Translation of Scripture Debate - Windsor v. Hofstetter

Translation Debate

Round Four

Opening Comments

From Barry Hofstetter

We have covered a great deal of interesting territory in this debate already.  Several times in his various comments, Mr. Windsor has claimed that context argues strongly for the Vulgate/DRB translation of both Gen 3:15 and Luke 1:28.  I think here it’s time for an exegetical/contextual analysis of the verses in question.  My purpose is to show that nothing in the context or the language of the texts themselves supports the Vulgate/DRB translation, and that therefore “context” cannot be used as an argument supporting the validity of the translation.  I will be using the ESV for English translation, and see my initial comments in round one for the original language texts.

Gen 3:15

Gen 3:14  The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. Gen 3:15  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Gen 3:16  To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Gen 3:17  And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; Gen 3:18  thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. Gen 3:19  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

This is the point in the narrative where God renders actual judgment on the serpent, Adam and Eve for their rebellion against God, after the classic “blame-shifting” response in the previous verses.  God begins with the Serpent, who is the main individual addressed in vs. 14-15.  There is a huge discussion in much of the commentary literature on whether or not this provides an etiology for snakes and people’s fear of them.  That is not, I think, the point of the text, except in so far as the condition of the serpent reflects God’s judgment in this passage.  The essential element is that the serpent will be cast down from his lofty position and receive the ultimate sentence of death, and death without hope of reprieve, the expected judgment in the Ancient Near Eastern context for rebellion against a king.  The destruction of the serpent comes through the hostility between the seed (descendants/descendent) of the woman and the seed of the serpent.

“Seed” can be either singular or collective plural, i.e., it can refer either to one child, all one’s children, or descendants.  In the Hebrew text, it is clearly the seed which is the subject of the verb and will crush the serpent’s head.  There is nothing in the language of the text to indicate that the seed in any way acts as an agent of the woman.  There is simply the statement that the seed will utterly defeat the serpent and so end his rebellion against the Great King.  The argument from parallelism has been raised to indicate that the woman should really be the subject of the verb, but Hebrew parallelism does not work that way.  It can also imply contrast or introduce a new subject.  It is also a feature of Hebrew poetry, not narrative text such as Gen 3.  Contrary to previous assertions, the pronoun HU), referring back to ZeRaH, “seed,” must be masculine because it is the subject of a third masculine singular verb, so that “she” is certainly not a viable translation.

Vs. 16 then changes the person addressed to the woman and God’s judgment upon her.  This judgment includes difficulty in child-bearing, a form of death imagery, pain in the very act of procreation foreshadowing the death to come.  She will also have difficulty in her relationship with her husband.  She will desire to rule him, but that desire will be defeated (cf. Gen 4:7, where sin “desires” to rule Cain).  Now it is clear that the judgment here specifically addresses Eve, the woman standing with Adam and the Serpent to receive God’s judgment.  Why would the woman in vs. 15 be Mary, and then there be a switch back to Eve in the space of one verse, without any hint from the language of the text that two different women are in view?  The context here clearly argues against the “Mary” interpretation of the text.  It’s all about Eve.

Vs. 17 reinforces this.  It concerns God’s judgment on Adam, which includes difficulty in labor.  Food that should have been abundant apart from the fall now requires hard work, and the ground itself will be hostile.  The comment about returning to dust emphasizes the fact that God’s judgment of death is upon them all.  God is addressing the historical Adam, not some distant figure, even though the consequences of the fall clearly are for the entire human race.

There appear, therefore, to be no contextual elements which support the Vulgate/DRB translation of the text.

Luke 1:28

Luk 1:26  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, Luk 1:27  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.

Luk 1:28  And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" Luk 1:29  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. Luk 1:30  And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luk 1:31  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

This text in Luke introduces the reader to the main theme of Luke’s gospel, Jesus Christ as the redeemer of his people and all mankind, beginning with the miraculous circumstances of his birth in the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel.  The background here is important.  Although Joseph is of the house of David (an allusion here to the fulfillment of prophecy, cf. Matt 1:1), neither he nor Mary appear to have any special standing in their community.  Nazareth itself has no special status among the various towns and villages of Judea.[1]  We know from later context that Joseph and Mary are poor (they offer two doves and not the more expensive sacrifice, Luk 2:24, cf. Lev 12:6-8), and are part of the laboring class, the am-haaretz, the people of the land, whom the religious classes, the scribes and Pharisees, often despised as ignorant of the law.[2]  There is nothing in the text at all that would indicate that Mary expected any sort of divine visitation.  The Scriptures present her as simply one among many young women in Judea, preparing for marriage and to take her place among the adult women of her land.  There is nothing in the text, other than the specifics words under discussion, which indicate that Mary is in any way special.  The words in the DRB and KJV, “blessed art thou among women,” do not exist in the oldest and best manuscripts, and would reinforce the actual point of kecharitômenê, and not suggest anything ontologically or inwardly special about Mary.

Mr. Windsor has stated that is the greeting which elicits emotional turmoil from Mary, and not the stranger standing in front of her giving the greeting.  Let me suggest here that it is a both/and, not an either/or.  Having a complete stranger greet a young unmarried women would in itself be unusual for the culture, and would be an extraordinary event in a small town in which practically everybody would be known at least by sight and name to everyone else.  However, this does not mean that the greeting is not disturbing and puzzling to Mary, and the text specifically points this out (vs. 29).  Naturally – this is a young lady, perhaps 12-13 years old, living a normal life in an obscure and possibly despised (by some) village, and she is greeted as “favored” with a word which, in its only other NT occurrence at Eph 1:6, connotes divine favor.  In what sense is she favored?  Vs. 30-31 make it very clear:

Luk 1:30  And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luk 1:31  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

What favor or grace has Mary received?  That she is going to be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of her people and the Son of God.  This is the extraordinary “grace/favor” which God grants Mary.  If the words of the DRB/KJB omitted in the modern versions are original (highly unlikely), then they refer to this blessing in particular.

Another way to phrase this is that the grace/favor which Mary experiences is not an inward quality which she possesses, but an external benefit which she receives.  Consider the verb again.  It is a perfect middle/passive participle in form, with the context making it clear that it is intended in the passive sense.  In the passive voice, what is modified by the participle receives the action of the verb.  There is often an agent expressed (in Greek, normally with the preposition hupo, “by” plus a noun in the genitive case, e.g. hupo theou, by God), and occasionally, as here, with the agent implied by the context.  Since God is nearly always the one to grant grace/favor, it is safe to see him as the implied agent of the verb here.

This is very different from the Latin plena gratia which could indeed be read of the possession of an inward quality.  At John 1:14, Jerome translates plenum gratiae (the adjective plenus, full can be construed either with the genitive or the ablative with no difference in sense) of Jesus, whom no one disputes possessed grace as an inward quality, but this translates the phrase plêrês charitos, and cf. Acts 6:6, where Stephen is described as plenum fide et Spiritu Sancto (“full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” but not as full of grace…).

So we must here also conclude that nothing in the context, background or specific language of the text supports the Vulgate/DRB rendering “full of grace.”

[1] John 1:46, cf.

Word Count: 1863

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