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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Waits out storms

There is no one right way to translate μακροθυμεω. However, "patient" may be too bland, and "suffers long" somewhat opaque. "Slow to anger" is a solution which uses the same term as is used in the Old Testament for how the Lord deals with his people. He is "slow to anger." It is not a passive expression, but alludes to strength and feeling. This passage exhorts us to have love for others of the kind that God has for us. There is another option, however.

Last summer when we were discussing 1 Cor. 13, Carl Conrad sent me his translation of this chapter, remarking that this is not a "literal" version, and definitely involves a distinctive interpretation of the Pauline text in the context of an interpretation of 1 Corinthians as a whole. Although this translation has been used at a wedding ceremony, he expressed some reservations about this.

I Corinthians 13: A Version
1.  Unless I make my voice show loving-kindness,
the eloquence of orators
and even lyric ecstasy of angels
is meaningless babel.

2. Whatever powers I may have—
to proclaim God’s will on the issues of the day,
to probe secrets of the cosmos and wisdom of sages,
to overcome any obstacle with boundless trust in God,
they are utterly worthless
unless they serve loving-kindness.

3. I might be
a peerless philanthropist
or ready to die for the right cause,
but doing good
—without loving-kindness,
is labor spent in vain.

4. Loving-kindness waits out storms;
it is good-hearted and not jealous;
it isn't egotistical, and doesn't put on airs.

5. It doesn't become ugly,
doesn't try to get its own way,
doesn't lose its temper,
and doesn't hold a grudge.

6. Loving-kindness isn’t pleased
when someone gets hurt;
what really thrills it
is integrity winning out.

7. Loving-kindness rises to meet each occasion;
it is absolutely trusting,
full of hope,
withstands every challenge.

8. Loving-kindness will always have a role to play.
But someday great issues will no longer matter;
someday eloquence will have nothing to say;
someday throbbing angelic ecstasy will be hushed;
and someday profound insights will be irrelevant.

9. Our deepest insights, after all,
are always biased;
even our visions of the issues
are colored by our time and place.

10. But when the fullness of time comes,
our biased insights
and matters that seem to us important
will lose their importance.

11. A child has its own way of talking,
its own way of seeing right and wrong,
its own way of thinking.
An adult must think and act in grown-up ways.

12. We are like children now:
our images of each other are at best distorted;
when we grow up,
we will look each other in the face.
My clearest visions now are skewed;
when we are fully grown,
we shall see and understand each other
with the wholeness of authentic selves.

13. So there are these three things that outlive life itself:
trusting loyalty,
sure expectation,
and loving-kindness;
and of them all,
the one that counts for most is loving-kindness.

—CWC; August 6, 1988, revised


At Thu Apr 10, 10:53:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne, if we are going to translate into natural English of current speakers (not everyone has this goal, however), I don't think that "slow to anger" would fit in a contemporary, natural English translation. It is not in common usage. It sounds old-fashioned to my ears.

OTOH, something like "slow to get angry" would be understandable to all current speakers, I believe. It's a little more contemporary than "slow to anger". I'm not sure that it is currently grammatical English to say that someone is "slow to" + NOUN, e.g. note how odd these sound which follow the same syntactic frame:

He is slow to independence.
He is slow to happiness.
He is slow to joy.

Another possibility is to turn the phrase into an equivalent negative, e.g. "doesn't get angry quickly". I suggest that this is both contemporary and widely understood. Probably it is even wisely used.

At Thu Apr 10, 11:08:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Oh well. I am trying to get it to agree with Ex. and the Psalms.

The fun thing about this blog is that there are as many opinions as there are bloggers.

I am offering my suggestions and Carl's poem as personal interpretations, not as "common usage." There is a time to be common, and a time to be personally expressive.

At Fri Apr 11, 03:36:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, I have agreed with and accepted your suggestion in a comment on my blog post on this subject.

But I dispute your parsing of "slow to anger" as "slow to" + NOUN. I understand "anger" here as the verb, which I admit is not very common. Usually in modern English it means "cause to get angry", but it probably has an older non-causative sense equivalent to "get angry" which is used here.

Of course we need "slow to get angry" in Exodus 34:6 etc as well.

At Fri Apr 11, 06:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I liked the translation. A bit informal, but then again, we need more like this. Slow to anger, to a novice like me, brings to mind a certain unwarranted negativity, yet 'wait out the storms' is a perfect expression to bring to mind a a different set of ideals.

At Fri Apr 11, 09:59:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I agree that "slow to get angry" would be appropriate both in the Hebrew Bible and in 1 Cor. 13.

I wanted to show Carl's poem to demonstrate the importance of engaging personally with the text. In the scramble for a "literal" translation this kind of engagement has been devalued. I believe people would benefit from an affective involvement in translation as well as an analytic and academic approach.

This poem serves not only as a translation but as personal commentary. Thank you, Carl for sharing it with us.

At Fri Apr 11, 11:35:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

I really like Carl Conrad's translation. It opens up new vistas on the text. It reminds me a bit of Peterson's The Message.


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