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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Good News for Everyone VII: Latinizations

On the topic of using Latin derived words which are technical terms for certain concepts in systematic theology, Nida writes,

    When Good News for Modern Man was published, some readers said they were shocked not to find the word "propitiation" in 1 John 2:2. Was it possible that the translator did not believe in the "propitiation for sins"? What these persons did not sense waas their own misunderstanding of the meaning of "propitiation" which really refers to the process of "making someone favourably inclined toward another."
      The English term "propitiation" might be described as a highbrow way of talking about arm-twisting, but there is no need for arm-twisting to get God on man's side. It was God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself; Christ did not have to reconcile God to the world.

      The Greek noun hilasmos and the related verb hilaskomai never occur in the New Tesament with God as the object, and in 1 John 2:2 it is not the propitiation of sin but the expiation of sin which is spoken of. For many readers, however, the term "expiation" would be even more difficult than "propitiation." In fact, both "expiation" and "propitiation" like "justification," "sanctification," and "predestination" are not much more than anglicized Latin. The words exist in dictionaries, but they are only very rarely heard in speech.

      Hence, even if the phrase "expiation of sins" is to be understood, it is much better rendered in 1 John 2:2 as "An Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven." With this wording the vital message of this important verse becomes crystal clear.
      Chapter 7, page 73
    When I interveiwed the editor of the ESV, I asked him if the committee had considered the different ways that ἱλασμός hilasmos had been translated before the King James Version, for example, the way Tyndale translated it. He replied, "In Tyndale, it is propitiation, is it not?" Our time was short and we did not continue on this topic. However, it is one which fascinates me.

      "Jhesu Crist, and he is the foryyuenes for oure synnes; and not oneli for oure synnes, but also for the synnes of al the world." Wycliffe 1395

      "And he it is that obteyneth grace for oure synnes: not for oure synnes only: but also for the synnes of all the worlde." Tyndale 1525

      "And he is ye attonement for our sinnes: not for our sinnes only, but also for the sinnes of all the worlde." Bishops Bible 1568

      "And he is the reconciliation for our sinnes: and not for ours onely, but also for the sinnes of the whole world." Geneva Bible 1587

      "And he is the propitiation for our sinnes: and not for ours onely, but also for the sinnes of the whole world." King James Version 1611

      "He is the the victim that has expiated our sins: and not ours only, but likewise the sins of the whole world." Mace Bible 1729

      "And He is an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Weymouth 1903

      "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." TNIV 2001
    And yet, there are those that would argue that "propitiation" is the best word for communication. Even if these theologians disdain King James Onlyism in full, it seems to me that they support it in part.

    If you are translating the Bible into a language that has never had the Bible before, you are going to need to find a way to communicate this thought without resorting to borrowings to create new technical terms. You actually have to come to grips with what a word means.

    English is unusual, but not unique, in its ability to encorporate words from other languages into its lexicon. From 1066 to 1362, approximately, the French language occupied a dominant position in England. Later, in the 15th and 16th centuries, French became a major source of new vocabulary for English. Because of the constant influence of French, the English language developed strategies for encorporating words from Latin and other languages directly into its vocabulary.

    This is not a universal characteristic of language. In many ways I have found that the German Bible presents the situation that is more likely to be found in Bible translation. One actually has to find a word that exists already in that language and make use of it. You simply are not allowed to borrow in a new Latin term whenever you feel like it. The early English Bibles also come closer to this than the King James.

    5 Comments:

    At Fri Jun 23, 11:10:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

     
    At Sat Jun 24, 03:35:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

    Anon, thank you for your long comment. At last I am beginning to understand the distinction between propitiation, as something which Jesus (allegedly) does to God, and expiation, as something which God (allegedly) does. I add "(allegedly)" in both cases because I don't want to commit myself on which might be the better explanation of what happened on the cross. In fact probably both are valid but incomplete models of the Atonement.

    But, to get back from theology to Bible translation, we are left in the position that for almost all target audiences (I might except those who are better qualified in theology than I am, and as I have an MA that basically limits the audience to those with doctorates!) neither "propitiation" nor "expiation" is a meaningful word. At least some people would understand "propitiation" as the act of propitiating someone, i.e. of doing something to stop them being angry, but would then be confused at the suggestion that Jesus is a propitiation, for a person cannot be an act!

    So, it seems to me essential that translators find a wording here which is clearly understood, and which is also as far as possible neutral on the theologically controversial issues. Nida has no doubt lost some people by coming down on one side of the argument with "in 1 John 2:2 it is not the propitiation of sin but the expiation of sin which is spoken of". Perhaps he would have been wiser to write that it is unclear which of these is correct. And then he could have said that it was in order to avoid taking one side or the other on the issue that he had chosen his excellent rendering "Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven".

     
    At Sat Jun 24, 07:02:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

    If you are translating the Bible into a language that has never had the Bible before, you are going to need to find a way to communicate this thought without resorting to borrowings to create new technical terms. You actually have to come to grips with what a word means.

    Would this also apply to a word like βάπτισμα, which from my recollection was simply transliterated into English to avoid controversies regarding proper mode of baptism? Of course maybe a difference is that the word "baptism" is a greater part of the culture's vocabulary at this point than "propitiation." At this stage "John the Immerser" might communicate less than "John the Baptist" (although the latter might sound like denominational affiliation to some).

    Regarding ἱλαστήριον, I found it interesting that in the 1996 edition of the NLT translators attempted to communicate the meaning of the word propitiation without using the word itself: "For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us..." This rendering is clearly borrowed from the 1971 Living Bible which uses very similar wording. However, in the 2004 revision of the NLT, the translators chose to back off from communicating the meaning of propitiation and simply state, "For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin..." This is an even more simplified translation that "sacrifice of atonement" in the NIV and NRSV.

     
    At Sat Jun 24, 09:38:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

    Rick, you make a good point about "baptism". This is about the only case in which a new word was borrowed for the Bible into the language that I am working on - borrowed by translators working before me, in the 1980's I think. They did this precisely because any word already in use would have implied specifying the mode of baptism - and because one word already sometimes used had bad connotations of historic forcible conversions. But this is an exceptional case because it is so controversial between churches, and there is no justification for taking the same approach with "propitiation"/"expiation".

     
    At Sat Jun 24, 12:20:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

    New English Bible, 1 John 2:2, "He is himself the remedy for the defilement of our sins, not our sins only but the sins of all the world."

    The NEB chose an interesting way to side step the issue. Christ is undoubtedly the remedy, regardless of the choice between expiation, propitiation, atonement etc.

     

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