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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Good News for Everyone VI: Redemption

Yesterday, in the comment section, the REB version of Ephesians 1:3 - 10 was proposed. I found verse 7 particularly rhythmic and meaningful. This version has translated ἀπολύτρωσις as 'release' instead of 'redemption.' This sounds closer to the Greek, and the later clarification that this release is indeed acquired through 'the shedding of his blood', assures that no meaning is lost.

    In Christ our release is secured and our sins forgiven through the shedding of his blood. Eph. 1:3 - 10 REB
      In the Good News Bible and the Bible in Worldwide English, the equally accurate expressions 'set free' or 'make free' are used. Some people may have been displeased to see a Bible without 'redemption' in it. On this theme, I am going to jump ahead in Good News for Everyone to chapter 7, page 74. After discussing latinizations, which I will mention later, Nida takes up the subject of 'redemption',

        Even more disturbed was a man who issued a statement asserting that "redemption has been completely removed from Today's English Version." It is true that the noun "redemption" is not used, but the verb "redeem" does occur, as in Revelation 14:4, and the noun "redeemer" occurs in Psalm 19:14. Moreover, the real meaning of the biblical concept of "redeem" and "redeemer" is expressed by other terms which represent more faithfully the message of the Scripture.

        The fact of the matter is that the terms "redeem" and "redeemer" have lost very much of their earlier significance in English. For many people "redeem" is associated more with trading stamps than with the biblical theme of deliverance and salvation. In those contexts in which there is specific reference to the ancient practice of redeeming a slave through a payment, the Good News Bible makes this clear by rendering "God bought you for a price" (1 Cor. 6:20 and 7:23). But where the reference is to the way in which God delivers his people - as reflecting the experience of Israel in being rescued from Egypt - such words as "deliver," "save," "rescue" are employed, for these terms express more clearly what God does in "setting free" his people.

        There was a time in church history when theologians tried to insist that wherever the Greek term apolutrōsis occurs, it must be interpreted literally as "redemption," in the sense of making a payment. But then these theologians encountered major difficulties. To whom could God make such a payment? Driven by their own logic, these theologians could only conclude that God had to pay the devil in order to buy back people from his control. In pushing such an argument to its logical (or better, its illogical) extreme, they only succeeded in distorting the truth of God's intervention into history to deliver and save his people.
      While I find this discussion by Nida very helpful, I would just like to add that Liddell Scott, 1871, provides two meaning for ἀπολύτρωσις - a releasing, redemption. It seems to me that 'release'as a translation for ἀπολύτρωσις is underrepresented. The German Erlösung is also closer to release than redemption, I think.


      At Thu Jun 22, 01:08:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      At Thu Jun 22, 03:39:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

      Thank you, Suzanne. On this one I agree with REB, because it has avoided the relative obscure "redeem" and "redemption" (words not used in modern English except, as Nida notes, in relation to trading vouchers etc, a totally misleading connotation) and used the clear and accurate word "release". But I have my doubts about "secured": a high level sense of a word, with possible misleading connotations that our release is not real on "security" grounds (like the foreigners here in the UK who were released from jail, because there were no proper grounds to suspect them of terrorism, only to be put under house arrest) where the Greek simply has ἔχομεν ekhomen "we have".

      We had similar problems with "redeem" in the language for which I am working on a translation. The translators, working from English and Russian, originally came up with a word which simply means "purchased". But this totally misses the point, quite apart from the issue Nida raises of who the price is paid to (a concept which links back to the models of the atonement which I discussed briefly on my blog). After all, if a slave has been purchased, that does not imply that they have been given freedom. So I am suggesting a change to "set free", a word which has much more suitable positive connotations in the language.

      It seems to me that "redeem" and "redemption", if understood as meaning something like "purchase", are in fact a complete misunderstanding of ἀπολύω apoluō and ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrōsis. These words simply mean "release", "(give) freedom", as is clear from their derivation from λύω luō "untie", and from the common use of ἀπολύω apoluō for the release of a prisoner where there is no concept of a price being paid, e.g. Matthew 27:15, Acts 4:21 etc etc. Indeed the same is true of ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrōsis in Hebrews 11:35. So there is no reason to read the concept of a price being paid into the word in Ephesians 1:7. Perhaps we can say something like "at the cost of his life", as a perhaps too dynamic rendering of "by his blood" (this wasn't a problem in the language I was working in, where an idiom literally translated "at the cost of his blood" has the same meaning as "at the cost of his life" in English), but this English idiom does not imply that anyone's life is paid to anyone else as a purchase price.

      As an English translation, I would go for something like "we are set free and our sins are forgiven because his blood was shed". Or perhaps something like "we have been set free at the cost of his life, our sins are forgiven because his blood was shed".

      At Thu Jun 22, 06:18:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


      απολυτρωσις does have the meaning not only of release but also ransom. The range is legitimate - not a misunderstanding, as you imply, but perhaps a shift in emphasis, and therefore not quite correct, but at least understandable.

      There are too many derivative words in Greek. Look up λυτηρ, λυτρον, λυτρωσις in Liddell Scott. There is a legitmate sense of an amount of money being used to buy the freedom of a slave. However, I must agree with you that the primary sense of the word is to 'set free' to 'deliver'. The buying part is there, but it is secondary IMO. The 'set free' part is always the centre of the meaning.

      I would agree that 'redemption' is a poor translation, but 'release' and 'set free' differ from each other on stylistic grounds only, and must both be correct!

