Translation of Scripture Debate - Windsor v. Hofstetter

Translation Debate

Round One


From Barry Hofstetter

First of all, thanks to Scott for his willingness to engage in this debate.  I will be responding here primarily to his documentation and argumentation, since I fully stipulate his opening statements, and that he has fairly described the issues.  I will use a variety of resources in responding, and my arguments will primarily be from the original languages, using the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies Text for the Greek New Testament, and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia for the Hebrew Old Testament.  References will include, but not be limited to, the Brown-Driver-Biggs Hebrew lexicon (BDB) and Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich (BDAG) lexicon for the New Testament.  I will document all sources using online citations where possible.  I will use slightly modified standard transliteration in citing Greek and Hebrew words.

Genesis 3:15

Mr. Windsor’s arguments from the Hebrew text here demonstrate an inadequate knowledge of how grammatical gender works in the language.  He has also misidentified the actual translation issue. 

Grammatical Gender

Just for a quick review, English distinguishes gender with regard to personal nouns, men/women and so forth.  We often do this for pets, or for personified objects such as ships.  For everything else, we use the impersonal pronoun “it.”  Other languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin among them, have the quality of grammatical gender.  A noun in Greek or Latin may be masculine, feminine, or neuter.  Hebrew has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine.  What’s important to remember is that this has nothing to do with the actual gender of the object – it’s strictly a grammatical category (some beginning textbooks attempt to avoid using this traditional distinction, calling masculine nouns “a class,” feminine nouns “b class,” and neuter nouns “c class,” but the terminology is literally ancient).  My favorite example is the word spirit.  The Greek is pneuma, a neuter noun.  The Hebrew is ruach,  a feminine noun, and the Latin is spiritus, a masculine noun.  It’s important to realize that this grammatical category makes no difference to the meaning of the noun whatsoever.  In terms of translation we look to the meaning of the noun to supply the appropriate pronoun in English.  If the noun is truly personal, the translator must provide a personal pronoun.  If the noun is impersonal, we use the impersonal pronoun. 

Now what this means is that that the grammatical gender of (aQeB, heel, has nothing to do whatsoever with whose heel the serpent “is lying in wait for.”  It’s simply the normal gender for the word, i.e, there is no masculine form of the word.  Hebrew does have a gender determined  possessive suffix which identifies to whom an object belongs, but the author does not use that suffix here, instead assuming that his readers will understand the possessor from context.  Since not using a possessive pronoun in other languages often sounds awkward or even unintelligible, the ancient translations (The Septuagint and Jerome’s Vulgate) supplied a pronoun in Greek and Latin to make it understandable to readers of those languages.

Actual Translation Issue

The real translation issue is therefore not the gender of the word “heel,” but the gender of the subject of the verb “crush” and therefore the gender of the pronoun which must be supplied for “heel” in the translations.  Hebrew provides a pronoun as the subject, H)U, which in earlier Hebrew can be translated either he or she in context.  What helps us here is the verb, YiShUPKa, from YaSaP.  Hebrew finite verbs (verbs with personal subjects), unlike Latin and Greek, are gender qualified.  Here the verb is third masculine singular, meaning that the subject is considered masculine in grammatical gender.  What could be the antecedent, therefore, of the pronoun?  The only candidate is ZeRaH, “seed, offspring” which is a masculine noun.

What Jerome gives us, however, is the pronoun ipsa, which is feminine.  As the Hebrew text stands, this can only be a mistranslation.  Is it possible that Jerome had a Hebrew text which actually used a third feminine singular verb?  As far as I can determine, there are no Hebrew manuscripts which have the feminine form of the verb as an alternative reading.  The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation, provides the masculine/neuter pronoun autou with heel, which shows that they did not read a feminine verb either.

The variation in the KJV and the ESV with “it” and “he” is dependent on whether we understand the Hebrew word ZeRaH as the impersonal “seed,” or as the personal “offspring, descendent.” 

There is one other significant translation issue here that does not directly affect the point, but which I may address later if it becomes pertinent.

