Saturday, December 31, 2011

Did the NWT's Translators Know Hebrew?

Because of theological bias, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT), published by Jehovah's Witnesses, is a common object of attack by those who embrace traditional Christianity.* However, these attacks are usually misleading or outright incorrect. This post provides positive evidence against a common accusation - "The NWT is not a fresh translation of the Bible, but is in fact only a revision of some other English translation."

It is commonly alleged that the NWT's translators did not know the original biblical languages, and that the NWT is really just a revision of the Authorized Version, the American Standard Version, or Rotherham's Emphasized Bible. The "source" of the NWT varies depending on the person forwarding the argument, but it is usually one of those three.

History of the Argument

The argument in its various manifestations probably stem from a criticism by Dr. Julius Mantey. He frequently attacked the NWT because of his bias against Jehovah's Witnesses. Although some use Mantey's testimonies against the NWT because of his credentials, this is an appeal to an unqualified authority (Argumentum ad Verecumdiam) because of his obvious bias and prejudice against Jehovah's Witnesses. Speaking of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures - an Interlinear of the Greek text of the New Testament and the NWT - the original Mantey argument is this:

In fact, it is not their translation at all. Rather, it is a distortion of the New Testament. The translators used what J. B. Rotherham had translated in 1893, in modern speech, and changed the readings in scores of passages to state what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and teach. That is distortion, not translation." -- Julius Mantey, Depth Exploration in the New Testament (NY: Vantage Press, 1980), pp. 136-37.

Where did Mantey get the idea that the NWT wasn't a translation at all, but a revision of Rotherham's Emphasized Bible? Did he ever have evidence to back this up? He never presented any. Without evidence, it is a baseless assertion. Is he not letting his own personal bias against Jehovah's Witnesses affect his objectivity as a scholar? This appears to be the case. His bias against Jehovah's Witnesses and the NWT is evident, which is why he may be dismissed as an unqualified authority against the NWT.

Mantey's original comments which was confined only to the New Testament portion of the NWT has since grown to embrace the entire NWT, including the Old Testament portion. And it is in the Old Testament portion that positive evidence that the NWT's translators knew Hebrew that is here presented. This is of interest because it is commonly alleged that the NWT's translators may have had training in basic Greek, but were completely untrained in Hebrew.

Evidence that the NWT's Translations Worked Directly with the Hebrew Text

In 1953, The first volume of the NWT of the Hebrew Scriptures was published. Originally Leviticus 23:21 read:

"And you must proclaim on this very day Jehovah's holy convention for yourselves." 

Here is a picture of Leviticus 23:21 in the original versions of the NWT:

This stood for 26 years. Then the verse was changed to read:

"And you must make a proclamation on this very day; there will be a holy convention for yourselves."

Why the change? The NWT's translators had misread the Hebrew word יהיה (YHYH, it will be) as the similar looking word יהוה (YHWH, Jehovah). Misreading a Yod as a Vav, and vice versa, is common for readers working with the blocky Hebrew alphabet. This only would have happened if the translators were translating directly from the Hebrew text, and not comparing with other translations. For no other translation has "Jehovah" in this verse.

It may be claimed that perhaps the NWT's translators were restoring the Divine Name in Leviticus 23:21. Sometimes the NWT has "Jehovah" in places were the Hebrew Masoretic Text - the source of the Hebrew portion of the NWT - does not have the tetragrammaton. However, the NWT's translators were not restoring the Divine Name in Lev 23:21 in this instance. This is because they explicitly mention all restorations in the footnotes, yet they don't mention it at Leviticus 23:21. When restoring the Divine Name in the Hebrew Scriptures, they only followed Hebrew scholar C. D. Ginsburg's list of 134 places as published in The Massorah. Ginsburg doesn't restore the Divine Name anywhere in Leviticus.

The Divine Name doesn't appear in the textual apparatus of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia for Leviticus 23:21, or in the Septuagint, which was based on an early Hebrew text that oftentimes matches Ginsburg's list. Therefore, in no way could it be said that the NWT's translators were restoring the Divine Name in Leviticus 23:21.

We are left with positive evidence that the NWT's translators were working directly with the Hebrew text, translating Hebrew into English, producing an original translation. They were not "revising" an already existing English translation.

* There is a distinction between "traditional Christianity" and "scriptural Christianity" - the two are not necessarily the same thing!

Monday, December 12, 2011

John 8:58 - Word Order and Verb Tenses, Part Two

In Part 1, we discussed how word order plays a role in translating Koine Greek into English, specifically in John 8:58. We then compared several verses with syntax that is similar to John 8:58. These verses began with a dependent clause with some kind of temporal indicator referring to past time, which was then followed by the main subject and verb of the sentence. It was found that most of the time, the word order was re-arranged to reflect natural English usage in the popular translations, and that in every instance the Greek Present Tense verb was not translated into the English Present Tense, but with the English Present Perfect (translating "is/am" into "has/have been"). Why is this? Why do the popular English translations not hesitate to translate a Greek Present Tense verb with something other than the English Present Tense? And what is more, why do some criticize the New World Translation for doing the exact thing in John 8:58?

