Pope Francis, The Lord’s Prayer, and Bible Translation

Pope Francis recently suggested on Italian television that the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Do not lead us into temptation” (Matt 6.13; Luke 11.4), “is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.” He added, “It is Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.” He argued that the verse should be rendered, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

A myriad of implications arise from the pontiff’s statement. Among them I list just three: (1) Have translations of the Bible gotten this verse wrong for 2000 years, only now to be corrected? (2) What is the nature of translation? (3) Do we have the right to change the wording of the original because it seems to contradict what Scripture says elsewhere?

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Matthew 6 in Codex Sinaiticus

(1)       Have translations of the Bible gotten this verse wrong for 2000 years?

Jerome’s Vulgate—the version that has been the official Bible of the Catholic Church for centuries—reads here ne inducas nos in temptationem: “Do not lead us into temptation.” Perhaps intentionally, but certainly ironically, the pope said in his interview, “ti induce alla tentazione satana è quello ufficio di satana.” That is, Satan is the one who induces or leads us into temptation, not God. He used the Italian equivalent to Jerome’s Latin (‘inducas’ means ‘lead’ or even ‘induce,’ as the English cognate suggests), but seems to deny what the Vulgate plainly says.

In 1979, the Nova Vulgata became the official Catholic translation (after Vatican II, it follows the Greek and Hebrew more closely), yet it too says ne inducas nos. So, the pontiff is not only going against modern translations but even his own Vulgate.

Other translations also read “do not lead us into temptation” or the like (e.g., “lead us not”): KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV, HCSB, NET, WEB, Lutherbibel, Nouvelle Edition de Genève, Reina Valera. Others have “do not put us to the test,” “do not bring us into hard testing,” or “do not subject us to the final test” (NJB, TEV, REB, NABR; the NJB and NABR are Catholic translations).

It may be surprising, however, to discover that a few modern translations come close to Pope Francis’s version. The New Living Translation (2nd edition), a Protestant Bible, has “don’t let us yield to temptation.” The Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée, another Protestant translation, has “ne nous laisse pas entrer dans la tentation” (“do not allow us to enter temptation”). The Nuova Riveduta of the Sacra Bibbia, an Italian Protestant work, reads “non ci esporre alla tentazione” (“do not expose us to temptation”). The NLT and SEGR both accent what might be called the passive or permissive will of God (i.e., “don’t let us”) rather than the active (“don’t lead us”); the Nuova Riveduta seems to be halfway between ‘lead’ of the standard translations and ‘let’ of the outliers.

Nevertheless, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that “do not lead us” or the like is how the text should be rendered. (We will examine the Greek shortly.) But the few that have gone against the grain—and have been on the market for many years—have not created nearly the reaction of Pope Francis’s latest provocation. Perhaps this is due both to the fact that the pontiff said this and that it stands in direct contradiction to the Vulgate and other Catholic versions. But this leads us into the question of translation philosophy.

 

(2)       What is the nature of translation?

There are two broad theories of translation today—formal equivalence and functional equivalence. Formal equivalence means that the translation attempts to retain the wording and syntax of the original language as much as possible. Functional equivalence means that the translation gives a higher priority to the semantics of the original, bringing out the force of original text regardless of how it is worded.

Brief history of English translations

Both of these have pros and cons. On the one hand, it is a myth that a so-called “literal” translation is more accurate. Many believe that the King James Bible is the most literal translation available. But even the original preface of the KJV noted that the translators’ objective was as much literary quality as it was accuracy. The Authorized Version is probably the only literary masterpiece ever produced by a committee—and it’s a translation no less! If it were extremely literal, this accolade would never have been made about the KJV.

In fact, the Revised Version of 1885—the first English translation done by a committee since the KJV (or AV) appeared in 1611—was done by a committee of British and American scholars who wanted to replace the King James with “King Truth.” But the translation was not palatable because it was too stiff, hardly readable, downright ugly. Ironically, the RV was difficult to read not because of archaisms as much as because of slavish literalism. The sales were awful, and the American Standard Version of 1901 was something of a reaction to it by the Americans on the RV committee. This is still wooden English, though an improvement over the RV. (The NASB has followed in the train of the RV and ASV.)

But in 1952, the Revised Standard Version appeared. Its understated elegance and good English made it memorable. It truly was a revision in the line of the King James Bible. The ESV and the NRSV have continued this formal equivalence philosophy with simplicity, understated elegance, memorability, and accuracy. As Bruce Metzger, the chairman of the NRSV translation committee, stated, the objective followed by the NRSV translators was to “be as literal as possible, as free as necessary.”

