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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Advent translation #4: limited approval

I grew up on the KJV wording of Luke 2:14, where the angels say to the shepherds:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Christmas carols and cards continue the idea that Christ's birth brings peace to everyone.

However, more recent versions, other than the NKJV, use a different Greek textual base for the end of Luke 2:14, resulting in a translation with peace not coming to all men (people), but, rather, those who please God:
on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased (ASV, 1901)

on earth peace among men who please Him (Weymouth, 1912)

on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased (RSV, NASB)

on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased (ESV)

on earth peace among those whom he favors (NRSV)

on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased (NET)

on earth let there be peace among the people who please God (NCV)

peace on earth to people He favors (HCSB)

peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased (NLT)

peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased (TEV)

Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God (CEV)
The difference in the Greek text used by the KJV and NKJV, and these other versions is just one letter, whether or not s occurs at the end of the word eudokia 'good will.' Bruce Metzger (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, New York: United Bible Societies, 1994, page 111) explains:
The difference between the AV [KJV], "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men," and the RSV, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" is not merely a matter of exegesis of the meaning of the Greek, but is first of all one of text criticism. Does the Angelic Hymn close with eudokia [nominative] or eudokias [genitive]?

The genitive case, which is the more difficult reading, is supported by the oldest representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western groups of witnesses. The rise of the nominative reading can be explained either as an amelioration of the sense or as a palaeographical oversight...
I remember struggling with the translation of this verse with the Cheyenne lady with whom we were translating at the time. Her view of God did not allow God to "have favorites". She wanted the translation to indicate that God's peace and favor is upon everyone. I was able to make the change to what I consider closer to Luke's original meaning without her knowing.

The theme that certain people find favor with God is widespread throughout the Bible. Noah "found grace in the eyes of the Lord." David was a "man after God's own heart." Jesus made it clear that not everyone who called him "Lord, Lord" would enter the kingdom, but, rather, only those who has truly treated him as Lord, who have done the will of God. I want to be that kind of person.

The "message of Christmas" is universal, for all people, but it carries a kind of limited approval, where the angelic pronouncement of peace is not simply for everyone but for those who please God. Let us be those people. What a gift to give to the King!

5 Comments:

At Sun Dec 24, 08:07:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

I've always wondered about this. Sentimentality has always pushed me along with your Cheyenne lady, but scripture is certainly more friendly to limited favor.

Thank you, Wayne.

 
At Mon Dec 25, 01:12:00 PM, Blogger Tim Chesterton said...

Yeah - another very useful piece of background information. Thanks!

 
At Wed Dec 27, 01:34:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

While I prefer the critical text (non-KJV) version of the Greek, I am not sure that it should be understood as you are implicitly doing so, as dividing humans (anthropoi) into two categories on the basis of whether or not they have done things which cause God to be pleased with him. Indeed if that were the basis, this would not be a promise for me, indeed for no one except Jesus. No, the point is surely that God has chosen to have eudokia, a favourable attitude, towards all humans; there is no mention here of us deserving it, and from elsewhere in Scripture we learn that we do not, that it is all by God's grace. So perhaps the translation should be more like "Peace on earth to humans, for God favours them".

 
At Fri Dec 29, 04:54:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

This textual variant has also come up today on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, where Randall Buth comments:

The variant at Luke 2:14 relates to now famous Hebraisms
bne-restonxa 1QHa 19:12;
`ose restono 4Q171 f1_2,ii5;
anshe-ratson 'men of will/pleasure' 4Q418 f81;
et al.;
and an Aramaism 4Q545f4,18 'man of [his] will/pleasure.
The ignorance of these Hebrew idioms within Greek has apparently caused confusion within the textual history.


Tommy Wassermann replies:

Yes, and the Hebraisms were unknown at the time of Westcott & Hort, which made them put EUDOKIA in the margin, because EUDOKIAS seemed too difficult, almost impossible. When the construction was eventually discovered in the DSS, it became evident that EUDOKIAS was the lectio difficilior.

T. Baarda wrote a superb study of this textual problem somewhere. Otherwise, a professor from my seminary in Lund, Birger Olsson, published a reception-critical study of the verse in the NTS a while ago.


I have just replied:

Randall and Tommy, surely `ose restono is not only a DSS reading unknown to Westcott and Hort. עשׂה רְצוֹנוֹ `sh retsono and variants is found in the Hebrew Bible, Ezra 10:11, Psalm 40:9, 103:21, 143:10 (references taken from BDB), and the exact phrase you mention is at 103:21 although referring to angels rather than humans.

 
At Fri Dec 29, 04:56:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I forgot the link to the Evangelical Textual Criticism post I just referred to.

 

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