Sunday, July 30, 2006

an opening re Biblical translation...

I was reading from "No Cross, No Crown," this morning and, as is my practice, I looked at a verse in the Bible to which Penn referred to explain a point he just made in his own text. I usually look at at least two Bibles in doing this (both my KJV with all kinds of lexical and other aids, and my wide margin make-all-kinds-of-notes-in-the-margin NIV). In doing so I realized how religious ideology can impact Biblical translation (in a purely innocent way?) and lead people astray.

The verse was Luke 1:77. The term used in my KJV is "remission" of sins which, the Strong's (859) says means "remission, foregiveness." it goes on to say "...putting away of sin and deliverance of the sinner from the power of sin, although not from the presence of sin."

Protestant Christianity (i.e., Calvin) teaches that we cannot be delivered from the power of sin in the sense that we can successfully resist it. We are going to sin, no matter what we do. If that--as opposed to the classic Quaker theology of perfection--is one's view then one is going to use "foregiveness" (as the NIV does) in that verse because all we can hope for is pardon, deliverance from the power of sin in the sense of being delivered from its consequences.

If we take the classic Quaker view of this--which caused the Protestants of the 17th Century to so loudly roar against Friends--which is that Christ can break the power of sin over us in enabling us to not sin, in the first place, then we would want to use "remission" or some other term that would give us the sense of delivering us from the power of sin to control us, even though it will always be there trying to do that.

The NIV uses the word "foregiveness" which serves the Calvinist outlook--we are wretched sinners who have not power or control over our sinful nature, Christ has not changed that nature, only erased the consequences of its invevitable manifestations in our lives. This is not Quakerism but Quakers who use the NIV are getting a mild form or indoctrination, here, into Protestant theology.

But the Greek word (according to Strong [859])--"aphesis"--doesn't carry that meaning, at the very least it doesn't carry that meaning, alone. It also carries the meaning that we can be delivered from the power that sin has in "making" us do that which Christ does not want us to do, so that we can do as Christ told us we should do.

Those who work in translation, or in paraphrasing, of Bibles are going to be influenced by what they believe. When they wonder what an author meant by this or that they are likely to conclude, based on their ideology of faith, that the author must have meant that which is consistent with what they believe.

It's one reason why the Bible is not the primary authority. God is. And God teaches us directly. Every Quaker knows that.

p.s. -- get a load of what Strong's says about the meaning of the word "knowledge" in the same verse. It's not intellectual knowledge--book learning, understanding what scripture says, or one's pastor says, about salvation. It is experiential knowledge--the kind of knowledge that classic Quakerism says one needs to have for faith to make a difference in one's life.


jeb said...

One of the key question this raises is "What is sin?" How, particularly in terms of modern Quaker practice, does one define sin when there is no agreed-upon reference that defines what it is. The original concept of sin was transgression against God's law, presumably with the Bible/scripture defining the law in use. In modern Quakerism, it is as if only courts of equity survive, and that sin is only defined within the moral sensibilities of the meeting providing oversight.

My experience with a local Quaker meeting is summarized in an except from a blog article I'm putting together.

"So, I tried a Christian Quaker approach, which I still have warmth for. That environment, as well as the Unitarian Universalist one, though, left me adrift with my own personal ideas when it came to morality. (In the interest of honesty, many Quakers believe devoutly that a Inward Directed Light can/will provide a consistent personal morality not dependent on scripture.) The slippery slope of personal moral relativism was no more satisfactory than the quagmire of eternally rationalized commandments."

The early Quakers, I think would not have suffered much or been uncertain about what sin was. Except for evangelical Quakers, the word seems to make most Quakers I've run across uneasy. The only consistent agreement I found, (surprise, surprise), was with the norms of "good" already defined in a civilized secular society.

What say you?

Mark Wutka said...

Hi Timothy,
Thank you for bringing this forward, I certainly find resonances with what I wrote recently about the marriage of Spirit and Scripture. I have found it very illuminating to read the new testament through Quaker eyes. Many passages take on different possibilities, and this certainly seems like one of them.

I looked up aphesis in the Liddel-Scott lexicon on Perseus and it suggests a main definition of "letting go, release" of which forgiveness is one possible nuance. Aphesis is the result of the verb aphiemi which carries a number of connotations, one of which is "to get rid of". I think we do have to balance this with Matthew 6:12 (forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors). It is the same verb, but I think the context may be closer to the Calvinist idea, if only because I can't understand how it could mean the same kind of release that we might read into Luke 1:77.

I completely agree about the difficulties in translation, the biases. I used to think that the more literal a translation was, the better it was. But then, if you don't understand the nuances of the original language, you might miss important things in a literal translation. On the other hand, in a more dynamic translation, you often read what the translator thinks the author was really trying to say, so there is more opportunity for bias.

