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Monday, May 08, 2006

Should we forgive our debtors?

Our church recites the Lord's Prayer/Our Father (Matt. 6:9-13) each Sunday using the wording "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Other churches recite the prayer using the word "trespasses" rather than "debts". In this post I argue that neither wording is as accurate as we would want for today's speakers of English.

First, we need some background. The concept of sin is an abstract idea. We cannot touch sin, see it, or measure it. Speakers of languages all over the world often refer to abstract ideas with more concrete words, typically used metaphorically. (Remember recent BBB posts about the book Metaphors We Live By. Metaphors pervade the Bible as well as our English language. Our daily language usage is "awash" (!!) in metaphor.)

There is no single word used in the Greek New Testament for sin. Instead, there are several more concrete words used metaphorically in the Bible to refer to the abstract concept of sin. Among them is this list of Greek words for sin:
  1. ἁμαρτία - to miss the mark (Luke 11:4)
  2. ἀγνοημα - an act done in ignorance of God's will
    1. Hebrews 9:7 (sin committed in ignorance)
    2. 1 Timothy 1:13 (sin committed in ignorance
  3. ὑπερβαίνω - going beyond the will of God [1 Thess. 4:6 (overstepping or trespass); in Josephus and Philo lit. "going beyond the head of the risen Lord."]
  4. σκάνδαλον - a cause of sinning or causing someone else to fail (1 John 2:10)
  5. ενοχος- guilty or liable (Matt. 26:66)
  6. πονηρoς - guilty or evil, as a noun one who has done an evil deed (John 3:19)
  7. πταίω - stumbling or failing to live up to God's will (Rom. 11:11)
  8. προσκόμμα - taking the opportunity to sin or cause someone to sin (Rom. 14:20)
  9. παραπτώμα - a transgression of the will of God (Matt. 6:14)

To this list should be added:

10. ὀφειλήμα - debt; metaphorically, a moral debt, sin
(UPDATE: Caveat emptor! BBB contributor Peter Kirk notes that ἁμαρτία likely just meant 'sin' at the time the New Testament was written. It's etymological meaning was probably a dead metaphor by that time. Also see comments to this post for some additional Greek words which referred to sin.)

Some exegetes believe that Jesus was referring to cancellation of literal financial debts when he taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer. And that is what it sounds like Jesus taught when we recite the Lord's Prayer in our church. There is a great deal of exegetical support, however, for understanding Jesus to be referring to sin in the prayer he taught. Some of that support is found in the very context of the Lord's Prayer. Just two verses after Matt. 6:12, we read:

but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (ESV)

The Greek word underlying the translation "trespasses" here is παραπτώμα, which is a common word used, again metaphorically, to refer to sin.

In Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer, he uses the common Greek word for sin, ἁμαρτία metaphorically, rather than ὀφειλήμα. I personally think we are straining at gnats (metaphorically!) if we try to find very much difference in the semantics of the reference to sin between the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Lord's Prayer.

Perhaps there was a hint of the more concrete (non-metaphorical) meaning of ὀφειλήμα as 'financial debt' in the Matthean version, but I doubt that any such connotations are in focus in the Lord's Prayer. It is much more likely that Matthew used ὀφειλήμα here with the idea of moral debt which occurs when you sin against someone, that is, when we wrong them. We can wrong God, just as we can wrong others. When we wrong anyone, we owe them a moral debt that needs to be cancelled before our relationship with them can be fully restored. The debt is cancelled through forgiveness, another abstract idea which is referred to in the Bible metaphorically. When we forgive someone, we (metaphorically) release them from their debt to us. The Greek word for forgiveness, ἄφες, used in the Lord's Prayer is another metaphor. Its non-metaphorical meaning can be glossed as 'cancel, release.'

(We can also note that there are other kinds of debt we can incur toward others besides those which are financial or moral. We can be socially in debt to someone. For instance, if someone does something really nice for us, we can say in English, "I'm indebted to you," or "I'm in your debt." Social debt, like moral debt, is an extended semantic usage of the primary meaning of the word "debt.")

