Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

The Word "Baptism" in Gothic

May 2, 2014

My baptistic friends (or any of my friends that think that only immersion is baptism) will be glad to know that in the Gothic Bible, one of the words that is translated, rather than transliterated, is the word we transliterate “baptism.” In “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” Heather et al. provide the following item:

βαπτίζειν/ -ίσμα/ -ίστής (baptizare/-isma/-ista): daupyan, daupeins, daupyands (sc. John the Baptist); cf. ufdaupyan, ‘dip’, diups, ‘deep’; Ger. taufen.

It’s not a matter of earth-shattering significance, but it is interesting as a minor lexical note to observe that the fourth-century Greek/Latin/Goth speaker Ulfila (see earlier discussion hereand here) evidently understood “baptism” narrowly as “dip” as opposed to more broadly as “wash” or the like.


Ulfila and Early Church Priorities

April 29, 2014

Ulfila (also sometimes written as Ulfilas, Ulphilas, Uliphilus, or the like) is possibly the most famous of the Goths in church history.  For those caught up in the terminology of today, no we’re not talking about Emo types, but the Germanic warriors who dominated a big chunk of Europe toward the end of the Roman Empire.

Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History 6:37 at 11 (Heather et al. translators of this and other works in “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” p. 100) describes Ulfila in this way:

As a matter of fact, he had given the greatest proof of his courage, resisting many dangers on behalf of the faith at the time when the Goths were still worshiping in pagan fashion. He was also the original inventor of their letters, and translated the holy books into their native language. It is for this reason, then, that the barbarians from over the Danube in general adhere to the doctrines of Arius.

I’m certainly not supportive of any of the anti-Nicene groups that existed in the fourth century (especially not those associated with Arius).  Nevertheless, it is notable that it was a priority even at that time to translate the Bible into the language of the people as a predicate to evangelizing them.  Likewise, keep in mind that Nicaea in the fourth century did not necessarily have the prestige it now enjoys.  Heather et al. explain (p. 131):

To take up Sozomen’s second point, the fact that Ulfila was not a declared opponent of Nicaea does not make him a supporter of it — if indeed this whole way of seeing the matter is not anachronistic. One suspects that in the fluidity of the first ‘post-Nicene’ generation adherence to that settlement was not the touchstone of orthodoxy that it later came to be.

Philostorgius’ Church History 2.5 (Heather et al. pp. 134-35) provides a similar report to that of Sozomen (and Sozomen may, in fact, be reliant on Philostorgius, see pp. 96-97):

It was this Ulphilas who led the exodus of the pious ones, being the first bishop appointed among them. He was appointed in the following circumstances: sent with others by the ruler of the race of the Goths on an embassy in the time of Constantine (for the barbarian peoples in those parts owed allegiance to the emperor), Ulphilas was elected by Eusebius and the bishops of his party as bishop of the Christians in the Getic land. Among the matters which he attended to among them, he was the inventor for them of their own letters, and translated all the Scriptures into their language — with the exception, that is, of Kings. This was because these books contain the history of wars, while the Gothic people, being lovers of war, were in need of something to restrain their passion for fighting rather than to incite them to it — which those books have the power to do for all that they are held in the highest honour, and are well fitted to lead believers to the worship of God.

One interesting point to note about this is that clearly Ulfila (or more likely his group, rather than just him personally) had a pretty clear concept of the canon of Scripture.  We can’t accurately judge that canon today, because the Goths were non-Niceans (and generally classified therefore as Arians) and consequently most of their literature was destroyed by the dominant orthodox.
Heather et al. explain (chapter 5, p. 124):

The precarious survival of these texts is a reflection of the thoroughness with which the victorious ‘orthodox’ church of the fourth and later centuries succeeded in eliminating the writings, and in large part the reputation, of its opponents.

Indeed, a similar fate awaited the Gothic translation of the Scriptures.  Very few manuscripts survive and much of the evidence we have for the text is based on the fact that parchment was expensive and consequently reused (Heather et al., p. 147):

It is noteworthy that all these texts, like the Codex Carolinus referred to above, are preserved as palimpsests, that is to say on pages of parchment cleaned of their Gothic texts and re-used, but still decipherable beneath the later writing: we can easily imagine how, as the Gothic kingdom of Italy was replaced by Byzantine domination, copies of the Gothic Bible would become superfluous and join the stocks of discarded books whose materials were available for re-use.

