Reading Hebrews in the Good News Bible

8:06 AM I was reading Hebrews 1 this morning in the Good News Bible (TEV).

book jriririroiroParts of it are truly outstanding. The translators render “Thou are my Son; today have I begotten thee” as “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Great so far. And then there’s this footnote on v. 8: “or, God is your kingdom.” The text of the Good News Bible, of course, reads “Your kingdom, O God, will last forever and forever!” The confusion here stems from the Greek: Is theos nominative or vocative? The translators have taken it as a vocative (correctly, in my view), but at least they note the alternative. Good for them. But here’s what puzzles me. Notice that they begin a new paragraph in verse 4.

book hbeyeueieieThis is impossible. It contradicts the Greek text. Verses 1-4 are all one long sentence in the original. Making a new paragraph in verse 4 is just not empirically possible. It’s completely illogical — like asserting “married bachelor.” This sort of inconsistency drives me nuts. (People sometimes tell me I’m too OCD about these kinds of things but it’s part of my temperament.) I really, truly, sincerely believe we can do better. And yet, these kinds of oversights are hardly exceptional. Am I hereby trying to make a case for the study of Greek? In one sense yes. But at least you can compare other English translations before arriving at your conclusion as to the paragraph structure of a New Testament book. Again, I deeply appreciate the translators who produced the Good News Bible. When I was a teenager I literally could not put this book down. The text was readable, and the line drawings were fantastic. But our focus should always be on faithfulness to the text as the Holy Spirit inspired it — and this includes matters of syntax and structure, not just words.

Finally, as an aside, I had to smile when I realized (again) how Hebrews is placed after Philemon in our English Bibles. This wasn’t always the case. In our earliest manuscripts, Hebrews comes after Romans or between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy. (Both codex Sinaiticus and codex Vaticanus place Hebrews after 2 Thessalonians.) In other words, Hebrews assumed a prominent position in the Pauline letters at an early date. It was only in the fourth century that Hebrews began to consistently appear after Philemon. My point is that, according to the earliest manuscript evidence, Hebrews was an integral part of the Pauline collection. David Trobisch, who is an acknowledged expert in all things canonical, has argued that the placing of Hebrews after Philemon was a distortion of the original canonical edition of the New Testament. (See The First Edition of the New Testament, p. 25.)  Needless to say, these facts are not sufficiently heeded by today’s New Testament students, in my opinion.

All of this is relevant to our LXX class, because one of the earliest questions we will face is: “Which books should be included in the Septuagint?” It’s necessary to raise this question because there is no one indisputable “Septuagint” but “Septuagints” (plural). Ralhf’s edition of the LXX even contains the Song of Mary from Luke 2!

9781938434730mThink about this: If Hebrews is genuinely Pauline, this would change everything about the way we interpret Paul. Hebrews would be included in our New Testament theology books, and when we wanted to study, say, Paul’s view of church leadership, we’d have to include such passages as Heb. 13:7 and Heb. 13:17. The undeniable reality is that questions of canon and authorship matter. Of course, both sides demonize the other. Proponents of Pauline authorship are dismissed as obscurantists, while proponents of Hebrews’ non-Paulinity are accused of succumbing to the spirit of the age. But why should we tolerate this kind of judgmental divisiveness? Maybe we need another conference on campus to discuss the issue!

Anyhow, that’s my take on Hebrews for today. The fact is, all of us have biases and presuppositions. Many issues we have never personally studied. We tend to rely too heavily on the work of others. I know I do. So whether or not you espouse the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, prayerfully consider looking at the evidence yourself before making up your mind.

And do be patient with me when I chase rabbit trails.

Peace out,

Dave

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

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