The Differences in Verb Tenses between Greek and English

Languages are not codes that have a direct one-to-one correspondence, and this is true when it comes to the different verb tenses between Greek and English. In particular, Greek and English verbs handle time differently. Without getting too technical, verbs convey both time and aspect. Time refers to when the action of the verb takes place, such as the past, present, or future. Aspect refers to the type of action taking place, such as continuous action versus simple action. English verbs tend to stress the time when the action of the verb takes place. But in Greek, time is secondary, and it is primarily the aspect that is stressed. This is a simplification, but remember that in Greek verbs, time is secondary. One result of this is that a Greek verb in the Present Tense can actually be describing action that doesn't occur in the present, but in the past or the future. 

Let us briefly go over a few functions of the Greek Present Tense so as to better understand this. First we will look at the obvious use of the Greek Present Tense: a verb occurring in the present time. One particular function is called the Progressive Present. The Progressive Present emphasizes continuous action occurring in the present. If visualized, it looks like this:

The Greek Present Tense:
The Progressive Present

Here is an example of a Progressive Present:

αἱ λαμπάδες ἡμῶν σβέννυνται - Matthew 25:8
ai lampades emon sbennuntai - Transliteration
the lamps of-us are-extinguishing - Interlinear translation
"Our lamps are going out." - NIV

This is straightforward and intuitive, so let's move on. Sometimes the Greek Present Tense is used to describe events occuring in the past or future. Greek's Historical Present is a use of the Present Tense verb used to describe vividly a past event, as if to put the reader in the scene. Visualized, it looks like this:

The Greek Present Tense:
Historical Present

Here is a verse with two instances of the Historical Present:

Τῇ ἐπαύριον βλέπει τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐρχόμενον πρὸς αὐτὸν καὶ λέγει· ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ - John 1:29
Te epaurion blepei ton Iesoun erkhomenon pros auton kai legei· ide o amnos tou theou - Transliteration
To-the morrow he-is-seeing the Jesus coming towards him and he-is-saying: look the lamb of-the God - Interlinear translation
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God.' " - NIV

The Historical Present is almost always translated with the English Past Tense in English translations. Even Young's Literal Translation uses the English Past Tense in this verse.

Another use of the Greek Present Tense is the Futuristic Present. It is commonly used to vividly describe a future event. Visualized, it looks like this:

The Greek Present Tense:
Futuristic Present

Here is an example of the Futuristic Present:

ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς χεῖρας ἀνθρώπων - Mark 9:31
o uios tou anthropou paradidotai eis kheiras anthropon - Transliteration
the son of-the man is-being-betrayed into hands of-men - Interlinear translation
"The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men." - NIV

The Greek Present Tense can describe action that occurs in the past, present, or future. Greek grammars confirm this fact. If a Greek Present Tense verb is describing action as happening in the time other than the present, then an accurate translation should convey that meaning into English with the appropriate English tense. The meaning of the Greek should be conveyed accurately into English, and using a strict interlinear translation can alter the thought, which would itself then be an inaccurate translation.

Why such a long discussion on the various time functions of the Greek Present Tense? Because one of the most common arguments against the New World Translation's (NWT) rendering of John 8:58 is that the Greek phrase "I am" is in the Greek Present Tense, and therefore the English translation should be in the English Present Tense. After the above discussion, it should be clearly seen by a layperson that this reasoning is fallacious, for not all Greek Present Tense verbs are translated into English Present Tense verbs. The simplistic argument collapses because it fails to understand how Greek verbs handle time, and assumes a one-to-one correspondence between Greek and English Verbs. The argument  commits the Dicto Simpliciter logical fallacy, applying a general rule (Present Tense verbs occur in the Present) to a particular case (John 8:58)

Similarly, appealing to an interlinear translation of John 8:58, thereby "proving" that the NWT is inaccurate, is a faulty tactic. All of the other verses compared so far would also be "proven" to be inaccurate using this method. But most major English translations - the work of many Bible scholars - have chosen to render the Greek Present Tense with English tenses other than the Present.

The Greek Present Tense: Extension From Past

There are several other functions of the Greek Present Tense. For example, there is the Gnomic Present, which is timeless, and there is the Perfect Present, which emphasizes the results of an action that occurred in the past. But now we will turn our attention to a function of the Greek Present Tense that has a direct bearing on John 8:58 - the Extension From Past.