With love,

Timothy Travis said...


I am not alone with my own personal ideas about what sin is--sin are those states of mind alienated from God that give rise to evil acts.

You are right that "many Quakers" "believe" in an inward light that provides a moral direction not dependent on scripture. I think all Quakers, at one time, experienced that light and that their belief in it came from that experience.

This inward light does not provide, however, a personal moral direction. It is God's moral direction.

The chaos experienced among (especially) Liberal Friends today re morality I ascribe to an unwillingness on the part of many of them to do the actual work (worship) involved in knowing and heeding that light and a desire to "find direction" by reasoning--either from scripture or from other spiritual and philosophical sources.

That's just my take, though, and I have the reputation of being set in my ways.

I don't know that people cannot be conformed to Christ in other ways, though, and do not claim that I do. I just know that I--after a lot of time trying--cannot be.

Mark Wutka said...

Your post came to mind again as I was going through the Gospel of John. There are at least two places where Jesus says "Do not sin again". One is John 5:14 (the paralytic he has just healed) and the other is John 8:11 (the stoning of the adulteress). Maybe it is possible to take that phrase not as an admonition, but as a statement of something having been done - similar to saying "be healed". That would seem to resonate with Quaker experience.
With love,

jeb said...


In an earlier comment on this thread, you wrote,"

"This inward light does not provide, however, a personal moral direction. It is God's moral direction."

Do you see God's moral direction as unchanging, constant? It would seem that consistency over time would be an attribute of divine direction. The historical record of "divine direction" in Christianity and even Quakerism does not seem to be time invariant, though each period has claimed its interpretation of truth as finally being the right one. Rather sin, as the negative definition of divine direction, seems to evolve and meld with the evolution of social values and civilization. It is this obvious (to me) variance of sin with the social context of the day, and with time, that has made me skeptical of any reliable absolute definition within the context of Christianity, including Christian Quakerism. It's not that I find myself in disagreement with most of what Christian Quakers would probably call sin. It's just that I know in my case, much of what I would have called sin (I don't use the term much anymore), when clearly examined, is not independent of the conditions of indoctrination and social context that shaped my personal conscience.

It would seem a consistent definition of sin would be a necessary condition for living a life without sin.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hi Timothy!

As I understand it, aphesis means something like "separation" (from aphiêmi, "to go and thereby become separate". Thus what is promised through Christ is our separation from sins.

The interpretation of this "separation" as a matter of remission -- that is, a dropping of the penalty that we would otherwise have had to pay for our sinnings -- appears to come from the idea that the Crucifixion was an act of substitutionary atonement.

If one does not believe that this verse must be read in terms of substitutionary atonement, then one is free to understand the aphesis of Luke 1:77 in some other way. It could, for example, refer to the "freedom from sin" given us by the Spirit (viz., Romans 8:2 and elsewhere): it would then be a reference to the way in which we are freed from the compulsion to sin by a transformed relationship to the Inward Guide.

Lorcan said...

The Quaker view of sin, in the Hicksite tradition, includes this very different view of the unavoidable nature of sin. Growing up in a Hicksite Meeting, around the time of the joining with a Wilberite meeting, a Frist Day school teacher said to me, when I was very very young, that sin was not about evil, it was about separation from... that which thee knows thee should be doing, responsibility, other people or God.

It took me forty some years after to begin to appreciate that. As I began to go deep into the Hebrew root of Yeshua's teaching (commonly called Jesus) I found that early Christians reinterpreted the idea of original sin. In the Jewish tradition, sin comes of the fact that we must all consume, take, have, and in having another does not, so in order to walk with righteousness before our God, we must atone and forgive. Atonement is not just an apology, feeling bad that we ... but real acts of repair. Thee does not eat without replanting and sharing. And, forgiving the other for that which the other has received and thee has not. In part it is why in the Jewish tradition, there is less thought about gifts after life, and more about walking with righteousness before our God in life.

This idea of sin is rather profound to a peace church. Those who say the sermon on the mount is not a possible way to live, and substitute an inactive atonement in the sacrifice of Christ, make it possible to commit war and other violent acts of greed, without thought to the state of ones soul. Now in saying this, I am not saying that Christians, by nature of theology accept war, but, many, if not most, will use this as a way of avoiding the responsibility of personal atonement. I am also saying that the model of sin proposed by my First Day teacher always leads to peace, after all a certain Jewish State, these days, has committed war and does so ... But, as a path, this view of sin, takes a Friend from focus on guilt and instead calls us to responsibility.

Thine in the light