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Friday, February 24, 2006

A New Literal Translation

Ben Witherington has posted a few examples of a translation that he is working on. Here is one example.

    Romans 3.22-26: But the righteousness of God through the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ, to all those believing, for there is not a differentiation/ distinction, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being righteous freely of his grace through the liberation which is in Christ Jesus whom God intended/set forth publicly as a means of propitiation through [his] faithfulness, in his blood as a proof/indication of his righteousness through the overlooking of previously commited sins, in the tolerance of God for a proof of his righteousness in the present time, unto his being righteous and making righteous those from the faith/faithfulness of Jesus.
I thought I would hazard a quick response. First, the simplest change in this translation is the consistent use of 'righteous' and 'righteousness', intead of 'just' here and 'righteous' there. This really reduces the confusion.

Second, using 'faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ'' is a nice way to reflect the ambiguity in the Greek.

Third, 'intended/set forth' is an excellent improvement and really demonstrates what is obvious in Greek over and over, the sense of a placement in space and a placement in time, both together in one word. There is so often this time/space continuum in Greek. This is my favourite improvement, because now it makes sense that Christ was intended in the past and a proof of God's righteousness in the present time. That sense of time comes out.

'Liberation' and 'tolerance' are two words which give the language a contemporary feel.

The only detail missing is the mercy-seat. Hmmm. Maybe 'means of propitiation/mercy-seat.'


At Fri Feb 24, 09:52:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Suzanne.

It is wonderful what is available to those not proficient in NT Greek or OT Hebrew/Aramaic.

Thought your thoughts on it were interesting as well. Sometimes I wonder why there had to be a change of translation of the same word even near (in the same sentence?) to that word used in the immediate context. Must be for stylistic purposes. Though sometimes a word may have a different feel or nuance to it when used in a different manner, even if in the same passage.

At Fri Feb 24, 11:02:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Just an innocent question: Who is this translation intended for? Or is it just a private project he is working on?

Very little of it would make sense to me if I wasn't a daily/fairly/somewhat seasoned bible reader in the first place (i.e. most of it is absolutely confusing without my "bible/religious language goggles" on).

Secondly, it would help a little if verse 21 was included:

[21 But now the righteousness of God has been revealed apart from Torah: though the Torah and Prophets attest to it: ]the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all those who believe -- For there is no a distinction: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God......

I thought I would hazard a quick response. First, the simplest change in this translation is the consistent use of 'righteous' and 'righteousness', intead of 'just' here and 'righteous' there. This really reduces the confusion.

I'm probably confused by what exactly your referencing here, and reading it wrong, but just my two cents: I'm not sure why the word "righteous" or "righteousness" belongs in the first place. "Justice" and "just" seem like better words to use consistently, since Paul is mainly employing judiciary language and imagery here (although it is tied in to a religiously oriented argument) -- Using the word "righteousness" or "faith" kind of obscures this.

I'll just cut it short here though...I'm not really qualified to talk about it much (but I'm sure someone here is). That, and it's time for go to bed anyways :)

At Fri Feb 24, 11:36:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Before I go to sleep, I just wanted to add a sidenote:

Why exactly is "mercy seat" a good alternative to "propitiation"? Paul may have been a Jew and referenced many Jewish ideas, but the idea of "propitiation/hilasterion" is not a specifically Jewish idea (which "mercy seat" would connotate).

If he wanted to, he would have been explicit and used a specific cultural reference to the festival of Yom Kippur or the Mercy Seat in his arguments, but yet, he didn't.

"Propitiation" is not only referencing a Jewish expression of sacrifice, but an idea that was linguistically and universally understood in Roman/Hellenistic sacrificial practice as well. Of course, he had in mind his Jewish ideas of the Mercy Seat, but he was also trying to communicate with non-Jews as well (he was an apostle "to the Gentiles" as we well know). Hilasterion was just a word in Greek -- not a Judaic word specifically referencing Mercy Seat. A better, modern translation of "propitiation" should be something more culturally generic, I think. "Appeasment" or "atonement" perhaps (though I'm sure there are even better alternatives)?

At Fri Feb 24, 11:37:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Sorry, I was not more clear. Mostly in English verse 26 is like this.

"It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."

But 'righteousness' is the same root as 'just' and 'justifier'. So it might be confusing. People might think that being 'just' and being 'righteous' are two different things, but they are the same in Greek. So why not lose the Latin root 'just' Or should we because of modern jurisprudence lose the older 'righteousness'?

