Friday, August 21, 2009

Translation Bias in the Douay Rheims (Pt. 1)

G4245 - πρεσβύτερος
presbuteros (pres-boo'-ter-os)
Comparative of πρέσβυς presbus (elderly); older; as noun, a senior; specifically an Israelite Sanhedrist (also figuratively, member of the celestial council) or Christian “presbyter”: - elder (-est), old.
(Taken from Strong's Greek dictionary)

The definition of the word sounds simple enough, but translation bias tends to make things less than straightforward. In particular, the Douay Rheims Bible (which has been one of the most commonly used Roman Catholic translations in the English language) presents a rather glaring example of translation bias in its treatment of the word

The word is typically translated as "ancient," which is a bit of an exaggeration since the word literally refers to older men. But then
πρεσβυτερος suddenly changes to "priest" when it is used in reference to church elders/presbyter. It doesn't even do this consistently, since πρεσβυτερος remains translated as "ancient" in other locations, such as 1 Peter. It is also noteworthy to note that αρχιερευς (high priest) occurs in some of the passages where πρεσβυτερος appears. This serves to further point out the inconsistency of the Douay Rheims' translation.

To demonstrate this, here is a table comparing for instances of
πρεσβυτερος as they appear in Acts and some of the epistles. For purposes of comparison, the Douay Rheims' translation is placed side by side with the English Standard Version and the Nestle-Aland 26th Edition Greek New Testament:


Nestle-Aland 26th Edition

English Standard Version

Douay Rheims Bible

Acts 4:5

γένετο δ π τν αριον συναχθναι ατν τος ρχοντας κα τος πρεσβυτέρους κα τος γραμματες ν ερουσαλήμ,

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem,

And it came to pass on the morrow, that their princes and ancients and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem.

Acts 4:8

τότε Πέτρος πλησθες πνεύματος γίου επεν πρς ατούς, ρχοντες το λαο κα πρεσβύτεροι,

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders,

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said to them: Ye princes of the people and ancients, hear.

Acts 4:23

πολυθέντες δ λθον πρς τος δίους κα πήγγειλαν σα πρς ατος ο ρχιερες κα ο πρεσβύτεροι επαν.

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.

And being let go, they came to their own company and related all that the chief priests and ancients had said to them.

Acts 22:5

ς κα ρχιερες μαρτυρε μοι κα πν τ πρεσβυτέριον· παρ' ν κα πιστολς δεξάμενος πρς τος δελφος ες Δαμασκν πορευόμην ξων κα τος κεσε ντας δεδεμένους ες ερουσαλμ να τιμωρηθσιν.

as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

As the high priest doth bear me witness and all the ancients. From whom also receiving letters to the brethren, I went to Damascus, that I might bring them bound from thence to Jerusalem to be punished.

Acts 23:14

οτινες προσελθόντες τος ρχιερεσιν κα τος πρεσβυτέροις επαν, ναθέματι νεθεματίσαμεν αυτος μηδενς γεύσασθαι ως ο ποκτείνωμεν τν Παλον.

They went to the chief priests and elders and said, "We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul.

Who came to the chief priests and the ancients and said: We have bound ourselves under a great curse that we will eat nothing till we have slain Paul.

1 Timothy 4:4

μ μέλει το ν σο χαρίσματος, δόθη σοι δι προφητείας μετ πιθέσεως τν χειρν το πρεσβυτερίου.

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.

Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood.

1 Timothy 5:17

Ο καλς προεσττες πρεσβύτεροι διπλς τιμς ξιούσθωσαν, μάλιστα ο κοπιντες ν λόγ κα διδασκαλίᾳ·

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Let the priests that rule well be esteemed worthy of double honour: especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

1 Timothy 5:19

κατ πρεσβυτέρου κατηγορίαν μ παραδέχου, κτς ε μ π δύο τριν μαρτύρων.

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Against a priest receive not an accusation, but under two or three witnesses.

Titus 1:5

Τούτου χάριν πέλιπόν σε ν Κρήτ, να τ λείποντα πιδιορθώσ κα καταστήσς κατ πόλιν πρεσβυτέρους, ς γώ σοι διεταξάμην,

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you--

For this cause I left thee in Crete: that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee:

James 5:14

σθενε τις ν μν; προσκαλεσάσθω τος πρεσβυτέρους τς κκλησίας, κα προσευξάσθωσαν π' ατν λείψαντες λαίῳ ν τ νόματι το κυρίου·

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

1 Peter 5:1

Πρεσβυτέρους ον ν μν παρακαλ συμπρεσβύτερος κα μάρτυς τν το Χριστο παθημάτων, κα τς μελλούσης ποκαλύπτεσθαι δόξης κοινωνός·

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:

The ancients therefore that are among you, I beseech who am myself also an ancient and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as also a partaker of that glory which is to be revealed in time to come:

As shown in here, there is obvious translation bias in attempting to read the sacerdotal priesthood into the New Testament. This is just one of the more obvious examples of translation bias in the Douay Rheims. Whenever I have the time to do so, I will make a continuation to this post, highlighting another example of translation bias.

UPDATE (August 26, 2009)

Somebody recently argued that since the DRB is based on the Vulgate, it wouldn't be right to base the accuracy of its translation on the NA26. Of course, this doesn't fly because the Vulgate consistently renders πρεσβυτερος as "presbyteros." And even if it didn't, it's not the Vulgate's rendering that matters, it's the text as it was written in the original language.

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