Turning to a couple of Greek Grammars, we find this function described this way:

Extension from Past. When used with an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications (but not in past narrative, for which see 4.2.5), the present tense signals an activity begun in the past and continuing to present time: Lu 13:7 ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ᾽ οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν... καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω, it is now three years since I have been coming looking for fruit...and not finding it; Lu 15:29 τοσαῦτα ἔτη δουλεύω σοι, I have been slaving for you all these years; Jn 14:9 τοσούτῳ χρόνῳ μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν εἰμι, have I been with you so long?; Ac 27:33 τεσσαρεσκαιδεκάτην σήμερον ἡμέραν προσδοκῶντες ἄσιτοι διατελεῖτε, today is the fourteenth day you have been continuing on the alert without food; Jn 8:58 πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμι, I have been in existence since before Abraham was born. This is a form of the continuation realization of the imperfective aspect, and similar uses are found with the imperfect tense and with imerfective participles."
--A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek (1994), Kenneth L. McKay, pages 41-42

Extending-from-Past Present (Present of Past Action Still in Progress)
1. Definition
The present tense may be used to describe an action which, begun in the past, continues in the present. The emphasis is on the present time. Note that this is different from the perfect tense in that the perfect speaks only about the results existing in the present time. It is different from the progressive present in that it reaches back in time and usually has some sort of temporal indicator, such as an adverbial phrase, to show this past-referring element. Depending on how tightly one defines this category, it is either relatively rare or fairly common.
2. Key to Identification
The key to this usage is normally to translate the present tense as an English present perfect.
--Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (1996), Daniel B. Wallace, pages 519-520

Summarized, the Extension From Past is a Greek Present Tense verb, coupled with an expression of past time or extent of time, indicating that the verb commenced at that earlier period but still continues. Note that Wallace says it is normally translated as the English Perfect Present ("has been"). Visualized, it like this:

The Greek Present Tense:
Extension From Past

All of the verses compared in Part 1 had verbs that were in the Present Tense Extension From Past. They all had an indicator of past time or extent of time that affected the sense of the verb. Try to think like a Koine Greek speaker: the indicator of past or extent of time places the start of the verb at that earlier time, and the continuous aspect of the Greek Present Tense brings the action of the verb up to the present time. Here are visualizations for every verse compared:

 John 14:9
"You have been with me from . . . "

1 John 3:8
"The devil has been sinning from . . . "

John 14:9
"I have been among you such . . . "

Luke 15:29
"I've been slaving for you . . . "

Similarly, John 8:58 has the Greek Present Tense verb εἰμί - I am - coupled with an expression of past time (πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι, "before Abraham existed"), indicating that Jesus' existence commenced before that time but still continues. The Greek syntax matches the description of the Extension From Past as found in Greek grammars. It matches the syntax of the verses above. McKay quoted above even lists John 8:58 as an example of the Extension From Past. The best way to translate this phrase, using natural English word order and the proper English tense, is:

"I have been in existence since before Abraham was born." -- Kenneth L. McKay

Visualized, it looks like this:

John 8:58
"I have been in existence since before . . . "

In our popular English translations, we find that the translators had no trouble translating the Greek Present Tense verbs in the verses discussed above with the English Perfect Present. All, that is, except John 8:58. Since the syntax is the same, one suspects theological bias and tradition to be the reason for the inconsistency.

As it stands, our popular translations leave John 8:58 as an ultra-literal interlinear translation. They fail to use the correct English tense - the Perfect Present - and they do not use natural English word order.

The Goodspeed translation mentioned in Part 1 renders John 8:58 as:

"I existed before Abraham was born!" - The New Testament: an American Translation (1923)

While Goodspeed used natural English word order, it appears he saw the Greek verb as a Historical Present when he used the simple English Past, "I existed." However, the syntax of John 8:58 matches the description of the Extension From Past, and finds no parallels as a Historical Present in the rest of the Greek New Testament. The basic sense of the verse is retained, but some subtlety is lost. That is, it is not as accurate as is possible for an English translation of John 8:58.

The New World Translation renders John 8:58 this way:

"Before Abraham came into existence, I have been." - NWT

In this instance, the NWT uses the correct English tense to render the verb - the English Perfect Present. But it doesn't use natural word order, although it is still understandable. This could be because one of the translational principles of the NWT translators was "to give as literal a translation as possible, where the modern English idiom allows and where a literal rendition does not for any clumsiness hide the thought." (New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, Foreword, page 9, 1950). As has been noted before, the NWT's rendering is not technically bad English. But it remains awkward and woodenly literal to the original Greek word order. However, the NWT translators often sacrificed smooth English for the sake of a more strictly literal translation.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

John 8:58 - Word Order and Verb Tenses, Part One

εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί." - John 8:58

"'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I am!'" - John 8:58, NIV and most others.