Other translations have followed a more functional equivalent philosophy. The NIV and New English Bible were the first major English translations in the last three centuries to break completely from the Tyndale-Geneva-King James chain. The New English Bible (now, Revised English Bible [REB]) is much more of a functional equivalent work than the NIV, and it is also much more elegant and memorable than the NIV. But the NIV (and its revision, the NIV 2011) is both very accurate and very readable. It has become the most popular Bible translation in any language in history. And yet, even the NIV reads “do not lead us into temptation” in Matt 6.13.

All translation is interpretation

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. However, in this passage there is good reason to see πειρασμός (peirasmos) as bearing the force of temptation, as we will see below. But the point is that an interpretation of the text is already done in even the most formal equivalent translations of this passage. In one sense, the pope’s rendering is an interpretation of an interpretation.

Many on the functional-equivalent side of the translation debate are determined to clear up all ambiguities in the text, to make everything crystal clear. Some of these translators have little training in exegesis. Typically, the less training they have in the original languages and biblical studies, the more they assume that the Bible is perfectly clear everywhere; it just needs to have the proper functional equivalence to bring out its meaning. But this is terribly naïve.

Students in seminary often come into the program thinking that once they get some Greek and Hebrew under their belts the interpretive issues will simply disappear. The reality is that study in the original languages in some places will expand on the interpretive possibilities, in others shrink them. But most importantly, such training will replace a misinformed list of options for one that is better informed and at least has some validity.

Ideally, a translation should give the readers of the Bible in their own language the same interpretive options that a reader of the original will have. And this means that it is important for readers of the Bible to struggle with the same, often intentional, ambiguities found in the original text.

When the NET Bible was in beta-mode, we field-tested it on the Internet. Comments were welcome; hundreds of thousands poured in. Some professional translators committed to functional equivalence argued with our rendering of ἐν Χριστῷ as “in Christ.” They pointed out that this hardly communicated anything in English and that it was difficult to grasp Paul’s meaning of his favorite phrase (he uses it 73 times). They noted correctly that Paul uses ἐν Χριστῷ in a variety of contexts and in a variety of ways. And they wanted us to reflect those nuances in every place. Their view was in line with what Lady Oppenheimer wrote in her book Incarnation and Immanence ([1973], p. 17): “Christians have a great deal to say about the ways in which people can be related to God and to each other, and many of the things they wish to say take for granted the possibility of certain sorts of close relationships which are not on the face of it compatible with common sense.”

We rejected their input on this point and decided to keep the translation “in Christ.” Why? Because we believed that the modern English reader should have the same semantic options as the original reader. Close analogies to this sort of language are not to be found in Greco-Roman literature. This means that Paul’s original readers had to work hard to get at the apostle’s meaning, ultimately coming to see the rich tapestry of “in Christ” as deeper and richer than any functional equivalent could provide. In this instance, we felt that clearing up the ambiguity of the text would rob the modern reader of the joy of discovery and the value of thinking deeply about Scripture.

There are times, however, when retaining the original ambiguity does not help the modern reader. In such cases, interpretation is required of the translator. In Rom 3.22 the NET translators felt that translating διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as “by faith of Jesus Christ” was simply too ambiguous. This is exactly what the KJV has here, and it communicates poorly what the meaning of the original is because it does not interpret. Although one or two scholars have suggested that πίστις Χριστοῦ means “faith of Christ”—that is, the faith that Christ himself had—this is not a popular view. The two leading options are either “faith in Christ” or “the faithfulness of Christ.” How could they be so disparate? The reason is due to one lexical and one grammatical problem. πίστις lexically can mean faith or faithfulness. And the genitive Χριστοῦ can be subjective or objective. If objective, Christ is the object of πίστις (and hence, “faith in Christ”); if subjective, Christ is semantically the subject (“the faithfulness of Christ”—that is, that he is faithful). Leaving the text as “faith of Christ” hardly allows for either of these interpretive translations. The ambiguity in English is not the same as it is in Greek. In this case, a more literal translation ends up being the worst translation. The only real choice here is for translators to commit to one interpretation since leaving it neutral actually gives the wrong impression of the meaning to the English reader.

