Monthly Archives: August 2013

Translating Jeremiah 1:17

In the Old Testament reading for Mass yesterday for the feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the Lectionary (NAB) translates Jeremiah 1:17 as follows:

But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; 

But if you take a look at most other Bible translations, you’ll see something different. Here I’ll use the ESV as an example:

But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.

The second line in the NAB sounds kind of nice–that God is encouraging Jeremiah positively and assuring him of his divine benevolence: “I wouldn’t leave you crushed! So don’t be discouraged.” is the message. However, the ESV (along with most other translations) reads the opposite. Here God is saying to the prophet: “Don’t let them discourage you! If you do, then I’ll personally discourage you.” It reads more as a stick than a carrot. God is basically threatening the prophet to do his duty courageously or there will be consequences. So…this brings us to the revised NAB or the NABRE, which was put out in 2011. It reads:

But you, prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Do not be terrified on account of them, or I will terrify you before them;

Here the NABRE reverts to a traditional translation and even emphasizes the severity of the threatened divine action: “I will terrify you.” This is a dramatic turnaround from the previous NAB translation which softened the message. Here the NABRE translators get it right. The message is that God doesn’t want his prophet to be spooked by the powerful people who will oppose his divine message and that if he cowers down and lets them intimidate him into silence, then God himself will step in and “terrify” the prophet in front of his opponents. It’s a kind of encouragement, a tough kind that we don’t like to give or receive, but a kind that is sometimes necessary to get us headed in the right direction.

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Editing Encyclicals

In John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, was originally published with this sentence addressed to women who have had abortions:

You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. (Section 99; hosted at EWTN)

But if you check out the edition on the Vatican website it says:

To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. (Section 99; hosted at Vatican.va)

The official Latin text, which agrees with the edition on Vatican.va, says:

Infantem autem vestrum potestis Eidem Patri Eiusque misericordiae cum spe committere. (vatican.va)

It’s not the end of the world, but it’s interesting to see papal self-editing in action. The big issue here is the fate of aborted babies (and others) who die without baptism and therefore in a state of original sin. The International Theological Commission recently did a study on this question so I won’t try to solve it here. The point is that JPII seems to have originally over-stated his case by teaching that all aborted babies were in Heaven and then edited out this statement so that it would not pre-empt the doctrinal development that is on-going. I am very curious as to how this question will eventually be resolved or if it will be.

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