Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 8/27/06.
"The ones who make peace and create shalom [are] happy (and: blessed) because they, themselves, will be called God's sons (or: will be termed 'sons of God')!" (Matt. 5:9. Translated by Jonathan Mitchell).
My thanks to Jonathan Mitchell for allowing me to use his translation of what are commonly referred to as "The Beatitudes," and to Harry Robert Fox, for his unique interpretation of how Jesus' words to the multitude affect our lives today. After reading Jonathan's translation, with its emphasis on the continuous flowing of God's gifts to us, this title came to me. I knew it referred to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Some think the location may have been on or near Mount Tabor, on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, not far from Capernaum. Thanks to the generosity of my sister and her husband, Mary and Bob Blattner, Lenny and I have been to this idyllic spot on two occasions. The first time, we sat on the grass, much as Jesus' audience must have done, and the second time, we sat on a patio of a church, which overlooks the tranquil Sea of Galilee. Both times, someone read the Beatitudes, and we feasted on the implications in them.
For the most part, Jesus' words here have been translated in the imperative mode (command form), rather than what some Bible scholars now think, which is that He actually spoke in the indicative mode (statement of what is, or what He endows us with, rather than something we have to do on our own). Since most of Christendom reads them as a command, the study note in my Bible is not surprising: "The Sermon on the Mount's call to moral and ethical living is so high that some have dismissed it as being completely unrealistic or have projected its fulfillment to the future kingdom." The commentator goes on to acknowledge that its demand cannot be met in our own power.
Before I had a chance to sit down to write this piece, we received a packet of documents from one of our readers who is currently serving a prison sentence. His message was "Stop using NIV Baptist Bible. It lies and misleads our children." He went on to say that it is a "thought to thought" translation, rather than a "word for word" translation. He shared a few examples to prove his point and then pleaded, "Jan, please consider trying to understand the difference in translation and because of such, what are you missing out on."
I confess that his childish, patronizing assumptions regarding how uninformed and naive I am about scholarly translations, irritated me in the extreme. I told Lenny that prison must be a dreadful place to work in, with all that testosterone and male ego locked up in one place with no outlet. Horrors. After grinding my teeth for a bit, I realized that yet again, God had given me a gift in this man's comments.
For the record, I earned an M. A. degree in Spanish with an undergraduate degree in English and Spanish. Therefore, I have some hands-on experience with the translation process. It is almost as much art as science, for translating from one language to another is VERY subjective. It cannot be done by computer, or other mechanical means because it involves knowledge of the grammatical structure of the language as well as the culture of the people, plus a "gut feeling" (intuitive awareness) of what the meaning is.
Benjamin Wilson, who translated the New Testament into an interlinear word for word Greek to English translation (The Emphatic Diaglott), says there are some 20,000 translation errors in the King James Version of the Bible. Among those errors which have caused many problems are the words translated hell ("Gehenna") and forever ("aionian"). I'm not going into that now, except to say that all translations have errors, because they were translated by human beings.
The NIV is no exception, so in that case, I agree with the young man who wrote to me, but I use it in writing because of the ease of understanding the meaning. Other times, I use Phillips, or Young, or the BBE, and sometimes, the King James Version gives the closest interpretation to what I have come to believe the passage says. How would I know since I haven't studied Greek? Good question.
I'll answer that with the Phillips' version of I John 2:27: "Yet I know that the touch of his Spirit never leaves you, and you don't really need a human teacher. You know that his Spirit teaches you about all things, always telling you the truth and never telling you a lie. So, as he has taught you, live continually in him." John is assuring us here that the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised His disciples, is the real translator, the only reliable method by which we know what anything means. If that weren't so, then all of us would be responsible to learn Hebrew and Greek, so we could figure out for ourselves the best way we can what God is saying to us.
In Jeremiah's prophecy, God did not promise to write the new covenant He was going to make with the house of Israel on stone tablets, scrolls, or even paper, but rather, He promised to write it on our hearts. By the Spirit, who dwells in us, and who leads us into all truth (John 16:13), we know what God is saying, if we listen to Him rather than to religion's dogmas or to our carnal minds. The result of this is, "And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:33-34).
The Bible is a progressive unveiling of truth, as John explained: "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father" (I John 2:13). Here, you have the categories of Bible readers: fathers, young men, and children. At whatever stage you are in, on your journey back home to our Heavenly Father, the Bible will speak to you on that level.
I've been walking in the revelation that God will eventually save everyone for over 35 years now. At first, it was like a grain of mustard seed, a very powerful, but tiny hope that lay dormant in my heart. Because God had planted the seed in me, there was a time when I didn't read the Bible at all, especially the New Testament, because when I did, I saw what I had been programmed to see: works rather than grace; soul power rather than Spirit power. I don't recall praying or worrying about it, but somewhere along the way, I noticed that I was seeing fresh revelation in passages which had formerly filled me with dread.