Some people don't like Latin root words because it represents the domination of the more hierarchical church over the less hierarchical. How is that for an explanation!

I don't know. I can see that I might be alone in my enthusiasm. Oh well.

At Fri Feb 24, 11:39:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I just learned a lot about the concept of propitiation. Thanks for that.

At Sat Feb 25, 12:55:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

I guess I'm not ready for sleep just yet!

But 'righteousness' is the same root as 'just' and 'justifier'. So it might be confusing. People might think that being 'just' and being 'righteous' are two different things, but they are the same in Greek. So why not lose the Latin root 'just' Or should we because of modern jurisprudence lose the older 'righteousness'?

I'm not sure how to articulate my overall point very well here, but I guess I'm just trying to point out that in modern judiciary language, "just" and "justice" are used more often, and in modern religious settings, "righteous" and "righteousness" are used more (Maybe that's just a byproduct of the modern idea of "seperation between church and state", I don't know).

Even though all of these words essentially mean the same thing in an etymological sense, they don't really mean the same thing in a modern, cultural sense. The former conjures up images of courts, judges, sentences, and advocates, while the latter seems to be more personal, spiritual, saintly, and otherworldly.

In Paul's world, however, it was quite different. There wasn't this kind of a distinction, and when we use explicitly, modern, religious terminology like "righteous" and "righteousness", we're losing a little the implied imagery in his text here.

I think that if we used our modern equivalant of judicial terminology (i.e. just, justice, etc), it would present a clearer religious picture of what Paul is trying to illustrate here about God's "justice" better than what our modern, specifically religious words ever could.

Not that I have anything against a word like "righteous" -- I'm just pointing out that we may be losing a certain kind of imagery if we use them.

Besides all of that, there's an even larger debate going on between the New Perspective and Reformed Perspective of Paul about the phrase "righteousness of God", and whether or not it's talking about "God's justice and loyalty" or God's "imputed righteousness on sinners" -- My points about judiciary language is somewhat tied into this as well.....But....This is all probably out of the scope of this post (and again, I need to get some sleep! I'm probably not making much sense anyways :D ).

At Sat Feb 25, 01:12:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

Oh, and one last thing...

In the end, all I know is that Romans 3.21-26 has to be one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to translate "literally".

At Sat Feb 25, 06:56:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Do you really think an English translation that isn't for theologians should have the word 'propitiation' in it? Wouldn't it be better just to translated it as something like "satisfaction of wrath"?

I think there's a better reason to prefer Germanic roots to Latinate roots. Latinate roots tend to be more specialized and less commonly used by ordinary people. If you look at ordinary conversation of the average person, you'll find that they tend to use words with Germanic roots if there's a choice. People don't always write as they talk, and Latinate words tend to crop up more in writing, and those who spend a lot of time writing about intellectual matters tend to use Latinate words even more, even in conversation. When a more specific or technical nuance is necessary, we probably should turn to a Latinate word if it expresses it better, but ideally we should seek to avoid that if a Germanic root word captures it well. I think there should always be a preference for Germanic roots, all other things being equal (which is often not the case, however). I say this without confidence that there are Germanic roots for 'righteous'. I suspect that that's its origin, but I just don't know and don't want to bother logging in to my university to access the OED to find out.

This is one reason I disagree with your association of 'liberation' with a contemporary feel. I think it sounds old-fashioned and upper crust. I much prefer 'freedom'. The word 'tolerance' is also almost always worth avoiding, because so many people understand it differently. Classically it meant putting up with things you don't like. Nowadays it means accepting everything as good no matter what (except intolerance, which shouldn't be tolerated). Many who have spent a lot of time in the current university setting will be utterly confused about this word.

I notice one thing about his translation of "faith/faithfulness". Isn't it interesting that he doesn't do that when he speaks of Christ's own faithfulness? It's a semantically ambiguous word, but he thinks the context settles it. The reason he doesn't use 'faith' there is because some people will read it as saying that it's referring to both Christ's faithfulness and Christ's faith. If it's not, then in English it's best to leave out the one that contextually it couldn't mean. This is parallel to the point Packer makes about terms that can semantically include a female group but contextually do not (such as in a case where he says elders are referred to as those having wives, which means we're talking about men; if you translated inclusively there, then you'd be indicating that the text intends to refer to women, and if it doesn't then you've conveyed the wrong impression). I know that's not the subject of this post, but I found it interesting that Witherington recognizes the principle that Packer is relying on that you didn't seem too fond of.