So then, should translation be formally equivalent for functionally equivalent? Neither one is adequate. Faithful equivalence is really required—faithful to the meaning of the original. If this can be accomplished by following a somewhat formal equivalent (since a completely formal equivalent is quite impossible), fine. But Greek and Hebrew are structured so differently that to force both of them into one kind of translation model is a one-size-fits-all mentality that simply won’t work.

On the one hand, there are hundreds of places when formal equivalence simply doesn’t help the English reader understand the interpretive possibilities of the original text. Yet that is the goal of formal equivalence. As we have said, the reality is that every translation is an interpretation. The question is how much we should try to interpret in any given place.

On the other hand, functional equivalence translations often take liberties with the text by offering a less-likely or even an illegitimate rendering, and they frequently make the text clear for a reader who could, in their own native language, figure out what the author is talking about. Some of the most stunning prose in the Bible is full of figurative language that to reduce it to its referential meaning is to destroy its beauty, thought-provoking nature, connotative force, and lingering memorability.

The Lord’s Prayer and translation

The pope’s rendering certainly is on the functional-equivalent side rather than the formal-equivalent side. But does that make it illegitimate?

In this instance, the bishop of Rome has taken many liberties with the text, both linguistically and contextually, thereby robbing the modern reader of seeing the connections that Matthew himself has laid out.

Not only is the Greek in both Matt 6.13 and Luke 11.4 textually certain (variants for “do not lead us into temptation” are trivial amounting to minor spelling differences), but the syntax is clear. The verb in the petition “lead” is an aorist active subjunctive (εἰσενέγκῃς); with the negative particle, “do not lead” is the idea. The pope wants it to mean “allow” which speaks instead of God not permitting something rather than him actively leading us. And the pontiff seems to have assumed that the Greek “lead into temptation” means “permit to fall into temptation.” Several lexical, syntactical, and interpretive shifts are seen here.

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. 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.

Although Satan’s purpose was to destroy Jesus before he ever went to the cross, God’s purpose in using Satan was painted on a broader canvas. God tests; Satan tempts. The Son of God went through similar testing as the children of Israel in the wilderness. They were there for forty years; he was there for forty days. Where they failed he succeeded.

Further, the temptation that the Lord faced was the ultimate temptation—the offer of the entire world on a platter. Jesus can ask the disciples to pray that the Father would not lead them into temptation and that God would deliver them from the evil one precisely because Jesus himself faced the ultimate temptation by the evil one. Whereas the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted, Jesus asks the Father not to lead his disciples into temptation; whereas Jesus was delivered over to Satan for tempting (testing from the Father’s perspective), Jesus prays that his followers will be delivered from the evil one. It is precisely because of Jesus’ substitutionary death and life that this prayer can be recited today by Christians with the full assurance that God will answer us.

Pope Francis’s translation, however, subverts all this: “do not let us fall into temptation.” The original text speaks clearly of God leading, not permitting. To tamper with the wording misses the connection with the Lord’s temptation.

 

(3)     What does the original text really mean and do we have the right to change it in translation?

 The pope makes a good point that our heavenly Father does not tempt us. And yet, he argues that point from a theological construct derived elsewhere in the Bible (see James 1.13). “Do not lead us into temptation” does not mean that God tempts us; the petition is for God’s protection from the evil one, as the rest of Matt 6.13 says.

 Further, the notion that we can change the wording to fit the meaning that we find somewhere else might actually be doing a disservice to the biblical authors’ intentions. The Bible is full of paradoxes, figurative language, jolting imagery. To simplify and pacify such language cuts off the legs of its literary and even spiritual power.

At bottom, what the pontiff is doing is interpretation—but interpretation that removes the tension and paradox from the text, is not true to the force of the original, and buries the connection to Jesus’ temptation. Better to leave the text alone and allow God’s people to experience the joy of discovery of the meaning of Holy Writ.

Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers—on sale in Accordance!

I was  in Boston at the Society of Biblical Literature conference last week. Great conference, exceptional book displays, good friends. I visited the Accordance booth on Saturday. They had a terrific, centrally-located presence in the book expansive book display area this year.

Recently, Accordance added the Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers to their lineup. This is a book that is best utilized as a software tool. I’m excited about Accordance’s addition and asked if I could do a short video on it at the Accordance booth. Please see the short video: I explain what a Reader’s Lexicon is, what this one does, who worked on it, and how we put it together. And the video also features Rick Mansfield showing you how to get the Reader’s Lexicon of the Apostolic Fathers to work efficiently on your computer.

