Rather everything and in all: Christ.

I am no fan of the Jerusalem Bible translation. I weep everytime I hear the Scriptures read at Mass that we have to endure this translation of a translation for years yet to come now that the plan to use the English Standard Version for our new lectionary was scuppered by the English speaking bishops around the world. And yet, it does produce in me interesting points of reflection during homilies, as I use the Universalis app to follow the mass, and that helpfully provides the Greek text for the Gospel lesson.

Since it doesn’t provide the Greek text for the other readings, however, I had to go looking on my Logos app to find the Greek text for today’s Second Reading. In particular, I was struck by the translation of Colossians 3:10-11 that was included in the JB lectionary.

This is how I grew up with it (RSV text):

[We are] being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.

Here is how it reads in the ESV:

[We] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is ?all, and in all.

Here is the JB:

[We have been] renewed in the image of its creator; and in that image there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between the circumcised or the uncircumcised, or between barbarian and Scythian, slave and free man. There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything.

I tried embedding the Greek text here, but it didn’t come out right. Literally, the last line of the text reada “but [the] all things and in all Christ.” The standard conclusion to this text in standard English translations is “But Christ is all, and in all.” Where does the JB get “There is only Christ; he is everything and he is in everything.” I can live with “Christ is everything and in everything”, but isn’t the rest – “there is only Christ” – a bit of a stretch?

It IS a paraphrase of the Greek text, that is for sure. But the more I looked at it, the more I came to think: no, that’s the sense of it, isn’t it? The force of the “but” is adversative: There ISN’T “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Skythian, slave, freeman”; RATHER (“but”) there IS Christ (with the implication that there is ONLY Christ), and he is “everything and in everything”.

So, after having a bit of a think about it, maybe the JB isn’t so bad on this text after all. It still is more of a paraphrase than a translation, but I can live with it.

My one criticism of all the English translations, however, is that they miss St Paul’s emphatic word order: his long list of what there isn’t ends on what there is: “Christ”.

Here’s my try at the last part of verse 11:

“there isn’t Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Skythian, slave, freeman; rather – everything and in all – [there is] Christ.”

I still vote for the ESV…

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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15 Responses to Rather everything and in all: Christ.

  1. Joshua says:

    “now that the plan to use the English Standard Version for our new lectionary was scuppered by the English speaking bishops around the world” – what?!

    Oh no.

    Could you explain about this? – I had thought this was all set to happen…

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I found this out from the mouth of the man in charge of it all when I was at the “Great Grace” Conference in Sydney back in June. I could hardly believe it myself. It seems that this now sets back the entire lectionary project (they had the Sunday lectionary practically ready to go), as there was no agreement on which translation they should use as an alternative. Apparently there is a sizable body of opinion simply wanting to rework the Jerusalem Bible lections… Utter madness.

      I think the “formal equivalent” translation (which is very much in line with Liturgicam Authenticam) rather than a more “dynamic equivalent” translation spooked the bishops. Also the fact that it was an Evangelical protestant translation might have worried some.

      I suspect that when people express a discomfort with a literal translation of the Scriptures, it is the Scriptures themselves they are really uncomfortable with.

      • Joshua says:

        This is terrible news. The cynic in me thinks that too many have thought that, since BXVI has toddled off to the monastery, they can slacken the pace of true and proper liturgical reform… This is so disheartening.

  2. Matthias says:

    i had a JB and decided to thow it out as i thought and still think that it is a poor version . The ESV is a great choice

    • Schütz says:

      Or at least it was…

      Perhaps we could get up a petition? (Isn’t that the way things are done in the Church today?)

      • Joshua says:

        Yes sirree! How about contact the NLM about this and/or start one up?

        • Schütz says:

          Honestly, I was not being serious. The problem is that too few people are aware of the ESV, let alone its salient qualities. To get up a viable petition, people would have to know what you are talking about. I do think you could get a petition going to use the RSV – many faithful Catholics area aware of that – but there are various reasons why we would not want to use that translation either (the ESV is closely related to the RSV but was aimed at correcting a few aspects). Others would be suspicious of the ESV for precisely the same reason some bishops are – it is a translation done by Evangelical Protestants rather than by Catholics (and of course we know that translations done by Catholics are more reliable than those done by Protestant heretics, right?). Or you could just get up a general petition for the Bishops to abandon the Jerusalem Bible and all its derivatives (such as the New Jerusalem Bible) in favour of a translation that simply applies Liturgicam Authenticam. I don’t know. It might just be easier to lobby particular bishops directly, pointing out to them the superlative qualities of the ESV.

  3. Charles G says:

    How very distressing to hear! I was looking forward to that ESV lectionary.

    • Schütz says:

      Tell me Charles, what is your experience of the ESV? Have you been using it in your personal reading and study? I have been using it to teach with for the last couple of years, and have rarely been disappointed. Even if it is not chosen for the lectionary, I will continue to recommend it to my friends and students.

  4. Charles, a commenter on my blog and yours, pointed me to you again (I confess that since you had gone so quiet for a while I stopped checking in here). I was crestfallen.

