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Friday, 28 July 2006

Celebrating the reversal of Babel

Counter It is sometimes enlightening to go back and read an old newspaper--in fact, it is probably far more profitable to read a newspaper 100 years after it was printed than 100 hours. This we shall do today in reflecting on the exuberance and apocalyptic fervor that accompanied the precursor to the Internet. I speak of the laying of the first transatlantic cable on August 16, 1858--which for the first time made possible the idea of instant communication throughout the world; an idea that finally came into fruition with the advent of the Internet nearly 150 years later.

The first trans-Atlantic cable was a fragile thing; it failed shortly after the following series of accounts ends. What isn't mentioned in them is the actual text of the first (test) message. Several hours in the process of transmission, it simply read, "Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men." The first actual message was one of congratulations from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan. His reply read, "It is a triumph more glorious, because far more useful to mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle. May the Atlantic telegraph, under the blessing of heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument destined by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty, and law throughout the world."

Now I quote from a New-York-based reporter for the Guardian of London. Bear in mind that some of these dispatches may themselves have been amongst the first messages sent over the cable.

August 25: "At Washington the feel shown amounted to 'transport.' At Albany people were 'wild with excitement.' At Boston there was 'great rejoicing;' at Worcester 100 guns were fired; at Rochester a 'feeling of glorification' seized the citizens; Utica was illuminated; at Syracuse a band and a company of militia went about, 'spirited' speeches were made. . . "

September 1: "America has gone mad to a great degree on the subject of the Atlantic Telegraph. Besides the demonstrations we mentioned last week, there were others all over the continent. August 17th was the day agreed upon for a simultaneous demonstration. At New York the day broke with salvos of artillery, including one of 100 guns from the City-hall. At noon there was a further salute of 200 guns, the bells of all the churches were rung, youngsters kept up the fusillade throughout the streets with small arms [!], and by way of making as much noise as possible, the whistles of all the steam-engines in the city screeched continuously from twelve to one o'clock."

September 6: The prevailing topic which has almost absorbed everything else for the past month has been the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable. The people have been almost wild with the excitement, and scare a village throughout the land which has not had a celebration of the event."

Thus far the unprecedented exuberance. Now the apocalyptic fervor, as related to the Guardian by an American journalist:

"The earth has witnessed nothing half as auspicious--nothing so full of glad tidings to mankind--since the birth of the Redeemer. If the 'morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy at the creation of the world, surely the eye of faith, without impiety, may reverently recognise in this union of the two mighty physical divisions of that creation a providential dispensation that may inspire even the angels in heaven with delight. It is well, therefore, that in many of the churches yesterday, the 'telegraph' was in the pulpit, as elsewhere, the one idea--for the Church and Christianity are, in the end, to gather in a rich harvest of its fruits. The golden chain of human brotherhood has had a strong bright link added to it, which, with God's blessing, will in due time bring all nations, all kindreds, all tongues, within its friendly and loving embrace. The Orient and the Occident clasp hands! The East and the West are one, and with the universal diffusion of universal intelligence good men may hopefully look forward to the dawn of the blessed millennium."

So speaks the transcendentalist, who sees in information alone the hope for mankind's salvation, and the more of it the better. But further:

The Mayor of New York said: "The important and beneficial results to our race which this great event promises cannot be wholly anticipated, but that it will tend to the perpetual peace and increased happiness of the two leading nations who have joined in the labour and cost of the enterprise, cannot be doubted, while itself the offspring of science, and that civilisation which is founded on Christian principles, it announces to the whole world the reign of lasting peace and good-will to all men."

Note the universal feeling that the Cable was a work of God which could not help but spread the blessings of Christianity to the whole world, yeah, could not help but bring in the millennium itself. And this feeling was not limited to government officials; it was preached from the very pulpits, as this from the Bishop of New Jersey:

"Was ever utterance so fit? Was ever fittest utterance so startling, so solemn, so sublime--flashing out from the burning land of Christian hearts in Ireland; flashing along through the caverns of the sea; flashing along among the buried treasures of the deep, flashing along through the layers of old Leviathan, flashing along among the remains of them that perished in the Flood, flashing up among the primeval forests of Newfoundland, flashing out from there throughout the world."

The reporter continues: "It seems to me that in a sort the edict of Babel is reversed. The dispersion of the nations is to be undone in God's time, and in God's way, by bringing them together in Him. And I might almost venture to say that we have in prospect as it were a renewal and repetition of the Pentecostal wonder, when all the nations of the world shall hear in their own tongue the wonderful works of God, when man shall speak to man from one end of the world to the other, of the Gospel of Salvation, and of the glory of the Lamb."

Did the Cable bring in universal global harmony? Or did it make possible for the first time such undreamed of apocalyptic nightmares as World War and Thermonuclear Annihilation?
The century that followed gave the lie to both the exuberance and the optimism that greeted this Reversal of Babel.

God is not mocked; there is no shortcut, electronic or otherwise, to His Kingdom.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

The Only Son: The TNIV in John 3:16

Counter John 3:16 is beyond doubt the best known verse of the entire New Testament. Therefore any Bible translator setting out to change it had better tread lightly. And this is exactly what the CBT did when producing the NIV.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, [or, his only begotten Son] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

What the CBT was reluctant to do in 1973, they did unreservedly in 2001 in producing the TNIV:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

This, we are told, is now even more accurate a translation than before. But this assurance misses the main point--whether or not mongenes should be tranlated literally as 'only begotten' or idiomatically as 'only', the point is that the CBT didn't translate this verse as it stands in their chosen text. The NA27 Greek NT, following the favoured manuscripts of mainline textual critics of the past century and a quarter, reads as follows (literally translated):

"For thus God loved the world, that the Son--the only-begotten one--he gave, that everyone believing in him should not perish but should have life eternal."

