Thursday, October 27, 2011

Problems of translation (in case of Paul's letters)

Though there is no perfect translation of the Bible, we have to work hard to make a more acceptable one, not by injecting our ideology or interest but by honoring the original syntax and experience of the people in and behind the text.

I often use Rom 3:22 and Gal 2:16 as a test case for judging the quality of translation. Below are CEB (the most recent translation), NRSV, NIV (new), and NIV (old). Generally speaking, CEB and NRSV are preferable to NIVs. Even CEB and NRSV have some problems.

CEB has a nice job in Rom 3:22 by translating pistis christou as "the faithfulness of Christ" and also dikaiosyne theou as "God's righteousness" (both of which are the subjective genitive cases). But unfortunately, in Gal 2:16 the same phrase pistis christou is translated as "faith in Christ" (the objective genitive). This means there is no consistency. Perhaps this is because of the influence by the doctrine of "justification by faith."

NRSV is similar to the CEB. The good thing in NRSV is that dikaiosyne theou is translated as "the righteousness of God," which allows room for interpretation (either as the subjective genitive or the objective genitive case). In other words, the reader has to decide which genitive case he or she will read. NIV (old) is not good.

Erga nomou is translated as "by observing the law," which is not found in the text; this translation is based on a clear theological interest. Literally, the phrase erga nomou means "the works of the law" whatever it means. Again, it is the reader's job that what the works of the law means in Paul's letter. NIV (new) has it now "the works of the law" like the NRSV. That is a small improvement. But both NIV (new) and NIV (old) have a strong tendency for securing the theological doctrine of "justification by faith." For example, in Rom 3:22, both versions emphasize an individual righteousness by faith in Jesus. But this reading does not reflect Paul's concerns and theology.

Syntactically speaking, CEB translates Rom 3:22 very well and is close to my interpretation about this verse. As I wrote in my book, A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters (Cascade Books, 2011), Rom 3:22 presents a snapshot of Paul's theology lodged in three parties to effect the salvation of God: God, Christ, and people.

There are three aspects of God's righteousness, Christ's faith, and believers (followers of Jesus), who have the faith of Christ. Furthermore, "believing in Jesus" in Gal 2:16 does not mean that Jesus is the object of faith in the sense that the believer put a faith in Jesus. In fact, the preposition used there is eis, not en. Eis means "toward" or "into," a kind of movement, action, or participation.

Therefore, what is emphasized here is that we have believed into him (like participating in him). That is, we co-work and co-suffer with him. That is what the faith means. Jesus showed that faith, and we follow his faith for God's righteousness. This is what I mean the threefold theology of Paul. For more about this, see my book, A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters: Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul.
CEB (Common English Bible)
Rom 3:22: "God's righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him"
Gal 2:16: "However, we know that a person isn't made righteous by the works of the Law but rather by faith in Jesus Christ. We ourselves believed in Christ Jesus so that we could be made righteous by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law -- because no one will be made righteous by the works of the Law"

Rom 3:22: "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe"
Gal 2:16: "yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law" 

NIV (new)

Rom 3:22: "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe"
Gal 2:16: "know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified"

NIV (old)
Rom 3:22: "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe"
Gal 2:16: "know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not be observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shamanism, Exclusivism, and Christianity in Korea

"Shamanism and exclusivism" represent a typical form of conservative, fundamentalist Christianity in Korea. Yonggi Cho, founding pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church and now retired, along with fundamental pastors, stands out in this direction. He delivered a rare speech at the Buddhist Graduate School of Dongguk University, Seoul, Korea. As I hear him, his story begins and ends with a form of shamanism. After his speech, he said that each religion matters and functions on its own with a message of salvation. But later, he reversed his statement because of the pressures coming from his church.

I translated Cho's speech and interview (Q & A) because it gives us an opportunity to examine shamanism and exclusivism in Korea. His speech centered on his conversion experience and the history of his church planting. After the speech, he had a time of Q & A. Someone asked: "Do you believe that Jesus or Christianity is the only way to salvation, and that other religions are not true?" His answer was shocking to his fellow conservative Christians since he said Buddhism has its own message of salvation. Furthermore, he said, "We (Christians and Buddhists) need to coexist." Soon I heard that he corrected his position because of the pressures from his church.

