yabt (yet another bible translation): the common english bible

The Common English Bible has been completed, the result of an impressive array of scholars, with admirable goals. A page comparing it with the NRSV and NIV is available here. Some brief and very initial observations based primarily on a few passages I like to check follows.
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translating אמן “amen”

Working through some of Jeremiah lately I was prompted to think about the translation of the term אמן (“amen”). By way of reference I decided to see how a number of English translations rendered the term in two places — Jer 28:6 and Matt 5:18 (the latter uses the Greek transliteration ἀμήν). Here are the results:

Version Jer 28:6 Matt 5:18
LXX/GNT ἀληθῶς ἀμήν
NIV amen [I tell you the] truth
NASB amen truly
Mess Wonderful! Would that it were true.
NLT amen [I tell you the] truth
KJV amen verily
ESV amen truly
Holman amen I assure you
NIRV amen [what I’m about to tell you is] true
TNIV amen truly

Now this turns out to be a little surprising! What you notice is that where the Greek has transliterated the Hebrew/Aramaic (i.e. in the NT where the transliteration ἀμήν is employed), English versions universally translate the term into English. OTOH, in the OT where the Greek (i.e. the LXX) translates the term with ἀληθῶς the English versions (almost) universally transliterate the term with “amen”!

Now as it turns out, “amen” (following the definition in English dictionaries) fits quite well in Jer 28:6. I wonder, however, whether the discrepant results manifest in most translations reflect a somewhat different translation methodology between OT and NT teams for each version. My suspicion is that OT translations tend to be more conservative. I know, for example, that the ESV OT only varied from the RSV where more than two-thirds of the final committee agreed the change was warranted and hence it remains a minimalist revision of the RSV.

The other question is whether using “amen” is helpful in modern English translations. Obviously the answer relates to the target audience for the translation, but outside of church circles (at least where I live) the term “amen” doesn’t really get used and may not be well understood. In such cases perhaps a more colloquial translation would be appropriate. If we were to follow the precedent of the LXX and Greek NT we would at least have “amen” in the NT passages and “truly” (or something similar) in the OT, rather than the other way around.

So, the next task is to find a good colloquial rendering for אמן in Jer 28:6…

why is there no marriage in the resurrection?

In Matthew 22:23ff, Jesus reveals to the Sadducees that there is no marriage in the resurrection. Specifically, he says in verse 30:

ἐν γὰρ τῇ ἀναστάσει οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἄγγελοι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ εἰσιν.

For at the time of the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.

Now although this resolves the problem raised in the passage by the Sadducees, it does raise some questions, in particular, why is there no marriage and what does it mean?

It seems that any answer to this question must ultimately return to the function of marriage itself, and for this we must travel to Gen 2:18–25. In this passage, the woman is created in answer to the second of two problems identified in creation (the first problem is identified in Gen 2:5), and in response to the rather startling observation by God that something is “not good.” That is, the woman, and (in the context) marriage, are the answer to the man’s isolation. With her, in the covenantal relationship of marriage, he is no longer alone, he has his עזר כנגדו (ʿēzer kĕnegdô, ‘heler suitable for him’).

So, in marriage, the man finds the answer to the problem of being alone. Why is this no longer a problem at the resurrection? There are at least a three possibilities:

