Translation of Scripture Debate - Windsor v. Hofstetter

Translation Debate

Round 4

Response to Rebuttal

From Scott Windsor

Barry Hofstetter

Per earlier practice, I am leaving Mr. Windsor’s comments intact for convenience of the reader.  I have removed Mr. Windsor’s footnotes so as to prevent confusion with mine.

Mr. Hofstetter begins with an “exegetical/contextual analysis of the verses in question.”  This is all well and good, but exegesis is interpretive, not translative - and thus not really applicable to the subject of this debate.  Certainly, if we were arguing interpretation - then all sorts of variables open up - including even stronger argumentation for the Catholic position, but we’re debating translation - and there’s a difference.  I will, therefore, stick to the subject at hand of translation matters.  The exegesis is interesting and all, and for the most part not much different than what I accept, it’s just not part of THIS debate and therefore must be dismissed.


Mr. Windsor has in fact completely missed the point of the contextual/exegetical analysis, which was to demonstrate that there are no contextual/linguistic  grounds for the translation as rendered by the Vulgate/DRB.  He therefore has technically not responded to the arguments presented.  Those trained in biblical studies know the importance of exegesis to translation.  Understanding the text in its context is the sine qua non of accurate translation.  Exegesis is simply clarifying what the text actually says with attention to the original language and context, both literary and historical.

As we have previously seen, Mr. Hofstetter has agreed that the DRB is a viable translation of the Old Latin Vulgate (OLV) which is, in his words, “itself an ancient translation from the original languages.”  We’re really almost home with those statements alone!  With the DRB being viable to the OLV, then the heart of the debate lies with the OLV, which Hofstetter agrees is “itself an ancient translation from the original languages.”  Mr. Hofstetter argues that the OLV then is not a viable translation, at least in respect to the two verses chosen for the subject of this debate.  If the OLV can be demonstrated to be a viable translation from the original languages, then by default the DRB is viable because Hofstetter has already conceded it is a faithful/viable translation from the OLV.


Now, I’m afraid we are not “almost home.”  I have been arguing contra the Vulgate from the beginning of the debate, and including the DRB since it is a translation of the Vulgate (BTW, OL or OLV = Old Latin/Old Latin Versions in scholarship are technical terms for the Latin texts prior to Jerome’s revision).  I believe I have already demonstrated the grammatical and syntactical problems with regard to both texts, arguments which Mr. Windsor so far has not engaged directly.

Luke 1:28 Argumentation:
A manuscript which has not come up, as yet, in this debate is the Peshitta text in which we have the New Testament in the original language which Jesus and the Apostles actually spoke.  The Peshitta is and was, even prior to St. Jerome’s time, the official Scripture for the Eastern Church.  It is no surprize then that the Vulgate corresponds with this earlier Church document, which one can consider to be an “original language” since it dates back to biblical times and is in the language they spoke to one another.


Excellent call, and I have to admit that the Peshitta wasn’t even on my radar screen with regard to this.  More below, but let me point out here that it is not one of the original languages of Scripture.  The original languages are the languages of composition, Greek for the NT.  Latin, Coptic and Syriac (Eastern Aramaic, the Peshitta) are translations, and not considered “original” languages.  For exegesis and translation, we must go to the original languages.

Documentation and Comment:
The Peshitta for Luke 1:28 reads this way:

For those reading along who may not be familiar, Aramaic/Hebrew is read right to left, so this translation in English would read:

And came to her, the angel, and said to her, "Peace to you, Full of Grace, our Lord is with you blessed among women.  She. but when she saw [him] was disturbed at his saying and wondering was "What is this greeting" and the angel said to her "Do not be afraid, Maryam, for you have found grace with God.  Behold for you will receive this one..."

Demonstrating the translating of the pertinent part of this passage to “full of grace” is a viable translation of the Aramaic/Hebrew.  It also shows the text does not say that the Blessed Virgin was disturbed by the person (angel) but that when she saw him, she was disturbed at his saying and wondered, “What is this greeting?”  This is before the angel (Gabriel) reassures her, so as I have been stating all along, it is the greeting which disturbed her, and simply saying “Hey, lucky one” or “Hey, favored one” is not something to be disturbed over - but to be called, as in a name, “Hail, Full of Grace,” now that is a statement which would elicit puzzlement!  Certainly she is from and in a small town where most everyone would be known to each other and the angel is a stranger to her, but we must again not stray from the actual text - it is the greeting which disturbs her, not the stranger/angel.

As for a statement on the antiquity of the Peshitta, which we already know was in existence at the time of St. Jerome, here is some strong testimony:

"With reference to....the originality of the Peshitta text, as the Patriarch and Head of the Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East, we wish to state, that the Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in the Aramaic original, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and that the Peshitta is the text of the Church of the East which has come down from the Biblical times without any change or revision." (Emphasis not mine)

Let me repeat, from Biblical times without any change or revision!” [added emphasis mine].  Mr. Hofstetter claims that no ancient text (that he is aware of) says “blessed (are you) among women.”  Evidently he was ignorant of the Peshitta text.  I would also assert that if the Peshitta text is the text of the Church of the East, and is in Aramaic, the language which Jesus and the Apostles actually spoke, then St. Jerome would surely have consulted it as well.


