Thursday, January 14, 2016

St. Paul in the Trenches, Part 2 of 2

**Note, this is the 2nd of 2 posts on the GWC Bible Translation - otherwise known as "St Paul in the Trenches".  First post here.

“Does that matter?  What sort of timbre emerges from this muck and mire?  What rhythm, order, and tone?”

What emerges is unique.  Poetic.  Powerful.  I wish he'd done the entire New Testament.

It’s eye opening to compare translations.  From 1st Corinthians 15:19:

NIV: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

GWC: "If the Christ exists for this world only and has no eternal existence, we are the most miserable of all the dwellers on this planet!"

Certainly these two translations don’t conflict with one another, but notice the subtle difference in emphasis.

Or Ephesians 1:9-12:

NIV: "he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.  In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory."

GWC: "Infinite and far-reaching beyond the bounds of all mortal vision is the wealth and power of that grace, so abundant in its wisdom and understanding, whereby there opens to the inner eye the wondrous revelation of His will, of His ever benevolent purpose, foreseen and fore-ordained in the Christ, which the gathering up and unfolding of the ages was to effect, even the subjection of all things to the Christ, the making of him as the sum and head of all as his consequent effect, a purpose to be carried out on earth as in heaven. Yes, the inheritance which we have now obtained is part of that consummating purpose, is in him, in whom we were first seen and known as the objects of this infinite purpose which subdues all things, destined to adorn his glory as we even now hope and expect by faith to do."


What I find so compelling in this particular case is the poetic articulation of the cosmic nature of this Christ; his "eternal existence" which is "beyond the bounds of all mortal vision".  This "ever benevolent purpose" that is grounded in the Christ.

These words breathe differently.

I could provide other examples. Now this is obviously not a word for word translation.  I don't know how "scholarly" it is and I’ll leave that to others.  In general I’m quite conscious of the variations in translations, but in this case it doesn’t concern me.  Why not?  For several reasons I suppose, but mostly because I’ve yet to find a translation that so powerfully communicates this cosmic wonder, this love and complete victory of God in Jesus Christ, articulated with particular eloquence in 1 Cor 15:

"That is the only significance of that practice which obtains amongst some of you, whereby the living are baptised on behalf of those already dead. It means that this progressive victory over death will ultimately include all who have died. The purpose of the Christ penetrates far beyond the little sphere of this life. But if you think that the Christ only comes to you on earth and for this life, what significance has this rite of baptism on behalf of those already beyond its pale? Unless they too are changed by the infinite operation of the Christ life, the rite is meaningless. And if the dead rise not, if there be no such victory and struggle at work, what is the significance of present struggles? I have faced the beasts in the circus before the crowd at Ephesus, I have run every risk, endured every danger, and won through them successfully — that is your boast, and the glory which you accord me for my service of the Christ; but if in this daily death of mine there is no underlying meaning, if it does not mean that even now Christ in me is fighting his victory over death, and successfully putting it under his feet and rescuing me from it, then what is the use of it all? I would rather say with the disobedient “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we shall die” (Is. xxii. 13) for there is no longer any meaning in my struggles. Beware! Do not let sleep overtake you, and your spiritual perception be cheated and fade."
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:29-32‬ ‭GWC‬‬

Christ in me
far beyond the little sphere of this life
the progressive victory over death
ultimately including those who have died
the infinite operation of the Christ life
fighting his victory over death
successfully putting it under his feet
and rescuing me from it.

Those are some of the phrases and images that have stuck with me.  They breathe.  They give me hope.  They proclaim Christ.  In all of human history, to whom else could these words be applied?

Cornish’s translation confronts me with this Christ's victory in ways that I’m unaccustomed to, ways that I cannot dismiss as the banal Christianese "hope" that quickly crumbles when I look closely.  Bleaker darkness reveals a brighter hope, the triumph of a cosmic benevolent Christ, Lord of space and time.

Seeing what men do to one another and God's seeming silence in the face of it, I can understand why he might have left the work of translation behind.  Nearly two thousand years had passed since the Kingdom had “come near”.  Billions of births and deaths.  Bill-yons.  There've been billions since, by the way.  That could wear on a person.  It might make you want to find some theological loopholes to tone it down a little bit.

He faced the choice to either plunge into the darkness of his own unique and time bound existence - into the unique yet hauntingly recurrent depths of the human condition and experience - and to let refined words of the Christ victory emerge anew, or to live in despair, having left the Greek text behind at the halls of the university.

I dare not minimize their power, nor limit the hope and victory that they proclaim.  If I read them as they're truly written, I can't.  And I don't want to.

Back to Part 1

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