Not only were Gothic Bibles not useful to non-Gothic-speakers, they were suspected.  Salvian, in De Gubernatione Dei 5.2.6 (Heather et al., pp. 156-57) argues:

They read the same things, you say, that are read by us. But how can they be the same, when they were written in the first place by bad authors, and are badly interpolated and badly translated? They are not really the same, because things can in no sense be called the same when they are defective in any part of themselves. Things that have lost their completeness do not keep their integrity, nor do they retain their authority in any way when they are deprived of the power of the sacraments. It is only we who posses the holy scriptures full, inviolate and complete: for we either drink them at their very source, or at least as drawn from the purest sources through the service of a pure translation.

Heather et al. again (p. 148):

To summarise, no part of the Gothic Bible survives complete, though the relatively extensive remains of the New Testament that we do possess are perhaps the most useful from a historical point of view, because of the Graeco-Roman terminology which they contain; in a manner of speaking, this replicates the Goths’ own experience in confronting the Roman empire and its institutions. Enough fragments of the Old Testament survive to attest to its existence in Gothic; the absence of the Books of Kings from the surviving fragments is consistent with Philostorgius’ assertion that these books were not translated by Ulfila, but obviously insignificant as evidence, given the tiny quantity of the Old Testament text that does survive.

In short, the Bible was an important priority in the early church, even for those “Christians” whose theology included serious Trinitarian errors.  Lord willing, I’ll address some of those errors in a subsequent post.


Is it Important to Pronounce Biblical Names "Authentically"?

April 6, 2014

Some people point out that the way we pronounce “Jehovah” and “Jesus” today are definitely not the way that the names were pronounced at the time the Pentateuch and Gospels were written.  For one thing, pronouncing the names with a hard J sound at the beginning represents the evolution of English/French.  Similarly, pronouncing “Jesus” with an “H” sound at the beginning represents the evolution of Spanish.

So, in some sense, we are pronouncing the words “wrong,” in the sense that we are not pronouncing them as they were originally pronounced.  But does or should that matter?  With respect to Dominic Bnonn Tennant (who provides three nice reasons opposite to mine), the answer is no.
After all, the New Testament itself does not provide Greek transliterations that would lead to identical pronunciations of the Hebrew proper names that are being referenced.  Instead, the New Testament generally applies the same kinds of transliteration concepts that we see in the ancient Greek translations of the Old Testament.
Thus, for example, the name “Jehovah,” is not even transliterated, but merely replaced by κύριος (kurios).  Likewise, the name “Jesus” is actually a transliteration for the same Hebrew name we transliterate in the Old Testament as “Joshua.”
That first example is also the rebuttal to one of DBT’s “particularly egregious examples.”  DBT argues:

The fact that we inherited a silly Jewish superstition that YHWH should be pronounced “Adonai” (lord) in Hebrew, because to say the actual name of God amounted to blasphemy, is not a good reason to render it “LORD” in English. 

The problem with that argument is that we seem to have inherited it from the Holy Spirit who inspired the New Testament, in which the quotations of the Old Testament do not transliterate YHWH.  I’m not saying that transliteration is forbidden – but I think calling it a “silly Jewish superstition” seems extreme.


Luther and the Bible in the Common Tongue

July 2, 2011

One of the things that was important to the Reformers (as it was to the early church) was that the Word of God be available to people in a language they could understand. This is famously seen in the translational works of Wycliffe and Tyndale, but also in the work of Luther:

Luther began his translation of the New Testament during his enforced exile at the Wartburg, and his work of translating and revising came to occupy him until the end of his life. Amazing as it seems, he apparently completed the first draft of his translation of the New Testament in some eleven weeks, using as his working tools the Greek and Latin editions of Erasmus. Not only did Luther prepare a superb translation, a version that seemed fresh and alive because, as one scholar has phrased it, “he read Holy Writ ‘as though it had been written yesterday.'”[FN54] but also, in the process of translation, he helped to sculpt the German language. The development of Neuhochdeutsch, early modern high German, was underway before the appearance of Luther’s Bible, due partly to the influence of Saxon Kanzeleideutsch or chancellory German. [FN55] Luther’s Bible brought new high German into the parish schools and pulpits and made it the common language for the German people, even though the common folk long clung to their individual dialects. In brief, the language of Luther’s Bible “became the language of the people, the langugage used in the studies of the scholars, and the language spoken in the huts of the unlearned.”[FN56]

Marilyn J. Harran, Luther and learning: the Wittenberg University Luther Symposium, p. 40.