John 8:58 is one of the favorite scriptures that Trinitarians try to use to prove that Jesus is God. They say that Jesus is claiming to be the great "I Am," which is supposedly the name God applied to himself in Exodus 3:14. This post is not an in-depth discussion of John 8:58. It will not delve that deeply into Koine Greek syntax, nor attempt to show that the connection between John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14 is arbitrary. What this post attempts to do, as my post on John 1:1 similarly did, is show that the fundamental differences between how Koine Greek and English works in regards to John 8:58 is largely to blame for the misunderstanding of this verse. Hopefully it will be written in such a way that the average layperson can understand the concepts involved. This way, the layperson should be able to handle pro-Trinitarian arguments given by those quite knowledgeable in Greek.

There are two differences in particular between Koine Greek and English that affects our understanding of John 8:58 -

1) Greek and English often use different word order in a sentence.

2) There is not a one-to-one correspondence between Greek and English verb tenses.

Word Order Differences between English and Greek

First let us take a closer look at the phrase in question, and break it up into its parts. Below is the Greek text, its transliteration, and its interlinear translation into English. Next are two popular renderings: the New International Version, which represents the standard English translation of the verse, and the New World Translation, which is controversial and considered by many to be an inaccurate translation.

πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι | ἐγὼ εἰμί - Greek text
prin Abraam genesthai | ego eimi - Transliteration
before Abraham came-to-be | I am - Interlinear translation
"Before Abraham was born, I am!" - NIV
"Before Abraham came into existence, I have been." - NWT

To help separate the parts and to aid those unfamiliar with Greek to see which English words goes with the corresponding Greek words, the subjects of the verses discussed in this post will be in blue, the verbs will be in red, and the dependent clauses in green. The pipe ( | ) will separate the subject and verb from the dependent clause. 

Koine Greek had much more flexibility when it came to sentence word order than English does. Usually, simple natural English puts the subject and verb at the beginning of a sentence. But notice that John 8:58 has the subject and verb at the end of the phrase. What is more, both the NIV and NWT follow suit. The word order in these English translations is not technically bad English. However, it is awkward, and woodenly literal to the original Greek word order. It does not flow like natural English.

Good translations should give a literal translation of the original language. Does that mean they should give an exact, word for word correspondence? No. Often that is not the case. It is primarily the meaning that should be literal. There are different ways of doing that, usually making use of the translation techniques known as formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. Formal equivalence tries to give as close to a word for word translation as possible, yet still follows the rules of grammar of the target language. A literal word for word English translation sometimes is an accurate way to convey the meaning of the Greek. On the other hand, sometimes a word for word translation can be misleading, or even outright incorrect. Formal equivalent translations will usually put the subject and verb at the beginning of the sentence, even if the Greek has them at the end. Dynamic equivalence is more of a thought for thought translation, and is much freer in expression. This can accurately convey the meaning of the Greek into English without having to strictly follow the word for word order of the original. Both formal and dynamic equivalence are considered literal translations, and dynamic equivalence should not be confused with paraphrasing.

An interlinear translation is an ‘ultra-literal’ translation. Despite many misconceptions, an interlinear translation is not more accurate than a good formal/dynamic equivalence translation. No two languages line up exactly. There is no one-to-one correspondence. The main purpose of interlinear translations is to provide the basic ‘lexical’ meaning for each word. It does not concern itself with grammar and syntax. It is not concerned with providing more than the very basic definition for any given word, no matter how richly that word is used in the source text.

Interlinear translations aren't really translations at all, but just provide a quick gloss under each word. For this reason, interlinear translations are found wanting, and they have been misused by some trying to make theological points. Interlinear translations are often misused when it comes to John 8:58.

But what is more, the popular standard rendering of John 8:58 as is seen in the NIV doesn't complete the process from a strict interlinear translation into a flowing modern English translation. The NIV rendering remains an interlinear translation. To complete the translation process, one thing that should be done is to put it into standard English word order: 

Before Abraham was born, | I am
changes to:
I am before Abraham was born

An English reader thinks in an English way. Even an English speaker who is familiar with Koine Greek may overlook the sense of this verse, since English is hard wired into our brains. The non-flowing, awkward English of the popular rendering of John 8:58, coupled with tradition, lends this verse to misinterpretation. The awkward sentence makes it so that it isn't hard for some to see Jesus as claiming to be God. However, when the translation is put in natural English word order, it can clearly be seen that Jesus was claiming existence, not identity, prior to Abraham's birth. 

