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The Rudest Translation (of Jesus, on Good Friday)

April 3, 2015

Here is the rudest translation (of Jesus, on Good Friday):

“We are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Human Being will be betrayed to the chief priests and Bible scholars.
They will condemn him to death,
and they will hand him over to the non-Jews.
34 The non-Jews will make fun of him and spit on him,
violently beat him with a Roman whip of leather straps embedded with metal designed to rip off the flesh,
and kill him.
Three days later he will rise.”

So let me explain. It’s Ann Nyland’s English translation of the Hebraic Hellene quotation of Jesus predicting “Good Friday” events and beyond. We call that Mark 10:33-34, and it looks like this originally, more or less:

33 ὅτι
Ἰδοὺ ἀναβαίνομεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα
καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδοθήσεται τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ τοῖς γραμματεῦσιν,
καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτὸν θανάτῳ
καὶ παραδώσουσιν αὐτὸν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν
34 καὶ ἐμπαίξουσιν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐμπτύσουσιν αὐτῷ
καὶ μαστιγώσουσιν αὐτὸν
καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν
καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστήσεται.

So let me explain a bit more. Why “rude”?

Let me focus on Nyland first, and then on Jesus and Mark second.

I’m taking the idea of “rude” from D. A. Carson’s apologetic for Christians being rude (in his book The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism in which he himself seems to gag on, and has the God of Christianity gagging on, a plurality of marked perspectives such as feminist theology, open theology, progressive theology, green theology, liberation theology, black theology, and, of course, postmodern theologies). He discusses what it means for Christians (with pure, un-marked theologies) to be rude (in his book chapter 8, “On Drawing Lines, When Drawing Lines is Rude”). For example, he writes acknowledging how “extremist Muslims” sometimes feel they have to draw lines, and then he draws a line between Islam and Christianity:


Clearly, Carson believes drawing lines is not only reasonable but also “utterly critical” for Christians who are pure, evangelical. He presumes that lines must be drawn not only between Christianity and Islam but also between Christians and feminists, Christians and open theologians, Christians and liberation theologian, Christians and black theologians, and Christians and postmodernists. This is “rude,” this line drawing, he says. So be it, he says.

And so, what’s so “rude” about Dr. Ann Nyland’s translation of the gospel of Mark here? The phrase, “the Human Being,” does not draw lines. It is inclusive. It is more inclusive, in fact, than “the Promised One,” which is the English language translation of the Greek “ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου” here in Mark, by The Inclusive Bible, an important translation by Craig R. Smith, my BLT co-blogger. Other fairly inclusive English translations are: “the earthly sonby Willis Barnstone, and “the son of Adamby Robert Funk, whose “Jesus” seminar colleagues vote these words in Mark to be words Jesus really uttered in fact for the most part. Most translations, like the one D. A. Carson himself favors for Christianity — the ESV — have non-inclusive language: “the Son of Man.” (By the way, Carson has written a book on “the inclusive language debate,” and he is the most recent “Logos March Madness champion!” for what that’s worth). “The son of man” is not inclusive English, obviously. And Carson would see that as Christian, as less pluralistic and as more purely evangelical. And he would say it draws lines (i.e., Jesus is a son, NOT A DAUGHTER. Jesus’s father is a man, NOT A WOMAN. And the Greek says so. And so does the ESV). And that, Carson would say, is necessarily “rude.”

But I want to suggest that Nyland’s translation, even “the Human Being,” is the rudest. She lets Mark, the gospel writer, let Jesus, this Human Being, self-referentially be NOT A GOD!

And then it gets worse, the line drawing, the rudeness:

Nyland has Jesus saying and Mark writing of “the chief priests and Bible scholars.” A chief priest is NOT AN UNDERLING and a Bible scholar is NOT A BIBLICAL ILLITERATE.

Then she has Jesus uttering and Mark enscribing, drawing lines, being rude, to mark “the non-Jews.” Barnstone uses this phrase in a footnote, where he also explains that “τοῖς ἔθνεσιν” here in the Hebraic Hellene also refers generically to “foreigners.” Other translators use “Gentiles” and more particularly “the Romans.” But “the non-Jews”?! A “non-Jew” clearly is NOT A JEW. The hyphenated phrase marks this very very clearly. The lines are drawn. Lest we English readers miss it, Nyland draws on this very phrase twice. It helps to end the one verse. It sharply starts the next.

and they will hand him over to the non-Jews.
34 The non-Jews will make fun of him and spit on him,

This rudest of translations punctuates the historical facts that there were no Christians, not even evangelical ones, as Jesus says this in his Hebraic tongue and then as Mark writes it on his Jewish Greek parchment. The lines are drawn. Non-Jews are τοῖς ἔθνεσιν of Good Friday.

Finally, Nyland carefully looking at the Hellene choices of Mark notices how he selects this phrase:

καὶ μαστιγώσουσιν αὐτὸν

She knows the graphic classical literary Greek contexts in which this refers to bloody whippings and brutal public beatings. The context of the non-Jews in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus gets the English translator drawing lines, in the rudest of ways, around the more-than-rude ways of the non-Jewish Romans:

violently beat him with a Roman whip of leather straps embedded with metal designed to rip off the flesh,

The relief of this text is this: “and kill him” or “καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν.” Death by killing, after non-Jew spit is in the face and after Roman-whipped flesh is ripped off the body, is relief.

In this rude context, comes a later conclusion, another episode to the brief Jewish-prophetic story: καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστήσεται. or “Three days later he will rise.”

Again, the lines are drawn. The antistrophe, the turn about in the prediction, is a resistance against τοῖς ἔθνεσιν of Good Friday. And no other English translation of this saying of Jesus and this quotation by Mark (also quoting the Jewish prophets and also quoting the Hebraic Hellene of the Septuagint translation of these Jewish prophets) is as rude as Nyland’s.

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