For several hundred years after the height of Middle High German literature, there was no longer any standard literary language. By far the most important influence on the development of the Modern High German standard language was Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, the first edition of which appeared in 1522 (Old Testament) and 1534 (New Testament). Luther’s translation was the first to be written in a direct and uncomplicated – at times even colloquial – style that strove not only to include expressions that were modern and up-and-coming, but also to incorporate linguistic features from as many regions as possible. Its impact on literary German was immense; its core was Luther’s native dialect of Thuringian.

Benjamin W. Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, 15.78 (p. 367)

>Rome’s Translation Record

September 30, 2010

>Over at Greenbaggins, Roman Catholic Taylor Marshall threw out one of the standard lines about Luther changing Scripture. I noted that this Roman propaganda has been debunked already (debunked oncedebunked twice). In response, Mr. Marshall tried to come up with some new angles to the old slur.

He stated: “One might even say that these mistakes in translations only prove that the Catholic Church must authorize translations so as to avoid errors.”

This is actually an old contention of Rome. Translators were persecuted, and their translations were burned, for allegedly badly translating the Bible without Roman approval. Moreover, the Council of Trent saw it fit to declare a particular version authentic:

But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.

(Trent, Session IV)

And in case that was not clear enough:

Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,–considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,–ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.

(Trent, Session IV)

You might think that the “Old Latin Vulgate” was a version currently in existence. It wasn’t. It was a version about to be published:

(this Synod) ordains and decrees, that, henceforth, the sacred Scripture, and especially the said old and vulgate edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible

(Trent, Session IV)

The real Francis Turretin asked the obvious question:

The decree of the Council of Trent canonized an edition which at the time had no existence and appeared forty-six years afterwards. The decree was made in 1546. In 1590, the work was finished and published by Sixtus V; two years after that it was published by Clement VIII. Now how could a council approve and declare authentic an edition which it had not examined and in fact had yet been made?

– Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 Vols., trans. George Musgrave Giger and ed. James T. Dennison (Phillipsburg: reprinted by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1992), Vol. 1, XV.ix, p. 134.

Moreover, as David King explains in Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume 1, pp. 162-65, when Pope Sixtus V finally published the edition, it was full of errors. It was so full of errors that Pope Gregory XIV, acting on the suggestion of Bellarmine, suppressed the Sixtus V 1590 edition, destroyed the copies of it, and ordered a revision. The revision was eventually published under the authority of Clement VIII, although initially the edition only identified Pope Sixtus V by name.

But even the Clementine Vulgate was riddled with errors, though they are not all as severe as those in the Sixtus V edition, or in the prior Vulgate editions. Nevertheless, we now have the Nova Vulgata which corrected at least one famous mistranslation (Genesis 3:15 – a feminine pronoun was used, and this mistranslation was later used as a basis for the definition of a Marian dogma) and actually introduced at least one new mistranslation (Leviticus 16:26 – transliteration of “Azazel” instead of translation to “scapegoat”). As to parts of the text, the Comma Johanneum (in 1 John 5:7-8) has been removed by the New Vulgate, but the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) remains in the text.

So, yes – this claim that “the Church” is needed to give someone an authentic translation is an old claim – but if it is a correct claim, then Rome is not “the Church,” because the editions that Rome has produced have always had errors – not just printing errors.

– TurretinFan

>A Little Bit of Latin is a Dangerous Thing

September 30, 2010

>It is reported (here) that Google has launched a Latin translation tool (thanks to “Fr. Z” for pointing this out).

Like “Fr. Z,” I’m skeptical of the abilities of the machine to properly translate Latin. Nevertheless, this may serve as a valuable to scholars and translators who want to get a running start in translating a text.

