Saturday, March 8, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Five

Okay, before we jump headlong into word studies, historical background, etc. we need to take a few posts to talk more about different Bible versions and the politics of translating Scripture.
In the previous post, I uploaded two different translations of Romans 1:1-12. The New Living Translation is a looser, reader friendly interpretation and the English Standard Version is stricter more literal interpretation of the Greek (both are excellent, by the way). Note that both translations were produced by committees of top Reformed Evangelical Bible scholars, yet there are obvious differences.
What this should teach you is that there are actually many ways to interpret the original Greek text. Interpreting an ancient language is not as simple as just looking up the English equivalent in a dictionary. First of all, Greek does not follow the western convention of subject, verb, object that we all learned in school. A Greek author could place the verb first and the subject last if he or she so pleased. For example take a look at the following "word by word" translation of the Greek of Romans 1:18:
"Revealed for wrath God's from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men the truth in righteousness repressing."
Okay, so just untangling that mess into a coherent English sentence is not easy! Then there is the challenge of finding out out exactly what the various Greek words actually mean. You see, many Greek words can mean different things depending on how they were meant to be interpreted by the author.
As for Romans, Paul sent the letter with Pheobe who probably helped to interpret it once it was read aloud to the various Roman house churches.
Let's take a for instance, Romans 1:17 reads, in the NRSV, "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "the one who is righteous will live by faith."
Now there are actually a number of very difficult problems within the Greek. For one thing no one really knows how to render the last part of that verse beginning with "through faith for faith." The Greek is simply not clear. It could be interpreted "By faith, from first to last" and many other ways.
Next, the word translated as "righteousness" can be rendered a number of different ways. The word in Greek can mean "just" or "innocent" or "right" or it could mean "faithful" and, in fact, was often used in the prophetic literature of the Greek Old Testament to speak of God's faithfulness to His covenant with Israel. It could also be interpreted as God's faithfulness to His Holiness or to His salvific activity. Then there is the issue of whether it was written in the objective or subjective case which can switch everything around. If it is in the objective case then 1:17 can actually mean "our righteousness (or standing) before God (as if in a law court with God as the judge)."
Start to see how difficult this can be.
To make matters worse, the word can mean one thing in one paragraph and something else in the next!!!
One of the reasons Bible translators still use words like "justify" or "righteousness" (they both stem from the same Greek word group) is that they don't have the guts to state what they really think the word means one paragraph to the next! This is a shame because how many people on the street really know what "righteousness" means?
If this has your head spinning then join the group but we will do our best to tease all of this out as we go along.
Just pray hard, keep reading Romans as many times as possible in as many different translations as possible and wait to see what God has in store for us.