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad." Therefore the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Most truly I say to you, I am before Abraham was born." - John 8:56-58

The problem with this translation is that it still remains awkward because of the verb tense used. In English, the phrase "I am before Abraham was born" uses simple modern English word order, but we normally wouldn't use the present tense. A quick correction would be "I was before Abraham was born," using the past tense instead of the present tense. Even better would be, "I existed before Abraham was born." To change from "am" to "exist" is fine because in both Greek and English, the verb "to be" also means "exist," and this is clearly Jesus' meaning in this verse.

It is of note that Greek scholar and translator Edgar Goodspeed rendered John 8:58 this way:

"I existed before Abraham was born!" - The New Testament: an American Translation (1923)

One cannot arbitrarily change verb tenses. However, there are good reasons to translate the Greek Present Tense ἐγὼ εἰμί (I am) with another English verb tense in this verse. But in the case of this translation, Goodspeed's choice of using the simple English past tense is not the best way to render the Greek's meaning into English. The issue of English verb tense will be discussed later in Part 2.

Other Verses Similar to John 8:58

There are other verses in the New Testament with similar syntax to John 8:58. When comparing verses, it is always good to find similar expressions from the same author. The next three verses are found in books by the apostle John. The first verse is John 15:27 -

ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς | μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ  ἐστε - John 15:27
ap' arkhes | met' emou este  - Transliteration
from beginning | with me you-are - Interlinear translation

This verse is of interest because most major English translations change the word order of John 15:27 to reflect simple English word order, something that is not done with John 8:58. This is remarkable because the Greek syntax is very similar to that of John 8:58 - for in both verses the subject and verb are at the end of the phrase, have the same verb, and they both begin with dependent clauses that have temporal indicators referring to past time. One difference is that the words "with me" is connected with "you are." This will be in the color yellow. Let's compare the two verses side by side with interlinear translations:

before Abraham came-to-be I am
changes to:
I am before Abraham came-to-be

from beginning |with me you-are
changes to:
you-are with me from beginning

It should be pointed out that the Greek verb ἐστε ("you are") is the same verb as in John 8:58, εἰμι ("I am"). This strengthens the similarities between the two verses. But in John 15:27 a different form of the verb is used - the 2nd person plural ("you are") instead of the 1st person singular in John 8:58 ("I am"). Here is how Young's Literal Translation renders this phrase:

"From the beginning ye are with me." - YLT (1892)

This verse is translated by YLT in the same manner as the traditional rendering of John 8:58 - it keeps the word order of the Greek, and it retains the present tense form of the verb "to be." The word order is not technically bad English, but it is awkward to our English ears. Also, the original Greek Present Tense verb ἐστε ("you are") is translated with the English Present Tense. This too is awkward. However, most translations do not render it this way. The majority of them render it similarly to the NIV:

"You have been with me from the beginning." - NIV

Not only does the NIV switch the word order around, per our suggestion, but it also renders the Greek's Present Tense form of the verb "to be" into the English Present Perfect. In other words, it changes "you are" to "you have been." This is similar to how the NWT translates John 8:58.

Here is another verse, 1 John 3:8 -

ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει - 1 John 3:8
ap' arkhes | o diabolos amartanei - Transliteration 
from  beginning the devil is-sinning - Interlinear translation

First we will put this verse in natural English word order:

from beginning the devil is-sinning
changes to:
the devil is-sinning from beginning

Here is how the New International Version, which is representative of the major English versions for this verse, renders the phrase:

"The devil has been sinning from the beginning." - NIV

When translating the Greek into English, the NIV changes the word order to reflect natural English, and it also renders the Greek's Present Tense form of the verb ἁμαρτάνει ("is sinning") into the English Present Perfect. That means instead of translating it with the English Present verb "is sinning," it is translated with the English Present Perfect "has been sinning."

Here is another verse from the gospel of John:

τοσούτῳ χρόνῳ | μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν εἰμι | καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωκάς με, Φίλιππε; - John 14:9
tosouto khrono | meth' umon eimi | kai ouk egnokas me, Philippe; - Transliteration 
so-much time | with you I-am | and not you-have-known me, Philip? - Interlinear translation

First let us change the word order:

so-much time | with you I-am | and not you-have-known me, Philip?
changes to:
I-am with you | so-much time | and not you-have-known me, Philip?

This is how the New International Version renders this phrase:

"Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" - NIV

The NIV changes the original word order to reflect natural English usage. It also translated the Greek Present Tense verb εἰμι (I am) with the English Present Prefect form "I have been."

Just as with John 15:27, John 14:9 uses the same verb as John 8:58: εἰμι - "I am." But this time the 1st person singular form is used, just like in John 8:58. Note that not only do all the major translations change the original word order to reflect common usage, but they also render the Greek verb εἰμι ("I am") the same way the NWT does in John 8:58 - "I have been." 

