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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Rhetorical level translation: Life on God's terms

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them--living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells--even though you still experience all the limitations of sin--you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!

So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us--an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!
Highlighting is my own in the preceding text, marking wordings which are written in unique, but natural English that grabs my attention and helps me comprehend and feel what surely must have been the original author's intention.

You can find this section online by clicking here.

How are you impacted by the reading in this post?

18 Comments:

At Sat Mar 15, 10:33:00 AM, OpenID discipuluscripturae said...

Christ's being-here-for-us
God went for the jugular
the law code
used as a Band-Aid on sin
one red cent
"What's next, Papa?"

I've not spent much time with the Message before. The idioms or phrases above fail for me and I was surprised to see them in this passage. I don't think they really help make this passage relevant to current society, though it may be my age (29). On the positive side, it all reads really well. Reminds me of a newspaper article or a self-help book.

 
At Sat Mar 15, 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The idioms or phrases above fail for me and I was surprised to see them in this passage. I don't think they really help make this passage relevant to current society, though it may be my age (29).

I don't think Peterson's use of his idioms is intended to make Bible passages relevant to current society, but, rather, to attempt to impact English speakers in a similar way that the hearers of the original texts might have been impacted by them. In other words, he's not attemting to transculturate in his translation, but to use idioms which will communicate the original meanings as effectively as possible.

Now, I, too often find that some of his idioms do not work well for me. Some seem to be unique to him. And it is better if a translation uses idioms which are used by a larger percentage of a translation's audience.

As for the particular idioms you marked in your comment, some, I think, as you mentioned reflect an age difference.

"God went for the jugular" is a great idiom for me, in my age group (nearing 60).

"not one red cent" has been in common usage by members of my generation.

"What's next, Papa?" would be better for me as "What's next, Daddy?" But I know that there are families where the children still call their father "Papa". It strikes my ear as old-fashioned, but it isn't old fashioned for everyone, I guess.

Thanks for writing your reactions.

 
At Sat Mar 15, 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Shaylin said...

I don't think Peterson's use of his idioms is intended to make Bible passages relevant to current society, but, rather, to attempt to impact English speakers in a similar way that the hearers of the original texts might have been impacted by them.

The problem, though (for me, at any rate), is that they have the net effect of yanking me out of the text, and drawing my attention to the fact that this is a self-consciously idiomatic translation. This is particularly the case with "Christ's being-here-for-us," "went for the jugular," "Band-Aid on sin," and "What's next, Papa?" To me, at least, it almost seems as though Peterson is trying too hard in these instances. For me, when I read those sorts of idioms, my attention gets focused less on the content of the text, and focusing more on what Peterson is trying to do and how well I think he succeeds.

And I'm sure other people will feel differently - or maybe the same, but about different idioms. On the whole, the passage does read quite smoothly. But in a way, that almost makes it worse: the idioms that strike me as odd or overdone stand out even more in an otherwise well-done passage.

 
At Sat Mar 15, 12:43:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Wayne,
You probably already know my beef with Peterson. From my point of view, he's someone who can write but in The Message he is trying too hard. He leaves Scripture sounding a lot like an oped piece.

He seems to have believed, as we do, that the NT was written in the ordinary language of the people, but he wasn't linguistically sophisticated enough to know that that DOESN'T mean slang. He doesn't understand when to turn it on and when to turn it off. Paul was not at all slangy, in fact he was consciously somewhat literary. So the use of expressions like [not] one red cent and go for the jugular don't mirror the way Paul talked. Image a rabbi. He knows he's talking about serious stuff, so he uses serious language. Natural language, but serious.

And it is often completely appropriate to make explicit in one language what is implicit in another, e.g.

Entró por la ventana el pájaro.

The bird flew through the window.


Span. entró 'entered' ≠ English flew in most contexts. In Spanish the flying is implicit; in English the entering is implict.

But Peterson has gone beyond the pale. It's altogether too much to turn

3το γαρ αδυνατον του νομου εν ω ησθενει δια της σαρκος ο θεος τον εαυτου υιον πεμψας εν ομοιωματι σαρκος αμαρτιας και περι αμαρτιας κατεκρινεν την αμαρτιαν εν τη σαρκι

4ινα το δικαιωμα του νομου πληρωθη εν ημιν τοις μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα

into

3-4God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.


I can live with, and might even recommend, using human nature or human condition to gloss σαρξ, lit. 'meat' (in Biblish flesh). But injecting a small homily on the meaning of what God did is over the top.

 
At Sat Mar 15, 06:33:00 PM, Blogger mike said...

