Monday, October 10, 2011

A More Churchly Translation

While reading in Gerhard I was suddenly struck by the churchly nature of the Scriptural translation Gerhard had employed.  It is more common today for a translation of Scripture to conform to common usage of terms instead of churchly vocabularly.  I am not so sure this is a good thing.  Perhaps we need use one translation for those within the Church and another for those not yet of the Household of God.

In Hebrews 9:10 Gerhard translates "only with food and various baptisms [where we might be accustomed to see washings]."   Again, in 2 Kings 5:14 he translates "Naaman baptized [washed in modern parlance] himself seven times in the Jordan."  With respect to the Eucharist, he translates 1 Corinthians 10:16 "[the cup of blessing that we read] the consecrated chalice."

I am convinced that part of the poverty of our Bible reading is our failure to connect the dots.  We do not see baptism throughout the Scriptures but only in the few obvious passages related to its institution.  This is not how our Lord intended.  It is by the nature of His use of Old Testament Scripture that we see how He regarded these things all connected together.  From Ezekiel's promise to sprinkle many nations to the ordinary Hebrew practice of washing things ceremonially unclean, baptism is woven into the words and we are meant to see it, to recognize it, and to rejoice in it.

We live in an age and time in which these natural connections implicit in the text are less than obvious -- perhaps even alien to the way we read Scripture.  This may, in part, be due to the fact that Bible translation has been taken over largely by folks from non-sacramental backgrounds.  But it is also due, in part, to our own failure to read with the means of grace always in mind, with the Word and Sacraments as the perspective of the reader.   We are not imposing this upon the text but seeing what God has placed there.  If the cross and empty tomb were God's plan from the beginning and implicit in the history of the Old Testament as well as the record of the New, then also implicit in the text is the means by which He delivers to us His Son and the blessings of the cross and empty tomb -- namely, the means of grace.

When you read of the Fall in Genesis 3, did you see God's call to confession and absolution when He walked in the Garden in the cool of the day, seeking out the hidden Adam and Eve?  If not, why not?  Why did God call to Adam except to offer them the opportunity to come clean through confession?  But, of course, Adam did not hear that and saw only his sin and guilt, which he sought to deal with only by hiding from God.  Is this not the pattern of every age and people.  The call to repentance is nothing but this call to confession and the place where God reveals His great mercy to the guilty and fallen.

It is part of the terrible curse of modern methods of Biblical interpretation that we are more concerned with what the original hearers heard or read in Scripture than with what God intended.  The message of Scripture is nothing less than the message of Christ, of the cross, of the suffering that pays sin's terrible price, and of the grace that flows from that obedience unto death on behalf of a whole sinful world, captive to death and the grave.  To see Christ in Scripture is to see the means of grace by which Christ comes to us, rich in grace and laden with the gifts He won for us by His own obedient suffering and life-giving death.

The longer I serve as a Pastor the more I see this.  It is my hope and prayer that those in the pews see with me the same rich images of the means of grace all throughout the Scriptures.  What a blessing it is and what a blessing it might be if we had a churchly translation which drew attention to this!


Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Thank you for Bible Study yesterday. Thank you for making clear that even the phrase, "the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin" is sacramental, Eucharistic.

It's not just baptism that gets swallowed up in modern thought and speech.

Terry Maher said...

If it doesn't say baptise, you don't translate baptise. If it doesn't say chalice, you don't translate chalice. Otherwise it's just thought-for-thought and dynamic equivalence no less than the liberals, the only difference being over what is the thought and what is the equivalence.

The original hearers were familiar with things we are not, and heard what they heard in that context that is not ours. Do we teach, in class or sermon, what that is? Can't connect the dots unless you see the dots.

Wouldn't hurt to explain the nature and role of a mikveh re Baptism. wouldn't hurt to explain what a Kaddish is, since the Our Father is exactly that and would have been immediately recognised as such when it was given, which also yields a significance as to why he was giving it when he was asked what he was asked. Wouldn't hurt to explain that the three main "hours" (Matins, Vespers, Compine) trace back to the Patriarchs, rather than translate their prayers as matins or vespers or compline. Zum B.

Chris Jones said...

If it doesn't say baptize, you don't translate baptize. If it doesn't say chalice, you don't translate chalice.

But Terry, it does say baptize:

μονον επι βρωμασιν και πομασιν και διαφοροις βαπτισμοις (Hb 9:10)


καὶ κατέβη Ναιμαν καὶ ἐβαπτίσατο ἐν τῷ Ιορδάνῃ ἑπτάκι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμα Ελισαιε (2 Kg 5:14 LXX)

and it does say chalice:

το ποτηριον της ευλογιας (1 Cor 10:16)

There's no "dynamic equivalence" involved.

Anonymous said...

The LCMS decided to use the ESV for
the 3 year lectionary because it
translates the Greek better than
other versions. We should stick to
the Greek and not allow any bias to
interfere with our translations.

Terry Maher said...

No, that doesn't say baptise, it says wash; the English cognate conveys something the Greek does not necessarily. The same verb and derivative noun are used in several senses other than the new sense applied to it in the NT, especially the washing prescribed in the Law. It simply reads back into it what we want to see to translate it "baptism".

Anonymous said...

Terry, it seems to me that all Pr Peters is asking for is reading the Bible without tunnel vision, reading with the full lens rather than myopically. He is right that we Lutherans have let the generic Protestants translate the Bible for us and they have not be myopic but translated from their non-sacramental bias. I, for one, think it would be helpful to see the dots clearly as well as connect them.

Terry Maher said...

No disagreement. My point is, the way to show a sacramental connexion we see in the very same words that Protestants typically do not, is not to translate them with English cognates that carry connotations the translated word does not, it is to show, for example, how "washing" attains a fulfillment in Baptism from its promise in earlier usages in the Bible. Might make for a great sermon on the Purification of the BVM!

Chris Jones said...

English cognates that carry connotations the translated word does not

Ah, but the translated word does carry that connotation, when you read all of the Scriptures according to the Rule of Faith. When the Word of God commanded us to make disciples of all nations, washing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, He was giving us a new connotation for the word "wash." And that gives us a new way of looking at, and understanding, the occasions when He used the word "wash" in the Old Covenant. The Old Testament can only be read in the light of the New, and the word "wash" in the Scriptures can never again be read without thinking of Baptism.

Terry Maher said...

That does not mean that "wash" now means Baptism whenever "wash" occurs in the OT. It doesn't even mean Baptism every time it occurs in the NT. And it is utterly false that the OT can only be read in light of the NT. If the Promise could not be understood itself, the Fulfillment could not be understood at all.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

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Bobby Valentine