Translation of Scripture Debate - Windsor v. Hofstetter

Translation Debate

Round Two

Opening Arguments

From Barry Hofstetter

Please refer to my response in round one for my sources.  Some of my arguments in defense of the “Protestant” translation of these verses have already been presented also in that response.  I will not repeat those arguments in detail, but will review them at the end.

Thesis Statement

My thesis is simply that the translation of these verses, as found in the KJV, ESV and other standard translations, accurately reflects the Hebrew and Greek of those passages.  I will first make a general statement on the Vulgate/DRB.  I will then examine the more recent New American Bible and New Jerusalem Bible translations, and finish with a quick examination of the texts from the perspective of the original languages.


The reader of this debate should realize that the DRB is a translation not from the original Hebrew and Greek (and Aramaic where that applies), but a translation of the Latin Vulgate, itself an ancient translation from the original languages.  The DRB is a faithful translation of the Latin into English, but a translation of a translation is suboptimal.  It creates an added layer of complexity, raising the question of whether the original translator properly understood the text he was reading.  Secondly, the fact that the Vulgate is an ancient translation provides yet another difficulty.  Ancient manuscripts were not printed, but hand copied, and so there are text critical difficulties inherent in the text itself.  We also do not know precisely what Hebrew and Greek text Jerome used in preparing his translation, which makes it practically impossible to judge the accuracy of his translation against his originals.  The Vulgate is itself part of the overall witness to the ancient texts that were current at his time, but the scholar must determine the readings of those texts through retroversion (back translating).  All in all, this means simply that it is better to go the original languages in which the text was composed, and not through an intermediary translation.

Recent Catholic Translations

Since the DRB and its revisions went to press, Catholic scholarship has produced two significant 20th century translations, the New American Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible.  These translate directly from the original languages without first going through the Latin.  How do they render the texts in question?

Genesis 3:15

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel. [NAB]

I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; it will bruise your head and you will strike its heel. [NJB]

Interestingly enough, not only do these translations disagree with the Vulgate/DRB, but they disagree with each other.  The NAB sees the word translated “offspring” (lit., “seed”), ZeRaH, as a collective plural, and so renders it in English with the pronoun “they.”[1]  The NJB, on the other hand, sees ZeRaH as a singular, and so renders with the English pronoun “it.”  Notice that this parallels the KJV and ESV renderings given by Mr. Windsor in his introductory statements, although the ESV renders “he” instead of “they,” anticipating Christ as the ultimate offspring who fulfills the protevangelium.  Recent Catholic scholarship therefore witnesses against the Vulgate/DRB rendering of this verse and is far closer to Protestant translations which use the original languages.

Luke 1:28

And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” [NAB]

He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favour! The Lord is with you.' [NJB]

Apparently, the NAB and NJB translators were unimpressed with the spurious types of syntactical arguments with regard to the use of the perfect stem that Scott cited in round one of this debate.  Both these translations accurately capture the force of the Greek perfect middle/passive participle and disagree with Vulgate/DRB.

Another Translation Issue

Before I proceed to examining the passages directly from the original languages, I thought I would briefly explain the “other translation issue” of Gen 3:15 which I alluded to in my previous response.

3:15 inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem et semen tuum et semen illius ipsa conteret caput tuum et tu insidiaberis calcaneo eius  [Vulgate]

Gen 3:15  I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

The issue is the translation conteret, crush, and insidiaberis, lie in wait.  It is in fact the same verb in Hebrew, ShUP, meaning simply bruise, crush or strike.[2]  Why does Jerome render the second usage of the verb with a completely different meaning than the first?  The Septuagint does not do so, and neither does any other translation based in the original languages, including the NAB and NJB Catholic translations.  I mention this simply to show that Jerome’s translation is problematic and does not reflect the original Hebrew as we have it in the Masoretic text.

Correction to Response for Round 1

In round one, I made the following claim:

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. 

This is incorrect, and I missed something which actually strengthened my argument.  I can only plead the fact that it’s been some time since I worked extensively in Hebrew.  The possessive suffix is actually attached to the verb, and it is the third singular masculine suffix, and so must refer back to ZeRaH.  Therefore, the translators’ addition of the possessive pronoun reflects something that is actually there in the Hebrew, not simply understood from context.

From the Original Languages…

Let me now giver a quick overview of the pertinent issues from the original languages.  I am also including some exegetical commentary from published sources which are directly pertinent.