At Sat Feb 25, 07:00:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I should clarify one thing. I'm talking about the earlier reference to Christ's faithfulness in the context of propitiation, not the later one in the last line, where does give the ambiguous translation.

At Sat Feb 25, 08:22:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

You both have articulated excellent arguments first for judicial language and next for Germanic vs Latinate roots. I am persuaded in both directions at once. I hope Ben reads this discussion.

And appeasement or satisfaction of wrath do communicate more than propitiation. So I really hope Ben reads these comments of yours. They are great and very much in the scope of the post and much more intereseting than the post, I might add.

At Sat Feb 25, 09:26:00 AM, Blogger Jim said...

Suzanne- you write:

The only detail missing is the mercy-seat. Hmmm. Maybe 'means of propitiation/mercy-seat.'

"Propitiation" is never an appropriate rendering as it calls to mind the satisfaction of an angry god by an act of sacrifice. "Expiation" is far superior as it calls to mind the "carrying off" of the offensive act. "hilasterion" and that word group in Greek means "expiate", not "propitiate" and is the word translated "seat of mercy" in 1 John and in the LXX.

At Sat Feb 25, 10:04:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I think we make too much of the difference between expiate and propitiate in English. In French the mercy seat is the 'propitiatoire' and in Portuguese it is 'expiator' or something related. That is, these two words have taken on in English a contrasting meaning and we make too much of the Greek to argue that it is one and not the other.

Making the difference between these two is a matter of interpretation not translation. There should be one neutral word that one could take either way.

At Sat Feb 25, 10:46:00 AM, Blogger Jim said...

I disagree. It isn't simply a matter of interpretation at all - but inherent in the words themselves (the hilasterion group) is the idea of expiation- not propitiation (in English- let the French and Portugese work out their own renderings). So, when translators use "propitiation" they are not simply misinterpreting the word- they are mistranslating it.

At Sat Feb 25, 10:50:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

It is great to hear so many well-defended but contrasting opinions.

At Sat Feb 25, 07:38:00 PM, Blogger Ben Witherington said...

This is an interesting discussion, but there are some errors in it. In fact the 'hilaskesthai' word group does regularly convey the sense of propitation, including in the LXX-- Ex. 32.14-19; Dan. 9.16-19). Nor is there any problem with the idea of God being angry, in particular a righteous and holy God being angry about sin, which destroys the relationship between God and human beings. Furthermore, sin is not expiated (i.e. we are not cleansed) if atonement is not made and God's wrath against sin is not propitiated. This was the normal ancient and Jewish concept in regard to sacrifice. This is why the blood was applied to the horns of the altar-- the point of contact with God. The issue as Paul raises it in Romans 3 is how can God be both righteous and the one who sets right human beings. God can always be more than fair, and indeed he is when he is gracious, but God cannot be other than fair, just, righteous, for even God's love is a holy love. And one more point. If Jesus' death was not absolutely necessary to atone for sins, and meet God's righteous demands in regard to dealing with sin, then God is in no sense a loving God. What sort of God would put his only begotten Son through death on the cross unless it was both the necessary and sufficient means by which the sins of the world could be atoned for? We really need to stop thinking of God's grace and love as something that cancels out or trumps God's righteousness or righteous demands for justice. What did the prophets tell us about what God requires of us--- that we must both do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God. The NT says nothing different from this.

Ben W.

At Tue Feb 28, 04:13:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jim, the only people who understand "propitiation" and "expiation" as having contrasting meanings are theologians, who of course already know the arguments about the verse in question. No one else uses these words in English. So it is worth worrying which of these words to use only in a translation whose target audience is theologians - and who shouldn't really need a translation at all. For every other mortal audience, it is best to avoid both of these words, because neither of them is clearly understood.

At Wed Mar 01, 05:56:00 PM, Blogger Glennsp said...

May I just point out that anyone who studies the Bible (and of course that should be every Christian) is by definition a 'theologian'.
As such I am a theologian because I study the Bible and actually I understand propitiation and expiation.
I have never been to seminary or Bible College. I am an ordinary Christian who has done ordinary bible study.


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