Translating Offices in the New Testament
2011 is the 400th anniversary of the printing of what we now call the King James Bible. This has spawned a whole sub-culture of books and articles on the topic. And, jumping on the bandwagon, I offered a series of sessions covering the formation of the Bible and modern day translations. This has been a fascinating study for me. First, I respect translators a lot more than I used to (it is easy to snipe at a passage here or there, isn’t it?). Second, it has made more clear to me how politics, power, and marketing, both in the church and in the political realm, have influenced what and how we read the Bible. I taught this series in three different venues — one on campus and two in local congregations (one is still ongoing, at St. Paul, Des Peres Thursdays at 7:00pm, if you’re in the area). The on-campus sessions were recorded and are now available (for free) on iTunesU — follow this link.
One area that intrigued me, primarily because of some research I’ve done (and am still doing) on the church in the New Testament, is the whole issue of “offices” in the early church. What, exactly, were apostles, deacons, pastors, bishops, etc in the NT period? You can tell very quickly a translation’s biases regarding church, structure, and ministry based on the way these words are translated. I ended up not using this material in the Bible studies, so I thought I’d post it on concordiatheology.org in bits and pieces, partly so I don’t lose it, but also to get your feedback, and stimulate necessary thinking on church and ministry in a day and age and context where both need some serious thought and discussion.
One thing that struck me immediately was that we transliterate some words, but “translate” others. For example, the word “apostle” is simply a transliteration of ἀπόστολος, but sometimes we translate it as “messenger” (as in 2 Cor 8:23) — presumably because there are only supposed to be 12 apostles, and so the guys in that passage can’t be “apostles” they must only be “messengers.” But is “apostle” a distinct, formal “office” in the early church? Or again in Luke 9:10, the “apostles” return — but they are not yet “apostles” because, quite obviously, there has not yet been a resurrected Jesus to be seen by the “apostles.” And Romans 16:7 causes no end of referent and grammatical problems, all bearing heavily on the issue of women’s ordination.
But then for other words our translations are even more inconsistent. In Acts 1:17, 20, another “apostle” is needed to fill Judas’ κλῆρον τῆς διακονιᾶς and his ἐπισκοπὴν — is that “share of ministry” (most translations) or “share of the diaconate” (Tyndale has here ”fellowship in this ministration” and, in v. 20, “bishopric”). But apparently translators don’t think there is yet a “diaconate,” so the word “ministry” is used in v. 17. But why is that different from having “apostles” in Luke 10? And the translation of ἐπισκοπή is open to even more messing around: In 1:20 the KJV left Tyndale’s “bishopric” (after all, they had bishops in the Church of England who had apostolic succession). But the NASB ESV and Beck have here “office” (which is not even close to a translation) while the NIV 2011 goes completely functional on this with “place of leadership.” NRSV, perhaps ironically, comes closest to what we would call a translation with “position of overseer”
Lot’s of playing around here, no? Thoughts? More to come . . .