Monday, October 25, 2010

English Translations Sanitize the Bible And Muddle Biting Imagery

When I first began to translate the Greek New Testament as a student, I was puzzled why English translations always seemed to translate the Greek word ἡ ἀκροβυστία with “the uncircumcised” when the word actually means “the foreskin” and when there is a Greek word that actually does mean “the uncircumcised.” The Greek word is ἀπερίτμητος, an adjective which, when used with the article, ἡ ἀπερίτμητος, may function as a noun. Paul never uses the adjective ἀπερίτμητος. In fact, it occurs only one time in the whole New Testament. It occurs in Stephen’s speech when he, like the prophets earlier, indicts Israel for “uncircumcised hearts and ears” (Acts 7:51).

The word that Paul consistently uses when he juxtaposes Jews as “the circumcised” (ἡ περιτομή) with Gentiles who are not circumcised, is not ἡ ἀπερίτμητος, “the uncircumcised,” a term used repeatedly in the LXX to depict Israel. Rather, Paul’s word of choice seems to be the contemptuous, even scornful term by which Jews of his day commonly referred to Gentiles. Paul uses ἡ ἀκροβυστία, “the foreskin,” the term of contempt, not to express scorn or disdain, but rather to feature the grace of God in the gospel which saves not only Jews who are circumcised, but also Gentiles who are “the foreskin,” a sure manifestation that they stand outside the covenant.

That English translators mollify the unpleasantry is understandable. However, lost is something of the richness and sting that Paul’s imagery evokes for Gentles as intended by Jews, which is captured well in the accusation put to Peter when he returned from being with Cornelius, “You went to men who have the foreskin and you ate with them” (εἰση̂λθες πρὸς ἄνδρας ἀκροβυστίαν ἔχοντας καὶ συνέφαγες αὐτοι̂ς; Acts 11:2). Paul's objective is not to be vulgar as course jokers are. His point is not even to be offensive to Gentiles, as he undoubtedly was as a Pharisee. Rather, as a Jew who formerly held contempt for the Gentiles as "the foreskin," now as Christ's apostle to the Gentiles, he purposely tweaks the sensibilities of fellow Jews who are loath to accept Gentiles believers as Abraham's seed.

Other portions within Paul’s letters that English translations tend to soften are Galatians 5:11 and Philippians 3:8.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Havoc of Exegetical Misconstrual, Unintentional, of Course

On Wednesday I posted a paragraph from the essay I am preparing for the ETS conference in Atlanta. Here is another paragraph to pique your curiosity and interest.

Worthy of passing comment is the havoc done to Paul’s argument by stating that “the doers of the law” (οἱ ποιηταὶ νόμου; 2:13), which is a statement characterizing who will be justified, “are no more and no less than those who ‘do the works of the law’; and ‘works of the law,’ Paul claims cannot justify.”[1] This is flawed and tortuous reasoning. Paul designs his statements in 2:12-13 to sustain his argument that Jewish possession of the law does nothing to insulate them from the coming wrath of God’s righteous judgment. So, a Jew, who possesses the law and hears it but does not do what the law requires, and a Gentile, who sins while neither possessing the law nor hearing what the law requires, equally will be condemned when God passes judgment. Possession of the law does not advantage Jews. Hearers of the law will not be set right with God (2:13a). Only doers of the law will be justified (2:13b). To negate Paul’s affirmative statement that concerns who will be justified, “the doers of the law” (2:13), with his much later negative assertion that concerns how justification will not occur before God, “all humanity will not be justified from the works required by the law” (3:20), amounts to hermeneutical “illegal procedure,” for it adjusts the apostle’s argument to fit a theological system.