    Last year His Grace of Brisbane (then of Canberra) replied to my enquiry with a a very gracious and detailed email about the ESV lectionary, which I happily passed on (as everyone likes to be the bearer of good news). A little while back I wrote again to His Grace but have received no reply. Now I see why, though he seems to have felt able to give the bottom line verbally to you.

    The ESV lectionary ticked so many boxes: decorous and clear English, the latest scholarship, amenable to Catholic amendment where necessary, copyright flexibility, and ecumenical (though for most ecumaniacs the only ecumenism that seems to count is with liberal protestants).

    I weep at the prospect of more Jerusalem (though happily here we still use the old RSV lectionaries, but when out and about…). Unlike you I find the quoted example appalling. All mentioned of renewal “in knowledge” gone, and Christ is neither the only thing nor everything: he is the only thing that matters. To say he is “all” is quite different to saying he is “everything”. JB just sounds absurd. Here endeth my rant.

    So it seems that the reform of the reform no longer has magisterial backing, and no doubt many of the clerical Vicars of Bray will accommodate to the new circumstances. So perhaps the reform of the reform needs to become truly grassroots, truly lay-led – then we might see in action what Vatican II actually taught about the laity.

    Pope Benedict – brother, where art thou?

    • Schütz says:

      I believe that Papa Benny is at the bottom of the Vatican Gardens these days, where he is occasionally consulted! I was talking to someone today who pointed out that in many ways, Pope Benedict is more “avant garde” than his successor – there is something of the old fashioned parish priest about Francis, whereas Benedict was rather more one to push the boundaries of the tradition – at least theologically.

      Anyway, all that aside, I have to admit that I rather ambushed his Grace of Brisbane on this one and pressed him for an answer. But I do believe that he was genuinely as disappointed as we are – he knew all the benefits that you list, Father. I asked if he had done “blind tests” and he said he had. It seems that the plain language of scripture just isn’t to the liking of many of our present day heirarchs – and, judging by the reaction to the new Missal translation, many of our priests either.

      I think one of the great strengths of the ESV – where it scores over the dynamic equivalent translations and even the more modern formal equivalent translations like the NIV – is that it comes from the tradition of the Authorised Version, via the RSV (another example is the New KJV, but that isn’t as well done as the ESV). Many Catholics just do not recognise how deep an impression that tradition made upon our culture. When people recite the 23rd Psalm, for instance, there is little likelihood that they will say “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing.” No, they know that it came down from heaven as “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”. Besides being accurate, it is like Shakespeare – there is a universal memory of the text in our cultural brains – and veins.

      So sad…

      • Sometimes seizing the day and launching an ambush is quite justified, and you did well in getting at least a basic answer. At least now I know why I got no reply to my email: disappointment is sometimes best left without any voice.

        You were spot on about the culture embedding of certain parts of scripture in classic translations. Much the same can be said for the Our Father being retained in its more archaic English: it is familiar, and it is an ecumenical bridge as well. The ESV would have rested well within this cultural context.

        Pax.

  5. Jim Ryland says:

    David, give me a minute to adjust my soap box… there.

    Each of the great Abrahamic Religions has a special language reserved for the divine. Hebrew is the language of the temple, not Aramaic. The Latin of the Roman Catholic Church, mislabeled as vulgate, which predates Christianity. It is more akin to the poetic form and was deliberately adopted as the idiom of things sacred. Russian Orthodoxy uses the older Slavonic form for the Divine Liturgy and the Greek of Divine Worship is a reserved subset of the language. The Anglican Communion has the Elizabethan English that is far closer to the poetic forms of Shakespeare and Spencer than to the language of the streets of London or Melbourne.

    What sets these languages apart is that they are all evocative and utterly beautiful. The words and syntax convey so much more than any technically accurate translation could ever attain. Dynamic equivalence is simply a joke, usually told by folks with an agenda. There simply is no equivalent evocative form unless one considers oneself the equal of Homer.

    The “layout” of out Bible is somewat fixed by custom and rather recent “tradition”. It is certainly not the book ordered assembled by Constantine and is actually much closer to the earlier Alexandrine Codex. Outside of the Pentateuch, our Jewish brothers did not decide on an OT format until well into the 4th century A.D. The King James is about as Catholic as you can get in its original form. It contained the Apocrypha which some later Protestant denominations removed from some editions. The Douay is simply a translation of St. Jerome’s questionable Latin rendering. Because there were tenses and cases in both Aramaic and Greek which have no counterparts in Latin, we are left with a slightly flawed Lord’s Prayer and other bits of scripture. These are, however, priceless works of evocative and mystical writing.

    Putting scripture in common English parlance may communicate some portion of the meaning but without the spiritual impact. Holy writ is reduced to the artlessness of a Microsoft technical manual. The original ICEL Novus Ordo is a rather good example of this.

    My point is that rather than dumbing-down scripture we should be educating our congregations. The homily was originally intended for just that purpose. There is a reason that the “pulpit” was originally called an Ambo. It means a place of elevation and the intent was far broader than just lifting up the homilist.

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