Thursday, October 28, 2010

Taking your (Greek) bible to Church

It is a regular practice for protestants to take not only their hymnal but also their bibles to church with them on Sunday - although these days there are usually "pew bibles" (ie. copies of the bible in the pews already) provided. They are likely to look up the readings for the day and to read along as the lector is reading the lessons. Catholics on the other hand get everything in their missals (except the hymns, but I'm not going there just now), or at least on their bulletin sheets, so, even if they do read along with the reading instead of just listening to it (that is another question too, which we will deal with another time), they don't really ever get the readings in context. Often too, they are not even aware of where it comes in the bible.

All that being as it is, my issue here today is that I have decided that in the future I will take my Greek New Testament along to mass, because I have become very suspicious of the tranlstion in our missal. We are stuck with the current translation - which I understand are a modified version of the Jerusalem Bible - for at least the next twelve months, when - again as I understand it - we will get a modified version of the New Revised Standard Version instead. That should be an approvement, depending on the level of modification. But it will surely be a relief to leave the JB well and truly behind.

All this is prompted by last week's gospel, on the Pharisee and the Publican, Luke 18:9-14. Here is how the missal has it:
Gospel Lk 18:9-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
The publican returned to his home justified; the pharisee did not.
Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else, ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

I have highlighted a word-stem that occurs three times in that story, and (in the missal) once in the short summary of the Gospel at the beginning (which isn't read aloud). The word-stem is the Greek "dikai-/dikoi-" stem. I am teaching Romans at the moment for Anima Education, and so my ears are very attuned to this word and its translations. The word can basically be translated in two directions, either as "righteous" or as "just", from which we get "justification" and "justify" as well. The confusion abounds in the above translation which translates "dikaioi" in verse 9 as "virtuous" (instead of "righteous"), "adikoi" in verse 11 as "unjust", and "dedikaiomenos" in verse 14 as "at rights with God". For good measure, the initial summary translates "dedikaiomenos" as "justified". Reading (or, even more, listening) to this parable told in the Jerusalem Bible translation obscures the fact that the central question of the story is: Who is "Righteous"?

And that of course, requires the preacher or homilist to explain to the assembly what "righteous" actually means - for the one thing it certainly doesn't mean in the New Testament is "virtuous" (as suggested in this translation). It wasn't a question for the Pharisee whether he was "virtuous" or not. The point was that he kept the Torah. And keeping the Torah demonstrated that he was among God's elect, that is, one of the "Righteous". Not like that other bloke over there who was one like the rest of mankind, like the Gentiles, ie. "a-dikoi", "UN-Righteous". (Cf. for comparison Jesus' directions in Matt 18:17 - "treat him as you would a gentile or a tax collector", ie. not one of the "Righteous", not one of God's "elect"). The surprising thing in Luke's parable is that Jesus says it was this tax-collector, and not the Pharisee who was "shown to be Righteous" ("dedikaiomenos"). It fits amazingly well with the use of the "dikai-" stem in Paul!

But all that is obscured by the Jerusalem Bible translation. The other translations are only marginally better. The NIV uses "righteousness", "evildoers" and "justified" (in that order), the NRSV uses "righteous", "rogues", and "justified". The RSV is probably best with "righteous", "unjust" and "justified", but that is still obscured by the different English stems ("righteous" and "just") to translate the single Greek stem ("dikai-").

Of course, all this I only suspected while at Mass last Sunday. I had to wait to check it up when I got home. In the future, I will be taking my Greek bible to Church!

28 Comments:

At Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:01:00 am , Anonymous Weedon said...

Once a Lutheran...

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:13:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

...now an N.T. Wrightian.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:35:00 am , Anonymous Pr Mark Henderson said...

But, surely David, 'virtuous' fits right in with a Catholic theology of justification? (tongue only partly in cheek).

I sat behind Matthew Harrison once at an installation and midway through the sermon he pulled out his pocket Greek NT to check something the preacher was saying. Ever since I've thought it good practice to do the same [when I'm not preaching, of course ;0)]

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 2:34:00 am , Anonymous Peter Golding said...

Apparently a great man.
Cardinal Pell is a big fan.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 2:52:00 am , Anonymous Father John Fleming said...

