It is a regular practice for protestants to take not only their hymnal but also their bibles to church with them on Sunday – although these days there are usually “pew bibles” (ie. copies of the bible in the pews already) provided. They are likely to look up the readings for the day and to read along as the lector is reading the lessons. Catholics on the other hand get everything in their missals (except the hymns, but I’m not going there just now), or at least on their bulletin sheets, so, even if they do read along with the reading instead of just listening to it (that is another question too, which we will deal with another time), they don’t really ever get the readings in context. Often too, they are not even aware of where it comes in the bible.
All that being as it is, my issue here today is that I have decided that in the future I will take my Greek New Testament along to mass, because I have become very suspicious of the tranlstion in our missal. We are stuck with the current translation – which I understand are a modified version of the Jerusalem Bible – for at least the next twelve months, when – again as I understand it – we will get a modified version of the New Revised Standard Version instead. That should be an approvement, depending on the level of modification. But it will surely be a relief to leave the JB well and truly behind.
All this is prompted by last week’s gospel, on the Pharisee and the Publican, Luke 18:9-14. Here is how the missal has it:
Gospel Lk 18:9-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
The publican returned to his home justified; the pharisee did not.
Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else, ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’
I have highlighted a word-stem that occurs three times in that story, and (in the missal) once in the short summary of the Gospel at the beginning (which isn’t read aloud). The word-stem is the Greek “dikai-/dikoi-“ stem. I am teaching Romans at the moment for Anima Education, and so my ears are very attuned to this word and its translations. The word can basically be translated in two directions, either as “righteous” or as “just”, from which we get “justification” and “justify” as well. The confusion abounds in the above translation which translates “dikaioi” in verse 9 as “virtuous” (instead of “righteous”), “adikoi” in verse 11 as “unjust”, and “dedikaiomenos” in verse 14 as “at rights with God”. For good measure, the initial summary translates “dedikaiomenos” as “justified”. Reading (or, even more, listening) to this parable told in the Jerusalem Bible translation obscures the fact that the central question of the story is: Who is “Righteous”?
And that of course, requires the preacher or homilist to explain to the assembly what “righteous” actually means – for the one thing it certainly doesn’t mean in the New Testament is “virtuous” (as suggested in this translation). It wasn’t a question for the Pharisee whether he was “virtuous” or not. The point was that he kept the Torah. And keeping the Torah demonstrated that he was among God’s elect, that is, one of the “Righteous”. Not like that other bloke over there who was one like the rest of mankind, like the Gentiles, ie. “a-dikoi”, “UN-Righteous”. (Cf. for comparison Jesus’ directions in Matt 18:17 – “treat him as you would a gentile or a tax collector”, ie. not one of the “Righteous”, not one of God’s “elect”). The surprising thing in Luke’s parable is that Jesus says it was this tax-collector, and not the Pharisee who was “shown to be Righteous” (“dedikaiomenos”). It fits amazingly well with the use of the “dikai-” stem in Paul!
But all that is obscured by the Jerusalem Bible translation. The other translations are only marginally better. The NIV uses “righteousness”, “evildoers” and “justified” (in that order), the NRSV uses “righteous”, “rogues”, and “justified”. The RSV is probably best with “righteous”, “unjust” and “justified”, but that is still obscured by the different English stems (“righteous” and “just”) to translate the single Greek stem (“dikai-“).
Of course, all this I only suspected while at Mass last Sunday. I had to wait to check it up when I got home. In the future, I will be taking my Greek bible to Church!