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Translation and Interpretation II: This Time It’s Personal…

July 15, 2008

… The Personal Promise Bible that is. “In the Personal Promise Bible (PPB), you will read your first name personalized in over 5,000 places throughout the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs, over 7,000 places throughout the complete Old and New Testaments.”

For example:

By which He has granted to Scott His precious and exceedingly great promises; that through these Scott may become a partaker of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Pet. 1:4)

Even when Scott was dead in trespasses, God made Scott alive together with Christ (by grace Scott has been saved), and raised Scott up with Him and made Scott to sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:5-6)

Most likely, some people reading this do not really see any issue with the translation above; perhaps, some even think it is a valuable tool. However, there is a very big problem: it does not reflect the original intent of the author, or the world view and social setting that the Scriptures were written in.

Perhaps the greatest difference between modern North European and North American cultures, or ‘North Atlantic’ cultures hereafter, and those of contemporary Mediterranean societies is the prevalence of individualism in the former and a strong sense of group orientation in the latter. By ‘individualism’ I mean the notion that to a large extent persons find fulfillment in life through their own individual efforts – by thinking for themselves, by striking out on their own, leaving their parents home at an early stage to build a career in another city, and so on…

Most of the world is not individualistic in the sense just set out, although many people socialized in North Atlantic cultures often fail to see this. The more common pattern is of group-orientation, where individuals achieve fulfillment in relation to significant groups.

~ The Early Christian World, Edited by Philip F. Esler, p 16.

The social norm for the ancient Mediterranean world was not one of individualism but one where the person found their value in reference to a group. There are many implications for what this group orientated outlook meant in a limited good, honor shame society, and would need a book and not a blog post to cover. However, I believe that many modern people in North Atlantic cultures would be better off understanding the importance of group dynamics for the early church and be stripped of some of their secular individualistic tendencies (illusions), and not have these reinforced. Especially, as many of the problems of our modern churches can be directly traced to the egocentricity of its members and individualistic egocentric teachings from its pulpits.

Without entering all of the particulars let me give you an example (one of many) where the PPB fails miserably. The PPB translates 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Don’t you know that Scott is a temple of God, and that God’s Spirit lives in him?” You may recognize this verse more closely as “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (NRSV).

Now here’s the thing for those that do not know: The Greek language is very precise… exceedingly precise, so that when it comes to pronouns the Greeks have a singular second person pronoun for you and a plural second person pronoun for you. You (singular and plural) may notice from the last sentence that in English there is only one pronoun. Unless, of course, you are from the deep South and you say “y’all”.

The letter of 1 Corinthians is written to a church and not a person. The pronouns in this verse are both second person plurals! The implication is that the community in Corinth is God’s temple and his spirit dwells in them. We should expect this pattern throughout the New Testament because of the prevalent worldview and the fact that the majority of the letters were written to groups, and it is what we in fact do find.

With the church in the North Atlantic part of the world slowly dying an egocentric death of individualism, materialism, syncretism, Oprahism; desperately clinging to the need to be right instead of the right sort of people. Almost completely forgetting how to forgive each other as Christ forgave us; perhaps, what we need are more translations that emphasize the group orientation of the early church and remind us of the incredible importance of what it means to be the body of Christ together, and not individually.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 15, 2008 12:08 pm

    I did a post about this last October titled “The Bibe Is Magic”, check it out:

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