Tips for Group Discussion

1) Cho's distinct theology of the threefold blessing was well marked in his lecture. As you might understand, his theology is just like saying like this: "hope, hope! blessing and blessing! now and tomorrow!" Otherwise, there is no mention of the gospel of justice or the cost of discipleship. It is a typical example of charismatic/shamanistically driven faith. But his message appealed to many poor. He told a story about one woman who says: "Here is a hell already I live now. Show me a little bit of heaven now..."

2) He also made bold statements about other religions in his lecture, especially during the interview after the lecture. He said, religion is equal and Buddhism has its own concept of salvation and therefore it should be properly recognized.

Discussion questions

Where is his theology rooted? What are some socio-political implications of his theology? Is he a shaman? How is his theology different from Shamanism? How does a shaman play in the contemporary religion or culture? Is Jesus a shaman for him?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Where does the church belong?

Where does the church belong? Most people will answer that the church belongs to Christ. But the answer is not obvious. For Paul, the church is God's. It is Deutero-Pauline letters (for example, Ephesians 4:1-17) that the church is Christ's. As for Paul, the church belongs to God (God's), not to Christ. Christ serves God. Paul's theology is thoroughly theocentric (God-centered). Only in Deutero-Pauline or Pastorals, we see clearly that the church belongs to Christ, who is the head of the church. Christ is served (for example, read Colossians 1:18 or Eph 4:1-12). How will you interpret these two different views of the church?

In Paul's letters, "the body of Christ" (soma christou) does not refer to the church. The body of Christ is, first of all, Christ's own body -- his life and death. It is a metaphor for a way of living: being Christ-like.   "You are Christ's body" may mean that you are to live like Christ. If we understand the body of Christ as Christ's body crucified, the image of this body of Christ provokes all kinds of bodies.
For more about this kind of reading of Paul's letters, see the following books:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mystery of life together

Through a little cottage
the bland, uncaring wind blows,
a candle fire wanes,
a baby sits on a sick-bed
breathing a deadly silence of peace
a brisk voice shouts:
“do you love me?”

“Do this for all”
“again, do you love me?”
“do this love for all people”
“do all, sick or healthy,
poor or rich, strong or weak, all”

Sisters and brothers,
Fathers and mothers,
“Nothing can separate us
from the love of God,”
“do you believe this, my son, my daughter?
do this love for all, my companion!”

the melting, sweet wind blows to unfreeze all,
it blows through the seasons,
in the spring —a time to wake up, a time to tell the people
of hope that God breathes into all.
only then we live together,
only then we are resurrection,
only then we find you in our heart,
in our walking,
in our dreaming,
in the desolate winter – a time to wait
for a hope yet to be realized;
a time that we realize we are nothing to be something,
in the summer—a time to sweat for our gardens
a time that we are baptized with waters all over again
a time that toil and sweat never pass away without returns,
in the fall—a time to thank God for our life here together in difference
a time that we see different colors in our gardens, hills, mountains, and forests.

My daughter!
Do you feel this power of ever-new, ever-fresh dews?
My son!
Do you feel this joy of the loving wind –
in the past, present and future seamlessly
flowing into our heart of spring,
whispering that we are one and different.

In seasons like this we feel
seasonal beauty embedded in our souls and bodies,
a sense of solidarity and diversity,
in the same glaring sun rising in Panama and in Korea,
in the same azure ocean of the Pacific in Fiji and in America,
it is the mystery of life together
the mystery of love and peace so vulnerable,
the mystery of ever-challenging differences,
the mystery of this life,
the mystery of you and me in the world.

Around the circle of bonfire
we feel it, we live it -
only then we say it enough;
enough is all, for all creation;
only then, doves and eagles fly in their sky,
together, we fly into the same sky;
only then, we feel the power of mystery of God everyday,
today and tomorrow, yesterday and today,
like an ever-flowing river we too blow.