[B-Greek] the best Metalanguage to understand the Greek NT? (was "2 Peter 1:1")

Yancy Smith yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net
Fri Apr 23 10:16:23 EDT 2010


Mark wrote:
Today's GreekVersion says about DIKAIOSUNi TOU QEOU in 2 Peter 1:1 η αγαπη του Θεου...δωρισε την...πιστη  (H AGAPH TOU QEOU DWRISE THN PISTH)
[Yancy Smith] I think this is a marvelous translation, similar to the Parole de vie: Moi, Simon-Pierre, // serviteur et apôtre de Jésus-Christ, // j'écris à ceux qui ont reçu une foi aussi précieuse // que la nôtre, par la générosité // de Jésus-Christ, notre Dieu et notre Sauveur.
I, Simon Peter, servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, am writing to those who have received a faith just as precious as ours, by the generosity of Jesus Christ, our God and our Savior.

"par la générosité" (=by the generosity) is equally felicitous. I note that the UBS Handbook gives the following discussion on this phrase: But what does righteousness mean here? This word is one of those biblical terms that are rich in meaning and can be translated in various ways, depending on their context. For example, the expression “the righteousness of God” appears in different contexts with different meanings and emphases. In Rom 1.17 the righteousness of God refers to God's activity of putting people into a right relationship with himself (as TEV correctly translates). In Matt 6.33, however, the righteousness of God refers to what he requires people to do in order that they will be pleasing to him. In the present verse righteousness has been interpreted in the following ways:
1. It refers to Christ's righteous, redemptive work. It is through Christ's righteousness (that is, his dying on the cross) that Christians are given the power to put their trust in him.
2. It refers to Christ's righteous character as Savior and Redeemer. It is because of Christ's righteousness (that is, his sinlessness, holiness, uprightness, goodness) that he is able to do his work as Savior and redeemer.
3. It refers to Christ's righteous sense of justice, generosity, fairness and impartiality. This means that Christ is no respecter of persons; he plays no favorites. When applied in the realm of faith, it means that Christ makes it possible for anyone, Jew or Gentile, apostle or nonapostle, to have the same faith.
In the light of the context, and in the light of the usage of “righteousness” in the rest of the letter, the second and third meanings seem to be the more logical choices.

That the Handbook on 2 Peter ignores any LXX or Second Temple Jewish background completely and interprets in terms of Reformation dogmatic categories is a pity. OFF-LIST interlocutors have accused me of theologically biasing the grammar here by arguing that in the phrase DIKAIOSUNHi TOU QEOU the genitive is subjective. But the Translator's handbook, the Greek version, and the French version all land pretty much in the same place. So, at least I'm in good company. The NLT takes makes the translation that, I think, Iver suggested:
  
"I am writing to all of you who share the same precious faith we have, faith given to us by Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, who makes us right with God."

One must exercise caution in dealing with DIKAIOSUNH, as BDAG cautions, "A strict classification of DIKAIOSUNH in the NT is complicated by frequent interplay of abstract and concrete aspects drawn from OT and Greco-Roman cultures, in which a sense of equitableness combines with awareness of responsibility within a social context." My reasoning in based on the idea that calling Jesus σωτῆρος in 2 Peter 1:1 may activate a scenario that combines both OT and Greco-Roman notions of the social responsibility (covenant) and beneficence (stipulated within covenant) of the σωτῆρος.  The reason I don't think that the specialized, Pauline meaning of DIKAIOSUNH is apropos here is that, if had Peter indeed introduced it, one might surmise that he would elaborated in 1:3-11 or discuss it in the rest of the letter.

In Paul's use of DIKAIOSUNH TOU QEOU, as BDAG notes, the intimate association of God’s interest in retaining a reputation for justice that rewards goodness and requites evil, while at the same time working out a plan of salvation for all humanity, complicates classification of his use of δικαιοσύνη DIKAIOSUNH. On the one hand, God’s DIKAIOSUNH is pardoning action, and on the other a way of sharing God’s character with believers, who then exhibit righteousness in the moral sense [one might think of the sort of transformation that takes place when a slave is declare an adopted son, YWS]. God achieves this objective through exercise of executive privilege in dispensing justice equitably without reference to νόμος by making salvation available to all humanity (which shares a common problem of liability to wrath by being unanimously in revolt against God Ro 3:9–18, 23) through faith in God’s action in Jesus Christ. The genitival constr. DIKAIOSUNH TOU QEOU accents the uniqueness of this DIKAIOSUNH Ro 1:17; 3:21f, 25, 26.