So, what is it that we are really asking God when we recite the forgiveness part of the Lord's Prayer (Our Father)? Are we asking to have our financial loans canceled? No, we are asking to be forgiven. Technically, we might be asking to have our moral debt due to sin removed, but how do we express that accurately and clearly in today's English? I suggest that the closest translation equivalent in English to the semantic focus of

ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν (Matt. 6:12)
in the Lord's Prayer is simply:

Forgive us

We might translate that request following the Greek syntax more closely as "Forgive us our sins" but I don't think that is very natural English. And it means the same as "Forgive us." There is no semantic component of the originally intended meaning that I am aware of which is left out if we just say "Forgive us." In English we can omit the object of "forgive" since we understand from the meaning of the word "forgive" that its semantic object is some kind of wrong or sin.

Let's not make things more complicated than they were in the original biblical texts by using misleading "literal" or "essentially literal" words in translation when the original text was metaphorical and needs to be translated with English words which accurately communicate that metaphorical meaning.

The following English versions accurately communicate the figurative (metaphorical) meaning of the Greek words having to do with sin in the Lord's Prayer:

Forgive us the wrong we have done, as we have forgiven those who have wronged us. (REB)

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. (TEV)

Forgive us as we forgive others. (GW)

Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us. (NCV)

and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. (NLT)

and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. (ISV)

Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. (CEV)

More literal translations which use the word "debts" (KJV, NKJV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NIV, TNIV, NET, HCSB) do not accurately communicate the metaphorical meaning of Jesus' reference to sin in the Lord's Prayer. Instead, for most English speakers today, they communicate something about financial debts.

Some visitors to this blog have been concerned thinking that we BBB contributors have an agenda against literal or essentially literal Bible translations. This is a special concern since there is currently widespread promotion of essentially literal Bible versions as being the most accurate kind of translations. To suggest anything else almost sounds like heresy in some circles today.

We need to repeat what we have said a number of other times. We are not for or against any particular English Bible versions. Instead, on this blog we promote translation which most accurately communicates to current speakers of English the intended meanings of the biblical texts.

When we know the intended meanings, and for the most part we do, for the majority of Bible passages, we should accurately translate those meanings to English. We should not use less accurate non-metaphorical translations when the original texts were written to be understood metaphorically.

We should not require Bible teachers or pastors to have to explain to us when a word in an English translation should be understood literally and when it has a metaphorical meaning, nor should we have to discover the difference using commentaries, lexicons, or other biblical study helps. The original meaning should be accurate and clear in a translation itself. This is not so-called "interpretive" translation. It is, rather, the most accurate kind of translation possible. Any other teaching about translation is misleading.

23 Comments:

At Mon May 08, 02:27:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

The list of Greek words for sin which you quote seems to me somewhat suspect. For one thing it omits important words, not only ὀφειλήμα ofeilēma which you mention, but also, for one which I happened to notice, ἀνομία anomia, usually rendered "lawlessness". More seriously, the list seems to fall into the etymological fallacy in defining ἁμαρτία hamartia as "to miss the mark". It is true that this definition is given in dictionaries of classical Greek for the related verb ἁμαρτάνω hamartanō, although not I think for the noun. But in the New Testament, and probably for all uses by New Testament times, neither the verb nor the noun have a meaning anything to do with "to miss the mark"; they simply mean "sin". And sin the Bible is not a matter of missing the mark, certainly not in the archery sense, but of disobeying God's commandments.

 
At Mon May 08, 05:28:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Yes, Peter, I had misgivings about some of the info from that webpage, also. But that doesn't detract from the main point of my post. The main point is a focus on the fact that there are several metaphors for sin in the N.T. and that using the literal translation of "debts" in the Lord's Prayer does not communicate as accurately the original meaning as does some wording that clearly communicates that Jesus was referring to sins.

 
At Mon May 08, 06:46:00 PM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

I see where you are coming from here - and I do think in one sense you are right - a literal translation here does lend itself to being mis-understood.

