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On Translation and Hysteria

April 18, 2012

I’ve just been alerted to the latest hysterical reaction to translating the NT. (Of course, the week isn’t over yet, so we could get something else by Friday!) In the new translation called The Voice Bible (Thomas Nelson Publishers), the choice was made to go for a more dynamic translation of some familiar words. The one that seems to have got some folks all worked up is the translation of the Greek word Christos as “the anointed one”. Hysterical people and some news outlets scream: “New translation takes Christ out of the Bible!” So, e.g., the lead scholar in the project, Dr. David Capes (Houston Baptist University), gets interviewed on CNN about why they’ve done this, and across blog-dom the hysterics spread.

So, for the record: CNN and USAToday have misrepresented the translation. Nobody’s removed Jesus from the NT. The translation “anointed” is simply what “Christos means. It’s not a name, of course, but a title.

The translation is from an avowed Evangelical Christian publisher, and Capes is a devout Christian as well as a fine NT scholar. But, because of the hysterical headlines, they’re having to spend a lot of time correcting and re-assuring. Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I’m not so sure. Hysterics can be dangerous, like shouting “fire!” in a crowded theatre.

The translation choices of The Voice can be evaluated as to how effective they will be in the intended aim of trying to produce a Bible that can be engaged and understood by the average person who doesn’t go to church. But there’s no conspiracy to take Jesus out of the Bible or Christian faith. Whew! That’s a relief!

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22 Comments
  1. Jana permalink

    So why don’t you translat the whole thing, “Yahushuah (Joshua), the Annointed One.” Translating the entire thing would have been better, I believe. If you translated, “Jesus, the Christos” that would have remained accurate to keep everything in the Greek, but to mix, No, I say translate the entire thing, Yahushuah (Hebrew; which is Joshua in English) the Maschiach (which; is Annointed One in English).

    • I guess that the answer would be that “Yahushuah, the Anointed one” wouldn’t be recognized by the “average Joe/Jane” type for whom the Voice translation was prepared. Translations are always a complicated matter, with various aims and criteria to address, including the target readership.

  2. S Walch permalink

    “At the risk of being frivolous, in the UK the title “the special one” has been taken: Jose Mourinho (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Mourinho) ;-)”

    LOL

    Didn’t peg you as a football (soccer? =P) fan, Prof. Hurtado.

    I was thinking that possibly “The Exalted One” might be more in-tune with today’s English usage around the world. Pretty sure people would understand the significance of that, and even if in the Tanakh “Yahweh’s Exalted” would fit quite well.

    Personally, I think “The Anointed One” is more than adequate – the more it becomes used, the more people will become familiar with its significance in the Bible :-)

    • I am emphatically NOT a soccer/football fan (or a fan of any other “professional sport”, a term that I consider an oxymoron). As for a term to translate “christos/maschiach”, 1 Enoch refers to its messianic figure as “the Elect/Chosen one”. How about that?

      • S Walch permalink

        As anointed/chosen/servant appear to be quite synonymous in the Tanakh, again, I personally wouldn’t have a problem with christos being translated as “chosen” or “elected” one, because that certainly brings across (imo) the intending meaning of christios as a title – but due to the overtly bad reaction to The Voice translation merely translating the word into its equivalent English one, I would expect such a translation that puts Chosen/Elected instead of Christ to suffer the same reaction.

        The wrong reaction unfortunately – but The Voice translation has my backing on this one, and I encourage David Capes and his team to not back down to peer pressure from such a ridiculous outcry from ignorant persons.

        People need to stop fearing things that aren’t traditional, imo :)

  3. In the revised edition Liberating King only occurs 26 times as an explanatory gloss. All Occurrences of ‘CHRISTOS’ now are ‘the Anointed.’ our goal was to reclaim something of the titular significance.

  4. The mom permalink

    So according to the Voice Translation, I guess from now on were should not be called “Christians” but “Anointians” or “The Anointed oners”????…Just wondering !

    • Well, in earliest usage (perhaps derogatory), “Christianos” (Greek = “Christian”) likely had the sense of “Christ-adherent”, or “member of the Christ party” (cf. “Herodianoi” in the Gospels, likely for people linked with Herod). Greeks didn’t use the word “christos” as a title or name, and without some explanation didn’t get what its connotation was in Jewish and Christian usage. “Christian” nowadays is a sort of “empty” word, simply a label for people of a particular religious tradition. Recognizable in reference, granted.
      But the question the Voice translators were addressing wasn’t what people should call themselves but how to make the NT accessible to a non-religious readership. I’m myself not sure that “anointed” succeeds (does the word feature in the everyday usage of people?), but that was their aim.