I love this. So, David, please give us your translation, ie how the thing would actually read if it were better translated.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 3:17:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Whatever may be said for Wright's theology as a whole, on the matter of what "righteousness" means in St Paul, he is pretty well spot on. I have only one quibble with him, as he usually argues that "the righteousness of God" IS "his covenant faithfulness". This assertion has attracted a lot of reaction from among his evangelical brethren. I think he would have been wiser to argue that God's Righteousness is SHOWN by his faithfulness to the covenant (and to his creation, etc.).

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 3:52:00 am , Anonymous Father John Fleming said...

Peregrinus, you say: "You suggest that the dikai-/dikoi words can be translated “in two directions”, employing either righteous and related words, or just and related words. But here already I stumble; as far as I’m concerned I agree with my dictionary which tells me that rightous means “acting or disposed to act rightly or justly; conforming to the precepts of divine law or accepted standards of morality; upright, virtuous”, and that just means “That does what is morally right, righteous; righteous in the sight of God; justified.” In other words, these are not really two different directions. Pretty much the same direction, in fact. And words like virtuous and moral don’t seem to be too far off the mark either." But you simply can't do Biblical Theology by reference to the COD. Try the Jerome Biblical Commentary. Righteousness is more a judicial concept in Hebraic thought, that is one who obeys the law. The virtuous man is one who goes much further than mere legal prescription. He, for example, acts kindly to all and not just to members of his own community. Which is where Aristotle's idea of virtue and Christ's injunction to go well beyond mere (and limited) legal prescriptions are in harmony. Do not commit adultery, and if you don't, then you are innocent before the law. But the virtuous man is the one who does not look at a woman with adultery in his heart (eg mentally undressing her).

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 4:01:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

You are right in saying that an (uncritical) reading of traditional Catholic writing on "justification" could give the idea that righteousness = virtue. Unfortunately, this is part of a much wider problem that I one day hope to address with a whole doctoral thesis. I think that the way in which Catholics AND Lutherans have approached the doctrine of justification is in fact with the idea that "righteousness" is a moral category. The JDDJ still works with this idea a bit. I think Wright's reading of Paul undercuts the whole 16th century debate and would propose a new way forward for the dialogue.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 4:11:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Which is where Aristotle’s idea of virtue and Christ’s injunction to go well beyond mere (and limited) legal prescriptions are in harmony.


First century Jews (except perhaps Philo) did not use "dikaios" in Aristotelian terms of virtue. It was not a philosophical idea, but a religious idea. It had specific reference to those who were the heirs of the covenant, ie. who would inherit the land and share in the age to come. This was not a vague idea of "virtue" (about which one could have argued what was and was not "virtuous") but about Torah observance, which worked as the badge identifying you as a child of Abraham.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 4:27:00 am , Anonymous Father John Fleming said...

Well, goodness me, isn't that the point I am making? The synthesis between faith and reason upon which Aquinas relied means that Aristotle's reason or philosophy is in harmony with the teachings of Christ (revelation). I said harmony and harmony does not mean the "same thing" as!

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 4:33:00 am , Anonymous Father John Fleming said...

And if I might add, David, that synthesis was developed over centuries. Which is why virtue has become a very sophisticated developed idea in Catholic moral theology.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 6:05:00 am , Anonymous Pr Mark Henderson said...

Well, I would really love to read that thesis when it is written, David. Sounds fascinating, and could lead to a genuine breakthrough if indeed it holds true. Before you embark upon it though, have you engaged with any of those critical of Wright from the Protestant side? There is a growing chorus agin him.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 6:08:00 am , Anonymous Pr Mark Henderson said...

Pere,
How about "rightwising"?
Probably pretty archaic now, but otherwise I think it has a lot going for it.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 6:22:00 am , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

You can always come to my Church and hear it in the original Greek every Sunday (and in English too).

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 6:23:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Problem solved!

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 6:41:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

oh yes, of course. That's the key to really get a handle on it all. For my money, their criticisms are excellent at showing how right Wright is!

