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Throwback: Vernacular Translation

To translate into the vernacular is therefore to recognize the significance of the local idiom; the prosaic. “In the people’s tongue lay the jewel of great price.”

This post from 2008 consists almost entirely of a quote:

To translate into the vernacular is therefore to recognize the significance of the local idiom; the prosaic. “In the people’s tongue lay the jewel of great price.” Missionaries had to learn the habits of thought – the concepts – the the indigenous culture in order to render the gospel in terms the people could understand. From the standpoint of missions, the translation of the Hebrew dabar Yawhe (“the word of the Lord”) by Logos in the fourth Gospel “became an indispensable tool by which to bring Christ into contact with the Greek heritage”. So did the decision by certain anonymous witnesses to the Greeks in Antioch to refer to Jesus not as Messiah but at Kyrios, a term that Hellenistic Pagans gave to their cultic divinities. In each case the key factor is what these early missionary-contextualizer-theologians did with these words. While the tersm were familiar, their Christian use was not. The Logos became flesh (that’s new!); Kyrios rose from the dead (indeed!). These terms, borrowed from the culture, were “sanctified” as it were, and put to use to minister Christ. Once chosen, however, “this understanding of the word received a set of controls from its new biblical frame of reference. The early missionaries had to use the cultural resources that were at hand.

From: The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-linguistic Approach to Christian Theology.

It is thought-provoking to note that while we blithely sing “He is Lord”. The notion of Jesus as Lord (rather than Jesus is Messiah) was initially a controversial one, borrowed from Pagan religious language.

One reply on “Throwback: Vernacular Translation”

I’m not entirely sure that it is right to think that the use of ‘kurios’ for Jesus originated in Antioch. In Acts 2, we read of how Peter boldly proclaimed that God had made ‘this Jesus both lord and christ/messiah’ (putting the initial letters in lower case as they are not proper names in this context). The use of ‘kurios’ in Jewish usage predates this by two centuries or more. Translation preceded Christianity in the form of the LXX. This, in translating the divine name followed the practice of reading it in Hebrew as ‘adonai’ by translating this word into Greek as ‘kurios’. (One might add that the Hebrew reading practice and the translation of this loses the understanding of The Name being a proper name – the covenant name of God.)

Also, in the first century the use of ‘kurios’ has several references. There is the link, for Jews, to their scriptures and the divine name. There is a link to pagan gods. There is also a challenge to the pagan emperor. “Jesus is Lord” stands against “Caesar is lord”.

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