But I do think that if we take this metaphor out that we loose some of the richness of the text.

I for one have never thought that "debts" here meant "money I owe" but rather it seemed to transfer well over to the concept of sin (but I was raised in church).

If we translate it "Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us." (TEV)

I think some of what the Greek is portraying is lost.

For one thing a person would not think that we "owe" God so much (a certain parable comes to mind...) and so we shouldn't care if someone "owes" us a little (in anything).

I think the picture that comes out of the word "debt" is a good one.

I am curious - do you really think the Greek word was not used in the legal sense (debt and debtor)? If someone owed something to someone, what did they call them in Greek?

In Matthew 18:27 it's δανειον
But in verse 32 it's οφειλην

This is why I have a problem with "making it simple" - because the picture in the Greek was (it seems to be) exactly the same as it can be in English (I think a Greek could have been just as easily confused as an English person).

If someone owes something to someone else they call it a debt. And in Greek they sometimes call it οφειλην

So if we take the English word "debt" out we then loose the connection to this parable - and to a lot of other thoughts that might come into our head.

What do you think?

-Nathan

 
At Mon May 08, 07:55:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

I will repeat that I am ign'r'nt regarding the Greek. I will take your word for it, if you say that the Greek here does not mean "debt".

But you don't seem to be saying that.

You seem to be saying that beyond being merely ignorant, I am going to be confused by this usage. Not hardly.

I was raised saying "trespasses", and have been slowly reteaching myself this prayer as "debts" because it seems to say so much more. When I trespass against someone's property, I haven't really hurt them. I just used a little of their land and left it as I found except for a footprint or two. When I owe someone a debt, however, I am justly in bondage to that someone.

"Debt" communicates much more strongly, and much more effectively.

Is it technically wrong?

 
At Mon May 08, 10:24:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I am curious - do you really think the Greek word was not used in the legal sense (debt and debtor)? If someone owed something to someone, what did they call them in Greek

They would be called an opheiletes 'debtor,' the singular of the plural opheletais of Matt. 6:12.

 
At Mon May 08, 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Codepoke said:

I will take your word for it, if you say that the Greek here does not mean "debt".

You need not take my word for it. It would be better for you to examine the evidence yourself. Note the evidence I presented in my post and see if it is more likely that a literal financial debt was referred to or a metaphorical debt, namely, one way to view sin.

You seem to be saying that beyond being merely ignorant, I am going to be confused by this usage. Not hardly.

Oh, no, let's not even get near any idea of calling anyone ignorant. Let's just examine the evidence from the Greek New Testament and try to determine if it is likely that the versions I listed first are communicating to today's speakers of English the original Greek meaning more accurately than those versions which use the literal translation of "debt".

We share evidence together. We do not want to judge anyone for coming to different conclusions based on careful examination of the evidence.

 
At Tue May 09, 01:38:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Codepoke wrote: I was raised saying "trespasses", ... When I trespass against someone's property, I haven't really hurt them. I just used a little of their land and left it as I found except for a footprint or two.

Let me start by clarifying that "trespasses" was not the rendering of the KJV translators in the Lord's Prayer. They used "debts" in Matthew 6:12, but "trespasses" in vv.14-15. "Trespasses" comes from Tyndale's version of the prayer and so was used in the 1549 and 1662 Books of Common Prayer. However, Wycliffe's version had "debts", and perhaps that is why this form was preferred for KJV.

Codepoke, you have clearly misunderstood the intention of Tyndale in translating Matthew 6:12 with "trespasses". In the 16th century "trespass" for not have the modern sense of walking on someone else's land - or at least this was just one of a wide range of senses. Indeed, according to answers.com even in the recent American Heritage dictionary the first sense of "trespass" as a noun is "Transgression of a moral or social law, code, or duty", and as a verb is "To commit an offense or a sin; transgress or err." The same page also gives relevant information from a legal encyclopedia:

In modern law trespass is an unauthorized entry upon land, but initially trespass was any wrongful conduct directly causing injury or loss.

