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Friday, July 11, 2008

Romans 3:12

Here is an interesting verse where I think the ESV did the right thing and kept the KJV tradition. It also brings up the question of how Paul cited the LXX. In Romans 3:4, Paul cites Ps. 51:4,
    so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment. Ps. 51:4 ESV

    "That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged." ESV

    ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου
    καὶ νικήσῃς ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε Ps. 51:4

    ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου
    καὶ νικήσεις ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε Rom. 3:4
Of course, Ps. 51:4 in the ESV is translated from the Hebrew.

    לְמַעַן תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶךָ
    תִּזְכֶּה בְשָׁפְטֶךָ

    That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings,
    and mightest overcome when thou art judged. Rom. 3:4 KJV
However, you can see that in P 51:4, the phrase "in your judgment" is active and in the LXX and Rom. 3:4 the phrase is passive, "when you are judged." This caused Luther quite a bit of consternation. Apparently Calvin was ahead of Luther in realizing that the Hebrew of Ps. 51:4 said "in your judgment."

Many other translations have decided to simply tidy up the discrepancy between Ps. 51:4 and Rom. 3:4. Here are a few.
    So that you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail in your judging." NRSV

    "So that you may be proved right when you speak
    and prevail when you judge." NIV

    "He will be proved right in what he says,
    and he will win his case in court." NLT
Here are some of my questions. Is the Hebrew vague or ambiguous? Did Paul know what the Hebrew was for this psalm? What do we do when two different interpretations for one original verse appear in the scriptures?

For Augustine this lead to his belief that the LXX was inspired as a translation. So for him the original Hebrew was inspired and the LXX was inspired. He actually thought that the LXX must have been a better translation of the Hebrew than Jerome's Latin Vulgate, because the LXX was translated by a "comittee" and Jerome was only one person.

I like the fact that the ESV retains the original sense of what Paul wrote, even though the sense is very odd indeed. Is God judged?


At Fri Jul 11, 07:24:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Good start in the problem space I have been wrestling with - how were the psalms read by the NT writers?

In this case, the issue being addressed is fundamental. Is God righteous? Is God good? I think this theodicy-related issue is the chief problem for Paul and Romans is his full reflection on it. In the midst of trouble, can the human find the promises of God satisfactory - whether pagan or Jewish? See Romans 1:17 - the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. The theme continues in 3:21-25 and chapters 9-11 where it is the culmination of Paul's 55 step argument in its 10 sections. (I have a colorful outline of the argument here from before I got seriously involved with the Psalms to try and pursue this question of how to read the NT texts.)

Strange shift isn't it - Romans is not about the bad news of our sin, but about the good news of God's righteousness - ki-tov (Gen 1, Psalm 34).

At Fri Jul 11, 07:31:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Your questions are excellent and should undermine some of our commonplace 'beliefs' about the text and focus us instead on the love of God that we are invited into.

The notion of an original inspired copy is simply the wrong question concerning the relation of text to spirit.

BW III has an article in BAR in which he says he will not preach on Pericope Adulterae since it should not be in the canon - good grief! How can we have a 'better' Bible about the God who is good when we can't read without a power struggle over original texts.

At Fri Jul 11, 07:56:00 AM, Blogger Keith Williams said...

I don't have much insight on your questions about the significance of the NT authors' use of the LXX where it differs from the MT, but I don't really see how the NLT tidied anything up in this case.

In Ps 51:4 (NLTse; you cite the 1996 edition), it reads:

"You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.*"

The footnote reads: "Greek version reads and you will win your case in court. Compare Rom 3:4."

Romans 3:4 reads:

"'You will be proved right in what you say,
and you will in your case in court.'*"

And the footnote there: "Ps 51:4 (Greek version)."

So, the NLT actually points out the difference between the MT and the LXX. And the translation, "you will win your case in court," does retain the idea of God being judged. It just renders it in more idiomatic language.

At Fri Jul 11, 09:38:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I appreciate Keith's comment. Here's mine:

I don't understand what the first line of the ESV means:

"That you may be justified in your words"

I have no idea what it means for someone to be justified in their words. We simply don't say something like that in English, so it doesn't accurately communicate the meaning of what Paul wrote.

The NLT wording, OTOH, does make sense. If an original author intended something to make sense to his readers, it is not accurate translation for us to use odd English wordings which do not make sense. English translations of the Bible should make just as much sense as the original text were intended to do for their readers.

Using standard English syntax and word combinations can go a long way toward helping us have better Bibles that communicate accurately to English speakers.

At Fri Jul 11, 10:31:00 AM, Blogger tcrob said...

Thanks Sue, for this one. Bob, it's interesting that you point out the theodicy-issue in Romans. It's there, and not much people highlight it.

Keith, I think you have made a great case for the NLT's rendering. And its Rom 3:4 rendering does accurately convey the meaning of the text, according to what Mr. Leman added.

It seems like the NT writers had a little elbow room that sometimes baffle us (see Eph 4:8 in its original form, the LXX and it Pauline usage).

At Fri Jul 11, 10:54:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

The Hebrew here is very tricky, especially the last word beshAphetEkha or beshophtEkha (capital letter indicating stress). This form doesn't make immediate sense. The Westminster morphology parses this as a very rare case of a finite qal verb with a prepositional prefix, but the qal verb form is anomalous as well as the construction, so this is unlikely. The BHS margin notes that the LXX seems to read this as the niphal (passive) infinitive form bishshAphetEkha, elided from behishshAphetEkha, and I suppose this is possible. But in fact the form looks to me more likely to be derived from a noun like the attested shEphet "judgment", with adjustments mainly in stress from the regular form, probably beshaphtekhA, as this is in the pausal position at the end of the verse.

So I would translate the last part of the Hebrew verse as "you are (or will be) pure in your judgment". This would of course normally refer to God's judgment of humans.

The Greek, in the LXX Psalm and in Romans, seems to have a different meaning, that God will prevail when humans judge him. Well, this isn't the only case of the NT quoting a translation error in LXX.

At Fri Jul 11, 11:38:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Peter that's lovely - an inspired error.

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


Thanks for demonstrating out how well the NLT handles this.

There are some excellent points her all around. I do think that always how God is a just God, and how Christ makes that true are central to Paul.

At Mon Jul 14, 04:58:00 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I too like the way the ESV retains the ambiguity; I was unaware of it before. Don't some translations write, "when you are judged" in Romans 3:4?

I think, in fact, Romans 3:3-4 is about God on trial. In a way, the whole book is--certainly chapters 9-11. If God promises salvation for Israel, and yet some of "Israel" are not saved, did God balk and his promises ("words"?) abort? Though I don't necessarily endorse Wright's or others' "new perspectives" on Pauline justification, I think the idea here does deal with God himself being found righteous, he himself being "justified" (3:4). He's not betraying the promises sealed in circumcision (2:25ff; 4:11), though some may indict him for this and for bringing judgment upon Israel. It's ultimately God's words--the word of the cross--that shut up everyone else's words (3:19) and declare sinners righteous in his sight (3:24ff).


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