    • In my understanding of Scripture “the Anointed One” is the meaning of “Christos” and don’t see why there is a problem in using the English form in a translation. As far as who we are the scriptures are quite clear that we are saints and annointed as well so “the Anointed ones” still fits, and I hope,
      is a description of who we are.

  5. Mary B. Kehoe permalink

    Isn’t the name of Jesus Christ rather important. We are to “ask” in his name, ecterera. Don’t think I should need to quote scriptures to you but ‘human one’ CEB and now ‘the anointed’ just don’t cut it for me.

    • The “name” in which people are baptized, healed, etc., in Acts is “Jesus”. “Christ” isn’t a name; it’s a title, meaning “Messiah”.

      • S Walch permalink

        Mary B. Kehoe I think has demonstrated the normal person’s understanding of “Jesus Christ”, with “Christ” being used as Jesus’ “Last name” so to speak, when the early followers of the Messiah didn’t think of it in that way at all, but simply (imo) saw it as the Greek translated equivalence of the Hebrew mashiach “Messiah” or “anointed” (which is most commonly used in the Tanakh in the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel, usually in the phrase “Yahweh’s anointed”).

        Just the curse of 400 year old translations that didn’t actually translate the Greek χριστος, but rather anglicised it into “Christ” (or more essentially “Chrift”, f being used as an s in William Tyndale’s, the Geneva’s, and pre-1630 (iirc) versions of the English Bible) being engrained into people’s heads, rather than the meaning of the title as “anointed”.

        I’m actually glad that The Voice translation has done this – it takes great courage for a translation to do something non-traditional – hopefully it’ll pave the way for more translations to be courages in this regard. Personally I’d like to see a translation that has the guts to completely remove John 7:53-8:11 from its pages; I’d especially like to see one that removes Luke 23:34a from its pages.

        With regards to how today’s people don’t use “anointed” quite so frequently, what would possibly be a good enough translation that could bring across all the hallmarks of the Hebrew mashiach/Greek christos, without betraying the underlying meaning of the word? “The Honoured one”? “The Special One”? “The Blessed One”? Thesaurus.com really isn’t helping with the word choice here =)

      • At the risk of being frivolous, in the UK the title “the special one” has been taken: Jose Mourinho (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Mourinho) ;-)

  6. S Walch permalink

    Is translating -ho christos- as “the Anointed One” really considered a “dynamic” translation of the words? Isn’t it just a -normal- translation of the words? “Christ” I thought was essentially a transliteration of the underlying Greek (although obviously removing the Greek endings (-os, -o, -on, -ou)), and not actually a translation.

    So really, people are getting in a huff because a translation is *actually* translating a word. Sounds like something to commend, rather than condemn.

    People are quite strange =)

    • We originally translated “ho christos” as “the Liberating King.” That was our dynamic translation if you will. Commentary explained the royal and redeeming aspects of “ho christos.” However, because we were also concerned with narrative and poetic flow, the frequency of the expression and the six syllables in “the Liberating King” proved long and difficult to read. So we shortened some to “the Liberator.” In the end we opted for a more literal translation “the Anointed” and glossed that in key moments with the dynamic “the Liberating King.” This way the reader gets a broader sense of the significance of “ho christos.”

  7. doug permalink

    The over use of the term “liberating king” drove me nuts.

  8. Weren’t there a lot of ‘anointed ones’ in the Old Testament though? So it wasn’t such a special title. At least much less special or unique than Christians might think that ‘Christ’ is?

    • “Anointed” (Hebrew maschiach) isn’t used as a title in the OT, but as an adjective, as in “anointed priest”. Sometime in the “second temple” period, however, in some Jewish circles the term came to be used with a special sense of an eschatological deliverer (as, e.g., in the text known as Psalms of Solomon). In the Gospels, the term is typically used with the definite article, ho christos, which = “the anointed one,” reflecting the early Christian claim that Jesus is the awaited “anointed one”, or “Messiah” (an Anglicized form of the Hebrew word).

  9. I saw people talking about this online yesterday, but they didn’t ask what translation decisions were made. They simply assumed it was some conspiracy to minimize Christ, remove angels, or demote apostles. People love a controversy, even when one doesn’t exist.

    • Brian, most people who commented had never seen the translation. They were responding to the CNN interview on Tuesday and the USA Today article on Monday. A Bible translation that leaves out Jesus is sure to generate hits for them (thus revenue). A discussion on the ins and outs of translation decisions would make their eyes glaze over.

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