Now we will look at one last verse, this time from another author, Luke -

τοσαῦτα ἔτη | δουλεύω σοι - Luke 15:29
tosauta ete | douleuo soi - Transliteration
so-many years I-am-slaving for-you - Interlinear translation

Let us change the word order:

so-many years I-am-slaving for-you
changes to:
I-am-slaving for-you so-many years

This is how the New International Version renders this phrase:

"All these years I've been slaving for you." - NIV

This time the NIV chooses not to re-arrange the word order. In this instance, the English isn't so awkward, and the original word order can be retained. Most major English translations retain the original word order in this verse. Of the major English Bibles, the Holman Christian Standard Bible does go ahead and change the word order: "I have been slaving many years for you." - HCSB (2003). However, most of the translations change the Greek Present Tense verb "I am serving" to "I have been serving," with the exception of the King James Version and Young's Literal Translation.

Of all of these verses that we have compared, the popular English translations change the original Greek word order to reflect natural English usage, except in the case of Luke 15:29. In the Greek, all of these verses start with a dependent clause with some kind of temporal indicator referring to past time, followed by the main subject and verb. This matches the syntax of John 8:58. Also significant is that these verses have Greek Present Tense forms which are translated into English in the Present Prefect ("is/am" is changed to "has/have been"). Why is that? This will be discussed in Part 2.

Go to Part 2.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Trial of William Whiston, Part 4

(Continuation of Part 3

Mr. Whiston - As your Lordship has heard the opinions of the chief of the apostles, I shall beg leave to call in the evangelists in their order, who must necessarily agree with the apostles, or the Christian religion itself will fall to the ground.

Judge - Mr. Matthew, the question is very short: Do you believe Jesus Christ to be the supreme God?

Matthew - My Lord, I shall be as short in my answer. I do affirm it to be impossible for that being to be the supreme God that ascribes every act to, and derives every power from, the supreme God. And this Jesus Christ frequently acknowledges, in regard to himself, and said in express words, "The Father is greater than me." Oh, but says the learned gentleman, this was spoken in relation to his human capacity. I wonder he does not tell me that it was spoken in his childish capacity, and that he meant his father Joseph. Though to say the truth, this is so silly a speech, in the sense the Church has taken it, that even a child could not be weak enough to have made it. What a pretty compliment then do they make Christ and his followers, by imagining that any of them could have been so profoundly stupid as not to know that the supreme God was greater than a man?

Dr. Tr—p - Give me leave to tell you Sir, that there is a finesse in that passage which is too delicate for a gentleman of your cast. However, I will do you the honour to explain it to you. And, in order to it, I must acquaint you that your master had a threefold manner of conveying his instructions, which was many times by parables, sometimes by paradoxes, and, upon certain emergencies, by equivocation and double entendre, as in the case before us. For he being composed of two distinct natures, it was entirely at his election to call which of them he pleased "Me," by virtue of which he might always have two different answers ready upon any extraordinary occasion. For example, suppose now that such a wicked rogue as Judas had a mind to betray him, and should ask him whether he were the supreme God? Why, Sir, he might very safely have taken his oath upon it that he was not, only by mentally reserving quatenus the human nature. On the other hand, if the same question were to be put to a disciple that he could trust, he might just as honestly own himself to be the supreme God. And we are credibly informed that he never made the least secret of it to his particular friends. For (notwithstanding that the enemies of religion have robbed us of the privilege of pleading tradition) they have not deprived us of the liberty of founding our doctrines upon it, or of making such interpretations of the Scriptures as shall be most beneficial to the Church. And as it is highly reasonable that we should pay a great regard to her authority than to a few unguarded expressions of Peter and Paul, so we have unanimously agreed, to maintain her mysteries to the last drop of our blood.

Mr. Whiston - My Lord, Mr. Mark the evangelist being absent at the beginning of the trial, I desire that he may have Dr. Tr—p's Trinity read to him.

Judge - Mr. Mark, you are cited here upon a very solemn occasion, and the reason of this creed's being read to you is to know whether you do in your conscience believe what is in it to be true?

Mark - My Lord, as I am a perfect stranger to this dispute, I should be very glad to be informed of the nature of a creed, to know whence it is taken, by whom it is made, and to what intent and purpose it is published.

Mr. Whiston - If your Lordship will give me leave, I will give him that satisfaction in a very few words. Sir, a creed is a particular system of faith, composed of the particular opinions of a club of parsons, and it is pretended to be drawn out of the holy Scriptures. This is what the people are obliged to profess, or submit to lose their employments, and to be put in jail, and be starved. And it is only for want of compliance to this that you see me here in bonds.

Mark - Can the Church be so wicked and barbarous! And does it pretend to have authority from the Scriptures to persecute? And do the people tamely sit still and suffer it? But let your tyranny be ever so cruel and extensive, it shall not deter me from speaking truth. And I defy you to shew the least syllable in my writings that favours your blasphemous nonsense. But on the contrary shall bring you such a proof that Jesus Christ is not the supreme God, that Impudence itself would almost blush to oppose it.