[1] The expression, “works of the law,” has become infamously slippery with a “tendency to slide between two definitions of ἔργα νόμου (‘works commanded by the law’ and ‘actions performed in obedience to the law’ [cf. NIV as in Rom. 3:20])” (A. B. Caneday, “The Curse of the Law and the Cross of Christ: Works of the Law and Faith in Galatians 3:1-14,” [PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1992], 151-152; on ἔργα νόμου, see pp. 150-155). See also, Stephen Westerholm, who agrees that Paul’s phrase means, “the deeds demanded by the Sinaitic law code” (Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 121). Cf. also Douglas J. Moo, “‘Law,’ ‘Works of the Law,’ and Legalism in Paul,” Westminster Theological Journal 40 (1987): 92.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Justification, Judgment & Behavior: Judgment Day’s Coming Verdict Now Announced in the Gospel

For those of you who plan to attend the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meetings in Atlanta (Nov. 17-19), here is a paragraph from my essay that is scheduled to be presented for the Hermeneutics Study Group on Wednesday morning, November 17 according to the schedule below. Download Program PDF.
ROOM 213
Other Perspectives on the New Perspectives on Paul and the Law
Section Moderator: W. Edward Glenny (Northwestern College)

8:30-9:10 am

A. B. Caneday (Northwestern College, Saint Paul, MN)
Justification, Judgment & Behavior: Judgment Day’s Coming Verdict Now Announced in the Gospel

9:20-10:00 am

James B. De Young (Western Seminary)
Do the Apostolic Fathers Support the Premises of the New Perspectives on Paul and the Law?

10:10-10:50 am

Respondent: Lyn Nixon (London School of Theology)
Respondent: Matthew S. Harmon (Grace College & Theological Seminary)
In Romans 2:6-11Paul’s argument is not concerned with how or on what basis God will recompense people with eternal life or with wrath. Paul’s argument concerns to whom God will recompense eternal life and to whom God will recompense wrath.[1] This is evident in that the verb, “God will recompense” (ὃς ἀποδώσει ἑκάστῳ) finds its dual indirect objects stated within the four inner clauses of the chiasm: (B) τοῖς . . . ζητοῦσιν (v. 7), (C) τοῖς ἐξ ἐριθείας καὶ ἀπειθοῦσι . . . πειθομένοις (v. 8), (C’) ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ἀνθρώπου κτλ. (v. 9), and (B’) παντὶ τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ κτλ. (v. 10).[2] Each of the substantive participles, though characterizing people by their behavior, accents character. The fact that each clause characterizes by behavior the respective recipients of God’s recompense does not mean that these antipodal characterizations indicate the cause or basis of God’s reward—eternal life or wrath. Rather, lest anyone, Jews in particular, presume that the wealth of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience exempts them from God’s wrath that will fall upon Gentile sinners (2:4), Paul emphasizes both the impartiality and the inviolability of God’s recompense. The outer matched chiastic pair, stated in 2:6 and 11, accents the impartiality of God’s righteous judgment, while the inner corresponding pairs feature the inviolability of God’s justice.[3] Paul expresses the inviolability of God’s righteous judgment in another place: “God is not mocked. For what one sows, this also one reaps. The one who sows unto the flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction, but the one who sows unto the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7). Here, the imagery of sowing and reaping accents the inviolability of God’s justice concerning behavior that characterizes and recompense, just as Romans 2:6-11 stresses the inviolable relationship God’s righteous judgment establishes between character and recompense.

[1] In The Race Set Before Us (Schreiner and Caneday) we make the case that in Rom. 2:6-11 “Paul does not answer the question ‘On what basis will one be justified?” The question is not how but “Who will be justified?” (165ff). Upon reading these pages again, we could have expressed our thoughts even more crisply, as I endeavor to do in this essay.
[2] See note below for the chiasm.
[3] For the sake of convenience, here is the chiasm presented earlier.
A. God will judge everyone equitably v. 6
     B. Those who do good will attain eternal life v. 7
          C. Those who do evil will suffer wrath v. 8
          C.’ Wrath for those who do evil v. 9
     B.’ Glory for those who do good v. 10
A.’ God judges impartially v. 11