For translation, one’s best resources is an actual scholar of the language of interest and your language, i.e. a human being. But I hope that people will get some benefit from this new Google tool.


What Catholic Answers Isn’t Telling You About the New Mass Translation

June 3, 2010

Over the past few months I’ve seen a number of requests for funding from Catholic Answers to support what is billed as the “new translation” of the Order of the Mass. Some of the earlier requests seemed vague as to why this is important. The latest email claims that the issue is that the current translation is “clunky” whereas the mass is supposed to be “sublime.”

On the one hand, one can hardly imagine this same conversation happening 50 years ago, when it had been Rome’s practice for centuries to essentially use Latin only (plus the Greek words kyrie eleison) in the order of the mass (with a few exceptions, such as the homily). To that time, one would expect to see reused the arguments against the Reformers as to why it is better not to place the mass into English.

Nevertheless, it was put into English and, as Catholic Answers’ recent email has noted, they (the mysterious “they” that makes decisions for the English-speaking portion of Rome’s church) did not simply reuse the existing parallel English that had been prepared for the aid of English-speaking priests. Instead, a new translation was provided.

What Catholic Answers hasn’t been mentioning in the emails I’ve seen (though perhaps I’m not privy to all their communications) is that there are theological issues with the translation that has been in use for the last few decades. One prominent example is the issue of the very wording of the consecration.

The order in use offered four alternative “Eucharistic prayers” but all of the alternatives stated:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it;
this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all
so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me.

(source – see the “institutive narrative” section)

The new translation of the mass fixes this erroneous statement with respect to the atonement. In relevant part it states:


(caps in source)

This is a theologically significant change, and one that has been grist for the mill of sedevacantists, as can be seen at the following link from a sedevacantist site (link to arguments for the invalidity of the new mass).

While it may be true that the order of mass in use for decades in the English-speaking world has been clunky, has Catholic Answers’ mission ever been to improve the style of American Romanism? One possible explanation is that at least some of the arguments of the sedevacants against the new mass are compelling enough to force a revision that reverts the language to the more traditional form.

I’ve addressed one issue, an issue that was brought to my attention by Peter Dimond’s debate with William Albrecht on the subject (link to debate). I’ve also addressed this theological issue because it has significance to the issue of the atonement.

The words “shed for many for the remission of sins” should remind us:

1) That the shedding of Christ’s blood, not the drinking of his blood, is the way by which the guilt of sins is remitted. Not “drunk … for the remission of sins” but “shed … for the remission of sins.”

While we are taught that we must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ to have life in us:

John 6:53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.

It is because Christ is our source of life, not because it is the eating and drink that provides forgiveness. It is the shedding of the blood that provides the forgiveness.

2) The only way that sins are forgiven is by the shedding of Christ’s blood.

Hebrews 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

3) The sacrifice of Christ is a time-bound event. It was future at the time of the institution of the sacrament, though it is past now.

Hebrew 9:26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

4) Christ’s aim in having his blood shed was to remit the sins of many, not all.

Thomas Aquinas explains it this way:

Objection 8: Further, as was already observed, Christ’s Passion sufficed for all; while as to its efficacy it was profitable for many. Therefore it ought to be said: “Which shall be shed for all,” or else “for many,” without adding, “for you.”

Reply to Objection 8: The blood of Christ’s Passion has its efficacy not merely in the elect among the Jews, to whom the blood of the Old Testament was exhibited, but also in the Gentiles; nor only in priests who consecrate this sacrament, and in those others who partake of it; but likewise in those for whom it is offered. And therefore He says expressly, “for you,” the Jews, “and for many,” namely the Gentiles; or, “for you” who eat of it, and “for many,” for whom it is offered.

– Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Third Part, Question 78, Article 3 (Objection/Response 8)

– TurretinFan

Beware of Imprecise Terminology

February 2, 2010

The following is a story [FN1], allegedly originally printed by Henry Bebel in 1550 (as shown above)(a late middle English translation and expansion is here). My own modernization [FN2] of the expanded Middle English version follows:

Of the Parson that said a Requiem Mass for Christ’s Soul

There was a certain country priest that was not especially well educated. Therefore, on the evening before Easter he sent his boy to the priest of the next town (about two miles from him) to know what mass he should sing the next day. This boy came to the neighboring priest and made his master’s request.