So in Tyndale's time a "trespass" was not a trivial infringement on property rights. The word was effectively a synonym of "sin". And that is how the word should be understood in the Lord's Prayer.

This is an interesting example of semantic change, and illustrates the danger of using 16th and 17th century translations (or even mid-20th century translations for words like "gay" and "man") without being aware of how the meaning of words has changed.

 
At Tue May 09, 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

"They would be called an opheiletes 'debtor,' the singular of the plural opheletais of Matt. 6:12."

So why was the word "debts" or "debtors" a problem?

I don't understand how someone reading English would not be able to connect the line of thought...

Plus the connection with the parable...but maybe I am missing something...

 
At Tue May 09, 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

So why was the word "debts" or "debtors" a problem?

Nathan, there is no problem is Jesus was referring to debts and debtors in the Lord's Prayer.

My claim, however, is that he was referring to sins and sinners, not debts or debtors. Jesus spoke in Aramaic and I do not know what the Aramaic words were that he used. But the evidence leads me to believe that the Greek words translating Jesus' words were used metaphorically in the Lord's Prayer. I claim that most English speakers will not understand the metaphorical meaning of Jesus' words if we translate the non-metaphorical meaning literally. That is the claim of my post. You are invited to disprove my claim by fieldtesting the words "debts" and "debtors" among a wide range of English speakers, including the context of "forgive our debtors". I would welcome being disproven. That is why we try to focus on empirical evidence on this blog, to bring us as close to language reality in Bible translation as possible.

I don't understand how someone reading English would not be able to connect the line of thought...

Are you already familiar with the Bible and Bible English? Are you already familiar with the Bible metaphor that a debt can refer to a moral debt incurred when we wrong someone? If so, many other English speakers, including many Christians, I would claim, do not have your background knowledge of the Bible metaphor. I am concerned that English Bibles communicate accurately to these people as well as to those who have learned Bible English.

 
At Tue May 09, 12:23:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

Thanks, Wayne. I hope I did not come off as offended. I was not in any way. I was using "ignorant" in the Mark Twain sense of an intelligent audience with no training in the subject.

It would be better for you to examine the evidence yourself.

Reading you guys has done an interesting thing. I used to pop open Strong's and Thayer's and figure I was getting something useful. Nowadays, I don't open them because I figure I'm getting too little of the story to be useful. My trust in those resources is pretty heavily eroded.

As I read the Greek for v12 and v14, I see the difference between debt and trespass. The Blue Letter Bible lexicon (Wescott and Hort 1881?) shows debt as its primary meaning and sin as its metaphorical meaning. Thayer's (as much as I can read of it - only about 1/2 of the definition is in english) has the same definitions in the same sequence.

So, it sounds like you hope to simplify the concept by hiding the primary meaning and giving us english speakers only the metaphorical meaning. In so doing, though, don't you completely block me from ever learning the implication that the Lord seemed to be bringing into the discussion? As you point out, the "sin" meaning is there just 2 verses later. It can be learned by an english speaker. But if you replace the word, "debt", I cannot learn anywhere that Jesus brought this into the discussion.

In programming, this is like the difference between .gif and .jpg images. When you take a full image and compress it into either of those two standards, information will be lost. The question is whether you are losing the right information. With .gif you lose color information - your picture looks like a cartoon, but the lines are all in place. With .jpg you lose clarity information - your picture gets blurry, but it still looks like a photo. You use .gif for things with very few colors and .jpg for things with intricate shading and coloring.

In this place, I want the coloring that Jesus put into the original prayer. Jesus brought the idea of "payment justly due" into the discussion, and I don't like to see that lost. I will grant you that calling both of these two words, "wrongs," adds clarity, but loses too much shading.

I sure enjoy the things I read out here, and this post is no exception. Thanks for putting it out, and hearing a blue-collar opinion. :-)

 
At Tue May 09, 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Codepoke asked:

So, it sounds like you hope to simplify the concept by hiding the primary meaning and giving us english speakers only the metaphorical meaning.

