Friday, November 12, 2010

Among or Within?

I’d like to make one more comment on Luke 17:21, and that’s related to translational ambiguity. I usually use the Revised Standard Version, but I also reference a pocket-sized New International Version. One translation has Jesus telling the Pharisees that the kingdom of God is “among” them (with a tiny little footnote that says “or within”), while the other translation has the text reading “within”, while a footnote provides the alternate “among.”

I doubt that the alternate choice of words is due to ambiguity in the meaning of the ancient Greek. More likely, I think, is that multiple texts of antiquity have been discovered, and come use on Greek word, while others us a different Greek word, and we simply don’t know which is original. There’s also the possibility that the original gospel was not in Greek at all, but rather Aramaic. (This possibility is endorsed by a very small minority of scripture scholars, based on work done in back-translating the Greek into Aramaic and discovering some interesting word-plays in the resulting text.) No knowing the languages involved, I don’t even know how close the Greek words might be to one another or how likely a transcription or translation error from the Aramaic might be.

In Jesus of Nazareth, Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) argues that “the kingdom of God” should be interpreted as referring to the person of Christ, based partly on the “among” translation of Luke 17:21. Other commentators have argued that “the kingdom of God” is internal to the individual believer – an assertion that would be supported by the “within” translation of Luke 17:21.

It’s one little word, but the type a spirituality that a person follows could be flavored by the word choices used in the Bible that person reads. Unfortunately, we apparently don’t have any way to know what Jesus actually said to the Pharisees. Where the heck is that Q fragment when you need it? I think that I’m on pretty safe ground if I use the same translation as the Pope.

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