The Bible: Lost in Transliteration…

Welcome to the Bible, where translation matters.

I was looking into whether Paul (essentially the “inventor” of Christianity) ever actually claimed Jesus was God (the general consensus of biblical scholars seems to be that he did not), and I came across this passage which is apparently often used as evidence that he did.

First the NIV (New International Version) translation:

“Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!”

But behold… the alternate translations:

“Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is over all. God be forever praised!”

“Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah. God who is over all be forever praised!”

Just slight tweaks to the punctuation, and one moment Jesus is God, the next moment he’s not (reminds me of the old joke about the panda who eats shoots and leaves).

Anyway I sent this over to the writer of the Pagan Preacher blog for his take, and received this great response:

The translation quoted here is the NIV, which is notorious for making “tweaks” in the translation that buttress evangelical theology. It’s often done in subtle ways so that the casual reader will not notice. (Until very recently the NIV was the single most preferred translation in evangelical churches.) In my opinon the more sturdy standard translation is the old Revised Standard Version, and in the RSV they do not translate Romans 9:5 as referring to Christ’s divinity. I went back and looked at the Greek and it is indeed a thorny passage to translate, which is par for the course for Paul’s prose. As you probably know, in the Greek manuscripts there were no punctuation marks, capitalization, or word divisions at all. And that makes accurate translation an even more difficult task. If one were looking for places where Paul talks about Jesus’ Godly status, probably the most compelling would be Philippians 2:6 “…though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” However, saying that Jesus was in the “form” of God, doesn’t exactly say that he WAS God. And that’s why it took the Christian movement the better part of three centuries to come to an “orthodox” consensus on the exact nature of Jesus’ divinity.


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