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Dr. David Capes, former Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College, reflects upon moments when William Tyndale invented new words in English to capture the meaning of a Hebrew word. Transliteration only replicates the sounds of the original language, while a translation aims to capture its meaning.
“Exegetically Speaking” is a weekly podcast of the friends and faculty of Wheaton College, IL and The Lanier Theological Library. Hosted by Dr. David Capes, it features language experts who discuss the importance of learning the biblical languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—and show how reading the Bible in the original languages “pays off.” Each podcast lasts between seven and eleven minutes and covers a different topic for those who want to read the Bible for all it is worth.
You can hear Exegetically Speaking on Spotify, Stitcher, iTunes, and YouTube. If you have questions or comments, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And keep listening.
In this edition of “Exegetically Speaking” . . .
Dr. Douglas Moo, Kenneth T. Wessner Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, challenges the assumption that literal, word-for-word translations are always the best. Drawing upon his experience on the NIV translation committee, he illustrates his concern in Luke 22:31-32, showing the value of translating for sense rather than word-for-word.
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The podcast lasts approximately 7 minutes.
Dr. Seth Ehorn, Visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, discusses differences between translations of Philippians 2:4. Are we to set aside our own interests as we look to the interests of others? Or, should we consider our own interests as well as the interests of others?
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Dr. Jon Laansma, Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis, considers the question, Aren’t translations and computers all we need to interpret the Bible?
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Pope Francis is no stranger to controversy. This week he suggested that Catholics need to re-translate part of the text of the Lord’s Prayer. Now, before you say, so what?, consider that Christians the world over pray the Lord’s prayer weekly in worship and some daily in their personal devotions. It is part of the spiritual heritage of the ages.
Now, I realize, I’m limited in this post to the English language and more Catholics around the world don’t speak English than do. But still, it seems, from my limited knowledge of languages, that the idea the Pope is concerned about is reproduced in other western language versions of the Lord’s Prayer.
In particular, the line in question is the one which says “lead us not into temptation” (Matt 6:13; Luke 11:6). The phrase makes it seem, he says, as if God actively leads his people to be tempted to sin. Instead, he says, we should translate the line “do not let us fall into sin.”
Now let’s see how three major English translations render that line.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil . . . (King James Version)
And do not bring us to the time of trial
but rescue us from the evil one. (New Revised Standard Version)
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. (New International Version)
Four observations. First, most western Christians have memorized the King James Version (KJV). Second, the power of the KJV to shape modern translations should not be underestimated. Even translations like THE VOICE use the same language. Third, the NRSV comes closest to the Pope’s suggestion. Four, modern translations view the prayer as poetic and so render it in poetic verse.
The challenge of translation from one language to the next is a significant one. I’ve written about this problem on this site. But with the NT it is even more challenging because we are even further removed from the original source than we might imagine. Jesus spoke Aramaic. The Gospels are written in Greek. And most of us rely heavily on English translations.
Now, I think the Pope is onto something to which Christians—Protestant, Catholics and Orthodox—need to pay attention. God does not tempt people to sin. They are tempted by their own desires, or so says James (1:13-15).
The crux of the matter is the meaning of the word peirasmos. It is a word that does not occur outside the New Testament, so we can’t appeal to other Greek texts from the period—what scholars call comparative philology. Based on the NT itself, it seems the semantic field or range of meanings of this Greek word includes temptation (to sin) and trial or testing (of faith). If we take the rest of the NT seriously, as it seems the translators of the NRSV, it is best to take this as something like “(to God) do not bring us to a time of testing.” The opposite is this: “(God) rescue us from the evil one.”
It seems to me that the prayer of Jesus is similar to Jewish prayers from the same period. They ask roughly the same thing. “God, do not hand your people over to trials and tests, instead rescue them from evil.” In the arc of the Scriptural story think of someone like Job, Abraham (and his near sacrifice of Isaac), and the people of Israel in exile.
Whether Pope Francis’ teaching on this makes it down to your average congregation, we will see. If I were a “bettin’ man,” I’d say it will. In the end, no we don’t need a new Lord’s prayer, what we do need is good translations of the one we have.