far? We have used a New Testament passage which refers to an Old Testament passage as messianic fulfillment to help us make the quoted Old Testament passage itself clearly messianic.

This is the principle of using the New Testament as a guide to translating the Old Testament. It is important to many Bible translators that Old Testament passages which have messianic fulfillment in the New Testament be clearly translated as referring to the Messiah in their original Old Testament wording.

Do you agree with this principle? Do you agree that this principle should be applied to the translation of Hosea 11:1? If you do not believe this principle should be applied to the translation of Hosea 11:1, why not? If you are not convinced that this principle should be applied at all, or only for certain Old Testament passages, why not?

How do we decide which Old Testament passages to translate in a way that will clearly indicate a "Christian" Messianic interpretation of those passages?

It's past my bedtime so I should stop for now. You can think on these important questions and try to answer them in the comments to this post, and you can also wait for the next post in this series, on "Christianizing the Old Testament through translation."

Good night, sleep tight,
and try not to let the bed bugs bite!

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At Mon Jun 27, 02:44:00 PM, Anonymous Dave Rattigan said...

Agh. Such a translation would be disastrous, mainly because it wouldn't be a translation at all.

I look forward to seeing some concrete examples of this Christianizing of the OT from actual Bible translations. I would guess Isaiah 7:14 is one of them.

At Mon Jun 27, 07:51:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Stay tuned, Dave. The next posts will be about actual examples, and they will not make everyone happy, unfortunatley, because there are such intense feelings on this topic. My first post was quite "safe"!


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