Actually, my intention is not to simplify anything. I don't believe we should do any simplifying in translation. My intention is to create a more accurate translation. My claim is that the word "debt" is understood by most English speakers today as referring to a financial debt. I claim that if we translate with a word like "sin" we more accurately translate the meaning Jesus intended.

In so doing, though, don't you completely block me from ever learning the implication that the Lord seemed to be bringing into the discussion?

We don't know if our Lord intended any meaning of "debt." For one thing, Jesus spoke in Aramaic, not Greek, and we don't know if what he said in Aramaic was closer to Luke's version of this part of the Lord's Prayer or Matthew's. As mentioned in my post, there are several words in Greek which were used metaphorically to refer to sin. The Greeks apparently did not have a way to refer directly to sin, which is true of many languages in the world, including Cheyenne, the language I have worked with for the past 30 years. So speakers of such language have to use other words already in the language to try to express the concept of sin, typically through metaphor.

As you point out, the "sin" meaning is there just 2 verses later.

That is also a metaphor. Both instances are metaphors referring to sin.

It can be learned by an english speaker.

Not if the only meaning they have for "debt" is financial debt. Remember we are translating from Greek to English. We need to use the word meanings from both languages. English does not have a meaning of 'sin' for the word "debt." So when we translate with the word "debt" we are not translating the original meaning accurately. There is no simplification involved, only an attempt to be as accurate as possible in translation.

But if you replace the word, "debt", I cannot learn anywhere that Jesus brought this into the discussion.

Again, as I stated earlier, we don't know that Jesus did bring that concept into the discussion since he spoke in Aramaic, not Greek, and the two languages are very different. One is Semitic, the other Indo-European.

When we translate we need to focus on what is the primary meaning the original author is conveying. We must be sure that that meaning is communicately accurately and clearly in translation.

There are several Greek words used metaphorically to express the concept of sin. In each case a translation must be sure that English speakers know immediately from the translation that sin is being talked about. Otherwise the translation is not accurate.

 
At Tue May 09, 01:57:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Longtime reader, firsttime commenter. Are there people out there who sincerely think that the Lord's Prayer refers primarily to financial debts? I've personally never heard that interpretation, not even from spritually young, unchurched Bible readers. I think it's a common enough metaphor in everyday American/British English - for example, the phrases "I'm in your debt" and "You owe me one" almost never refer to financial obligations. I've read quite a bit of Christian financial advice, both good and bad, but I can't ever recall anyone using "as we forgive our debtors" in a commentary about debts and loans.

On the positive side of using the the word "debt," with Americans groaning under ever-increasing debt-loads, the image of sin as debt is perhaps as powerful as ever. The pain of opening a credit card or student loan bill is (unfortunately) more real to many of us than the pain of our sin before God.

 
At Tue May 09, 02:11:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Mike asked:

Longtime reader, firsttime commenter.

Welcome, Mike! And thanks for commenting.

You asked:

Are there people out there who sincerely think that the Lord's Prayer refers primarily to financial debts?

Yes, Mike, there are people who understand the words "debts" and "debtors" to refer to financial debts. That is the commonly understood meaning of these words among current English speakers. Each time we recite the Lord's Prayer at church I think of the wrong meaning when we say "debts" and "debtors".

My wife and I are two such people who have this understanding.

Through teaching we can learn that our understanding of these words is not the meaning intended in the Bible. But why should we be taught different meanings for words when we can get the right meanings directly from translations which are accurate and clear?

 
At Tue May 09, 02:34:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

Wayne,

Again, as I stated earlier, we don't know that Jesus did bring that concept into the discussion since he spoke in Aramaic, not Greek, and the two languages are very different. One is Semitic, the other Indo-European.


That's all well and good, but that's where I started. I have to take your word for it. There is a limit to what a diesel mechanic who figured out how to program for a living can research about Semitic.

