Get behind me – or – Follow me

For the past several years my pastor and I have read his sermon texts in Greek and/or Hebrew and shared insights before he delivered his sermons.  In his recent sermon text of Mark 8:27-38, he noticed that the Greek word OPISO (usually translated “after” or “behind” in the KJV) occurs in verse 33 in the clause “Get behind me, Satan” and again in verse 34 in the clause “If any want to follow after/behind me…”

Our first thought was that the Greek word OPISO was used in two different senses; the occurrence in verse 33 in the sense in which the TEV (“Get away from me”) and the NIV (“Out of my sight”) translated it; the occurrence in verse 34 in the sense of following Jesus.  But then I began to wonder if the occurrence in verse 33 may have been intended to convey the same sense as the one in verse 34.  A look at a concordance supports that likelihood since nearly all uses of OPISO in the New Testament occur in contexts that convey the sense of following Jesus.

If Jesus were rebuking Satan in verse 33, I could understand why he might say “Get away from me” or “Out of my sight.”  But Jesus was scolding Peter, a devoted follower of his, who was not acting as a follower should.  I don’t think Jesus was rejecting Peter, which “Get away from me” implies.  I think Jesus was reminding Peter of what it meant to be his follower.  So I prefer the rendering of The Better Life Bible:   “Stop acting like Satan, who wants everything to go his way.”  I wonder if any other translations convey this idea.

Are your days numbered?

In English there is an idiom, “Your days are numbered.” Most who read this post probably understand the meaning of the idiom, namely, that whoever says it is telling someone that they are about to die or in some other way experience something precipitous, like getting fired from a job.

Traditional English translations of Psalm 90:12 ask God to “teach us to number our days …” Note that this wording does not have the idiomatic meaning that “Your days are numbered” does. I do not know what it means in any standard dialect of English to “number” my days.  (Biblish is not a standard dialect of English since it is spoken by only a portion of those who know standard dialects of English. It is a limited jargon, not a dialect.)

The traditional wording of Ps. 90:12 sounds like it has something to do with counting days on a calendar. We need to field test the traditional wording to find out if any native speakers of standard dialects of English get the Hebraic meaning from “teach us to number our days.”

The meaning of the original Hebrew is a request that God help us realize how short our lives are. The implication is that when we realize how little time we have left to live, we should live it wisely.

I suggest that the traditional English translations do not communicate to most readers this meaning of the original Hebrew. And to the degree that original meaning is not communicated, to that degree a translation is not accurate. This is true regardless of how much the translators intended to communicate the Hebrew meaning accurately to English.

English Bible versions which do communicate the meaning of the Hebrew idiom accurately include the following:

  • So make us know how few are our days, that our minds may learn wisdom. (REB)
  • Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise. (TEV/GNT)
  • Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. (CEV)
  • Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise. (NCV)
  • So teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely. (NET)
  • Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. (NLT)

If you know of any other English versions which accurately communicate the meaning of the Hebrew of Psalm 90:12, please note them in comments to this post. If you field test the traditional translation wording with native speakers of standard dialects of English, please let us know the results.

overburdened

Last Sunday I preached in my home church in Alaska. My text was Gal. 6:1-5. When I was growing up, this passage puzzled me since it said in our Bibles in verse 2

Bear ye one another’s burdens, …

I understood how a group can help an individual who is struggling with some difficulty. But then verse 2 seemed to be contradicted by verse 5 which focused on the individual:

For every man [Greek, each one] shall bear his own burden.

As I studied for the sermon I discovered that there are two different Greek words underlying “burden” and “burdens” in this passage. In verse 2 the Greek word βάρος refers to a burden that is heavy, difficult to carry. In verse 5 the word φορτίον refers to something which is more of a typical load to be carried. A soldier typically wears a certain φορτίον ‘kit’.  A ship or donkey is expected to carry a φορτίον ‘cargo, load’. A person’s φορτίον can even refer, metaphorically, to how that person conducts their life.

Better Bible translations reflect the differences in meaning of these two Greek words. I encouraged the church to help bear the weight that feels like too much for one person to handle. We can come alongside people who are experiencing a heavy load and let them lean on us, give them a shoulder to cry on, comfort them, pick up some of their load.

But I also encouraged them to remember that we each have responsibilities in life that are ours and ours alone. If we are unloving, no one else can be loving for us. If we want to eat, we need to do the work necessary to eat, as Paul commanded the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3:10). We must pull our own weight, act responsibly, and not be slackers. No one else can act responsibly for us. That is our own individual job.

Most recent English versions differentiate the two kinds of weights that can be carried by translating the first as “burden” and the second as “load” (RSV, NASB, NRSV, ESV, NKJV, NWT, NIV, TNIV, TEV, NAB, NJB, NET, TM, HCSB). That is good translation.

Some translations make the metaphorical nature of the weight in verse 5 explicit:

  • For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (NLT)
  • Assume your own responsibility. (GW)

Romans 16:25-26: evaluating accuracy

Read the following translations of Romans 16:25, 26. Pay special attention to the last few words of the verses. Then comment on which wordings of the end of the verses you consider to communicate the biblical meaning most accurately and which you consider to do so less accurately. Feel free to explain your choices.

1. Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith

2. Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith

3. Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

4. Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith

5. Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

6. Now to Him who has power to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the sacred secret kept silent for long ages, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God, to advance the obedience of faith among all nations

7. To him who has power to make you stand firm, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of that divine secret kept in silence for long ages but now disclosed, and by the eternal God’s command made known to all nations through prophetic scriptures, to bring them to faith and obedience

8. Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him

9. Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to faith and obedience

10. And now to him who can make you strong in accordance with the gospel that I preach and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, in accordance with that mystery  which for endless ages was kept secret but now (as the prophets wrote) is revealed, as the eternal God commanded, to be made known to all the nations, so that they obey in faith

11. Now to the one who is able to strengthen you with my gospel and the message that I preach about Jesus, the Messiah, by revealing the secret that was kept hidden from long ago but now has been made known through the prophets to all the gentiles, in keeping with the decree of the eternal God to bring them to the obedience that springs from faith

12. Let us give glory to God! He is able to make you stand firm in your faith, according to the Good News I preach about Jesus Christ and according to the revelation of the secret truth which was hidden for long ages in the past. Now, however, that truth has been brought out into the open through the writings of the prophets; and by the command of the eternal God it is made known to all nations, so that all may believe and obey.

13. Praise God! He can make you strong by means of my good news, which is the message about Jesus Christ. For ages and ages this message was kept secret, but now at last it has been told. The eternal God commanded his prophets to write about the good news, so that all nations would obey and have faith.

14. God can strengthen you by the Good News and the message I tell about Jesus Christ. He can strengthen you by revealing the mystery that was kept in silence for a very long time but now is publicly known. The everlasting God ordered that what the prophets wrote must be shown to the people of every nation to bring them to the obedience that is associated with faith.

15. Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him.

16. Now to him who is able to make you strong in agreement with the good news which I gave you and the preaching of Jesus Christ, in the light of the revelation of that secret which has been kept through times eternal, But is now made clear; and by the writings of the prophets, by the order of the eternal God, the knowledge of it has been given to all the nations, so that they may come under the rule of the faith

17. All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now know the truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the very last letter.