  1. Following David Clines,1 who identifies the help the woman provides the man as being purely related to childbearing and so the ability to fulfil the blessing of Gen 1:28, we would have to conclude that at the resurrection this command is seen as fulfilled—the earth/land is then filled and, with its inhabitants enjoying eternal life, the population need not grow any further, and so there is no need for procreation and ultimately marriage.
  2. Alternatively, and in the context of Genesis 2 I think preferably, the main problem with being alone is not the inability to perform some tasks but, instead, being out of relationship with others, i.e. being alone is in itself problematic. If this is the case, the absence of marriage points to a situation where the particular “aloneness” described in Genesis 2 has been resolved via other means. Perhaps Jesus’ envisages a degree of intimacy and openness in all human relationships at the resurrection that ultimately fulfils the ideal of marriage and fully solves the problem of “aloneness.”
  3. Another option is that resurrected people are not gendered, i.e. there will be no male and female, and so no marriage. Whether this is likely to be the idea behind Jesus’ comment would depend on whether angels were thought to be without gender. Now all angels I can think of that are mentioned in the Bible are grammatically male, but this is far from decisive since it may be that they are simply not marked for gender. OTOH, if Gen 6:1-6 refers to angels cohabitating with humans (which is far from certain) then it would suggest that angels were thought to be gendered. Some examination of first-century angelology would be needed to clarify this further.

Of course these explanations are not mutually exclusive, they may be true in some combination (they may also both be wrong). There may also be other possible reasons for the absence of marriage in the resurrection.

What we can say, however, is that if Gen 1:28 reflects a divine purpose, then perhaps that purpose is fulfilled at the resurrection,2. So if the earth is full and there is no more death, is procreation necessary. If it is not, then that aspect of marriage is no longer required (although I think Gen 2 makes it clear that marriage is more than this). So it could be argued that neither gender nor marriage is needed at the resurrection and hence this explains the situation Jesus describes.

1. See David Clines, “What Does Eve Do to Help?” which can be read online here. I should point out that I do not follow David Clines at this point—I think Genesis 2 in the context of the OT makes it clear that the problem identified with the man’s “aloneness” is not confined to his inability to fill the earth.

2. Although there may be no such necessity: I see no requirement that the resurrection needs to mark the end to any further development or advancement in the divine plan for creation. It may simply mark the end of this phase.

should english bible translations transliterate God’s name?

Prompted by this discussion at Better Bibles Blog, I think there is one important side to the debate which is often overlooked.

First some brief background. I’ve always been somewhat fond of versions which render יהוה by Yahweh or something similar, partly because it makes better sense in many places to actually use a name when translating a name, partly because often using a title (i.e. “Lord”) interrupts the fluency of the text, and partly because, well, because I like to see little glimpses of Hebrew shining through into the translation.

Having said that, however, it is worth noting that there is a case for translating the name יהוה with the English “Lord.” The basis for the case is found in the NT, because whenever the NT quotes an OT text which includes God’s name it translates it as κυριος, ‘Lord’.

Now if that were all there was to it then I don’t think there’d be a strong case here. But wait, there’s more! The NT also consistently describes Jesus as κυριος, and so suddenly there is an important relationship established in the ambiguity of this designation for Jesus which the authors of the NT appear to self-consciously exploit.

A prime example is Matt 3:3’s use of Isa 40:3. First, here is what the MT for Isaiah says:

‏קול קורא
במדבר פנו דרך יהוה
‏ישרו בערבה מסלה לאלהינו

The LXX renders this thus:

φωνὴ βοῶντος
ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου
εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν

You can clearly see the transition from יהוה to κυριος which leads us to Matt 3:3

φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ·
ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου,
εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ.

So Isaiah makes clear reference to preparing the way for Yahweh to come. But what is in Matthew’s mind? Throughout his gospel Jesus is referred to as κυριος. So here we have some ambiguity—who are the preparations for? Are they for Jesus or for Yahweh himself? Reading on it becomes clear that John is anticipating the arrival of the Messiah.

The resolution to this apparent paradox lies, of course, in the divinity of Jesus, for the NT writers seem to apply both senses of κυριος to him.

So the danger in moving away from translating יהוה by ‘Lord’ in the NT is that the English reader loses this connection. As is inevitably the case when faced with such choices in translation, each choice has pros and cons and no choice will make everyone happy. Nonetheless, this particular translation choice has both biblical justification as well as theological significance, and so there is no a-priori case to dismiss the validity of the use of ‘Lord’ in English translations of the tetragrammaton.