Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mark 1:1: The main issues so far

I've enjoyed the dialogue so far, including those who've commented. Let me distill the main issues yet to be resolved in translating Mark 1:1:
a. Heading or opening sentence?
b. Translation of euangelion
c. How to render the genitive: "of" or "about"?
d. Translation of Christou
a. I opt for either a heading or for the rendering "This is the beginning". Someone mentioned that this would be an "addition", but in fact good translation (and perhaps this is something others may want to argue against) sometimes needs to use different forms in order to get the same meaning. In modern English, "The beginning of" etc is simply not a sentence. It could be a heading, or it could be made plain with "This is".

b. I think "Good News" (capitalized) is the best rendering of euangelion suggested so far. It resolves the ambiguity of "gospel" and the capitalization helps to retain something of the sense of specialness in the original Greek.

c. For the sake of clarity, I agree with Wayne that the genitive should be rendered "about": "The Good News about Jesus".

d. In the comments, Sarah asks whether "Messiah" is plain enough English. On the one hand, it is hard to avoid technical terms sometimes in translating biblical Greek words, since by its very nature the Bible contains technical words for which other cultures have no direct equivalent. On the other hand, I like Kenny Pearce's suggestion of "the Chosen One". Far better than "Anointed One", and its meaning is quite plain to the modern reader.

I'm proposing this translation of Mark 1:1:
This is the beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Chosen One.
What to do with huios theou is another wrench in the works.


Blogger Steven Mitchell said...

I'm not liking 'chosen one'. 'Chosen' is way too broad an open to lots of avenues of mistranslation. 'Anointed', I can see where it may be too antiquated (I'd disagree, but I'll yield that one). My choice would be to say 'appointed one'. It's much more specific than 'chosen', more accurately reflects what 'anointed' meant to ancient culture, and implies - like anointed - that there is an office to which the MSH is chosen for.

On the other hand, Messiah may be quite clear enough. After all, anyone with a working English cultural knowledge can probably tell you what a Messiah Complex is, or what Cult Leader X means when he says he is the Messiah. On the other hand, one might argue that Mk 1.1 isn't necessarily referencing 'THE Messiah' as a title, but as the general reference term 'the Messiah'. It's a shaky argument, but I can see it.

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Pat L said...

My vote is still with Messiah. Yes, we are working toward plain English, but we can and do incorporate technical terms into plain English syntax every day. It is not undersireable to have a technical term now and then, especially when the term is one that any well formed disciple will eventually need to understand. Moreover, good writing always has some gaps that the reader must fill in, whether by intuition, knowledge of the world, or contextual clues. If some are left temporarily wondering what Messiah means exactly, that tension provides a wonderful opportunity for discovery by the reader as he or she proceeds to devour the text of Mark. If we try to demystify every single aspect of the text we will run the risk of creating a rather drab result. "Plain English" need not mean "fully understandable in all its parts upon one dragging of the eyeball across the page." A text that is that "plain" is usually insanely boring.

6:14 AM  
Anonymous sarah said...

Well, well, I'm glad to see I've stirred things up a tad...

I stand by my opinion that neither Messiah nor Christ are either plain translations or plain English.

I'm playing the devil's advocate to an extent here, as I have a very clear understanding of both words. On the other hand, it's precisely my thinking that which makes me uneasy. Those terms are culturally loaded for us, just as they would have been for the writers and readers of the New Testament. The problem I see, however, is that they can't possibly be loaded for us now in the same way they were loaded then. There is a hermeneutical question here; our understanding of those words just can't be the same as that of the original writers and readers of them. It seems to me that using Messiah or Christ infuses the verse with the additional history of all that comes after it, rather than helping modern readers get closer to the idea first recorded.

By the way, why does Messiah get to be a "technical" term any more than every other Hebrew word? The writer of Mark seemed to be able to come up with a Greek word to use -we can't come up with an English one?

For what it's worth, I like appointed one.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Kenny said...

Christ/Messiah is a "technical term" more so than other Greek or Hebrew terms because it has a special theological meaning in the original language. Mark used christos because the translators of the Septuagint used it, and thus it already had this status as a technical theological term among Greek-speaking Jews.

For my part, I actually think that Steven's "Appointed One" is better than "Chosen One", but I think it's important that it be capitalized on the same line of reasoning that has been suggested for "Good News".

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Steph Fisher said...

If you are going to include huios theou, what about "This is the beginning of the Good News about God's Chosen (or Special) One".? James Veitch's translation of the beginning of Mark (Colcom Press, New Zealand, 1994) reads "This story is an account of the good news about God present in our world through the life and death of Jesus". His translation of the New Testament does not use versification.

2:11 AM  
Blogger J. B. Hood said...

Great site, folks!

I'd say yes to Christ and/or Messiah--they are plain English, in the sense that folks are familiar with it; of course, most people need some education as to what it means. I think anointed one means a lot less to modern readers.

Here's my proposed read (momentarily sans huios theou, per your post):
"The Gospel of Jesus, who is the Messiah, begins:"

6:29 AM  
Anonymous Kenny said...

Part of the reason for my discomfort with these sorts of terms is that people are familiar with them (see here). As you say, "most people need some education as to what it means." Because the meaning that people are bringing to the text with them of these technical terms is often WRONG I propose to adopt new terminology and allow the Scripture define it internally. If we can return to terms whose meanings in our preconceptions are similar to those of the original audience, we will understand the text better. By introducing "Appointed One" we create a term with the initial meaning of "someone selected for an office" (with ambiguity as to whether that office is king, president, preacher, or whatever - this may be a weakness of this translation as the more literal "anointed one" would, in ancient Near Eastern (and especially Hebrew) culture have signified appointment as specifically a king or prophet). By capitalizing the term, we indicate that it has a special meaning in the context of the New Testament, which is built upon this foundational meaning. Thus we recreate the experience of the original audience with greater accuracy. Therefore I propose the following translation, with the inclusion of two footnotes:

"The beginning of the Good News of Jesus, the Appointed One[1], the Son of God:[2]"

[1] Gr. Christos, lit. "Anointed One," equivalent to Heb. Messiah.
[2] Some early manuscripts omit "the Son of God."

12:15 PM  
Blogger Peter Kirby said...

As plain English, I like "Chosen One" much more than "Appointed One." I have never heard the phrase "Appointed One" before in my life, but I have heard "Chosen One" several times in movies, on TV, etc.

Since anointing has little meaning in English-speaking cultures, I would go with "Chosen One" over the more literal "Anointed One."

The question to me is whether we are to translate this way consistently. It could get annoying to read any of these two-word constructions dozens and dozens of times in Paul.

Perhaps "Chosen One" when we think it is being used as a title, and "Christ" when we think it is being used more like a name than a title?

4:41 PM  
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Anonymous G.D. Grubbs said...

Are we really so far gone in our culture that we cannot recognize the word "Messiah" or "Christ" anymore? This is ridiculous. How far does someone have to "dumb down" an English translation in order for people to understand what they're reading? Is there no self-respect anymore? I'm not arguing for KJV onlyism or anything like that...just a little common sense. Is the purpose of this translation to be for children even younger than the NCV or NIrV, or is it actually for adults?

That said, English is what is being used as English, and the two titles of "Messiah" or "Christ" are in common use in English, though they did not originate in English.

11:56 PM  
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11:30 PM  
Anonymous Harold said...

More mmust be made mabiut arche which is more than "beginning" it also refers to "rule." Is there a hidden subversive agenda behind the use of arche/

10:18 AM  

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