Friday, March 11, 2016

Weekly Knox: New Testament Issues

The New Testament writings come down to us from a time when the vocabulary of the Christian faith was in the making. Words like grace, faith, salvation and so on, have, for us, exact theological meaning. Then they were used with less precision; they were not yet technical terms. Consequently, the translator is always having to ask himself, "Should this word in this particular passage be interpreted strictly, in its defined theological sense? Or is it still being used in a loose, popular way?" 

We translate "Hail, thou that are full of grace," and in the next chapter "Jesus grew in favor with God and man"; but the word grace is the same as the word favor in the original. We translate "My faithful witness, Antipas," but ought we, perhaps, to translate "My faithful martyr"? By the time the Apocalypse was written, it may be that the term had already an official connotation. 

Sin was the word used by the Jews to mean any breach of the law, culpable or not; and they were apt to describe their Gentile neighbors as "sinners," meaning no more than that they were Gentiles. "The Son of Man shall be handed over to sinners" means, almost certainly, "The Son of Man shall be handed over to Gentile folk, the Romans." When our Lord ate "with publicans and sinners," were they people of notoriously evil life? Or were they merely Gentiles? "Tend the church of God, in which the holy Spirit has made you bishops" - should it be "bishops"? Or should it be just "overseers"? Constantly this comes up: Am I making the language of the New Testament too vague? Or am I making it too stereotyped? Am I reading too much into it, or too little? 

All this the translator must take into account if he is going to do justice to an individual phrase or sentence. But his duty does not end there; he must follow the thought of his original, and make it intelligible to the reader, bringing out the emphatic word or words in each sentence, indicating its logical connection with what goes before and after. He must make the whole paragraph hang together and convey a message. That duty was apt to be overlooked by the older translators, if only for this reason - that the Bible was printed in verses; and, by a trick of our natures, if a page of print is broken up for the eye, we do not expect it to convey any coherent impression to the mind. Any verse in the Bible was a "text," you preached from it, you quoted it in theological arguments; you did not look to see what the setting of it was, or how it fitted in. We are so used to this piece--meal way of approaching the Bible that hundreds of priests, well enough grounded in Latin, read the epistle for Christmas Eve without noticing that there is no main verb in it. -Trials of a Translator


Michael Demers said...

That's a good point Knox made about Bibles being printed in verses. Even today, too many people read and misunderstand the Bible because of this format.

CarlHernz said...

"Hoary" is the word that describes what is being discussed in this most interesting post.

While it is important to retain some of the traditional language of transmission to ensure that readers comprehend and see the connection the text has to the faith, the words often become covered with "layers of old paint" that sadly people often complain about when translators attempt to strip those old layers away to improve clarity.

"Faith" itself is a word that also belongs to this list. The word is actually "faithfulness" or "trusting," but it has been reduced to mean "mental acknowledgement." The problem causes great loss as there is a significant difference between saying "faith can move mountains" and "faithfulness can move mountains."

The list is actually endless, but sometimes when translators attempt to introduce new changes for clarity not too few people complain that they don't appreciate or like the way "it sounds" and demand that old vocabulary remains the same, often to their own loss. Thus best intentions and innovative means of aiding the reader to better grasp the Word of Salvation never get introduced, and the average Christian knows not that they stand upon a lot in which a treasure lies buried. Where they should be selling everything they have to buy the lot so they might also have the treasure, they instead do like the drinkers of the old wine that Jesus mentioned and say: "The old is good."

James Ignatius McAuley said...


With all due respect to Ronald Knox, the man was a great linguist and classicist, but not a patristics scholar. Knox, by limiting himself to a two-prong approach "Should this word in this particular passage be interpreted strictly, in its defined theological sense? Or is it still being used in a loose, popular way?" ignored a very serious question - How did the Father's understand the passage? If the father's understood it a particular passage to reflect a certain word usage or approach, then the modern translator should respect this, to remain consistent, lest you end up with issues where you read patristics and find your NABRE, renders that particular scripture in away inconsistent with the fathers.

Back in the 1980s I used to hear priests and friars joke that the "noonday demon" of Psalm 90 had gone away and we no longer need worry about him - I even had a lecture in the confessional that this was all a silly mistake of St. Jerome! But of course, he is still there, even if Psalm 91 in the revised grail calls him the scourge at noonday. And, the reference to the noonday demon predates Jerome's Gallican psalter, as St. Ambrose in his use of the Vetus Latin Psalter shows in his work on the Mysteries.