The neighboring priest then responded, “Tell your master that he must sing tomorrow of the resurrection.” The priest further added, “if you happen to forget it, tell your master that it begins with a capital ‘R’,” and showed him the mass book where it was written “Resurrexi.” etc.

The boy then went home again, and all the way as he went he kept repeating “Resurrexi Resurrexi.” At the last minute, however, it happened to fall clean out of his mind. When he came home, his master asked him what mass he should sing tomorrow.

“I swear, master,” said the boy, “I have forgotten it, but he told me to tell you it begins with a capital ‘R’.”

“Aha,” said the priest, “I know you say the truth, for now I remember well it must be ‘requiem eternam,’ for god almighty died as though on yesterday and now we must say mass for his soul.”

By this you may see that when one fool sends another fool on his errand, oftentimes the business receives fool’s-gold help.[FN3]

The moral I’d like to suggest is a little different. I’d like to suggest that an important lesson for us to learn is that we should be careful about using imprecise theological statements. While there is an orthodox sense to the expression that the priest used to describe the Good Friday commemoration of Christ’s death, since Christ (who is God) died that day, nevertheless much absurdity can arise (and this story is but one facetious example) from a failure to properly distinguish between those things that belong properly to Christ’s human nature (such as to be born, to grow, to learn, to die, and to be raised again) and those that properly belong to Christ’s divine nature (such as to be omniscient, eternal, and immutable).

Therefore, we ought to be careful to avoid unnecessary ambiguity in our language. By speaking precisely we may aid the simple and edify the learned.

FN1: This story brought to my attention via Matthew at Shrine of the Holy Whapping

FN2: I’ve updated not only the spellings of words, and archaic words (“quoth” and “trow” for example) but also the archaic syntax and an instance of the priest taking the LORD’s name in vain (replaced by “Aha”).

FN3: The original punchline is a little hard to convey. The original ending was “the business is foolishly speed” which makes no sense to the modern reader given the modern shift in the semantic domain of the word “speed.” English retains this kind of sense in the word “godspeed” of which “foolspeed” would be a sort of opposite. While we could say “assisted as though by a fool” that would reduce a lot of the punch of the punchline, so I’ve tried to get as close as possible with “fool’s gold help” which manages to include a play on the word “fool” without simply stating the obvious.

Non-English Reformation-Era Bibles – Index Page

August 5, 2009

The Reformation in the British isles was quite remarkable. In fact, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that other nations and tongues in Europe also experienced the Reformation. That said, I thought I’d try to track down some Reformation-era Bibles in other languages than English and provide those to the interested reader.

Olivetan (French) (Google Books – 1616 Printing)

Diodati (Italian) (Google Books – 1877 printing)(New Testament – 1665 Printing)

Reina (Spanish)

Luther’s Bible of 1545 (German) (Modern Letter Version)

Dutch Authorized Version – 1637

– TurretinFan

Groves / Sarna to be Cut Down

March 25, 2009

In a ridiculous mess, pagans in India are complaining about the fact that the Bible commands believers to destroy the places of false worship (link). The errors in the article and in the pagan reaction are legion:

1. The article notes that the translation is “Protestant” and claims that the translation is faulty.

This is not the case. The translation is accurate. It conveys the intended meaning of commanding the destruction of worship groves.

2. The pagans have reacted to the Bible’s comments by burning a Roman Catholic cardinal in effigy.

This is inappropriate both because the cardinal isn’t responsible for the translation and because the cardinal doesn’t represent the religion of the Bible.

3. The Bible society has apologized for the translation.

This is sad. The truth of Scripture must not be compromised. If and when it offends the native religions, that’s a good thing.

4. It took the tribes 8 years to notice this issue.

This is also sad. I cannot complain too much, though, because I have done nothing to preach the gospel to those tribes. Nevertheless, their false religion should have been brought to their attention years ago, if possible.

All in all, it is sad sight to see. Yes, the pagan religions of India, both the major religions and the tribal religions are false religions. Their groves ought to be cut down, their idols smashed, and their hearts turned to the unseen God.

May God’s Kingdom Come!


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