Monday, September 21, 2009

The Lost Emphasis in Salvation

“Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14, All translations are from the New American Standard Bible).

[Note: It is recognized that this posting contains difficult and perhaps unfamiliar language for those to whom the Greek of the New Testament is indeed “Greek to them!” However, every effort has been made to clarify and simplify the grammatical concepts, and the conclusions and application should be clear to everyone.]

The verb redeem (λυτρόω) used in Titus 2:14 clearly represents the middle voice. To explain and review (see David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek To Me, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 93-96):

 The active voice has the subject doing the action of the verb, “The man caught the fish.”

 The passive voice represents the subject being acted upon, “The fish was caught by the man.”

 The middle voice may be (1) an intensive middle, the subject acting alone or in his own interest, “The man, and he alone, caught the fish,” or “The man caught the fish for himself,” (2) a direct middle, “The man caught himself,” or (3) a reciprocal middle, with a plural subject, “The men caught one another.”

The translation and interpretation question in Titus 2:14 focuses on whether or not redeem (λυτρώσηται) can or should be given an English translation consistent with the force of the middle voice, and if so, what nuance should it have.

First, New Testament Greek frequently uses the middle voice even though it was in the process historically of being phased out in favor of using intensive and reflexive pronouns. Since this voice has definite and often important interpretive significance it should not be ignored. Except for the direct application of the middle voice in the New Testament, the English translations treat them as active voices, losing the middle nuance and occasionally hiding some theological truths in the translation. Such appears to be the case in Titus 2:14.

Second, eliminating the reciprocal middle since the subject is singular, and eliminating the direct middle because Christ did not redeem himself, this leaves a translation of the intensive middle as viable in Titus 2:14. Should we translate “He might redeem for Himself” or “He alone might redeem”?

Third, three “middle ideas” occur in this verse (bold font), “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” “Gave Himself” represents a direct middle idea using an active verb and a reflexive pronoun. “Purify for Himself” parallels an intensive middle idea using an active verb and a pronoun expressing personal self-interest (Dative of Advantage, Black, p. 53). This leaves redeem for the translator/interpreter to formulate adequate wording.

Did Jesus “and no other” redeem us, or did Jesus redeem us “in His own self-interest,” or both? The first suggestion is clearly true—Jesus alone is our Redeemer. Does the second translation have any validity? Was there any self-interest on Jesus’ part involved in our redemption? It would appear that at least three affirmatives could be given to justify this second translation—the glory of God, the wisdom of God, and the moral integrity of the earthly Body of Christ.

Regarding God’s glory, Jesus did all things including redemption to please and bring glory to His Father (John 8:29, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” and 17:4, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”

Regarding God’s wisdom, Ephesians 3:10-11 states clearly, “that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Regarding the Body of Christ, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

It would appear that not only is Jesus Christ alone the Redeemer but that He, for Himself, or in His own interest, redeemed us. Thus, the middle voice can and should be communicated in English. Perhaps such a doubly-nuanced paraphrase of the middle voice could read “that He alone might redeem us thus fulfilling His own interests.” It may not sound good, but it does fit the theological implications of the middle voice.

Perhaps not without good reason, Christians apply salvation almost exclusively to mankind as its singular object. But if this middle voice is included in the discussion, the salvation of mankind is also done in God’s own interest. He has an agenda to which mankind’s salvation contributes. Christians would do well to break the bond of self-centeredness and become interested also in what God receives in salvation, benefits that are represented by this use of the middle voice.