Clunky Rom 1:8-17 – The translational issues get real

In this passage we start to deal with some of the nitty-gritty problems of translating Romans, particularly what to with words with the roots δικ- and  πιστ-. For δικ-, do you choose to consistently use English words with the right– root or the just– root? Or do you switch back and forth depending on the context?

Similarly with πιστ-, do you choose faith, trust, belief/believe? Particularly, what about πιστις? Faith? Faithfulness? Belief? Trust? Trustworthiness? Or interestingly, the option noted in LSJ (p. 1408 or here ) of “that which gives confidence: hence…means of persuasion, argument, proof.” Given the interest in the last few decades in Paul’s use of rhetoric and its importance for understanding his letters, it seems surprising that we have not heard more about this use of πιστις and its potential for illuminating what Paul is trying to say.

The upshot of these issues for the task at hand is that I have included a limited set of the variety of possible options for these important terms separated with virgules. While this is exceptionally clunky (you were warned!), there is no other way I can think of to keep students mindful of, say, the dual sense of righteous (religious) + just (legal/secular) present in the word δικαιος.

Note: implied elements or alternate ways of saying things (e.g., “barbarians” for “non-Greeks”) are set in brackets.

Romans 1:8-17

8 First, I thank my God for you all through Jesus the anointed one because your faith/belief is proclaimed in the whole cosmos 9 for my witness is the God whom I worship in my spirit in the great-announcement of his son, how I make remembrance of you all unceasingly, 10 always in my prayers mentioning if somehow at some time I might be put in the right way in the will of God to come to you, 11 for I am longing to see you in order that I might pass on [to you all] a spiritual gift-of-favor unto you being made firm, 12 and this is, to be encouraged together among you, through your faith/belief and mine, among one another. 13 But I do not want you to be unknowing, siblings, that many times I publicly displayed/made known [my desire] to come to you in order that I might reap some fruit among you just as also among the other non-Jews [Gentiles]—but have been hindered until now. 14 To the Greeks and non-Greeks [“barbarians”], to the wise and to the mindless, I am a debtor. 15 Just so, I am eager to give-the-great-announcement also to you in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the great-announcement, for it is the power of God unto deliverance for all those believing/trusting, for the Jew first and for the Greek. 17 For the righteousness/justice of God in him is revealed, from faith/belief/trust unto faith/belief/trust, just as it is written, “The one who is righteous/just from believing/trusting will live.” [Hab. 2:4]

A new translation of Romans–awkward, clunky, and (hopefully) very helpful

As some of you know, I have started on a project of translating Romans.

“For God’s sake, why do we need another translation of any of the books of the Bible, much less Romans, a book that has been studied almost to death?” I hear the universe call out.

My reasons have to do with trying to teach NT to undergrads who have no Greek. There are certain goals that I have with this translation, goals that will likely result in a translation that is awkward and clunky but, I hope, also helpful.

The goals are:

1. Translate similarly-rooted Greek words with similarly-rooted English words so that students can see the connections Paul is making.
The place this really is important is with the translation of words with the δικ- root. For a term of this importance in Paul’s argument to be alternately translated with right– and just– roots (as is the common practice of English translations) is obscuring the connections that one ought to make. There are many other such verbal connections, too, however, and hopefully this translation will make it possible for English readers to trace those.

2. Translate words that have become freighted with the baggage of religious-ese in ways that make more clear their secular connotations.
Words like gospel, savior, and grace have become so spiritualized that it is very hard for students to hear them as anything other than “churchy” words. This cuts off many meanings and connotations that need to be intact.

3. Translate words indicating logical connections with appropriate force.
Much of Paul’s argument depends on the logical connections and conclusions he draws. Eliminating the connector words altogether (poor γαρ ends up in the bin a lot) or translating them with a weak, throw-away word like “So,” doesn’t help students see how Paul’s ideas hang together.

So, what does this look like? Here’s 1:1-7 for your amusement, consternation, and/or comments.

1:1 Paul, a slave of God, called to be one-sent-out/a messenger, separated out into God’s great-announcement 2 (which he announced ahead of time through his prophets in the holy writings) 3 concerning his son who was generated from the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 separated as “son of God” in power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus the Messiah, our master, 5 through whom we have received favor and sent-out-ness for the sake of his name unto the hearkening of faith in all the non-Jews, 6 in which you are, and you are the called of Jesus Christ;

7 To: all those in Rome beloved of God, holy called-ones—Favor to you, and peace from God your father and from the master, Jesus the Messiah.