I should add a point not mentioned in the video: if you click on one of the three numbers next to the Greek vocabulary word Accordance will give you an instant index with full texts of every instance of that word in the book/author/Apostolic Fathers.

You can get this module and any other Accordance products here. For the Greek geeks in your life, this will make an excellent Christmas present.

Finally, and most importantly, Accordance is offering a 20% discount through December 10 if you order the Reader’s Lexicon module through this blog site. Just mention the code AFRdw.

Book Notice: A New Approach to Textual Criticism: An Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method

Published by SBL Press, and hot off the presses, is this new work on CBGM. Here’s what the SBL Press website has to say about the book:

An essential introduction for scholars and students of New Testament Greek

With the publication of the widely used twenty-eighth edition of Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece and the fifth edition of the United Bible Society Greek New Testament, a computer-assisted method known as the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) was used for the first time to determine the most valuable witnesses and establish the initial text. This book offers the first full-length, student-friendly introduction to this important new method. After setting out the method’s history, separate chapters clarify its key concepts such as genealogical coherence, textual flow diagrams, and the global stemma. Examples from across the New Testament are used to show how the method works in practice. The result is an essential introduction that will be of interest to students, translators, commentators, and anyone else who studies the Greek New Testament.

Features

  • A clear explanation of how and why the text of the Greek New Testament is changing
  • Step-by-step guidance on how to use the CBGM in textual criticism
  • Diagrams, illustrations, and glossary of key terms

And here’s the endorsement by Paul Foster:

For anybody who cares about the text of the New Testament, there will be few books published in biblical studies over the next decade that will be more important than this one. Tommy Wasserman and Peter Gurry describe some of the tectonic shifts that are currently occurring in the way that New Testament text critics are reconstructing the earliest recoverable form of the Greek text of the New Testament. With great care and clarity, the authors explain the intricacies of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method in ways that both scholars and nonspecialists can readily understand. For anybody who wishes to know how the text of latest printed scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament has been determined and why it differs from earlier editions, this is the book to read.

Paul Foster
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

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Writing an introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method for the uninitiated must be akin to trying to teach the Amish how to drive a Ferrari. CBGM is a complex method that Wasserman and Gurry have simplified with a rather humane writing style, but this does not mean that those who have minimal exposure to this method will jump at the chance to understand it. They should, and Wasserman and Gurry are the right guides to gently bring them into the realm of 21st century NT textual criticism. This book is a welcome addition to the library of anyone (not just the neophyte) who wants to understand this arcane, yet foundational, discipline that has grown in intricacies and subtleties in recent years. You can get the paperback version on Amazon for less than $20.

 

Some Random Thoughts on the Tyndale House Greek New Testament

I received in the mail from the publisher a couple of weeks ago a copy of The Greek New Testament, which will probably be referred to as the Tyndale House Greek New Testament or THGNT. The official release date is 15 November 2017. Published by Crossway and produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge, under the editorial leadership of Dirk Jongkind (with assistance from Peter Williams, Peter Head, and Patrick James), this is a volume that has been in the works for ten years. It promises to offer many new features that have been overlooked in other Greek New Testaments.

Tyndale House GNT image

Among them, the editors have particularly focused on the spelling of various verbs that may involve an itacism (if that’s even the right word—something the editors challenge). On the Evangelical Textual Criticism blogsite Peter Williams notes that γίνομαι in Luke is always to be spelled γείνομαι, “a prestigious koine spelling by careful scribes to bring out the long vowel which arose when the second gamma of the Classical form γιγνομαι was dropped.” At first I thought that this ETC note showed that Luke’s usage was a higher register of Koine Greek, but when I looked at the Introduction in the THGNT I saw that this spelling is followed in Luke, Mark (!), and Romans through Colossians, as well as a couple of verses in John (THGNT, 509). The editors do express the view that their objective was to represent the wording of the autographs—“This edition aims to present… the best approximation to the words written by the New Testament authors…” (THGNT, 505 [italics added]). But they do not seem to follow this same spelling for the first principal part of γίνομαι for Acts. The reason is presumably due to documentary evidence: we have P75 for Luke, but nothing truly comparable for Acts. But are we to suppose that Luke’s spelling of this verb changed to the shorter form every time it occurs in Acts (Acts 2.43 [bis]; 4.30; 5.12; 8.13; 12.5, 9; 14.3; 19.26; 21.14; 23.10; 24.2; 26.22; 27.33; and 28.6)? This raises the question of how rigid we should be in following the earliest documentary evidence (through the fifth century), a principal explicitly stated several times in the THGNT Introduction. Overall, however, reproducing the earliest documented spellings is a noteworthy contribution of this tome.

