Fun with Dead Languages

First thing’s first: just because no one speaks it anymore doesn’t mean it’s dead.  Getting at the Greek text of the New Testament eliminates one more layer of interpretation between you and the text.  All translation is interpretation, but it’s hard to know that if you have to take a translator’s word for it.

For example, here’s a little Greek trick with earth-shaking implications.  Check out Romans 3:21-22:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

That’s the NRSV, for those of you keeping track.  This is a big theological statement!  The classic Reformed doctrine of “salvation by grace through faith” comes straight out of these verses.  But there’s more going on here than meets the eye, because the Greek phrase pisteos Iesou Christou, here translated as “faith in Jesus Christ”, is a little more flexible than most translators (especially Protestant ones) would like to allow.  Indeed, you might translate the verse something more like this:

And now, the righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the law, being attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ unto all who believe.

You see the switch?  The locus of salvation, according to this translation, is removed from the profession of faith by the believer.  Instead, it is centered in the faithfulness displayed by Jesus Christ in his work on the cross.

That changes just about everything.  And, by the way, it makes a hell of a lot more sense out of the rest of Romans.

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