Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Translating η Βασιλεια του θεου

η Βασιλεια του θεου
The Kingdom of god: This has been the standard way of translating η Βασιλεια του θεου but the question that must be asked is if this adequately conjures up the right images and understanding when people read this phrase?

The Reign of God
If memory serves me, Witherington in his thoughtful book The Christology of Jesus, translates it this way. It is helpful in that it brings out the issue that God's reign is not geographical but rather refers to the activity of God in the life of the disciples.

The Empire of God
Patterson: The God of Jesus. While not fully pushing the counter-imperial position of Horsley's Jesus and Empire, Patterson offers us a thought provoking translation. Warren Carter's Matthew and the Margins also translates our phrase in this way because they feel it adequately brings about the counter-imperial implications of announcing "another king" namely, Jesus.

Heaven’s Imperial Rule
Funk & Hoover: The Five Gospels. Tom Wright notes that translating it this way does have the virtue of jolting or confronting a contemporary reader in a way that "Kingdom of God" has largely ceased to do. It's a creative statement and does certainly jolt the readers. But my only concern is does it conjure up the right set of images and stories that Jesus is trying to convey?

The Government of God
Storkey's book [Jesus and Politics: Confronting The Powers] is basically a polemical work from one outside the guild of New Testament scholarship but nonetheless he does have some insights to offer. His notion of translating η βασιλεια του θεου as the government of God is interesting but maybe that's not strong enough. This is possibly built on the work of R. T. France in Divine government: God's Kingship in the gospel of Mark. The striking issue for me here is that on does not have to be unquestionably loyal to a government, as Jesus demanded. While this may be the closest modern equivalent, it doesn't appear to convey the same strength that other translations convey.

Heaven on Earth
Rob Lacey has given us a fantastic slang translation in his celebrated: The Word on the Street. It's an excellent read that at times freaks this reader out as it captures in a unique way almost exactly what the New Testament writers were attempting to convey. If we embrace Matthew's notion that Heaven is a circumlocution for YHWH then this attempted modernising is well on its way to conveying what Jesus meant. If Wright is accurate in his notion that the Jews were hoping for the return of YHWH to Zion, and Jesus was embodying that claim then "Heaven on Earth" could well be a good translation. But it would probably have to be supplemented by various echoes of Isaiah's recorded promises of YHWH coming back to Zion and setting up camp on the earth, which would then weaken it's usefulness.

The Domain of God
I've not found this as a formal translation by any scholars [please alert me to any studies of those proposing this as a translation] but it does seem like a plausible offer. However it would then more likely refer to a place of ruling. But need that place be geographical? Could the place of God be where one follows God? Or is that assuming too much?
The Realm of God
This is again noted by Witherington, The Christology of Jesus, [if memory serves me. My copy is packed away in some box in NZ which makes this exercise rather difficult!] For me the weakness is that it does not contain reference to God's oversight or leadership but rather appears to make βασιλεια a place of ownership or dwelling. Would this then refer to a place where God dwells/moves/acts or the place that God owns?

The Rule/Reign of YHWH
Wright: Jesus and the Victory of God never formally offers this as a translation, however, it does appear to be the gist of what his interpretive comments suggest. This remains my favourite because I think it most appropriately conveys what Jesus had in mind in making his proclamation. It is the good in that it implies active leadership and a firm rooting in the Hebrew narrative thought world.

YHWH’s Empire
This is how I often translate it because I feel this brings together the two worlds of Roman Imperialism and 1st century Judaism(s) that many, if not most, seem to neglect. It also remains anchored in Judaism and thus this god is no arbitrary or unknown god but rather the GOD of Israel confronting pagan idolatry.

Heaven’s Regime
Depending on the connotations of the word “regime” this could be an interesting experiment to see different peoples reactions. It appears to be able to capture both the positive and negative effects of YHWH’s reign given that the Romans and many Jews were having to cede ground to YHWH’s Empire, advancing in and through the mission and message of Jesus. The anciens regimes of this world were being transplanted by both another ruler with a community of followers extraordinarily loyal to this new movement. Given our contemporary context the word may carry hints of negativity, but it does capture something of what I reckon Jesus was conveying...

This all begs the question: Should we be consistent in our translations of η βασιλεια του θεου? If Jesus used various images/metaphors and actions to redefine, redescribe & reinterpret, this apparently amorphous concept then will one consistent translation of the various passages do the gospel justice? Shouldn’t our exegetical reflections lead us to translate the passage according to it’s intended nuance in the pericope or axiom in question? This is of course interpretive, but what translation isn’t?

Lastly, I’m still uncomfortable with using the word ‘god’ to translate this phrase. Jesus was a 1st century Jewish apocalyptic prophet. What we mean by that is debateable, but what is certain from that is that he was a Jew trying to be faithful to the god of Israel, that is, to YHWH. Using a small ‘g’ for God does jolt us, but not nearly enough. In our postmodern world where semantic games are almost ubiquitous, precision and accuracy call for more helpful translations. When Jesus spoke about god, who else could he have had in mind other than YHWH, the god of Israel? Thus, should we not translate this as The Lord’s Kingdom or YHWH’s Reign. This way, the Hebrew worldview/narrative thought world is immediately evoked in a way ‘kingdom of god’ seems never to do.
Any thoughts? How do you translate this or which translation do you prefer and why?

1 comment:

eddie said...

I think Carters move to translate it as "empire" is helpful for signalling that this kingdom/reign does indeed make Caesar's null and void.

But heres the thing with translation. What are we trying to acheive? If we translate Jesus words so that the significance(s) it had for its original audience(s) becomes clear, then we are primarily seeking to be descriptive of the historial happenings. If we try translate it so that contemporary significances become clear, then we have an eye to being prescriptive for our situation.

Thus Rule/Reign of YHWH remains your favourite because it most appropriately conveys what Jesus had in mind in making his proclamation. But you often use the translation, YHWH's Empire because it highlights a neglected factor. The latter you dont use simply for contemporary meaning however.

This is an oversimplification. Can we do both at once?

And is it being faithful to the meaning and purpose(s) Jesus gave to his words when in the act of translation, we seek to give them new meaning?

I hope this doesnt confuse, as I despise the word meaning. We need more clearly defined terminology...

I think this is right on the money:
"If Jesus used various images/metaphors and actions to redefine, redescribe & reinterpret, this apparently amorphous concept then will one consistent translation of the various passages do the gospel justice? Shouldn’t our exegetical reflections lead us to translate the passage according to it’s intended nuance in the pericope or axiom in question?"

And also this is important, and im gonna see how I can incorporate it into the way I talk about Jesus and his mission/message:
"When Jesus spoke about god, who else could he have had in mind other than YHWH, the god of Israel? Thus, should we not translate this as The Lord’s Kingdom or YHWH’s Reign. This way, the Hebrew worldview/narrative thought world is immediately evoked in a way ‘kingdom of god’ seems never to do."