Luke 1:28

Again, Mr. Windsor shows some confusion as to his understanding of the issues regarding Luke 1:28, particularly confusing grammar/syntax with semantics.  I understand the confusion, since it is present in the source which Mr. Windsor quotes.


The verb, lexical form χαριτόω, charitoõ, is a perfect middle/passive participle (I don’t know why the article cited calls it a “present” perfect – that is not really a category used in any Greek reference grammar with which I’m familiar).  The passive voice simply means that the noun the participle modifies receives the action from an agent.  The perfect tense simply means that the action is completed in the past, often with the sense of continuance into the present, e.g., “I have written a book.”  What Mr. Windsor’s source does, however, is add the word “fully” as though this is part and parcel of the meaning of the perfect.  In fact, it’s not.  The perfect tense only refers to the completion of the action.  If there is any idea of “fully” complete, that must either be supplied by some sort of descriptive adverb, or implied by context.  It is not inherent in the syntax of the perfect itself.

Semantic Issue

Even if the context implies that the action is fully complete, that does not mean that it is proper to translate “full of grace.”  To paraphrase what I’ve written above, the perfect tense means that the action of “gracing” would be fully complete, but the idea “full of grace” is a semantic issue, an issue regarding the meaning of the word, not an issue regarding the use of the perfect.  What does charitoõ mean?  From BDAG, the standard reference for NT Greek and early Christian literature:

χαριτόω (χάρις) 1 aor. ἐχαρίτωσα; pf. pass. ptc. κεχαριτωμένος (Sir 18:17; Ps 17:26 Sym.; EpArist 225; TestJos 1:6; BGU 1026, XXIII, 24 [IV a.d.]; Cat. Cod. Astr. XII 162, 14; Rhet. Gr. I 429, 31; Achmes 2, 18) to cause to be the recipient of a benefit, bestow favor on, favor highly, bless, in our lit. only w. ref. to the divine χάρις (but Did., Gen. 162, 8 of Noah διὰ τῶν τῆς ἀρετῆς ἔργων χαριτώσας ἑαυτόν):   κύριος ἐχαρίτωσεν αὐτοὺς ἐν πάσῃ πράξει αὐτῶν Hs 9, 24, 3. τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ (=τοῦ θεοῦ), ἧς ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ God’s great favor, with which he favored us through his beloved (Son) Eph 1:6. Pass. (Libanius, Progymn. 12, 30, 12 vol. VIII p. 544, 10 F. χαριτούμενος=favored; cp. Geminus [I b.c.], Elem. Astronomiae [Manitius 1898] 8, 9 κεχαρισμένον εἶναι τοῖς θεοῖς) in the angel’s greeting to Mary κεχαριτωμένη one who has been favored (by God) Lk 1:28 (SLyonnet, Biblica 20, ’39, 131–41; MCambe, RB 70, ’63, 193–207; JNolland, Luke’s Use of χάρις: NTS 32, ’86, 614–20); GJs 11:1.—DELG s.v. χάρις. M-M. TW.[1]

Notice that “full of grace” is not a meaning cited for the word.  The closest we get is “favor highly,” but that does not mean “full of grace.”  We find the word used only elsewhere at Eph 1:6 in the NT, where no translation renders it “full of grace.” 

Luke however, does use a phrase which is fairly translated “full of grace.”  This is at Acts 6:8, πλήρης χάριτος, plêrês charitos.  John also uses this expression (e.g., John 1:14).  If any person knowledgeable in both Latin and Greek in the ancient world were asked to retrovert plena gratia into Greek, he would certainly use the phrase found at Luke 6:8, and not charitoõ.

Closing Argument

Mr. Windsor has failed to include *all of* and confused the grammatical, syntactical and semantic arguments to support his position. Properly understood, these issues actively argue against the viability of the Catholic Vulgate/DRB rendering of these texts. Mr. Windsor has therefore failed to demonstrate that they are viable translations.

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (1081). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Word Count: 1451

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