Dr. Tr—p - You dog! How dare you treat the spouse of Christ thus irreverently! Sirrah you deserve — &c.

Mark - You mistake, Sir, it is the whore of Babylon that I chastise, whose prostitution, impudence, cruelty, covetousness, corruption, treachery, insolence, and ambition were never equaled on this side of hell. And certainly, if any villains ever deserved eternal tortures, they are those that corrupt and delude the very people they take upon them to instruct and preserve. They are those that rob, tyrannise, and murder under a pretense of religion, humility, and charity. In fine, it is those rapacious, hypocritical, lecherous gluttons that have changed a plain and reasonable institution into mysterious nonsense and juggling absurdities, placing the essence of religion in quirks and pricks, cheating the people, oppressing the poor, trampling upon the laws, and treading upon the necks of princes.

My Lord, I should beg pardon for this severe reply if the provocation had not extorted it, and truth had not justified it. However, I shall now go on with my proof. Our savior has often declared himself inferior to the Father. And the instance, by which I am going to prove that he is so, is so very remarkable, that I shall consider it in as distinct and particular a manner as possible. Speaking of the Day of Judgment, says he: "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the Father only." Who can cast his eye upon this assertion of our savior, without taking notice of the regular gradation manifestly formed with an intent to exclude all other beings whatsoever, and to confine the foreknowledge of the Day of Judgment to the Father only. And since the reverends and right reverends have thought fit to say that Christ is a composition of a divine and human nature, and that this want of knowledge is asserted of his human nature only, I shall prove the contrary of it beyond all exception. For the very first proposition excludes Christ as to his human nature, by saying that "no man knows that day." And the next proposition excludes the next superior degree of intelligent beings, by adding, in a most emphatical manner, that even "the angels that are in heaven" did not know it. After which he rises still higher, and declares that even the Son (in that capacity which he is in, superior to the angels) did not know it, but the Father only. So that nothing in nature can be more evident, than that all other persons, even of the Trinity itself, as well as all other beings, are excluded, and that he has limited that knowledge to the person of the Father only. For whatever was not the Father, he positively affirms, was ignorant of that day. Now it is certain that the Son was not the Father in any sense, therefore could not know that day. Jesus Christ therefore, being inferior in knowledge to the supreme God, cannot possibly be the supreme God. 

Judge - You are called here, Mr. Luke, upon the occasion of a learned divine's being accused of heresy in having denied Jesus Christ to be the supreme God, and as you are one of the inspired writers, the court desires your opinion upon that point.

Luke - Your Lordship does me too much honor in calling me inspired. I pretend to no more than that of being an honest and diligent collector, and claim no other merit but that of having faithfully recorded what appeared most agreeable to reason, or had the best evidence to support it. If it had been the doctrine of the apostles, or the established opinion of the age I wrote in, that Jesus Christ was the supreme God, is it to be imagined that I should not have declared it clearly and fully to all the world? But I do affirm the fact to be directly contrary, and if your creed-makers are in the right, I must be in the wrong. For I must acknowledge that I have distinguished the great God from Jesus Christ in a great many parts of my history, which I could not have done unless I had been a fool, or a villain, if I had thought that Jesus Christ and the great God of heaven had been the same omnipotent, coequal, and co-eternal God. My expressions are these: "The Lord God shall give unto Christ the Throne of his Father David; the Christ of God; the Chosen of God." Though this description of Christ is manifestly incompatible with the character of the great God, yet since it is in the power of prejudice to hinder men from seeing apparent truths, and that whole bodies of men, for their interest, can be hardy enough to deny them, I shall beg the favor of you to observe how those passages will appear if we were to suppose Christ to be the omnipotent God, and to be described as such. Those passages then must run thus: "The only, eternal omnipotent God, shall give unto the only, eternal, omnipotent God, the throne of the only omnipotent God's Father, Abraham." And again: "The only omnipotent God is the chosen of the only omnipotent God." These absurdities and contradictions are so palpable that as they that cannot perceive them can see nothing. So they, that will not acknowledge them, will acknowledge nothing.

Judge - What do you say, John, to Dr. Tr—p's Trinity?

John - Verily, I am at a loss what to say to that which I cannot possibly understand; but thus much I may venture to affirm, that the gospel I wrote, and the faith I preached, was to enlighten mankind. But that the inventions of these men have not only put out that light, which the gospel brought into the world, but have extinguished the light of nature itself, and put the world into a much worse condition than it was in when it had no other guide but reason to direct it. For reason will not act against itself, advise us to abandon it, or deliver it up to those who make it their study to deceive us. My account of our blessed saviour is uniform, clear, rational, and plain, as will evidently appear from the following passages:

"Oh Father, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." 

