Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Translation Bias in the Douay Rheims (Pt. 2)

G3341 - μετάνοια
metanoia (met-an'-oy-ah)
From G3340; (subjectively) compunction (for guilt, including reformation); by implication reversal (of [another’s] decision): - repentance.
(Taken from Strong's Greek dictionary)

Once again, the definition sounds pretty straightforward, but the meaning can get lost in translation. This is what happened with this one particular word when the Bible was translated into the Latin Vulgate by Jerome. The Latin word that μετανοια is translated into is paenitentia. Obviously, the word carries undertones of penance, and this is exactly how the Roman Catholic Church has interpreted this word. It didn't help that the Vulgate was deemed as the authoritative translation of the bible during the Council of Trent[1], and subsequently became the basis for most Roman Catholic translations up until the last century or so.

And of course, this ends up being carried over into the Douay Rheims bible, where μετανοια turns into "do penance." This mistranslation appears consistently[2] throughout the DRB:

And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
(Matthew 3:2, DRB)

Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance.
(Matthew 3:8)

John was in the desert, baptizing and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins.
(Mark 1:4)

And going forth they preached men should do penance:
(Mark 6:12)

And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins.
(Luke 3:3)

Woe to thee, Corozain! Woe to thee, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the mighty works that have been wrought in you, they would have done penance long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
(Luke 10:13)

It continues on, but you should have gotten the picture by now. It is unfortunate that a mistranslation such as this contributed to the faulty understanding of the word of God at the time, and has led to biased translation of the scriptures. It is for this reason that I always exhort people:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
(2 Timothy 2:15, NASB)

End Notes
1. Text from the fourth session of the council of Trent: "Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,—considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,—ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever." (link)
2. Well, almost consistently, anyway. I found one particular instance where μετανοια is translated correctly, and that's in Mark 1:15: "And saying: The time is accomplished and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel." Why the DRB translates the word correctly here but not in other places, I do not know, and I'm not aware at this moment of other such occurrences, so I would say that this one particular instance is an exception to the rule.

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