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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Translation vs. Transliteration: Mystery

Kenny has another post in his translation vs. transliteration series, which I believe started here, where he mentions angel, apostle, Christ, evangelist, hades, gehenna, etc. I have been thinking about a few others, like bishop, deacon, eglise (church in French) and synagogue. There are many more.

In this more recent post Kenny tackles the word 'mystery'. After discussing relevant background material he concludes,

    The mystery was not revealed in former times, but it has now been revealed by the Spirit, and Jesus gave us special instructions as to what to do with His secrets: "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops" (Matthew 10:27, cf. Luke 12:3).

    I conclude, therefore, that the New Testament's use of this word implicitly sets up a contrast between Christianity and the Pagan mystery cults: whereas the Pagans carefully guard their mysteries, the Christians are eager to announce them from the housetops! God's revelation, once given, is given to all mankind. All are welcome and invited to come and learn the mysteries of God. You need not go to any particular location or perform any particular ritual: we, the Church, will come to you to teach you the mysteries God has revealed to us.
    This creates something of a difficulty for the translator, because modern audiences do not have familiarity with these kinds of religious "mysteries." As I mentioned, we have some secret societies that resemble the mystery cults, but modern religions tend not to work this way (although Mormonism does have some rituals that are open only to higher-level members of the church). As such, we do not have a term for this.

    The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to use the word "mystery" to refer to a mystical ritual, but this isn't quite right for Paul's usage either. Mystery is the word used in references to these things in writing about Greek culture and religion, so if the target audience of a translation is made up of hellenists, then keeping the word mystery is appropriate. Also, many "church people" have been taught the Pauline meaning of mystery as something that had never before been revealed to mankind, so this audience, although it doesn't catch the implicit contrast with Paganism, does get the correct meaning. But what about translations for more "mainstream" audiences?


At Mon Jan 16, 01:58:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Very, very interesting, Suzanne. I think a lot of people today read 'mystery' as something 'mysterious', or (in a certain kind of church) something like the Holy Sacrament which is beyond theological conceptualisations (what a word, eh?). Whereas I understand Paul to mean something like 'an open secret'. I don't think the English word 'mystery' does us any good at all in translating Paul, but I'm at a loss to know what better word to suggest.

Tim C.

At Tue Jan 17, 04:08:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

When I think of "mysteries", I think of someone like Pythagoras, and his hierarchical model of teaching and discriminating among students. Gnosticism has some of the same traits as well.

I wouldn't know what a better/modern translation would be in place of "mystery", but there are parallels in some modern religious organizations, I think: Scientology, Masonic lodges, "New Thought" movements in general...

The one word or phrase that's probably synonymous with the way in which these groups think of "mystery" is probably something connotates the idea "advancement". "Advanced knowledge". Or, in Gnostic terms, "hidden knowledge".

At Tue Jan 17, 06:45:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Yes, but that's not what Paul meant by mysterion, is it? The 'mystery' in Paul means something that used to be secret but has now been revealed to everyone, yes?

At Tue Jan 17, 07:17:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

"Yes, but that's not what Paul meant by mysterion, is it?"

No, I don't think so at all. Everytime Paul refers to "mystery", he's referring to messianic prophecy, the fulfillment of it through Jesus.

When he talks about it being "revealed", he always uses it in conjunction with the "Good News" -- Something very much out in the open and preached on top of housetops (else it wouldn't be called Good News).

It's not a "mystery" or a "secret" in the pagan, new age, or gnostic sense. Religions which espouse that knowledge and enlightment can only be gained through some initiation rite or a path of Buddahood.

At Tue Jan 17, 07:29:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

I should also extend Paul's definition not merely to the fulfillment of messianic prophecy, but the fulfillment of the messianic covenant specifically -- Namely the covenant of grace through Jesus, with no wall of seperation between Jew or Gentile.

At Wed Jan 18, 04:05:00 AM, Blogger Rey said...

The mystery of Christ in you?

At Wed Jan 18, 10:22:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

"Christ in you" certainly shouldn't be kept secret, it should be proclaimed to all.


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