Monday, 15 August 2016

Who's who?

In this blog we are all about disambiguation! Especially in Christian theology where not all the biblical data is unambiguous, it is important that we do replicate clear distinctions in the texts when they are unambiguous - who wants to worship an ambiguous God or Lord?

I was intrigued to learn that a couple of European translations have recognised that not all usage of Kyrios (Lord) in the New Testament is the same. A lot of the differences behind what people meant in the first century when they said Lord would depend on context, and sometimes that context was even assisted by grammar.

I have a good friend whom I sometimes work with, and his wife's name is Isis. Of course, he regularly talks about her, and also discusses at times the latest events associated with the terrorist group. Unsurprisingly, there is never any overlap or confusion despite the usage of the same word!

Another example regarding the assistance of grammar (this time fictitious): In Dackensborough, the local Mayor was Mayor Terrance Tonner. To his closer friends, he was happy with just Terrance, but generally he was pretty attached to his title Mayor, and, just like his uncle before him, would identify himself so closely with that role - indeed it was life - that "Mayor" was pretty much the name he went by.

One blustery Tuesday morning the Yorkshire town townhall door was slammed open with worrying immediacy. The postman practically shouted: "I've got a really, really urgent letter for Mayor Terrance!" he yelled at the startled receptionist. Before she could reply, another door boomed open, and there he was, the main man himself. "I'm mayor here" (as if to say, only I get to slam doors around these parts). "H...H...Here's your letter, Mayor" he managed to stammer and scarpered.

Later that day, the young postman was not feeling good about his impression up in the Town Hall, and he called up the receptionist, whom he already knew from school days. "Linda, sorry to bother you, but did I leave a bad impression on Mayor?"

Mayor Terrance Tonner in this story became identified with his title Mayor in such a way as to dispose of the article almost completely. If he went to a neighbouring town, where he was not mayor, he might well still have thought of himself as Mayor, because that was now pretty much his name. I could push the parallels still further, but I just want to park that one there for now, in order to get back to the modern translations keen to preserve the disambiguation between what we might call a "local" Lord, e.g. an angel, a human master, our Lord Jesus, and the Greek translation of Yahweh, (predominantly) anarthrous Lord (a bit like Mayor).

A Spanish translation I found to attempt to show something of this was Nueva Traducción Viviente(NTV), which in Mark 12:29 has Jesus quoting the Greek LXX to say "EL SEÑOR" (the LORD, Yahweh). Note the use of the capitals in contrast to the surrounding citation:

El mandamiento más importante es: “¡Escucha, oh Israel! El Señor nuestro Dios es el único Señor.

NTV translators realised that they were in their full rights to fully capitalise SEÑOR because it was an exact quote of Deuteronomy 6:4, the famous Shema.

(Please note I am not strongly praising the NTV choices here, for there are no perfect solutions to the Yahweh problem. It should, however, be clear by now I am not in favour of heavy article adding to LORD given its deliberate exclusion by the Greek translators and its obvious total absence in the Hebrew. Here I like that there is a stylistic and helpful distinction for the New Testament Spanish reader, not that it is prefixed by "el")

A second translation attempting this New Testament distinction I will explore with you more extensively is the French Darby translation - that will be the subject of the next post.

**update** I have updated and developed slightly the above notes about the Spanish translation, as there was either an update to the previously-cited LBLA version, or I simply made a mistake. The LBLA's solution to the divine Name problem is to capitalise SENOR in the OT and capitalise everything the NT cites from the OT.

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