Friday, December 26, 2008

Sermons in Sounds

Some data in the Bible is unobservable to the English Bible reader. There are sermons in the sounds of the Greek language.

The first example is Philippians 3:2. Here are the similar sounding words, given first in Greek and followed by the New American Standard Bible translation:

Βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας, βλέπετε τοὺς κακοὺς ἐργάτας, βλέπετε τὴν κατατομήν.

“Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”

The English translation of this text cannot duplicate the audible exclamation points produced by the repeated sounds of each consecutive word. Note the initial letters in bold typeface β, τ, κ. The best that it can do is to repeat the initial word. In doing so the English translation put the emphasis on the exhortation beware! but it obscures the fact that Paul’s emotional focus is on the false teachers. This is as close as Paul is going to come to actual swearing, if we can picture such an outburst from so eminent an Apostle!

The second example comes from Peter. In 1 Peter 1:4 the Apostle becomes enthralled with the idea of the heavenly inheritance. This can be seen somewhat in the New American Standard Bible rendition, “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away.” As in the previous example, however, the audible exclamation points are not as all as dramatic as the original text. Notice what Peter wrote in Greek:

εἰς κληρονομίαν φθαρτον καὶ μίαντον καὶ μάραντον

The three adjectives have the same sounds both at the beginning and at the end of the words as seen in the bold typeface. This is literary skill at work. This is beauty. This is the text expressing an emotion that the English text is hard-pressed to duplicate. In his sermon, Peter would be shouting out each word and pounding the pulpit in excitement!

The point at hand is basic. The New Testament is a Greek book, and its full beauty as well as its meaning cannot be completely observed in any translation. This is not said to diminish the English Bible but to elevate the original text.

We have arrived at the end of 2008 and 2009 is just beginning. Maybe a good “resolution” or “goal” for the New Year would be to learn how to read the New Testament in all of its original glory!