There is nothing wrong with taking Carl's approach, so long as there is an explanatory footnote to explain the traditional rendering. And certainly, scourge at noonday is better than "plague at noon!" Knox's "death that wastes under the noon" is good, but divorced from the patristic reading. Still, if you have all four approaches, Demon, death, scourge and plague, you certainly get a well rounded, deeper view that Carl is driving at.

This ultimately shows the merit's of Origen's approach in the Hexapla and why parallel text are good, such as having Knox next to the Douay-Rheims.

Timothy said...


Thus making this new online parallel Vulgate-Douay-Knox a great resource.

Biblical Catholic said...

If you are looking at it purely through the lens of linguistics, then it may be true that there are some grey areas, but if you include in your analysis the study of Church history and the writings of the Fathers, then I don't think these problems exist.

An excellent example is the word 'bishop'. Linguistically, it may be true that it is not clear whether it should be translated 'bishop' or 'overseer', but historically, there is no ambiguity.

When in Church history was there EVER an office called 'overseer' which was separate and distinct from the office of 'bishop'? The answer is 'never'.

CarlHernz said...

Etymology (the word study of the history of how words come to be) doesn't agree that what we know today as "bishop" is essentially the same as the EPISKOPOS of Greek New Testament vocabulary. The word in Greek simply means "group leader" and generally referred to a Christian elder who acted as overseer and leader for a local congregation of believers. Historically speaking, not all these overseers acted in the capacity of what is known today as "bishop," neither was it a word limited to an "office."

Etymologically, the word did become associated with the office that grew from this. After the fourth century the office of EPISCOPUS (which is the Latin transliteration--not "translation"--of the Greek term) became associated with the office, exclusively. The original word described general local overseers, but the new use involved overseers who often did not act in a local capacity. It was only after this that the word began to grow into the word "bishop."

The Latin word EPICOPUS became the shortened Spanish word OBISPO, which in turn got transliterated into Old Saxy and German vernaculars to produce the Old English word BISCEOP, which became our modern word "bishop." The term began this trek only after Latin had become and began to wane from being the international language, and as well only after the term became exclusive to the office.

While there have always been EPISKOPOS in the Church, they have not all been "bishops."

Biblical Catholic said...

"The word in Greek simply means "group leader" and generally referred to a Christian elder who acted as overseer and leader for a local congregation of believers. "

This is the myth created by Protestants in the 16th century to justify their rejection of Apostolic Succession and the office of bishop, but there is no historical evidence that this was ever true.

Nor is there any evidence for the related claim, sometimes repeated even in Catholic sources, that the mono-episcopate did not exist in the first century but that it evolved gradually not really emerging until approximately the year 150 or 175.

In fact, the argument for this claim is remarkably circular. We are told that the pastoral epistles, which explicitly mention the office of bishop in an unambiguous way, were not written by St Paul but were written approximately a century after his death by someone writing in his name, and that therefore, the office must not have existed during the lifetime of Saint Paul.

We are then told that the reason we know that there was no office of bishop until the middle or late second century is because of the 'fact' were not written until the middle to late second century.

How on Earth this kind of reverse logic passes muster in a modern research university I have no idea except that in modern Biblical scholarship there is so much pressure to conform to the status quo that they just figure logic be damned.

CarlHernz said...

Believe what you wish, Biblical Catholic, but I have been reading the New Testament in Greek since I was 19. I am 49 today.

The Greek word EPISKOPOS comes from two Greek words: EPI which means "on" as in "on top" or "over," and SKOPOS which means to "see" or "look intently" and is where we get the Englsih word "scope." Together it means "overseer" or "the one who looks from on top."

But the fact that the word "bishop" is not immediate of EPISKOPOS cannot be used to argue in favor of the Protestant argument against the Church. In fact, the same points I mention prior support the fact that the office is connected to the Apostolic Church.

The word "bishop" is an invention from Old Spanish which, because Latin was the language of Chrisitanity, chopped down the original word to create the vernacular OBISPO. The word OBISPO comes from a "smushing" of the Latin EPISKOPUS, where the Latin "EPIS" became the Old Spanish "OBIS" and the "KOPIS" became the very shortened pronunciation of "PO."

While this word came into existence after the Catholic office of bishop became standardized, OBISPO is nevertheless derivative of the original Latin and Greek. It would never have existed if the Greek word had not been transliterated into Latin and the Latin word been applied to what we now call a "bishop." The word "bishop" is not immediately connected to EPISKOPOS, but it would not exist at all were it not for the historical connection. That is what the science of language proves...that is etymology. It is supports the Church office of bishop.