> Yancy wrote
> 
> <Someone said once that the best commentary on the NT is the LXX.>
Mark wrote:
> It's certainly is one of the better NT commentaries, and I like the fact that
> it is not in English.
  
Carl wrote:
No, nor in ordinary Greek either. But it is the source of a good deal of the
language and expressions used by NT authors and therefore one of the more
important resources for an interpreter of the GNT.

The saying reminds me of what a mentor of mine once said: the Iliad and
Odyssey are the best commentaries on Vergil's Aeneid; one cannot fully
appreciate Vergil's achievement without a deep familiarity with the Greek
text of the Homeric poems.

 [Yancy Smith] I completely agree and comments that do not take into account the intertextual nature of much of the NT often miss the point of the original author who could assume a certain amount of familiarity with the LXX as a resource document.

Mark wrote:
> But I have been thinking a lot of late that the Modern
> Greek NT is not only the best commentary of the NT, but it is also the
> best "Metalanguage" for understanding the Greek NT.  I know it is just
> a "translation" (or is it?) but compared to the Metalanguage of
> NT Greek Linguistics, it is (a) easier to understand (b) prettier (c)  less of
> a "traitor" in that it more accurately describes what is going on in
> the Koine Text.  Here's what the Metalanguage of Today's Greek
> Version says about DIKAIOSUNi TOU QEOU in 2 Peter 1:1:
> 
> η αγαπη του Θεου...δωρισε την...πιστη  (H AGAPH TOU QEOU DWRISE THN PISTH)
> 
> Compared to the Metalanguage of NT Greek Linguistics, the Metalanguage of the
> Modern Greek NT is also shorter, and it solves George and Eddie's problem of
> avoiding English altogether.  Do you see my point?  In other words, if you
> HAVE to learn a Metalanguage to understand what the Greek NT means
> (and I'm not convinced that you do) why not learn how to read the Modern
> Greek NT instead of learning how to read Hoyle, which would take you about
> the same amount of time?

Carl wrote:
A curiously facile suggestion, this. It mixes apples not with oranges but with brussels sprouts.

(1) There's more than one Modern Greek version of the GNT; the versions that exist are
no less interpretations of the original than are the various translations of the GNT into
other target languages. Every version depends upon a solution to the text-critical problems,
and every version depends upon a resolution of alternative understandings of those passages
that are in any way ambiguous.

(2) Using Koine Greek or even Modern Greek as the language of reference for descriptive
terms and explanation of the structure and usage of Koine Greek is as reasonable as using
any modern langauge, perhaps even more reasonable. But the notion that any one translation
of the GNT fills the need for an explanation of HOW and WHY a given text is to be understood
in one or another particular way confounds explanation with translation. Mark may want to
throw away lexica and grammatical reference works and continue to pooh-pooh the utility 
or relevance of Linguists working in Biblical Greek, but others may be inclined to think
this is going down a blind alley.

[Yancy Smith] I agree and might add that educated Greeks that I know do use metalanguage to understand their own language and the languages of others, just as many musicians use music theory to understand music. You don't have to be able to read music to perform it, though, which may be a point Mark is trying to stress. Often, however, I think Mark is more accurate in his affirmations than in his denials. Music theory may actually get in the way of performance or creative composition. Still, all in all, a knowledgeable use of metalanguage is another tool in the learning and teaching of language that simply learning other ways to say something in the same language or a later form of it cannot teach, just as music theory helps in a way that learning another arrangement or version of some piece of music cannot teach. It won't do to say, I don't need metalanguage because I can say the same thing as DIKAIOSUNH TOU QEOU in other words, i.e. H AGAPH TOU QEOU. That could be like saying I don't need music theory because I can play two different versions of chopsticks.



Yancy Smith
Yancy W. Smith, PhD
World Bible Translation Center
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yancy at wbtc.org

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