      There must be some allowance for different stylistic levels. But which is closer to the Greek level of language 'set free' or 'release' well, maybe 'set free' really is the closest. One can only feel 'unbound' or 'unfastened' by the word απολυω in Greek.

      At Thu Jun 22, 10:47:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

      The New English Bible Ephesians 1:7 (which the REB is a revision of), "For in Christ our release is secured and our sins are forgiven through the shedding of his blood."

      Eph. 1:3-10 (NEB), "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. In Christ he chose us before the world was founded, to be dedicated, to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love; and he destined us - such was his will and pleasure - to be accepted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in order that the glory of his gracious gift, so graciously bestowed on us in his Beloved, might redound to his priase. For in Christ our release is secured and our sins are forgiven through the shedding of his blood. Therein lies the richness of God's free grace lavished upon us, imparting full wisdom and insight. He has made known to us his hidden purpose - such was his will and pleasure determined beforehand in Christ - to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely, that the universe, all in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ."

      For reference, or anyone who is curious to see how closely the REB coincides, or how dramatically it has been revised.

      At Fri Jun 23, 04:35:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

      The Jerusalem Bible (the original 1966 version) has "freedom" for ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrōsis in Ephesians 1:7, also 1:14, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Colossians 1:14. Other renderings are "liberation" (Luke 21:28, footnote "Or 'redemption'"), "be set free" (Romans 8:23, Ephesians 4:30), "cancel" (Hebrews 9:15), "release" (Hebrews 11:35) - and in just one place "being redeemed" (Romans 3:24). It also has "redeemer" for λυτρωτής lutrōtēs in Acts 7:35 and "redemption" for λύτρωσις lutrōsis in Hebrews 9:12, I don't understand either of these renderings, but nowhere else uses "redeem" or "redemption" for this word group. It uses "ransom" for λύτρον lutron in Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45 and ἀντίλυτρον antilutron in 1 Timothy 2:6, also "ransom that was paid to free" for λυτρόομαι lutroomai in 1 Peter 1:18 - I have no problem with these renderings. Mostly the Jerusalem Bible avoids "redeem" language, and I think that is good.

      At Fri Jun 23, 11:29:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

      I note that NLT (I only have the original version) mostly avoids "redeem" and "redemption", although it does use these words in Luke 1:68 and Ephesians 4:30, also in Revelation 14:3 for ἀγοράζω agorazō. In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14 and 1 Timothy 2:6 the rendering is "purchase freedom", so the "redeem" word has been avoided but the rather dubious concept of believers' freedom being purchased (did Jesus make some commercial deal with Satan?) is retained.

      CEV seems to avoid "redeem" and "redemption" completely, often rendering "rescue". The Message also mostly avoids these words, although oddly it uses "redeemer" in Acts 7:35, and "redeem" in Galatians 4:5. So, although these don't actually use Suzanne's preferred word "release", recent less literal translations have by no means always stuck to "redeem" and "redemption".

      At Fri Jun 23, 11:44:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

      I think the problem is that in a post slavery culture we do not have the concept of buying someone's freedom. We think of fighting for freedoms, but not buying freedom. So we can no longer imagine a word that has release and payment in one word. So now we have to choose the primary meaning, which is release or freedom, and we have to let the secondary meaning, of buying or redemption, be expressed in other ways, as it is in the text. There is no such thing as an exact translation, we cannot find words that cover the exact same semantic range in English as in Greek.

      At Fri Jun 23, 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

      But release is better than freedom. We were bound, but now we are free. We have been 'set free', we were not born into freedom.

      At Fri Jun 23, 12:09:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

      There is no such thing as an exact translation, we cannot find words that cover the exact same semantic range in English as in Greek.

      Excellent point, Suzanne! Many English translators attempt to address this problem by using what they call "technical vocabulary", namely, old Latinate words that were imported into English, words such as "redemption" and "sanctification." Those words, however, are little more than algebraic notational devices which are "placeholders" for intended meaning. That meaning is in the minds of the translators but is not communicated well, if at all, to the majority of English speakers. Of course, the response is that we can teach the meaning of those placeholder words to those who use English Bibles. But that runs counter to what translation has always been able, which is to communicate original meaning to someone in another language. It is a huge cognitive load to have to remember the meanings of so many words in the Bible taught to you by those who know their meaning in the original biblical languages.

      If more English translators would focus on translating *only* into extant English, we would have Bibles which are not only clearer to readers but, ironically, also more accurate, since they would communicate the original meaning better without having to go through extra cognitive processes of teaching the meaning of "technical" terms which were, I propose, not technical terms originally.

      At Fri Jun 23, 01:01:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

      I have made some further comments on "redeem" and "redemption" on my own blog.

      At Fri Jun 23, 02:18:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      At Fri Jun 23, 03:20:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

      Clarence Jordan, in his "Cotton Patch" adaptation (or, one might say, pastiche) of the Bible uses "emancipation", which is not bad, but not as good as "released" in my opinion --

      You may be right, Anon, but Jordan's use of the word "emancipation" was powerful for his translation audience since he wrote in the middle of inter-racial tensions and the Civil Rights Movement. The term "emancipation" was a powerful allusion to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation which brought legal emancipation but not spiritual or moral emancipation. Jordan worked hard for the latter two on his farm commune in the south.

      At Fri Jun 23, 08:14:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

      Anon, thanks for this. I have never read the Cotton Patch Gospel.


      I will post what Nida wrote about Latinizations next.

      At Fri Jun 23, 08:19:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      At Fri Jun 23, 08:43:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

      I have made a link to it on my bookshelf blog.


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