Remember that Catholicism is not based on the New Testament. It is the New Testament that is based on Catholicism. Where the Protstant argument is that the office of bishop is not one immediately found in Scripture, the Catholic argument is that Scripture is not the basis for Catholicism. Our religion is based not on the Book, but a Person, Jesus Christ. It's authority is found not in the snapshot provided in the pages of Holy Writ but the ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit that continues to make "all things new" and "call into existence that which had not been before." So it does not matter if the office of bishop can be immediately connected to Scripture. The Church makes Scripture authoritative and not the other way around.

James Ignatius McAuley said...


First, I would like to thank you again for bring the resource to our attention. God Bless you and Charles!

Now I would like to address Carl. Carl writes:

Remember that Catholicism is not based on the New Testament. It is the New Testament that is based on Catholicism. Where the Protstant argument is that the office of bishop is not one immediately found in Scripture, the Catholic argument is that Scripture is not the basis for Catholicism. Our religion is based not on the Book, but a Person, Jesus Christ. It's authority is found not in the snapshot provided in the pages of Holy Writ but the ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit that continues to make "all things new" and "call into existence that which had not been before." So it does not matter if the office of bishop can be immediately connected to Scripture. The Church makes Scripture authoritative and not the other way around.

Folks, Carl, hit the nail on the head. I have never found it better articulated. When we Catholics depend on scripture for a verse by verse battle with other Christians, in once sense we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Where I respectfully disagree with Carl is his use of overseer to state that this meant someone other than what is understood as a Bishop. Overseer=Bishop, period. Going back to the earliest notions of a Bishop, found in the Ignatian epistles, it is clear Ignatius is not just looking over everyone, but carries a special authority by virtue of his office. We see the same in Polycarp, which his letter and Irenaeus attest to.

We need to take into account that Christ instituted a new priesthood and the Eucharistic sacrifice. For the Eucharistic sacrifice in place of the High Priest, we have the Bishop - in place of the temple priests we have the presbyters - in place of the levites, In fact, looking at that wonderful first-century Roman text known as I Clement, we see that the Diaconate is a primarily cultic institution, the purpose of which is to serve the High Priest, the Bishop, in the Eucharistic celebration, distributing the Sacrament and proclaiming the Gospel. The Bishop, as shown by the ancient Roman liturgy, oversees the Liturgy. Ignatius oversaw the liturgy and presbyeriate and deaconate of Antioch, Polycarp in Smyrna, Clement in Rome and so on.

Anyways, I do not want Carl to think I am attacking him.. I have great respect for Carl and his article on the NABRE for this blog pushed me out of liturgical studies back into patristic.

Carl is only two years older than me - another 80's dude!

CarlHernz said...

I think people are mistaking what I am saying. And the problem may be due to the fact that most people have the mistaken understanding that Christians in the first century were speaking Greek since the New Testament was composed in Greek. This mistaken idea causes a lot of unnecessary arguments, such as the debates Jehovah 's Witnesses have with us regarding the Greek word STAUROS. Since the word means "pole" as in a single upright stake, the Witnesses believe Jesus was not nailed to a cross. You see Jesus nailed to a pale in Watchtower publications all the time becuase of this.

The same problem comes from this issue of EPISKOPOS. Greek was not the language of the everyday people. In fact, the original Church spoke two languages: Aramaic and Latin. Greek was not a spoken language as much as it was a written language. Even Hebrew was not used in everyday speech among Jews of this period. Greek and Hebrew were official languages for writing, study, and official public action, such as liturgical worship of Jews in Hebrew. Sure, Greek was spoken, but it was waning,

Like the Greek word STAUROS, the word EPISKOPOS was invented before the first century. Both words come from the Greek of Alexander the Great's period and originally refer to things in the Hellenistic world. Homer uses the word EPISKOPOS, for instance in the Odyssey and the Iliad. EPISKOPOS was also a common word in Greek civic life. It referred to a type of ruler or state or city overseer. (The word STAUROS referred to a stake that Greeks used to impale or nail criminals to.)

The first "bishop" was Peter, right? Did his office originally get described with a Greek word? Nope. It would have been Aramaic or maybe even Hebrew.

Did the Romans call the device they nailed Jesus to a STAUROS? No. They spoke Latin. They called it a CRUX, especially since they added a crossbeam to the device to create a new torture device that was far worse than the Greek pale ever was.

But when Scripture was composed, the writers used the official language for writing: Greek. They used the civic word for "overseer" for the Aramaic word for the office Peter possessed. They also used the Greek word for "pale" becuase there was no Greek word for "cross." The cross had not been invented in Alexander the Great's day. The Greek words are close equivalents, but translations using the closest word possible. A cross is more than a pale, and a bishop is much more than a mere overseer.