Genesis 3:15

Genesis 3:15 directly addresses God’s judgment given to the serpent.  Although there is a change of subject in vs. 16 which focuses on God’s judgment on the woman, in vs. 15 the main attention is given to the serpent.  Of special importance is the verb YiShUPKa, which is third masculine singular (and has the pronominal suffix indicating “your” head), as we have it in the critical BHS and the vast majority of manuscripts.  This indicates that the subject is ZeRaH, seed.  We also note that when the Serpent is told that he will be allowed to strike back, but not fatally, the third person masculine possessive pronominal suffix is attached to that verb, TiShUPeNU, indicating that it is his/its heel that will be crushed.

“Enmity” has the intensity of hostility experienced among nations in warfare (e.g., Ezek 25:15; 35:5) and the level of animosity that results in murder (e.g., Num 35:21). The language of the passage indicates a life-and-death struggle between combatants. “Crush” and “strike” translate the same Hebrew verb šûp (AV, “bruise”) and describe the combatants’ parallel action, but the location of the blow distinguishes the severity and success of the attack. The impact delivered by the offspring of the woman “at the head” is mortal, while the serpent will deliver a blow only “at the heel.” Continuing the imagery of the snake, the strike at the human heel is appropriate for a serpent since it slithers along the ground, while the human foot stomps the head of the vile creature.

“Between you [serpent]” has the singular pronoun (as elsewhere in the verse), meaning that this hostility begins with the beast and the woman as individuals. Yet their experience is shared by their offspring too; the serpent and woman are distinct from their offspring yet also one and the same with them. Here we have the common case where an individual represents many.204 Eve and her adversary are the progenitors of a lifelong struggle that will persist until a climactic moment when the woman’s offspring will achieve the upper hand.

This continuum of experience between parent and offspring is seen by the parallelism of the verse (v. 15b//15c): “between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” Moreover, “offspring” is the rendering of the Hebrew term for “seed” (zeraʿ), which may refer to an individual or to a group. It is ambiguous by itself since it may be singular, referring to a specific child (e.g., 4:25), or a singular collective indicating a plural progeny (e.g., 12:7; Isa 41:8). Modern versions show this by their diverse renderings, proposing singular or plural translations for the following pronouns. “Seed” is a resourceful term for speaking of all human history while at the same time permitting a reference to a specific individual descendant. This explains why the individual offspring of the woman (“he,” “his heel”) can be said to do battle with the progenitor serpent (“your head,” “you”) in v. 15d and 15e.[3]


Luke 1:28


In Luke 1:23, the key word is the perfect (middle)/passive participle kecharitômenê, from charitoô, “to show grace or favor.”  The fact that is in the perfect stem shows that the action is completed, with the consequences of that action continuing up to the present (from the perspective of the writer).  That fact that it is passive shows that the action did not result from any action of Mary’s, but comes from another source.  Any idea of “fullness” must be determined semantically and/or contextually and is not inherent in the meaning of the stem.


After the greeting, Mary is addressed as the “favored one” (κεχαριτωμένη). In this context, Mary is the recipient of God’s grace, not a bestower of it (Fitzmyer 1981: 345; Alford 1874: 446). She is simply the special object of God’s favor, much as John the Baptist was a special prophet of God.[4]


74. The Perfect of Completed Action. In its most frequent use the Perfect Indicative represents an action as standing at the time of speaking complete. The reference of the tense is thus double; it implies a past action and affirms an existing result. HA. 847; G. 1250, 3.[5]


The force of the perfect tense is simply that it describes an event that, completed in the past (we are speaking of the perfect indicative here), has results existing in the present time (i.e., in relation to the time of the speaker). Or, as Zerwick puts it, the perfect tense is used for “indicating not the past action as such but the present ‘state of affairs’ resulting from the past action.”

BDF suggest that the perfect tense “combines in itself, so to speak, the present and the aorist in that it denotes the continuance of completed action… .”

Chamberlain goes too far when he suggests that the perfect sometimes is used to “describe an act that has abiding results.” The implication that “the perfect tells you that the event occurred and still has significant results” goes beyond grammar and is therefore misleading. Even more misleading is the notion, frequently found in commentaries, that the perfect tense denotes permanent or eternal results. Such a statement is akin to saying the aorist tense means “once-for-all.” Implications of this sort are to be drawn from considerations that are other than grammatical in nature. One must be careful not to read his or her theology into the syntax whenever it is convenient. [6]






[1]  The remainder of the note is quite informative.

[2] I note that I incorrectly transliterated this word in my response in round one as YasaP.  It should be as above.

[3] Kenneth A. Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville, Broadman 1996), p. 246

[4] Darrell L. Bock, Luke in The Baker Exegetical Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, Baker 1994), sub loc.

[5] Earnest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, (Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1898), p. 37

[6] Wallace, D. B. (1999; 2002).

Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (573–574). Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software.

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