Χριστός is not capitalized in spite of the fact that “it may sometimes be a proper noun” (THGNT, 511). That ‘sometimes’ is quite the understatement since in the Epistles this is the normative force.

Another innovation is to follow the actual paragraphing of the manuscripts, especially the early ones. The reader will notice several differences from the Nestle-Aland text in this regard. For example, in Ephesians 5, Nestle-Aland starts the third paragraph with v. 21 which incorporates the following three verses (22–24). THGNT ends the previous paragraph with v. 21, thus implicitly distinguishing the instructions to wives from the concluding adverbial participle, which would make that participle dependent on the command to be filled by the Spirit (πληροῦσθε in v. 18). This is indeed the paragraph break found in Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus. Vaticanus incorporates a much longer section as its paragraph (P46 has no ekthesis or paragraph notation for Ephesians). But the question is raised whether the break at v. 22 is due, in part, to the editorial decision to include υποτασσεσθωσαν in 5.22—in spite of our two earliest witnesses to this text—B and P46—lacking any verb for the verse.

The editors, as a rule, always base their text on at least two Greek manuscripts, and one of these must be from the fifth century or earlier (THGNT, 506; the Apocalypse is the only exception to the rule of having at least one early manuscript). This is in keeping with the strong documentary basis for this edition of the NT. This principle, however, seems to create some inconsistencies, one of which was noted above. It seems in fact that the documentary principle is often pitted against the recovery-of-the-original-wording principle. Many scholars today would question whether such a strong emphasis on the external evidence should be followed religiously. Readings such as Ιησουν and Ιησουν τον in Matt 27.16, 17 respectively, οργισθεις in Mark 1.41, εχομεν in Rom 5.1, and χωρις in Heb 2.9 are rejected by the editors in spite of strong internal support for these variants. Yet they have ηπιοι in 1 Thess 2.7 even though this is poorly attested among the earliest Greek witnesses.

The apparatus is barebones and intentionally so. The editors want this work to focus on the text. They include variants of just three sorts: (1) viable, (2) exegetically important, and (3) those that illustrate scribal practices (THGNT, 515). The textual commentary on the decisions in this Greek New Testament is eagerly anticipated.

I was of course happy to see acknowledgment of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.CSNTM.org) as one of the main Internet sites that the editors utilized for reading digitized images of the manuscripts (THGNT, 526).

Criticism is easier than construction, and the editors of the THGNT are to be commended for offering a significant alternative to the Nestle-Aland text—and one which is still based on the principles of reasoned eclecticism. This volume joins the work of Michael Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (2010), as a viable option for students learning New Testament Greek. THGNT depends more on external evidence while GNTSBL leans more toward internal, yet both are well within the broadly consensus method of NT textual criticism as it is practiced today. Of course, nothing can replace the decades of careful research that Münster has poured into their apparatus, but these two editions (Holmes and Tyndale) are important offerings; they help students of the New Testament realize that the Textus Receptus status of the Nestle-Aland text may still be a bit premature.

Book Notice: Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus, by Brian J. Wright

One of my former interns, colleague on some CSNTM expeditions, and a DTS alumnus, Brian Wright, has written a book on ancient book culture that has been labeled ‘groundbreaking,’ ‘seminal,’ and ‘a must read’ by several scholars in the field. It is already getting some serious attention-—even before publication. For example, Larry Hurtado, who wrote the Foreword for the book, noted it in a recent blog post he titled, “Is a Paradigm Shift Now Called for?

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 The book not only is wide ranging in its research, it is also wide ranging in the endorsements from scholars of the New Testament and Early Christianity. The names comprise a Who’s Who in the field: Richard Bauckham, Michael Bird, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, James Harrison, Craig Keener, Wayne Meeks Alan Millard, Stanley Porter, Brian Rosner, Tom Schreiner, and Bruce Winter.

Brian has constructed a compelling case that communal reading events were a wide-spread phenomenon in the first century AD. If he is correct, this could overturn or at least seriously alter the consensus of the discipline in several areas, including textual transmission, oral performance, and ancient literacy. It’s an innovative and significant contribution from an up-and-coming New Testament scholar!

Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus is scheduled to be released on December 1. This would make a great Christmas present for all the nerds out there who are serious about historical issues related to the New Testament. You can pre-order a copy of it on Amazon.