The office that Peter and the other Apostles had didn't have an official name in any language. The office existed from the beginning,yes, but the Greek words was not unique or exclusive to the office. Some of the texts in Scripture where EPISKOPOS occur are not about a "bishop" as we know it today. The Apostles were still alive. The Church believed Jesus was to return in their lifetime. There was no succession foreseen in the early days. Some called EPISKOPOS in Scripture were not "bishops."

Eventually some overseers began to fill in the places left by those Apsotles who passed. The Greek word then began to be exclusively applied to them afterwards, and generations later Spanish began, creating the first foundations of the modern word the sounds like our word "bishop." The new word "bishop" is only about a bishop, but this is not true in Greek. The office is not exclusively tied to each time the word appears in Scripture. At 1Pe 2:25, for instance, the word is in reference to Jesus where the word means not "bishop" but "Guardian," "Keeper" or "Overseer." The reason? The Greek word was borrowed from civic life where is what it meant.

The office and the Greek word are not exclusive to another. They never have been. The word came first and was later borrowed to describe bishops and others, like STAROUS for the Cross.

CarlHernz said...

And, before I forget, the Catholic Bible Dictionary by Scott Hahn agrees with what I am saying. Just look up the entry for the word "bishop." You will see that EPISKOPOS is not exclusive to what became the office of "bishop," not in Scriptural usage anyway.

I understand that for some reason some Catholics have a completely different view than this, but that view, as Mr Hahn and others also demonstrate, is not correct. This does not mean, however, that the office of bishop does not go back to the first century. The word EPISKOPOS is just not exclusive to it.

Gerald de Belen said...

From what I understand from Carl's comment is the common impression regarding Greek that while Greek is a highly technical and logical language during the New Testament times, it cannot be adequate in capturing the Aramaic and Semitic elements that are necessary in understanding the New Testament.

This situation can be compared to how Latin is used highly for modern technical and scientific vocabulary. But for conversing with technology, it is undeniably English that will be more useful for that purpose especially to the parlance of social media world.

For instance, Jesus's words in Matthew 16:18 about Peter being the Rock, while originally Jesus might have used the Aramaic word play kepha (rock) and Kephas to designate the office of Peter, Greek obviously is limited not to reflect the play on words, giving us petra and Petros.

As Greek was the lingua franca of those times, it is actually a struggle for New Testament writers on how Semitic elements can be carried out in Greek without experiencing any loss in meaning or force. This is only a typical "Lost in Translation" one may encounter in translating between languages.

One may find a readily equivalent to a word form a language to another, but we may not transfer all the connotations, denotations and multiple meanings that are attached with it. For instance, the Greek word LOGOS that is used in John 1:1. In English, an immediate equivalent of this is WORD, but the Greek LOGOS and English WORD does not bear the same linguistic impact. The Greek LOGOS can be extended to calculations or even study, hence, the origin of the suffix -logy, but the English WORD is only limited to a single unit of thought or to unified set of thoughts if used collectively.

Perhaps, the same situation is what we may have with the Greek STAUROS and EPISKOPOS, their Aramaic or Latin equivalents may have been more adequate to capture what had the New Testament audience are familiar with.

James Ignatius McAuley said...

Well, I cannot agree with Scott Hahn, either, for we have nothing to fear but the ignorance of the expert. The idea that the apostles did not know what they were, that they just "overseers" and that the office gradually developed out of these "overseers" ignores the fact that if they were just "overseers,we would should have a some sort of vestigial remains, what archeologist call a footprint in the liturgy or in the works of the apostolic fathers - the problem is we do not. There simply is no evidence for this postion, it is pure speculation, nothing more.

What there is ancient evidence for is the distinct spiritual authority of bishops, such as the blessing of chrism oil, overseeing (I use this word deliberately) the deacons, overseeing the mysteries, odeterminig the dates for the celebration of Pascha, etc.

The problem is actually using the Bible as the starting point, the very that Carl rightfully decried when he reminded us the Church came before the bible. Focusing on the greek word for bishop and then working backwards from it (as found in the biblical text) means you are using the Bible as your starting point - which to me, is the error of modern biblical criticism. Rather, as a trained historian, I take a holistic view and include the writing of the Apsotolic Fathers and ancient liturgical remains (anyone hear realize the antiquity of the Roman Canon? Note how similar it is to the Letter of Clement to the Corinthians or the Letter to the Hebrews?)

