Whence Devotion?

Ok.  This is what I was talking about yesterday.

I accidentally turned this morning to 2 Corinthians, instead of 1 Corinthians, and ran across this near familiar verse:  “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor 11:3).  The version I remember included the phrase “simplicity of devotion to Christ.”

Now, I’ve been King James-ing lately, mostly because I don’t want to be disturbed by textual issues when I’m trying to read devotionally.  The first Bible I read all the way through was a New King James, so I’m less likely to get hung up by a phrase I almost remember right.

(The King James tradition also happens to be the only series of Bibles left that use the Textus Receptus version of the New Testament, that is the version of the Greek text that was understood by most Christians for most of history to be closest to the original wording.  The TR today is considered more of a Textus Emeritus, retired and out of favor, replaced by the NA/UBS text, which was cobbled together by expert scholars from various alternative renderings they found in recessed archives of monasteries around the world.  The general argument seems to have been that the text that Christians didn’t read in their native Greek tongue for a thousand of years is more likely to be accurate to the original.  This is on account of the fact that Christians who read their bibles publicly together for their own spiritual good are much more likely to change the text on a whim than are scholars who need to find something new to say in order to get paid.  So there’s that.)

Anyway, the word that seems to have popped out of existence is “devotion.”  Apparently, in this case, the phrasing I remember is from the NIV or something.  So I go hunting.  Sure enough, NIV, ESV, and a host of other translations include the word “devotion.”  But not all of them, and that’s weird.  If it was a textual issue, then I would expect all the NA/UBS versions to have the word and all the TR versions to be missing it.  All the TR versions are in fact missing it, but not all the NA/UBS versions have it.

So I start looking at footnotes.  There is a textual criticism issue here, but the word in question is “purity.”  The  TR reads “the simplicity that [is] in Christ” and the NA/UBS reads “the simplicity and purity that [is] in Christ.”

So whence devotion?  That’s a translator’s decision.  Somewhere in the last hundred years, some translator thought that the phrase “simplicity and purity that is in Christ” didn’t make a lot of sense, and needed to be made more clear.  So this fine fellow added the phrase “devotion to” so that we would understand just where all the simplicity the purity comes from. It sounded nice, and so translators that followed him added it in as well, probably supposing that there was a longstanding tradition of putting it there.  And, ironically, that would be where the longstanding tradition came from.

Friends, I hope you can see the problem.  This is the gospel we’re talking about.  Where does salvation come from?  Does it come from simply Jesus, or does it come from devotion to Jesus? You say I quibble.  Very well, I quibble.  But devotion can be measured, in tears and in hours.  Jesus can’t be measured.  You say the devotion we have comes as a gift, just as faith does.  Yes, surely it does.  But is it the devotion, or the faith that saves you?  Does devotion come from faith, or does faith come from devotion?

Anything good and faithful that you want to say about this text, especially in light of the context around it, you can say better without the word “devotion.”  In fact, you have to make some pretty robust and complicated arguments if you want to convince somebody to put it in. But those arguments weren’t made, at least not in public. A Bible translator tossed it in because he wanted to be helpful.

And this is what makes me want to take people and shake them, when I hear talk about “phrase for phrase” verses “word for word” translation, or “dynamic equivalent.”  Because that’s not translation.  That’s interpretation.  Please, oh please, won’t you trust the word of God to the people of God?  Give us all the aids you think are necessary.  Guide us and argue for your convictions, but leave the interpretation to us!

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