I used to read fiction, but now, all I read is the Bible, because it is the most glorious book in the Universe, and each time I pick it up, it sets me a little freer than before. And that's a wonderful gift to me, for I use scripture all the time in these essays God has called me to write, for two reasons: 1) I cannot expect anyone to believe what I say just because I say it, because I am no guru, no theologian, no expert on anything. 2) I am a woman, and sad to say, Christian men especially will often spit up rather than accept any teaching given by a woman, and not only that, but they often feel, apparently like the young man who wrote me from prison, that it is their duty to "get the little woman in line."
That arrogance still amazes me, even before it irritates me in the extreme, because I was raised to believe that men and women are equal in God's eyes. When I first met Lenny, he said in passing something about there being neither male nor female in the kingdom. I knew right then that here was a man who would not be intimidated by me. Religion has done a terrible disservice to men by binding the Apostle Paul's words regarding the place of women, spoken in context of the culture he lived in, into something that should apply today. I'll get down off that soapbox now, because that's not my emphasis today.
Going back to the word by word translation, here's the Emphatic Diaglott's version of Matt. 5:9: "Blessed the peacemakers, for they sons of God shall be called." That would be a "bare bones" rendition. Jonathan Mitchell's translation quoted in the beginning is helpful because he choose all the many permutations of meaning that you can glean from the Greek. That way, with the Spirit's guidance, the reader can get the meaning that speaks to him or her in his particular situation.
Here's another example of a translation error which has plagued the church for two millenniums: Matt. 5:30 reads, "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell" (RSV). Apparently the Muslims take that commandment literally, for if someone is caught stealing, they lop off the offender's hand. Was Jesus advocating self mutilation then? No, He was using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), crafting an illustration with which all His listeners were very familiar.
Here's The Emphatic Diaglott's rendering of the verse: "And if thy right hand insnare thee, cut it off, and throw it away: it is better for thee to lose one of thy members, than that thy whole body should be cast into Gehenna."
Jonathan Mitchell translated it this way: "Also, if your right hand is habitually a bait-stick which entraps you, at once cut it off and throw it away from you! You see, it constantly brings things together for benefit and advantage in (for; to) you folks that one of your members should loose itself away (may destroy itself; could come to be lost), so that your whole body should not go off into the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna - the city dump)." I like that because he clarifies that the hell which the church has used to terrify people up front to the altar for millenniums, is a physical location here on earth, used then as the city dump/incinerator. Located southwest of Jerusalem, Gehenna is an ordinary neighborhood today, which we drove through in 2005, but in Jesus' day, it was the place where dead bodies of people and animals and other refuse was incinerated in the fire which burned 24/7. This is why Jesus said of it "where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48).
I told them last Sunday at Medicalodge that you can scare someone into going down front at the invitation hymn, but fear never can replace love as a motivating factor or a life changing force. In fact, when you walk in fear, you have not experienced God's perfect, unconditional love in that area.
Back to the Beatitudes, traditional translations begin with the word "Blessed are the poor in spirit," the "meek," the "merciful," the "peacemakers," and so on. I began to wonder what another meaning of "blessed" might be. One dictionary I consulted gave this meaning: "made holy or consecrated; endowed with a particular quality or attribute." That excited me precisely because it infers that the poor, the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers were endowed by God with that which they were lacking. Jesus came to make men and women holy and consecrated, knowing they couldn't do that for themselves.
By translating Jesus' words into the imperative mode, making what He said a command (something we have to do for ourselves), we don't grasp the tremendous blessing He was conveying to His listeners on that mountain. His words were so unexpected, so rich and generous, so "knock your socks off," as we say today, that the crowd was brought to tears. As Harry Fox points out in his writing, "The Beatitude Experience" (See link at end), never in the history of the world has any leader blessed the poor and the sad. Usually, it's quite the opposite and the advice to them often is, "Quit whining. This is your own fault, so get up and do something to change your situation. Until you do that, don't come crying to me."
Harry also has commented that Jesus spoke implicitly, which is why God raised up the Apostle Paul to make Jesus' teachings explicit. I was playing with the word "blessed," and if you change "Blessed are the meek," to, "You meek people ARE made holy and consecrated," you get a meaning very similar to Paul's words in Eph. 1:3-6: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed (endowed) us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved."
Words are very powerful and as the young man in prison said, it is important not to put all your eggs in one basket or your faith in one translation. Lenny and I have many Bible translations, which we consult when we are researching the meaning of something. Yet in all of it, our faith is in the leading of the Holy Spirit, not in our own efforts, for every translator who ever put pen to paper will make a mistake. That's guaranteed, but nothing to fret about, because God is the One responsible for getting His Word, which is Christ, into the hearts of His Saints.
Therefore, I say, rejoice! For BLESSED ARE WE who live and move and have our being in the living God and Father of all mankind.
Father, we thank You for the Word of life Who lives in us and we in Him. We bless Your holy name for the gift of life and love and grace which You have so freely given us. Make us instruments of Your peace, bearers of the Good News, vessels designed for carrying living water to a thirsty world. In Christ we ask it, amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Jonathan Mitchell's New Testament Translation (In progress)
The Beatitude Experience by Harry Robert Fox
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 8/22/06
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/09/08.