There is only a single variant in this verse between the Traditional Text and the Critical Text, and it is the deletion of the word 'autou' ('his'). Thus the Traditional Text would read,

"For thus God loved the world, that his Son--the only-begotten one--he gave, that everyone believing in him should not perish but should have life eternal."

The CBT lacked the courage to accurately translate the reading of their own base text. Instead they translated the reading of the much-maligned Textus Receptus.


Update August 14, 2009: Thank you, "John," for answering this question (See comment). Looking at Hebrews 1:1, I see that the NIV translated their text "the fathers" as "our fathers" based on the principle you identify. So indeed my accusation was without basis. Rather than taking this post offline in embarrassment, I'll leave it up to show that I really do welcome feedback (even on 3-year-old posts), and strive to keep this blog true to the truth as much as is possible.

Monday, 10 July 2006

"Peddling" the word of God?

97629 ou gar esmen ws oi polloi kaphleuontes ton logon tou Qeou
"For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God" -NKJV

It's been said facetiously that a good definition of the KJV-only position is the belief that any Bible that doesn't have 'corrupt' in 2 Corinthians 2:17, is. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that, I would like to critically evaluate the ways that kapeyleuontes has been translated into English.

To begin with, kapeyleuontes is a hapax legomenon, that is, a word only used once in the New Testament.
Thus it is difficult to translate without having any other context to help determine meaning. This is some of what the B-A-G lexicon has under this word:
kapeleuo. trade in, peddle, huckster (of retail trade), Isaiah 1:22 also fig. adulterate (so Vulgate, Syriac, Gothic). . .

Let's look at Isaiah 1:22 as literally translated from the Septuagint and the Vulgate:

LXX: Your silver is worthless, thy wine merchants mix the wine with water.

Vulgate: Thy silver is turned into dross: thy wine is mingled with water.

OK, so the LXX is making a passive into an active and supplying the subject, which has been translated into English as 'merchants'. But what is being emphasized in this verse is not the act of selling the wine, but the act of illicitly diluting (i.e. corrupting) it before the sale. It's in parallel with the analogous act of debasing the currency (which also fails to come across in most translations, but that's another point). Thus from this use of kapeyloi in the Greek OT, we see the connotation of selling under false pretenses. Moving on now to 2 Corinthians 2:17, we look again at the Vulgate:

"For we are not as many, adulterating the word of God"

How was this translated in the earliest English Bible? Let's check Wycliffe (All spelling is updated):

"For we be not as many, that do adultery by the word of God."

OK, Wycliffe misunderstood the connotation of adulterantes here as adultery rather than adulteration.

Better move on to Tyndale, who had the advantage of being able to read both Erasmus' eclectic Greek text and his Latin translation & commentary--as well as Luther's translation into German based on Erasmus. He translated:

"For we are not as many are, which chop and change with the word of God"

See the return to the idea of 'adulterate'; Luther had:

"For we are not as the many, which falsify the word of God"

This meaning continued to be carried forward in subsequent revisions of the English New Testament.

Coverdale 1535 left Tyndale as he found it, apparently using an English idiom of the 16th century:

"For we are not as many are, which chop & change with the word of God"

Geneva 1560 changed the wording to reflect the 'merchant' connotation, but left the 'corrupt' connotation in a footnote:

"For we are not as many, which *make merchandise of the word of God" (*that is, preach for gain, & corrupt it to serve men's affections)

Bishops' 1568 removed the footnote, but--significantly--returned to the wording of Tyndale:
"For we are not as many are, which chop & change with the word of God "

The KJV 1611 left out the footnote, but incorporated its meaning into the text, giving a different shade of meaning in a new footnote:

"For we are not as many which *corrupt (*deal deceitfully with) the word of God"

In all of these English versions we see the difficulty of fully expressing the full connotation of kapeleuo. It consists of:

1) Taking a pure product (whether coins or wine) and mixing in a much cheaper product of little intrinsic value;
2) Passing the adulterated product off as the real thing;
3) In order to realize dishonest gain.

Thus Paul is referring to other preachers who
1) Take the word of God & mix into it corrupting elements;
2) Pass this 'new and improved' gospel off as genuine;
3) In order to realize some profit from their audience.

The charge the KJV-only people are making is that this exactly describes what the purveyors of the New Modern Versions are doing--and that they are covering their tracks by mistranslating the verse.

To their credit, I don't think the Modern Versions do any worse of a job at covering the full meaning of kapeyleuontes than earlier ones did:

RV 1881-1901: "For we are not as the many, *corrupting (*or making merchandise of) the word of God"
RSV 1946-1973: "For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word"
NASB 1960-1995: "For we are not like many, *peddling (*corrupting) the word of God"
NIV 1973-2006: "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit"
NRSV 1989: "For we are not peddlers of God's word like so many"

So we see that regardless of the version, only element #1 or #3 comes across in translation. If we we include footnotes, RV has both, and only NASB has element #2--but at the expense of omitting #3.

Jay P. Green suggests 'hawking' which carries well the idea of #3 and lesser so #2, but gives no indication of #1. The Strong's Lexicon has:
--from kapelos (a huckster); to retail, i.e. (by implication) to adulterate (figuratively): corrupt.

The most succinct way of combining the information found in all of the above versions is:

"For we are not like many--hawking a watered-down version of God's word purely for profit."

Ouch. That does strike a bit close to home, in view of the copyright protection carried by all the big modern versions, each of which, despite their copyrighted distinctions, claims the title 'The Holy Bible'.