I will make it clear that I do understand that the office of Bishop has grown/developed (not evolved, as that word is loaded with connoations that would imply a thing fundamentally changes), but I do argue the office was there, sacramentally from the very beginning, whatever it is called in Greek. We cannot forget the sacrametnal or liturgical context when we interpret scripture, either. The Bible should not be interpreted as if the liturgy or sacraments were unrelated categories. Unless, of course, you belevie that the sacraments were a later development, and then, what the hey, soon the whole basis of Catholcism and Orthodoxy comes tumbling down and why shouldn't we be protestants? But of course, even Scott Hahn knows his history and knows a bible onlybible first approach is incorrect.

CarlHernz said...

The point is not that the Apostles did not know what a "bishop" was. Neither does any of the information presented you me mean that the "office" of bishop evolved into what it is now. An office is not being discussed by me.

No, what is being explained is that the word EPISKOPOS is what evolved to become the exclusive word applied to bishops. The only reference to the office of bishop evolving from something else is the explanation that the Church did not immediately recognize that the Apostles would have to choose others to "take their place." Even from the beginning there was some belief that the Aposltes or at least some of them would not pass off the scene before Christ returned. (Compare Matthew 24.34 and John 21.20-23.) When the authority began to passed and the succession began, it only then became apparent that this was an office, not merely a unique position that only the original Apsotles held.

However, this understanding is separate from the evolution of the use of the Greek word. At 1 Timothy 3.1, the RSV-CE (2nd Ignatius Edition) states in the footnote to the expression "office of bishop":

bishop: At this time [at the writing of this epistle] an office probably not distinct from that of priest.

Due to the evolution of language, the subsequent use of the word for the office of bishop was not set during the Apsotolic age as it had not been yet revealed to the Church that this authority was necessarily going to pass to other hands for centuries to come. You don't make words for things you don't have. That office was there from the beginning is, however, without a doubt for it was there in the Apostles (they just didn't realize it as of yet).

In fact, the office of bishop and Apostle were only later understood by the Church to be equivalent to the "kohen" or high priest office in Judaism. No unique words existed for this office of those who replace the Apsotles in authority when Scripture was composed because the originally chosen had yet to cease their earthly course.

The information presented is only based on vocabulary used during this period. The argument has absolutely nothing to do with the historical evolution of an office. And in mentioning an "evolution" of the office, one should not mistake that the office came into existence after the Apsotles. It did not. The evolution is in the Chruch's understanding, not the existence of the authority given by Christ.

My discussion has been central to language, as this is what Timothy's post regarding Knox is about. Any further or continuing disagreement with the data I have been presenting is somewhat moot as I have never argued against the official Catholic understanding of the office.

James Ignatius McAuley said...


You are limiting your discussion to vocabulary, but if you go back to my original comment, you see how I disagree with Knox, based on the extra--biblical evidence (Patristics).

In any event, you open the door to discussion beyond vocabulary when you state: "In fact, the office of bishop and Apostle were only later understood by the Church to be equivalent to the "kohen" or high priest office in Judaism. No unique words existed for this office of those who replace the Apostles in authority when Scripture was composed because the originally chosen had yet to cease their earthly course."

The Apostles and their immediate successors may well have had the a unique word to describe their office/position, and this is likely based on the Liturgy - all the ancient liturgies has the Bishop as Christ, 12 presbyters and seven deacons, and looking at Psalm 108 (109).

Since John live well into the time of Clement and Ignatius and knew Polycarp, the statement that there was no unique word does not hold water. Ignatius was not a mere presbyter I would agree it is anachronistic to call the Bishop of Rome "Pope," the Bishop of Alexandria "Pope"or "Patriarch," as these titles did not exist in the beginning but all of the extra biblical evidence would point to a title of Episkopos, distinct from the Presbyter and Deacons.

Assuming that bishop did not equal High Priest? I would direct you to Hebrews, the language of the Roman Canon and Clement's letter to the Corinthians. Also note the 70 disciples, who were not seen on the same level of the Apostles. Plus the ancient tradition (Irenaeus or Papias, I forget) that the Apostle James, the brother of Christ, wore the robes of the High Priest when he presided over the liturgy.

I know you do not doubt the Church's teachings, but ultimately, translators when choosing the right word have to look at the Patristical context. Using the historical critical method as an approach with the Bible as the only reference point, I would concede the argument entirely to you. But, reading Patristics, combined with my liturgical studies, it is my positon that the successors of the apostles understood themselves as bishops and earthly successors to Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, and that the language of scripture, written after the fact, when it uses episkopos, supports this position.

You are right, we have exhausted this. Thank you for the good discussion. You know more of biblical criticism than I do.