Richard, I'm going to have to disagree with you with regard to Paul's writing. While its true that the NT was written in the ordinary language of the people, its also true that Paul's letters are extremely charged rhetorically. The Corinthians didn't think much of Paul's speaking abilities, but they knew he wrote powerful letters.

Paul wrote in ordinary language in that it was Koine and not some sort of "Biblical Greek." But the language he used was not plain language by any means. He was a gifted and powerful writer.

With that said, I do agree with you about Peterson, some of his writing is a little too forced. But its still powerful - probably closer to the power of the original than most other translations - which surely what Wayne's point in the first place!

 
At Sun Mar 16, 02:30:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Mike,
I don't know that we're that far apart in opinion about Paul's language. I am saying that Paul was consciously literary. He talks (writes?) like an educated rabbi, making arguments -- often quite eloquently.

That's entirely lost in Peterson. (And also lost in a lot of FE translations, BTW.)

 
At Sun Mar 16, 02:34:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Oops, I should have said the power of language that is in Peterson is not the power in that's in the original.

Peterson's Paul sounds like he writes opeds for Saloon.com.

Paul actually sounds more like Rabbi Schmolinsky at Beth Megatemple downtown, whose sermons are on the radio.

 
At Mon Mar 17, 04:32:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Rabbi Schmolinsky and Rich are right. (And saloon.com is a Texan online magazine for us gunslinging cowboys needing refreshment here just West of Dallas).

For Peterson's congregation, J. B. Phillips' "No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are 'in' Jesus Christ" is clearly not "vital" enough.

And, for Bible study, the NLT's saying "his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have" is obviously just not as messy and as disorderly and as rhetorical as Paul's Greek to the Romans.

Here's Peterson's own "Band-Aid" for others' lack of original "sense" that he once shared with Paul in such a lonely way:

"While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren't feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn't read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become 'old hat.'"
http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/?action=getVersionInfo&vid=65

 
At Mon Mar 17, 06:57:00 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

I'm a believer in Peterson's rationale and results. We so often forget that the Bible was not supposed to sound "Bible-y," not lofty and ceremonial, but is in fact the living breath of God. Just yesterday I was in a church that prayed the Lord's Prayer with "thy"'s and wondered why we cling so fiercely to archaisms--simply out of overwrought reverence, it seems to me.

I do think a few checks are in order:

1) First, many of the arguments made by supporters of formal equivalence hold some water when it comes to academic study of the text. A word-for-word emphasis is useful in this setting--of course, my preference in academic study is to consult the ultimate word-for-word: an interlinear.

2) Second, I should try to be as disappointed in dynamic equivalences & paraphrases that blur the distinctions between genres as I am in formal equivalent translations that make all biblical books sound the same. The Greek of Mark is not the Greek of Hebrews is not the Greek of Revelation; Hebrew poetry is a whole different world from Hebrew narrative. I haven't looked hard enough, or broadly enough, at the Message, to see how much Peterson varies his rhetoric according to the genre of the book. But how many translations make us feel like we're dealing with multiple books--which we actually are--rather than one monolithic big book?

 
At Mon Mar 17, 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Jim Swindle said...

My reaction to the passage is that I have to spend so much effort trying to figure out whether the scripture said something even similar to what Peterson said, that it's all too much work for me. In reading a translation that I basically trust (anything between NLT and NASB/KJV), I can let the Lord speak to me through the text.

In reading The Message, I believe I'm in eternal spiritual danger if I pretend that the Lord is speaking to me directly through the text. I'm sure the Lord never said anything about Band-Aids or red cents. He spoke about bandages and small coins, but not in Romans 8. So, for me, reading The Message is far too much work to be attractive.

PS - Before everyone jumps on me, I did not say that everyone who loves The Message is going to hell. My meaning is that it's dangerous to pretend the Lord said what he never said. With something like The Message, I believe it's inevitable that a lot of meaning gets added and omitted.

 
At Mon Mar 17, 11:11:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Mike wrote:

But its still powerful - probably closer to the power of the original than most other translations - which surely what Wayne's point in the first place!

Yes, that was my point. I agree with everyone else that Peterson gets carried away with his idioms, many of which are unique to him. But I have seldom been impacted by the wording of a translation the way I have by The Message. Please note that emotional and spiritual impact is a very different translation parameter from translation accuracy or a number of other important translation parameters.

I want a translation which will move me, convict me, encourage me. That doesn't happen to me when I read translations which do not use very natural English. It has happened to me when I read some passages from Phillips translation, the Living Bible, and The Message.

Perhaps I need to accept that it takes at last two different translations for me, one for study and one for devotions, spiritual impact. I'm sure that there are people who can be spiritually moved by study translations. I'm just not wired that way.

