By God’s grace, English translations of the Bible are generally of very high quality, far higher than the translations of any other ancient text. More effort is put into securing just the right sense and nuance when translating the Bible than anything else, because so much is at stake. Due to my over-education, I have the rare privilege of reading English translations not only alongside the original Hebrew, but alongside other translations used by the earliest Christians in Greek (the Septuagint), Syriac (the Peshitta), and Latin (the Vulgate). And when I came to Zephaniah 3:1, I noticed something strange: unusually, all the English translations I looked at disagreed with all the early versions. What’s going on here? (more…)
There are a number of places in the Gospels where the words of Jesus or someone else are reported in Hebrew or Aramaic, followed by a gloss in Greek (which is usually translated into English for English-reading audiences). Thus “Immanuel” is glossed “God with us” in Matthew 1:23, and “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in Matthew 27:46. But in one case the supplied translation adds a few words: in Mark 5:41, Jesus says to the dead girl, “Talitha koum!” which is translated as “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” A rudimentary knowledge of Aramaic quickly indicates that talitha is “little girl” and koum (qum) is “get up!” but where did “I say to you” come from? This has long made me scratch my head, but now I have a theory. (Nerd alert!) (more…)
One of my favorite Christian songs is the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and I was delighted some years ago to learn that it was originally in Latin. Having learned Latin, I am still very fond of the familiar version we sing in church, but that translation (like all translations from verse into verse) necessarily adjusts the meaning to fix the meter. So for Advent this year, I thought I would provide the hymn’s Latin words with a very literal translation into English prose, not to be sung, but so that the song may be better understood. The Latin text was taken, with minor adjustments of punctuation, from here. (more…)
It is often claimed that one insuperable difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants, since Luther, believe in the priesthood of all believers, while Catholics believe Christians need a priest to bring them to God. Today this is usually a Protestant accusation against Catholics, although in the sixteenth century Luther’s notion of the priesthood of all believers, including illiterate and semi-literate peasants, did come in for a certain amount of ridicule from some of the more educated members of the clergy. Some of the wilder branches of Protestantism have gone further than Luther, even rejecting, on the claimed basis of the “priesthood of all believers,” any ordained clergy whatsoever (this includes the Plymouth Brethren and the Quakers), while many “Bible-believing” Protestants draw a sharp distinction between Roman Catholic priests and their own pastors or elders. As with so many things, however, the disagreement between the denominations over the scope of the priesthood is based more on an argument over words than over the substance of what the Bible says. There are substantive disagreements in Roman Catholic and various Protestant understandings of priesthood(s), but the “argument” over the priesthood or not of all believers can safely be put down to a deficiency of northern European languages like English, which have one word where Greek has two, and a desire on both sides of the argument to affirm the superiority of their group over those who disagree with them.
This is, at long last, an answer to a question posted by a commentator (I’m sorry to say over a month ago): “[H]ow do you see Christ as having made provisions for guaranteeing the preservation of Truth through the ages (if you see Him as having done so at all)?” Subsequent discussion revealed that he did not mean merely since Christ’s ascension to heaven. So this post attempts to address the question in general, but first (as a humanities scholar is apt to do), I need to clarify the issue.
Clarifying the Problem
What does it mean to “guarantee the preservation of Truth”? In what ways is Truth not preserved? Truth is not an organic mass which begins to decompose in the summer heat, changing color and attracting flies. Nor is truth a substance that can be diluted or transmuted. Truth is a property of certain beliefs, and the “preservation of Truth” is the preservation of true beliefs in the minds of people. A true belief may fail to be preserved in the minds of people either by failing to pass it on to new people, so that the true belief may be said to end (in a sense) with the death of the last person who believes it, or by being rejected in favor of alternate (and false) beliefs. Since no sound argument can refute a true belief, if we were fully rational beings, no true belief would ever be rejected for a false belief. And if we were immortal and perfectly rational beings, truth would be in no danger. But in fact, we are both mortal, so beliefs need to be passed on, and sinful, so that we often prefer convenient falsehoods to inconvenient truths. And thus true beliefs need to be preserved. The transfer of true beliefs to other people is a variety of revelation, the means by which those other people come to believe this truth. The question of how sinful people are checked from simply chucking out whatever truth they don’t like is a question of redemption. In both processes, God’s message of salvation is at stake, and therefore this is an important question. (more…)