Nonetheless, I think you are complicating the discussion unnecessarily. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but Matthew wrote in Greek, right? You are translating Matthew, not Jesus. So if you try to listen past Matthew to hear the echos of the Aramaic, aren't you still doing someone a disservice? I will grant that it was Matthew who brought in the concept of payment justly due, but still contend that he probably did it for a reason.

codepoke: It can be learned by an english speaker.

Wayne: Not if the only meaning they have for "debt" is financial debt. Remember we are translating from Greek to English.


My point is that by combining verse 12 with verse 14, I can expand my understanding of Matthew's transcript of Jesus' statement - but only if the data is all there. If you use the same word in those two places, you contract/reduce my insight into what Matthew recorded that Jesus said.

It seems that your inference is overpowering the text.

The lexicon says that the primary meaning of (it sure takes time to keep looking up these words, because I forget what they are between comments) opheilema is financial debt, and a metaphorical meaning is sin. For paraptoma, the lexicon says that the primary meaning is falling by the wayside, but that this meaning is found nowhere. The secondary meaning of paraptoma is sin.

So, from the secondary sense of paraptoma you push back and decide that you can overrule the primary sense of opheilema.

I say again, as an ignorant but intelligent english speaker who only has the words the translator gives me, I can work out that debt=sin from the text if you leave me both words. I cannot, however, work out that sin=debt if you take that word, "debt," away.

Information is lost.

In each case a translation must be sure that English speakers know immediately from the translation that sin is being talked about.

As you point out, it is english we are talking about. Bryson says that the word, "set," has nearly 200 meanings, and we are all comfortable with that fact. There are 3 words for almost anything under the sun in this language, and we like it that way. It allows us to say exactly what we mean.

Yes, this meaning of "debt" is nuanced, but it is not opaque.

Of course, I could have said that, "the meaning of "debt" is unclear, but not beyond understanding," but what fun would that be? ;-)

Anyway. Thank you for your gracious responses! It has been a pleasure disagreeing with you from my state of bliss.

 
At Tue May 09, 04:19:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The secondary meaning of paraptoma is sin.

Good. Another way to state the same thing is that the metaphorical meaning of paraptoma is sin.

So, from the secondary sense of paraptoma you push back and decide that you can overrule the primary sense of opheilema.

I believe I am trying to allow the context, not me, to decide which meaning of opheilema is being used in Matt. 6:12. I am open to the possibility that it refers to financial debts in Matt. 6:12, but the context, other teaching about sin and forgiveness in the Bible, and Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer are exegetical evidence to support my claim that Matt. 6:12 refers to forgiveness of sins not financial debts. But if you can provide stronger evidence to refute my claim, then that will overrule my claim. That's why we have such open, honest discussions. And I also appreciate your willingness to enter such discussion without any rancor or lack of grace.

You yourself said:

For paraptoma, the lexicon says that the primary meaning is falling by the wayside, but that this meaning is found nowhere.

If that meaning is found nowhere, doesn't that easily give us the meaning of paraptoma in Matt. 6:14? It would have its metaphorical meaning, right?

What meaning do you yourself consider opheilema to have in Matt. 6:12?

It is only has the non-metaphorical meaning of financial debt, do you believe that that harmonizes enough with what Jesus is teaching about in context, including verse 14?

Or are you suggesting that English, like Greek opheilema, has both the non-metaphorical and metaphorical meanings for the English word "debt"? If you are suggesting this, what evidence can you provide that the English word "debt" has this meaning for most speakers of English today? It doesn't for my wife and me, and we have spent much of our lives studying word meanings. It doesn't for other people we have checked with. Might it be possible that you are imposing upon the current English word "debt" two meanings that the Greek word opheilema had in the bible?

 
At Tue May 09, 04:37:00 PM, Blogger Joe said...

To me, the passage helps me know how much I have been forgiven and what God had to "give up" to forgive me.

If I am forgiven as I forgive others, I am not forgiven at all, for my sacrifice is not nearly enough.

His was.

 
At Tue May 09, 04:55:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

If I am forgiven as I forgive others, I am not forgiven at all, for my sacrifice is not nearly enough.