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:31:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Yes, and I am not rejecting that centuries old tradition and synthesis in any way. The problem comes when this synthesis is read back into the exegesis of the scriptural passages, thus missing an important element in the understanding of the passage (nb. I am not saying that the passage cannot be legitimately understood in other ways, but that we must have appreciation for how it sounded to the first readers). When it comes to the Lutheran Catholic dialogue, it is quite appropriate to argue about "infused grace" or "imparted righteousness" over against "imputed righteousness" and "forensic justification", as long as we understand that this was not Paul's argument. And that is important, because the Lutheran argument is that Catholic doctrine is "unscriptural", not "untrue". The fact is that Lutheran doctrine is "unscriptural" too, because the scriptures they quote to support their position doesn't address their position any more than it addresses the Catholic position.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:43:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Do you really have the readings in Greek in your Church, Tony? I thought you were Russian Orthodox?

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:43:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

And it means just a little more than that. "Right with God" in respect to what? Sin? Yes, indeed, but also with respect to judgment. Note Jesus' saying in John 16:8ff, where he actually distinguishes between "sin", "righteousness" and "judgment". Were these primarily personal moral categories in 1st Century Judaism (ie. to do with "virtue"), or were they in fact perceived as legal (in the sense of nomic or Torah) categories? I believe Wright is correct to say they are the latter.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:45:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Both the JB and the NJB use "yahweh". I don't know of anything specific in the NJB that is worse than the old JB, and there is much that is better. Of course, the JB and the NJB regularly use the "iustia" (justice) language to translate "zadik" and "dikaios", following the Vulgate.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 11:14:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

No, you are using the word "exegesis" incorrectly, Fr John. Exegesis is the process of determining what the text says. After that comes interpretation (determining what it says in terms of the teaching of the Church) and application (to our situation now many centuries hence). The place of the synthesis is in the latter, not the former. Of course we use philosophy in drawing out the full implications of any given Scriptural text, but that isn't the starting point of exegesis. You are correct in saying Luther rejected the synthesis. I am not doing that, I am only saying we should not read the texts in an anachronistic way. This is, to take an obvious instance, what happens when certain Christians do when they read the first chapters of Genesis - they try to use it in a "scientific" way, thus seeing Genesis 1 in conflict with holding an scientific evolutionary view of origins.

 
At Thursday, October 28, 2010 11:29:00 pm , Anonymous Father John Fleming said...

Well, NO, David, I am not using the word "exegesis" incorrectly. And the sentence you quote from me makes that clear and proves you wrong. I agree with your exegesis but not with the way you use it as you move from exegesis to interpretation without really acknowledging that is what you are doing. And the reason for this is, I suspect, that most Biblical scholars do not themselves make a clear demarcation between the two activities. And the reason for this in turn may well be that it is difficult to draw the line between the two.

 
At Friday, October 29, 2010 3:14:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Not at all, Fr John. Once again, dialogue reaches understanding and clarity!

 
At Saturday, October 30, 2010 3:45:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I’m puzzled as to why it is okay to use Yahweh in a Catholic Biblical translation but not in a liturgical context?
The Tetragrammaton appears in the Hebrew scriptures. There's never been a tradition against reading or writing the Name; only against speaking it.

 
At Saturday, October 30, 2010 6:58:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

Russian Orthodox Churches are a bit short on the ground in Albury. I am an active member of our local Greek Orthodox Parish and am learnign some Byzantine chant.

A few weeks ago, though, we were in Meblourne and heard the readings in the God inspired original Church Slavonic (and in English).

Mostly though when we are in Melbourne we attend Good Shepherd Orthodox Church at Monash University where the services are in English.

For an Australian convert I don't think it matters so much whether you are a part of the Greek, Russian, Serbian or Antiochian etc traditions. They are really not that different. The important thing is Orthodoxy.

 
At Sunday, October 31, 2010 10:08:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

If only that were the attitude of all the Orthodox in Australia!!

 
At Sunday, October 31, 2010 10:42:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Well, it isn't "okay to use Yahweh in a Catholic Biblical translation". The point is that the JB and NJB predated this clear ruling from the Vatican - unfortunately!

 
At Sunday, October 31, 2010 10:43:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Wrong, Peregrinus. The fact is that until the JB came along, NO ENLGISH TRANSLATION ever used the word "Yahweh" for God. The Tetragrammaton is indeed in the Hebrew scriptures, but every translation since the Septuagint has used "LORD" for this this, not some made up form of the Tetragrammaton.

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home