[The ESV] retains theological terminology—words such as… propitiation—because of their central importance for Christian doctrine and also because the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times.The ESV translators are in good company if numbers count. Most English Bible translators have used technical theological terms to translate hilasmos and a number of other Greek words which they believe are technical terms.
But is the assumption correct that "the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times"? To answer that question requires careful lexicographical work, comparing the meanings of Greek words in the New Testament to the meanings those words had outside the New Testament. I have not done this required careful, extensive study myself, but others have. And I can say that for any Greek word which I have studied I have yet to find one which had such specialized usage in the New Testament, compared to its extrabiblical usage, that a technical term was required for its translation to English.
The Greek word hilasmos was commonly known to Greek speakers. It referred to appeasing or neutralizing the anger of the gods. Most English speakers today do not know what the word "propitiation" means. If we translate a Greek word which was well known by an English word which is not, we have not translated accurately. That is, we have not translated so that the meaning of the English word (or words) used are as well known to English Bible users as was the meaning of the original Greek word to its users.
I propose that the most accurate translation of hilasmos would be to an English word (or words) whose meaning is the same as that of hilasmos and which is just as well known as was the meaning of hilasmos to those who read or heard the original Greek New Testament passages which contained this word. And the same principle would hold for other technical terms which have been used in English translations, such as "righteousness", "sanctification", "predestination", etc.
What might such an accurate translation of hilasmos be for today's English speakers? Why not translate it as it is defined by careful lexicographers of ancient Greek, as something like "appease his anger" or "cause him not to be angry with you any more"? When someone is angry at you and you do something which causes them no longer to be angry at you, what English words do you use to refer to what your action did to their anger? Those words, it seems to be, would be the most accurate translation of hilasmos.
True, a clear, accurate translation of hilasmos might take more than one English word, but it is well known that it often takes a different number of words to translate a single word or more than one word from one language to another. The Cheyenne language, with which I work, has verbs which almost always must be translated to English with more than one word. The single Cheyenne verb Naohkesaa'one'seomepevetsisto'aneherequires several English words for an accurate translation, which, in this case would be: "I truly do not pronounce the Cheyenne language well." Greek verbs are similar to Cheyenne verbs in that they typically are composed of more than one meaning part (morpheme). No one objects to translating Greek verbs with more than one English word. Similarly, we should not object when a Greek noun requires more than one word for its meaning to be accurately translated to current English.
Better Bibles will translate the meaning of the original words (and syntax) of the Bible into English which not only accurately communicates the same meaning, but does so with words which are as well known to English speakers as were the original biblical words to those who heard or read them.
Categories: Bible translation, technical terms, theological terms, propitiation, lexicography