 
At Mon Mar 17, 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jim wrote:

I'm sure the Lord never said anything about Band-Aids or red cents.

So true, Jim. But Peterson isn't claiming that the Lord used these words, nor any English words, for that matter. What he is trying to do is create a similar rhetorical impact for the reader of his paraphrase as that which he guesses that the hearers of the original biblical language texts got.

I'm glad that you can hear God speaking to you through a Bible version that translates the biblical texts more literally. I'm just not wired that way. I need more natural English, including some rich, vivid English idioms, where they can make the same point as the original text did, and do so for me as an English text, powerfully.

I am not at all suggesting that The Message is a good study Bible. All I am saying in my post is that The Message shines (for me, at least) when it comes to rhetorical impact.

Other Bible versions do a better job at handling other translation factors, including accuracy, concordance, etc.

 
At Mon Mar 17, 11:24:00 AM, Blogger Iris said...

Deeply! I am giving a Good Friday message and this is what has been in my heart for almost a month! Unbelievable. I would not have read The Message -- not one of my comparables -- maybe that needs to change.
Thank you and bless you.
Iris

 
At Mon Mar 17, 03:42:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jim wrote:

I'm sure the Lord never said anything about Band-Aids or red cents.

Indeed. Nor did he say anything about sitting down to eat, nor did Paul say "God forbid!" to anything, despite what it says in many supposedly formal equivalence translations. Bible translators have always tended to update idioms. The Message may do it more than some, but the difference is a matter of degree rather than of principle.

 
At Mon Mar 17, 08:02:00 PM, Blogger Jim Swindle said...

I recognize what Peterson was doing. I also recognize that he's a master of English idiom. However, I think his version (I am very reluctant to call it a translation) goes too far, just as the original Living Bible went too far. Think of it this way: if a Jehovah's Witness, a liberal Anglican, and a fundamentalist Baptist were asked to create a basically literal translation, after they got over hating each other, they could probably agree on the translation of the vast majority of the verses, even if they didn't agree on the MEANING of those verses. However, if you asked them to create their equivalent of The Message, I can't imagine them agreeing on much of anything.

In a more traditional translation, I'm less dependent on the translator's theological opinions (and more dependent on my own), while the reader of The Message is very heavily dependent on the translator's opinions. I believe a group of ordinary people, dependent on the Holy Spirit, can fairly easily find the truth they need in an honest, fairly literal translation. It helps if they have a couple of such translations, from different perspectives, to compare.

My beliefs on these things are fallible, but so are those of Peterson and his fans. I guess what it comes down to is that I have less faith in the linguists and more faith in the Holy Spirit's ability to speak to the common man. Still, we need linguists. And yes, I'm aware of the difficulties of translating Jewish table customs and the Greek ME GENOITA (May it never be/God forbid).

May the Lord guide all of you who are actively translating. Thank you for your dedication and your work.

 
At Tue Mar 18, 06:03:00 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

But I have seldom been impacted by the wording of a translation the way I have by The Message. Please note that emotional and spiritual impact is a very different translation parameter from translation accuracy or a number of other important translation parameters.

I want a translation which will move me, convict me, encourage me.


Agreed. That too often gets lost in discussions of Bible translation--as in fact it has in this thread of comments.

 
At Tue Mar 18, 06:19:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jim wrote:

In a more traditional translation, I'm less dependent on the translator's theological opinions (and more dependent on my own) ... I believe a group of ordinary people, dependent on the Holy Spirit, can fairly easily find the truth they need in an honest, fairly literal translation.

Jim, have you followed the past discussions here about TNIV and ESV? It is clear that the fairly literal translations in fact reflect the translator's theological opinions, in deep if sometimes subtle ways, with serious potential for confusing ordinary readers on some issues. Unfortunately this is more or less unavoidable in translation.

 
At Tue Mar 18, 08:45:00 AM, Blogger TedE said...

I had opportunity to hear Peterson do a Q & A at a theological seminary student luncheon. He was asked how he was inspired to write the message. After clarifying some assumptions in the question, he stated that he was leading a Bible study group in his home while in the pastorate. The study was the book of Galatians. He said they were sitting there drinking his coffee and he wasn't connecting. He and his wife had significant discussion. He then translated Galatians into the language of the day with an emphasis on the emotion of the passage. He said when he saw half filled cups of cold coffee, he knew he had them. Galatians was published and his publisher later suggested he do the whole Bible. Thus the end result is the Message. He said he did not use the Message as his pulpit Bible. He recommended a more formal translation for that. It was a most interesting luncheon.

 

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