And again, "I proceeded forth, and came from God, neither came I of myself, but he sent me." 

"I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and unto my God, and your God." 

"The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do, that doth the Son also." 

"They accused him of blasphemy, 'Because thou, being a man, make thyself God.' Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your Law, If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, thou blasphemest, because I said, "I am the Son of God?" ' " 

"Jesus, a man approved by miracles, which God did by him: God hath made the same Jesus both Lord and Christ." 

"The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwells in me, he doth the works." 

"The Father is greater than I." 

The passages are so plain, so full, and so conclusive, that, I protest, the strongest thing I can say, in justification of that which I have already wrote, is that I cannot possibly express myself clearer, even upon the occasion of the present controversy. But what can words do if men will be impudent and wicked enough to pervert them? Nay, men that have front enough to deny the common obvious settled sense of words would even deny that there were any such words at all, if it served for their purpose. There is an end of the use of words, if in expressing ourselves absolutely of any being whatsoever, you may mean it partially, or totally, or take this part or that. For at this rate, you may say your own creeds backwards, and affirm that Christ (in his divine nature, by tacit reserve) was neither born, suffered, died, or rose again, and you may be just as orthodox in affirming the contrary, if you are at liberty to mean which nature you please. Such prevarications and quibblings may become priests and Jesuits, but it is monstrous to charge the messenger of God with them.

What will destroy the credit and authority of the gospel, if this will not? Or I should more properly have said what has brought it to the weak and despicable state it is in at present, but these infamous practices of the clergy? If any man can shew me that the whole tenor of what I have wrote is not strictly conformable to those parts which I have just now cited, I will not only confess myself to be unworthy of the name of an evangelist, but submit to be called a traitor to my master, and a deceiver of mankind. For whoever shall affirm that I have described Jesus Christ as equal with the Father does not only endeavour to prove my doctrine to be repugnant to itself, but makes the Scriptures of no authority. Are these the men that contend so vehemently for their being inspired! These, that have the assurance to pervert or contradict the whole tenor of them! If this honest gentleman, Mr. Whiston, were to assert that the Son is inferior to the Father, could he do it in stronger terms, or in a more plain and positive manner, than I have done? Could he say any thing stronger, than that the Father is greater than the Son, that he sent him, commanded him, and performed every operation in him? Let every impartial man judge, whether he would look upon such a character as this, to be the character of the great God of heaven, or to be that of an inferior being.

Judge - Mr. James, what do you say to the reverend doctor's Trinity? Do you understand it?

James - The greatest part of what I do understand is false, and what I do not, I humbly conceive to be nonsense. I am not for three Gods, I assure you, for I have said, "Thou believest that God is one, thou doest well." I have professed myself a servant of God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, which is distinction enough, to shew that there are two distinct beings. But if the Father be God, and the Son is God, God is not one. I write as I think, and I flatter myself that I have wrote so as to be understood. For certainly, nothing can be plainer than that I affirm that the eternal Godhead no more consists of three somethings than it does of thirty somethings. And consequently, that this new-fangled Trinity must be a gross imposition upon mankind.

Judge - What do you think, Mr. Jude, of the doctor's Trinity?

Jude - lt is impossible that my thoughts can differ from my brethrens,' and your Lordship shall judge whether my writings do or no. For I have certainly distinguished Jesus Christ from the great God, if language can distinguish things. I have expressed myself thus: "Turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, denying God, the only supreme Governor; and denying our Lord Jesus Christ." And again, "To them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved by our Lord Jesus Christ." Is it possible to imagine that all the divine writers should constantly distinguish Jesus Christ from the supreme God, and yet know him to be the supreme God. What sort of apostles would these gentlemen make of us? Had not we sense enough to declare it, or was it a revelation reserved for later times? We are always ready to give Jesus Christ all the honor that is due to his character. But to the only wise God, we say, be glory, majesty, dominion, and power.

Judge - Gentlemen of the jury, the unanimous concurrence of every writer in the New Testament, against this doctrine of the Trinity, being the strongest proof that can possibly be added to the absurdity of it, common sense, and common honesty, will sufficiently direct you to bring in such a verdict as may be expected from you.

Jury - We believe the evangelists and apostles to be very honest men, and to have declared the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And that vicious and corrupted priests have invented these absurdities, with a villainous intent to confound the understandings, and to destroy the liberties of mankind.

Judge - You gentlemen of the clergy, since the jury has acquitted the prisoner, and brought you in guilty, I shall pass that just sentence, which is established by that law, which requires an eye for an eye. May the laity shew you the same mercy they have ever received from you. 

End of the Trial.