Thursday, October 4, 2012

Christ's Body: Broken or Given? Part II

As noted in part one of this series of posts, from the historical perspective of English translations, there are three possible statements of Jesus while instituting his Supper:

1)  Jesus said "this is my body for you" with no reference to his body being "broken" or "given".
2)  Jesus said "this is my body broken for you" (not "given").
3)  Jesus did indeed say "given for you" (not "broken").

In light of the fact that there are three alternatives from which to choose, a few factors need to be discussed and settled before reaching any definitive conclusions. First, it's important to ask whether all three statements work together. If they all comport with each other, then there is no reason to dispute any of the readings. But it seems as though the answer to that question is easy to provide if one only looks into a modern translation. Luke's gospel says "this is my body given for you," which does allow some wiggle-room for Paul to say "this is my body for you." Paul just has to omit the verb "given" and then we have two verses which, in the very least, don't contradict each other. At first glance this seems to provide some agreement between Paul's words and Luke's.

But the problem with Paul's letter is that we have a variety of manuscripts which say more than just "this is my body for you", which is the reading contained in most modern translations (e.g. ESV, NIV, NASB, HCSB, etc.,). The KJV translates I Cor. 11:24 as saying "this is my body broken for you" because there are many manuscripts which contain the verb "broken". Other manuscripts containing I Cor. 11:24 say "given for you" (just like it's found in Luke's gospel), and one even says "shattered for you" (literally, "this is my body broken-in-small-pieces for you"). And so the question about the KJV translation (i.e. "this is my body broken for you") working well with Luke's version (i.e. "this is my body given for you") still needs to be asked. At first glance the answer is no. Luke says "given", and Paul, in the KJV, says "broken".  I suppose the only way to dodge that bullet is to argue that Jesus said both words (i.e. "this is my body broken and given for you"), without having any manuscript evidence to support that claim.  There simply is no manuscript evidence to support the use of both words in one statement, and so the answer to the opening question is that all three statements do not work together because, in the very least, Paul's statement -- "this is my body broken for you" -- does not agree with Luke's statement. This conclusion also assumes that both Paul and Luke were attempting to provide an exact quotation of what Jesus said (which is a conservative assumption).

A second factor which needs to be taken into account is the manuscript evidence itself, but that is a very broad subject in itself -- so broad, in fact, that I need to be very careful in what I present as helpful information. Most people are not interested in tedious, technical, textual information about a language that's foreign to them, and so I don't plan on discussing any of that. And if it turns out that I have to mention a little about that, I will wait until it's absolutely necessary; and when it is necessary, I plan on keeping such technical information to an absolute minimum.

Aside from whatever technical information may eventually need to be discussed, a third and far more important factor concerning the manuscript evidence is the theory of textual transmission which underlies each translation. Modern translations, such as the ESV, definitely operate with a different theory of textual transmission than older ones (such the KJV). Even though the ESV and the KJV both use a classical method of textual criticism, they do not operate with the same theory of textual transmission; and this is an important distinction to acknowledge because one's theory of textual transmission affects the selection of all available material and the trustworthiness of evidence on which to base a given text. In other words, when faced with different renderings of a given verse (e.g. I Cor. 11:24), one's theory of textual transmission affects the way in which one determines the "best" text. It also affects many attempts to identify and eliminate perceived errors that are found even in the "best" manuscripts.

But don't misunderstand my purpose in pointing out this major difference between old and new English translations. Modern translations are necessary, helpful, and very reliable. I am not an advocate of "King-James-only-ism," nor will I ever be (primarily because I actually have studied a lot of evidence pertaining to its viability as a theory). But modern translations are not perfect, nor are their theories about textual transmission. And this will become important to remember when we have to sort through some technical information later on in this discussion. It is not always necessary to jump on the bandwagon of belief that modern translations (like the ESV) are better than older ones (like the KJV). It is because modern translations are not perfect, nor have they ever claimed to be, that we must be, in the very least, somewhat hesitant to jump on this bandwagon.

But we still need to ask, in what way does one's theory of textual transmission affect the translation of Paul's letter to the Corinthians?

If a modern theory proposes that the manuscripts transmitted to the translation committee of the KJV were not "trustworthy", then that affects one's assumption about it's authenticity. And when we finally need to sort through some of the technical information at a later time, presumptions about the authenticity of the text which underlies the KJV seems to be a very important factor underlying the omission of the word "broken" in modern translations of I Cor. 11:24. If the KJV used manuscripts that are presumed to lack authenticity, and those manuscripts say "this is my body broken for you," then that presumption theoretically helps narrow the "likelihood" of what Paul actually wrote. In other words, it makes the job of modern translators that much easier if they can discard hundreds of manuscripts which are presumed to lack authenticity.

But there is another factor to consider when deciphering a text's authenticity (or lack thereof): the factor of theological contradictions. This too plays a part in the textual dispute of I Cor. 11:24. Wouldn't Paul's statement, "this is my body broken for you" contradict John's statement that Jesus' bones were not broken (John 19:36)? And if it contradicts other doctrines of Scripture, is that not also evidence of a manuscript which lacks authenticity?

The factors of theological contradictions and manuscript evidence will be discussed further in the next post, but for now, I hope this helps clarify that there are a lot of important factors and hidden presumptions involved in determining differences in translations. Some translational differences are easy and simple to settle because the errors are so elementary and plain, but others still remain truly difficult. Not many remain difficult, but some for sure. What perplexes me is when textual critics and scholars notice a truly difficult text to sort through, but yet, because they are committed to advancing modern theories of textual transmission, they gloss over the difficult text -- which may be the authentic one -- and proclaim dogmatically which reading is obviously "better" and more "trustworthy". Modern theories of textual transmission allegedly sort out many of the difficulties -- even the difficult renderings found among the manuscripts of Paul's letter to the Corinthians.

  • But does anyone seriously believe that the modern theories of textual transmission are inerrant
  • Is it possible that Paul actually said "broken," and modern translations of I Cor. 11:24 have made a mistake by omitting the word "broken" from the text? 
  • Is there really a contradiction to be found in Paul's statement if the word "broken" remains?
  • And is it necessary, or even essential in this discussion, to assume that both Paul and Luke were attempting to provide an exact quotation of what Jesus said?

In following posts, I plan on discussing a few important assumptions, as well as the alleged theological contradictions of I Cor. 11:24. But I promise to keep the technicalities to an absolute minimum.

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