From the About page comes a question about baptism, the essence of which is the observation that the words we now translate “baptize,” “baptism,” “[John the] Baptist,” etc. were actually ordinary words in Greek, like our “wash” in English. They were not technical religious terms like the English “baptize,” and the Greek words did not mean what the modern English “baptize” does.
So perhaps instead of “baptism” we should translate “washing.”
But it’s a little more complicated than that.
The Greek word for “baptize” is baptizo.
We know from passages like Mark 7:4 that the word can mean simply “wash”: “[The Pharisees and Jews] do not eat after returning from the marketplace unless they have washed [baptizo] … [Other traditions include] the washing [baptismos] of [various eating vessels].”
We see similar evidence in Luke 11:38: “The Pharisee was amazed to see that [Jesus] didn’t wash [baptizo] before the meal.”
We also see the verb in the OT, once in II Kings 5:14, where it’s the Greek translation of the Hebrew taval (“dip” or “immerse”), and once in Isaiah 21:4, where the word seems out of context.
Equally, we find the verb baptizo in non-Biblical Greek texts — more on this below. In those contexts, too, the verb seems to be a general one.
From all of these sources, it’s clear that baptizo is a common verb, and the specialized “baptize” in English misrepresents the original Greek.
On p. 155 of And God Said you claim that “there is no divorce in the Bible.”
Two great questions follow. I’ll take them in reverse order:
The Case of Two Husbands
Also, you speculate that perhaps the Bible would call both an ex-wife and a current wife, “his wife” but this is not true, in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 we see “former wife.”
I presume you mean “former husband,” and here we find a true translation gaff.
The KJV, ESV, NAB, NLT, and others translate “former husband” for ba’al rishon. But “former” in English usually implies “no longer,” whereas the Hebrew rishon just means “first.” For example, when Esau is born before Jacob, he is called the rishon. Genesis 26:1 mentions a famine, and then clarifies, “not the first [rishon] famine,” but rather a new famine. This doesn’t mean or imply that the first famine is no longer or famine. Similarly, ba’ala harishon doesn’t “her husband who is no longer her husband,” but rather, “her first husband.”
(There’s a related use of “former” in English that’s the opposite of “latter” and that just means “first.” For example: “Consider two people, the former a senator and the latter a judge….”)
By comparision, we might look at “ex-wife” in English. A man in his third marriage can have two ex-wives. Even if we call them “the former ex-wife” and “the latter ex-wife,” both remain his ex-wives, and the clearer way to refer to them in English is “his first ex-wife” and “his second ex-wife.”
The NIV gets rishon right with “first,” but then errs and translates shilach as “divorced” instead of the more accurate “sent away.”
The NJB’s combination of “first husband” and “repudiated her” isn’t bad, except for the fact that the Hebrew shilach is a common verb while the English “repudiate” is not.
The NRSV’s translation is pretty accurate here: “…her first husband, who sent her away…”
So here we see Hebrew that just talks about two husbands, while the English, with the word “former,” wrongly suggests that one of them is no longer a husband.
The alleged divorce only takes place in translation.
Exodus 15:22-26 deals with drinking water. The People of Israel come to Marah (the name of a place, but the word also means “bitter”) and when they find that the water there is undrinkable, Moses throws a log into the water and it becomes drinkable. It’s a fairly simple concept (thought a complex trick), yet the KJV, ESV, NIV, NJB, NRSV, and JPS translations all translate “drinkable water” here as “sweet water.”
That’s because the Hebrew word here is matok. In Hebrew — as in English — “sweet” and “salty” are generally opposites, and in Hebrew the paradigm extends to water. But unlike Hebrew, in (most dialects of) English the opposite of “salt water” is not “sweet water” but rather “fresh water,” or perhaps “drinkable water” or even “potable water.”
The same contrast in James 3:11 is variously rendered “sweet/bitter” (KJV), “fresh/salt” (ESV), “fresh/bitter” (NLT), “fresh/brackish” (NRSV) or “pure/brackish” (NAB). (I’ve never used the word “brackish” in my life, though I remember hearing the word when I took a boat tour of the Everglades. Apparently it’s a mixture of seawater and fresh lake water.)
All of this complexity is introduced for what is essentially a very simple contrast, with common English words to describe it: fresh water and salt water.
It seems to me that the only reason to prefer “sweet” in Exodus is to maintain the literary contrast between the name of the place (“Marah,” which means “bitter”) and the water, which becomes sweet.