You have spoken the truth, Joe. However I don't think this particular truth is addressed in the Lord's Prayer. Rather, I think Jesus is teaching people to ask for forgiveness for themselves, just as they forgive other people. Jesus taught, in the same context with the Lord's Prayer, that if we do not forgive others our Heavenly Father will not forgive us (Matt. 6:15). Forgiveness seems to be a major theme of this section of the Sermon on the Mount.

 
At Tue May 09, 06:10:00 PM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

Ok. Now I understand. Based on the fact that Greek has no "real" word for sin (just metaphors), you feel that in this instance, it should be translated as "sin" in English just like the other places that other Greek "sin" words/metaphors are.

Most likely the reason "debts" makes sense to me is like you said, I was raised in the church.

To a non-Christian, I believe their first thought would be money.

-Nathan

 
At Tue May 09, 08:18:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

Yes, paraptoma = sin/offense.

Or are you suggesting that English, like Greek opheilema, has both the non-metaphorical and metaphorical meanings for the English word "debt"?

You clearly have the win on this point. Debt as metaphorical "offense/trespass" is only the third definition for the term on dictionary.com. Touche.

Still, Matthew adds information to the definition of the word "sin" by calling it a debt. Matthew, the tax collector, is looking at sin as an accountant. And taking that accounting flavor away from his transcription of Jesus' Words is a loss.

You are open to the possibility that Matthew is actually refering to true financial debt. Are you not also open to the possibility that Matthew knows he is talking about sin, not finanical debt, but is intentionally linking the ideas of sin and financial debt together? And that by doing so he is adding the concept of justly due payment into the existing sin metaphors? And that in doing so he is accurately transcribing what Jesus said and meant?

Debt wigs me out, so I find it a particularly compelling metaphor. When I found myself in debt a couple years ago, I made every sacrifice I could to get out of it. When I learn the size of my debt before God, though, I despair. Debt also carries with it (for me) the idea of unoffensive debt. I accrue debt before God simply by not paying Him "rent" for living here. I accrue debt as penalty for my actions, but also in as normal ways as getting bills. I owe Him my love and worship. I can be in great debt without ever sinning greatly, by merely neglecting duty.

That last paragraph is not a rhetorical conjuring. I pray the Lord's prayer intentionally, and these things are a large part of that prayer for me. If the prayer is reduced to merely being about my active trespasses, it loses much that I suspect opheilema was meant to supply.

I will repeat.

Replacing "debt" with "sin" adds clarity, but at the expense of valuable, appropriate and intentional color. As I said in my first comment, I intentionally unlearned "trespasses" a few years ago, and replaced it with "debts" because doing so expanded my understanding of my sin. In my experience, the natural meaning of the word in english was added to the concept of sin - filling it out. I could not have done this if the word were masked by a translator.

I hope that you do not believe the Greek precludes this understanding of sin, right? I see nothing in this passage that suggests it is an error to look at sin as debt.

 
At Tue May 09, 08:57:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Still, Matthew adds information to the definition of the word "sin" by calling it a debt. Matthew, the tax collector, is looking at sin as an accountant. And taking that accounting flavor away from his transcription of Jesus' Words is a loss.

Well, maybe, but Luke recorded the prayer also and did not use the Greek word for debt. He used the more commonly used Greek word for sin. Matthew did not record what Jesus said. He wrote a Greek translation of what Jesus said in Aramaic. Jesus said only one thing in Aramaic. Luke translates it with the more common word for sin. Matthew uses the metaphor which we've been talking about. All of the Greek words referring to sin are metaphors. That's one of the points of my post. Metaphors do not have every aspect or connotation of their meaning in focus. Rather, what is in focus is their metaphorical meaning. That's what a metaphor is.

You are open to the possibility that Matthew is actually refering to true financial debt. Are you not also open to the possibility that Matthew knows he is talking about sin, not finanical debt, but is intentionally linking the ideas of sin and financial debt together?

Yes, I sure am. I'm open to every possibility that has any support from the Greek language and the biblical contexts in which the Greek words are used in the New Testament.

