[B-Greek] Theologically motivated translation, at times

yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net
Sun Jun 28 09:09:49 EDT 2009


	The statement that "theologically motivated" translation is sometimes  
necessary might perhaps be a shrewd attempt to hoist the nay sayers of  
"theologically motivated" readings of the text on their own petard. I  
guess Wallace's assumption here would be that theological readings are  
impossible to avoid and that one should be careful to get one's  
theologically motivated readings from correct theology. My assumption  
is that, when it comes the translation or analysis of the Greek New  
Testament, theological decisions are sometimes unavoidable because of  
the nature of the field. If one were translating Nonnus' Dionysiaca,  
the Hermetic Literature, or Plutarch's Moralia for that matter, at  
least a general orientation to the theological outlook of the author/s  
of the corpus is absolutly necessary for a reader or translator.  
Another way of thinking about this is that all reading or translating  
should operate with an understanding of the contextual assumptions of  
the authors of literature one is working with.
	The problem, of course, is that assumptions are not often stated  
directly. We are forced to guess and the passage of time has a way of  
brutalizing unspoken assumptions. When it comes to understanding Mark  
11:22, one would assume that little more is needed than general  
biblical background (either Catholic or Protestant) to make right  
choice about the use of the genitive. BTW, I have heard some speakers  
try to establish the point that the most natural way to read Mark  
11:22 is "of God," just like it says in the KJV. But these speakers  
have not often dealt with the implications of God having faith.  
Wallace, on the other hand would seem to be on firm footing when he  
says that "such an idea is unparalleled anywhere else in the Bible and  
doesn't fit the context."  We might think that nonsense test can help  
here. My rule of thumb is, if my theologically motivated reading makes  
nonsense out of an otherwise meaningful text, then the nonsensical  
reading, all things being equal, should be quietly left aside.
	But not so fast. Let me indulge in a little nonsense. I suppose that  
the only way to construe ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ ECETE  
PISTIN THEOU "have faith of God" in the passage as anything other than  
what Carl says is should be construed would be to assume it is a  
possesive genitive. And it would seem that, biblically, "have faith of  
God" is simply nonsense, at least in English. For me it conjures up  
the idea that, when one prays, one must pray with the kind of faith  
God has. And this is precisely the question that Wallace's obiter  
dictum raises: Does God have faith? Or does God pray? These question  
seem rediculous to anyone trained in Christian theology. I know they  
do to me. But Rabbis of the Talmud do not ask the question, "Does God  
Pray?" Rather, they took it for granted that God prays on the basis of  
Scripture. The Rabbis point to the Book of Isaiah (56:7) as proof of  
the assumption that God prays. The prophet offers a universal vision  
of foreigners, not just Jews, coming to worship at God's holy  
mountain. God says: "I will let them rejoice in My house of prayer."  
In Hebrew, though, that last phrase, "My house of prayer," literally  
reads, "the house of My prayer." In other words, the Temple may be  
viewed, not only as the place where God is worshiped, but also as  
God's very own synagogue, where God goes to pray. Since they took it  
for granted that God prays, what they did ask was: What does God pray?  
(Berachot 7a)  E.g., "Rabbi Zutra ben Tobi teaches in the name of Rav:  
[God prays:] 'May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My  
anger, . . . so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of  
mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict  
justice.'" Remarkable. These words of the Talmud seem to suggest that  
God may lack full control over God's own actions, even over God's own  
emotions. God seems to recognize that God is occasionally too strict,  
too tough on humans, causing or allowing bad things to happen, instead  
of overriding the wicked with mercy and love. God may be omnipotent,  
except that God lacks full power over God! God sometimes doesn't live  
up to God's own desire to be a loving and merciful God.

But do any of these rabbinic considerations fit the context of Mark  
11:22? Indeed they might. In Mark 11:17 Jesus cites Isaiah 56:7 in a  
rhetorical question. Then in v. 21 comes the cryptic teaching about  
the fig tree and, in context, the even stranger teaching about faith  
(v.22, 24) and moving "this mountain" (Zion?) into the sea (23) and  
the application of this teaching to prayer and forgiveness (25),  
followed by the confrontation with the chief priests, the scribes, and  
the elders over Jesus' authority. In the context, the fig tree and the  
mountain are symbolic of the Jewish people centered in their worship  
of the temple that had not born the fruit (the joy of all nations?)  
that Jesus desired to find. For the disciples the shocking  
implications of these cryptic statements would lead to their request  
for further explanation (Mark 13). However, if we see the pericope of  
11:13-25 as dealing with the severity and the mercy of God in response  
to the failures of Israel, perhaps better sense can be made of the  
more cryptic elements of this passage.

Yancy Smith, PhD
yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net
Y.W.Smith at tcu.edu
yancy at wbtc.com
5636 Wedgworth Road
Fort Worth, TX 76133

On Jun 28, 2009, at 5:49 AM, Mitch Larramore wrote:

> I read the following short blurb by Dr. Wallace on Mark 11.22 and  
> the reason for translating ECETE PISTIN QEOU. My question is below  
> the blurb, and this topic is coincidental to the resent set of  
> exchanges about GGBB's discussion of the Genitive.
> Why doesn't the translation of the genitive in Mark 11:22 use the  
> word of? How is theology used to translate this verse?
> By: Daniel B. Wallace
> The Greek genitive case can be used in dozens of ways, and to leave  
> it as simply an 'of' idea is often very misleading. For example, the  
> genitive case is used with the comparative adjective for the idea of  
> comparison. We would translate this something like, "His car is  
> better THAN her car." The 'than' is the genitive word 'of.' But to  
> translate it as 'his car is better OF her car' doesn't make any  
> sense. In Mark 11:22, although there are a couple of valid ways to  
> translate the text, when one is dealing with God as the object, it's  
> difficult to think of more than one. So, yes, theology does play a  
> part in translation, but necessarily so. There are some groups that  
> want to translate this passage as 'Have the faith that God has' but  
> such an idea is unparalleled anywhere else in the Bible and doesn't  
> fit the context. 'Have faith in God' is the preferred translation  
> and meaning.
> [End of paragraph]
> Is that really true that the translation "of God" is perhaps  
> expected, but for theological reasons, "in God" is substituted? It  
> seems strange to me to suggest that deviations from the translation  
> "of xyz" for the Genitive may result from theological motives,  
> especially in a "theological" book!
> Mitch Larramore
> Sugar Land, Texas
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