Do you think it’s worth it? Is “sweet” acceptible for “fresh”/”potable”/”drinkable”?
What about in James 3:11. Is “brackish” called for? I don’t see what’s wrong with “fresh/salt.”
In my last post I asked whether we should use modern terms like “womb” and “stomach” to translate the ancient beten, which was used for both.
Similarly, what about “chair” and “throne”? It seems that, at least in the OT, one word was used for both different modern concepts.
The Hebrew for both is kisei. It’s a common word, so it’s not hard to find examples of a kisei for commoners (I Samuel 1:9, e.g.), for kings (II Samuel 3:10, e.g., where it’s used metonymically for “kingdom”), and for God (Psalm 11:4).
Though the Greek thronos is used consistently in the LXX for kisei, in the NT thronos seems more narrowly reserved for kings and other dignitaries (Luke 1:32, Revelation 4:4) and God (Matthew 5:34), though Satan (Revelation 2:13) gets one, too.
The Greek kathedra is used in the NT for ordinary chairs (Matthew 21:12), and in the LXX for the Hebrew moshav “seat” and more generally shevet “sitting.” (The Hebrew moshav seems to include seats of any kind, both “chairs” and “thrones.”)
Another way of looking kisei in the OT is to compare it to the modern English word “shoe.” Even though kings and ordinary folk wear different kinds of them (I think), there’s only one word for them (I think).
The translation issue is forced in I Kings 2:19, where King Solomon sits on his kisei and also orders a kisei brought for his mom (which, at the risk of editorializing, is really sweet). The KJV, ESV, and NJB use two different words here, first “throne” (for the king) then “seat” (for mom). The LXX (in Greek), NAB, NIV, NLT, and NRSV use the same word twice. (I’m a little surprised to find the “essentially literal” ESV using two words here, and the generally more idiomatic NLT sticking with one.)
The original Hebrew of I Kings 2:19 emphasizes the equality of Solomon and his mother. The KJV emphasizes the inequality of the two. The NRSV preserves the equality, but does so by giving Bathsheba a throne.
Elsewhere, the translator has to decide between “chair” and “throne” for God. By choosing “throne,” God is necessarily like royalty; and while that’s certainly a common metaphor for God in the OT, how do we know it’s always what the Hebrew meant? In the famous vision of Isaiah 6, for example, the only clue to a kingship metaphor is the word “throne” in English.
Should a translation preserve the OT way of looking at things that are sat upon (if you’ll pardon my grammar), the NT way, or go straight for the modern English way?
The first chapter of Jonah contains the verb yarah four times, so we see another example of the tension between local and global translation, or between text and context. What works well verse by verse doesn’t always work to convey a longer passage.
In verse 5, the sailors on Jonah’s boat “yarahed” in response to the storm God sends. Then in verse 9, when the people question Jonah, he identifies himself as “a Hebrew,” who “yarahs Adonai.” In response, in verse 10, the people yarahed greatly (or, as the Hebrew grammar would have it, “yarahed a great yarahing”). Then in verse 16, after the storm subsides, the people “yarahed Adonai greatly” (or “yarahed a great yarahing for/of/toward Adonai”).
The verb yarah and the related noun yir’ah combine “fear” and “awe” in a way that’s hard to express in Modern English. (It’s approximately the feeling one might have for a beautiful lightning storm — it’s awesome, awe-inspiring, scary, etc.) This is why translations vary.
But the running theme of yarah is destroyed in every translation I can find.
Here’s a sampling:
|Verse 5||Verse 9||Verse 10||Verse 16|
|ESV:||were afraid||fear||exceedingly afraid||feared the LORD exceedingly|
|KJV:||were afraid||fear||exceedingly afraid||feared the Lord exceedingly|
|NAB:||became frightened||worship||seized with great fear||struck with great fear of the LORD|
|NIV:||were afraid||worship||[this] terrified them||greatly feared the Lord|
|NLT:||fearing for their lives||worship||were terrified||were awestruck with the Lord’s great power|
|The Message:||were terrified||worship||were frightened, really frightened||were … in awe of God|
|NRSV:||were afraid||worship||were even more afraid||feared the LORD even more|
In particular, verses 10 and 16 both start with the same four Hebrew words, yet in none of the translations does the English start identically.
(The translation “worship” in verse 9, which is almost certainly wrong, comes from the LXX. But the LXX seems to be working from a different text, as it also has “servant of the Lord” instead of “Hebrew.”)
For all this bickering about which translation approach is best, they all seem to get Jonah wrong.