And that by doing so he is adding the concept of justly due payment into the existing sin metaphors?

It's possible. We don't know, though, do we. All we know for sure from the context and comparison with Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer is that Jesus was referring to sin. Whether or not Jesus' originalAramaic version of the Lord's Prayer had anything to do with debt, we simply don't know. In any case, my point in the post is that most English speakers today do not use the word "debt" to refer to sin. An accurate translation of the Lord's Prayer *must* refer to sin in verse 12, at a minimum. If we can get connotations about indebtedness in the translation also, and if we believe that the context in Matthew support including those connotations then I'm in favor of including those connotations. But we must always keep accuracy as the highest priority. And if we lose the immediate recognition for the majority of English speakers that Jesus was referring to sin in Matt. 6:12, we have not translated accurately for them.

I could not have done this if the word were masked by a translator.

Please, please believe me. There is not desire on the part of any Bible translator, myself included, to mask any part of the meaning of the biblical text. My post is all about accuracy in translation of the Lord's Prayer. My claim is that the word "debt" is not an accurate way to refer to sin in English. We need to keep sin in focus in this discussion.

I hope that you do not believe the Greek precludes this understanding of sin, right?

Not at all. I'm sure that whoever first used the Greek word for debt to speak about sin recognized that we incur a moral debt to someone when we wrong them. Similarly, there were other points of similarity to sin in the other metaphors in Greek used to refer to sin. But each of them focused on reference to sin because there was no single word in Greek that meant 'sin.' So they did the best they could using other words as metaphors for sin.

I see nothing in this passage that suggests it is an error to look at sin as debt.

I don't either and never suggested it. In fact, if you re-read my post you will find that I specifically address the metaphor of debt for sin and what the connection between them can be. It's the same understanding that you have.

 
At Wed May 10, 05:05:00 AM, Blogger codepoke said...

There is not desire on the part of any Bible translator, myself included, to mask any part of the meaning of the biblical text. My post is all about accuracy in translation of the Lord's Prayer.

I fully understand and respect that in you. That's what makes the chat fun!

It was a pleasure. Thank you.

 
At Wed May 10, 09:52:00 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Wayne,

Jesus said only one thing in Aramaic.

Actually, I don't think we can make that assumption. The Gospels are condensed summaries of Jesus' multi-year itinerant ministry. He spoke to different groups of people in different locations, and it's probably a better assumption that he repeated himself from time to time, repeating the same basic teachings to different crowds, and reusing the same stories and examples in various re-combinations. It's hard to make the case that Matthew and Luke are recording the same teaching moment. Matthew places the Lord's Prayer in the same context as the Beatitudes. Luke's versions of the Beatitudes (Lk. 6:20ff) and his version of the Lord's Prayer (Lk. 11:2ff) are in two distinct contexts. They can (and should) be used to interpret one another, but they can't really be used as two different Greek translations of the same Aramaic discourse.

If your concern is clarity for the reader/listener, I'm not sure if using the word "sin" helps that much. To many in our culture, "sin" equals "fun." Las Vegas is jokingly called "Sin City." Lots of people light-heartedly say that hell would be more pleasant than heaven because they'd rather be with "sinners" than "saints." Lots of people proudly call themselves "sinners."

Whatever word is used, its meaning doesn't "mean" much in the absence of good teaching.

 
At Wed May 10, 02:41:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Nathan wrote:

Based on the fact that Greek has no "real" word for sin (just metaphors), you feel that in this instance, it should be translated as "sin" in English just like the other places that other Greek "sin" words/metaphors are.

And no one has challenged this. But this presupposition is not a fact, in fact it is untrue. See my first comment on this thread. In Koine Greek ἁμαρτία hamartia, whatever its etymology, is a word which means "sin", as its real meaning rather than as a metaphor. It was perhaps a dead metaphor based on a much earlier Greek sense of the related verb as "miss the mark", but probably this metaphor was so dead that no one in New Testament times was aware that it had ever been alive.

 

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