Thursday, 19 July 2018

Obstacle 2: Lord of Lords

In the endearing little love story between Tina and Archie we saw Tina is the church and Archie is the Lord Jesus Christ. The old-fashioned name "Archie" that Archie wants to change is "Lord". 

I believe a translation overhaul is needed for "Lord" in many modern Bible translations both in English and other languages. This overhaul is necessary for a relevant and yet faithful religious institution like Christianity.

The Number 1 question was how to translate the Hebrew name for God, "Yahweh". I finally arrived, after two years of researching the issue, at the idea that GOD, all caps, would be a good solution. Eugene Peterson got there first though!

This only makes the suggestion all the more palatable, as I have arrived at the same destination as Peterson but via, I am sure, a different route, bringing more grammatical substance than Peterson's work had access to.

Overcoming Hurdle 2: "Lord of lords"

If you make this move - to switch the Yahweh translation from "The LORD" to "GOD", then there are some fresh problems to solve - I identify five of these. Overcoming the first obstacle, we established that it is more than faithful to ancient tradition to apply the lower case "g" to god, permitting the possessive "GOD, our god". This now leaves us excellently placed to approach the second hurdle, Lord of lords.

But if we are moving "Archie" away from "Archie", then doesn't "Archie of Archies" present a double problem?! Fortunately, as impressive as it sounds, it is a very rare title in the Bible, and even there applied in various ways (adapted from ESV version):

Applied To God:

Deuteronomy 10:17
For GOD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

Psalms 136:3
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever

Applied To God or Jesus:

1 Timothy 6:15
...which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords

Applied to Jesus

Revelation 17:14
They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

Revelation 19:16
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords

Lord of lords as a poetic device

Notice how in only one instance is Lord of lords not paired up with another grand title; either "God of gods" or "King of kings". There is a poetic insistence in there to draw out a response from the listener. In other words, although given in title language, there is no actual or rather static title of Lord of lords but rather an insistence that this is as important as a person can get and as high an authority level as a person can exert.

Interestingly, exactly the same profile results if you stick "King of kings" into a search field in a Bible concordance. You get human references (not just Jesus!) and you get divine references (the Israelite god, Yahweh), and you also get that pairing up with other adulating or poetic "titles".

It is not straight forward to replicate all that into English. As rare as "Lord" is today in non-religious contexts, the title "Lord of lords" is purely religious (and really confirms the overarching premise to be honest, of the need for a Lord overhaul), but that is sadly still the way many translations still feel safest: stuck inside the religious bubble of Lord. Peterson clearly sensed the need to break God and Jesus out of that bubble when it came to single-use "Kyrios", but for these five, even he only managed to scrap two of the "lords". To his credit, it is always nuanced and adapted. Let's see how he did it.

Deuteronomy 10:17
God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters

Psalms 136:3
Thank the Lord of all lords.

1 Timothy 6:15
Undisputed Ruler

Revelation 17:14
Lord over all lords

Revelation 19:16
Lord of lords

Already in Deuteronomy Peterson is giving the reader a hint of how he is going to give modern readers a breakout method from the crusty old "Lord": Master. Apart from GOD, this is the other special card he has to play and he is going to play it hundreds of times with Jesus. That part of the Lord Overhaul Operation is something we will be examining in a separate post and our hardest of obstacles of all, Obstacle 5: The Lord Jesus.

1 Timothy introduces a title that I regularly return to in my musings, that of ruler. I quite like it, even though, sadly, "Ruler of rulers" sounds ridiculous. 

One of the grand titles that everyone still gets is King. History doesn't always noticed that the poetic titles and the literal executive power titles have slowly been separated. So whereas before kings and queens had more or less ultimate say over their countries (think taxes and wars especially) and it was up to local governors to execute their commands, nowadays, kings and queens are more symbolically or religiously invested. It is their head executors are really the ones in charge (like Prime Minister, which, by the way, is also ridiculous sounding, way too British and, in contrast with the observations made of the cumulative poetic adulation in the biblical framework, it is perfunctory and static). 

But I have a couple of fresh suggestions, if I may. It's my blog and piece, so I may as well, but I really do feel that for these five instances we have two quite decent candidates:

  1. Commander-In-Chief.
  2. Condensing into or substituting "King of kings".

Commander-In-Chief

A commander-in-chief, also sometimes called supreme commander, or chief commander, is the person or body that exercises supreme operational command and control over a nation's military forces. As a technical term, it refers to military competencies that reside in a nation-state's executive leadership—a head of state, a head of government.

Commander-In-Chief I think is an interesting contender as it manages to contain the aspect of awe and accumulation with other grand titles like "Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith" (curiously I note that the Queen is no longer "Lord High Admiral" of the Royal Navy - did she resign?!). It also has an official power. She has to give her green light to important acts like going to war.

King of kings

My second suggestion is to say that sometimes the repetition is not necessary in the target language. The most famous example for Septuagint scholars is that of Adonai-Yahweh. Since both were translated as Kyrios, the translators ummed and ahhed between "kyrios kyrios" and a simple "kyrios". There are also other examples of where since earliest times translators of the Bible have been sensitive to the issue of redundancy. What this, therefore, legitimises us to do is ask the following question: does a simple "King of kings" suffice to translate what was previously emphasised in parallel language ("King of kings and Lord of lords")? I would go further to say, yes it does suffice (see my suggestions below for the New Testament examples)!

Since we only have the five instances, we can write out the suggestions in turn, again in adaptation of the ESV:

Deuteronomy 10:17
1. For GOD your God is God of gods and Commander-In-Chief, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

2. For GOD your God is God of gods and King of kings, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

Psalms 136:3
1. Give thanks to the Commander-In-Chief,
for his steadfast love endures forever

2. Give thanks to the King of kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever


1 Timothy 6:15
1. ...which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Commander-In-Chief

2. ...which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings

Revelation 17:14
1. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Commander-In-Chief and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

2. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

Revelation 19:16
1. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Commander-In-Chief

2. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings

And not a "lord" in sight!


Conclusion:


Lord of lords can either be rendered King of Kings or Commander-In-Chief.

In my next post I will proceed to the 3rd obstacle in the path of the Yahweh translation, GOD.

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