The Pope is Pope-ing with Translation

Lord's Prayer

Currently sweeping the religious news section of tabloids such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, and every other news site; is the fact that Pope Francis made a statement about changing the Lord’s prayer, or rather, changing the translation of the Lord’s prayer.

What’s important to note is that this motivation is not linguistically driven, but theologically driven. And that’s ok-at least in regards to the motivation; not his suggestion.

When interpreting and translating texts of Holy Scripture, theology has to play a pivotal role.

Often Christian critiques of the Critical Text Method claim that the Scriptures are being treated as any other ancient text, therefore bad translation decisions are made (like calling into question the pericope adulterae {the woman caught in adultery} in John 7:53–8:11).

Though I believe this charge to be often unfounded, the point is valid-the Bible is God-breathed revelation and must be treated as such. This means that when we are translating the texts of Scripture we must also be faithful exegetes.

Linked are two different approaches to this proposition by the Pope; one from a believing textual critical scholar, Dan Wallace; and the other from a non-believing apostate, Bart Erhman.

I would encourage the reader to read both articles in their entirety, but I wanted to draw attention to one distinct contrast between the two authors:

Erhamn states:

The word “temptation” can mean what we mean by it – the temptation to do something wrong or sinful.  But it can also refer to a test or trial.   So it could mean something like:  don’t make us undergo a time of trial at the end of this age.

But Wallace counters (indirectly):

It is important to recognize, however, that all translation is interpretation. The reason is that the syntax and lexical mapping in one language never match exactly that of another language. The context determines the meaning. A so-called “word-for-word” translation is quite impossible for anything more than a short phrase or sentence. In this passage, for example, the word translated “temptation” is the same word that is elsewhere translated “testing.” Interpretation is required; translators cannot simply leave the word to allow for both meanings since “temptation” has connotations of sin while “testing” does not…

He goes on:

…the broader context of Matthew’s Gospel may give us a clue as to why the Lord said, “Do not lead us into temptation.” Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, we are told that he “was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4.1). The Greek text indicates that the purpose of the Spirit’s leading Jesus into the wilderness was so that he would be tempted by the devil (“to be tempted” [πειρασθῆναι] is an infinitive of purpose, giving the purpose of the Spirit’s leading). Mark words this even more starkly: “Immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (Mark 1.13).

Evidently, there is a sense in which Jesus was delivered into the hands of the evil one, by the Holy Spirit himself, to be tempted. But the Greek here makes an interesting point about who is responsible for what. Two passive verbs are used in Matt 4.1— ἀνήχθη (“he was led”) and πειρασθῆναι (“to be tempted”). The agents are listed with identical prepositions: ὑπό. This is the preposition used especially for ultimate agent. It is rare to see ὑπό followed by πνεύματος (“Spirit”) in the NT (only five passages). Doing so here, Matthew shows that the Spirit is not subordinate to the devil but is the agent ultimately responsible for leading Jesus into the wilderness, while the devil is the ultimate agent of the temptation. The Spirit is not responsible for that. The Spirit did not tempt Jesus, but he did lead him to be tempted. The balance is intentional: leading into temptation is not the same as tempting (emphasis mine). God the Holy Spirit led Jesus into temptation, but he did not tempt him. Wrestling with the implications of this requires more than a little reflection.

Theology matters. This is why Bart Erhman could care less about interchanging the word test or trail-he does not apply any exegesis to his interpretations.

In contrast, Dan Wallace shows why exegesis it is absolutely essential to the translation.


Theology Matters. Did I say that already?

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