While Jerome makes this claim, very few modern scholars would accept it, since we have manuscripts of the Peshitta which contain variants.  The Peshitta, as noted above, is written in Eastern Aramaic (Syriac) and so is not the same as the dialect spoken in Palestine in the first century.  Only a tiny minority believe it is the original language of Scripture.  You are correct, I was unaware that the Peshitta contained this reading.  For text critical purposes, however, versions are secondary.  It is also the case that not even all manuscripts of the Vulgate contain the reading (see scanned attachment).  There is sufficient doubt with regard to the reading even in the Latin manuscript tradition.


Speaking of ancient versions the Peshitta is not the only ancient one.  Sahidic Coptic is equally ancient, and renders kecharitômenê “her who found grace.”  It also does not have “blessed are you among women.”[1]


I have already stated that Mary’s emotional response was in part due to the unconventional nature of the greeting.  To be hailed as “favored one” would certainly cause a young girl such as Mary sufficient distress without positing a meaning beyond which the Greek bears.


As for the translation of the phrase malyat taybuta as “full of grace,” I am studying this now.  Unlike Greek and Latin (and to some extent Hebrew) I do not deal with Aramaic on a daily basis, though I studied both biblical and imperial Aramaic in seminary .  I am not sure that the phrase means exactly the same thing in Aramaic as the Latin plena gratia (which does not mean the same thing as the Greek kecharitômenê).  Jastrow lists the root MaLeY as “to be full,” but the range of meaning does not seem quite the same as the Latin plenus.[2]  The root for TaYBuTa refers to goodness or pleasure, again not quite the same as the Latin Greek charis and the Latin gratia.[3]  I offer this as tentative caution, since I have not fully studied the issues.


The Haydock Bible Commentary says this:

Ver. 28. Hail, full of grace: by the greatest share of divine graces granted to any creature. This translation, approved by the ancient Fathers, agrees with the ancient Syriac and Arabic versions. There was no need therefore to change it into gracious, with Erasmus; into freely beloved, with Beza; into highly favoured, with the Protestant translators.

Again, pointing to ancient Syriac (the Peshitta) and Arabic versions.  


As below, Haydock does not deal with any of the actual linguistic/exegetical arguments against this translation.  An argument from assertion is still an argument from assertion, even when it is published in a commentary.

Genesis 3:15 Argumentation:
Dr. Art Sippo argues almost identically to what I have written previously in this debate, let us look:

While I agree that we should be very careful about using the Vulgate for textual criticism, it is the only official Catholic translation and so it has great authority for the interpretation of the text.  For this reason, the use of "ipsum" in Genesis 3:15 is very significant and cannot be ignored.  It allows both interpretations (he or she) as being acceptable by Catholics.  But IMHO, "she" is still the only logical choice.

Re: the JPS (Jewish Publications Society) has it in verse form as follows:

I will put enmity

Between you and the woman

And between your offspring and hers;

They shall strike at your head

And you shall strike at their heel.

See what JPS does here?  To make this work they are ignoring the SINGULAR number of the verb "she shall strike" and the noun "her heel" in bar 3.  They recognize (I have pointed out) that the respective "seeds" in bar two represent collective nouns, not individual persons.  Despite the obvious grammar of the 3rd bar, they make the same mistake that everyone modern exegete makes: they CHANGE the enmity in bar 3 to enmity between the serpent and the seed of the woman even though in bar 2 it is CLEARLY enmity between their respective seeds.

I looked at this at this in depth about 15 years ago and I realized that most people are swayed on it by their prejudices and by the Masorete marks.  I am not surprised the "expert" sides with the Protestant interpretation because to him he is following the literal text.  But I submit that a more dynamic interpretation is necessary based on literary form, not on the text itself which IMHO is either corrupted (i.e., LXX & Masoretic Text) or unclear (Hebrew sans nikud).

Look, this is what the Protestants want the verse to read like:

I will put enmity

between you (A) and the woman (B)

between your (A') seed (C) and her (B') seed (D)

he (E) will strike at your (A') head

and you (A) will strike at his (E') heel.

(E) is a singular masculine pronoun in the 3rd bar which comes out of nowhere and has no referent in the earlier text.  It cannot refer to the woman's seed (D) because (as the JPS Version and Revelation 12:17 clearly show) that is a "they" not a "he".  The only single person mentioned in the first 2 bars who is opposed to the serpent is the woman.

If the author of Genesis intended there to be a "he" in the third bar who was the enemy of the serpent, this is what he should have written:

I will put enmity

between you and the woman

between YOU and her seed

he will crush your head

and you will lie in wait for his heel.

In this version, "seed" could represent a single individual and it would make sense to have bar 3 as you prefer it.  In this version, bar 2 bridges into bar 3 and justifies the currently preferred reading by switching the enmity to one between the serpent and the woman's seed.  If that were the text in Hebrew, I would support to the currently preferred interpretation of the "experts".  BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT THE TEXT OF BAR 2 SAYS!

The critical point is that bar 2 does not allow us to infer a direct enmity between the serpent and the seed of the woman.  Bar 2 only re-states the enmity between the serpent and the woman.  It does not introduce a new protagonist against the serpent.  As such there is no justification for introducing a new antagonism in bar 3.  Bar 3 is merely reiterating the same antagonism between the serpent and the woman from bars 1 & 2.

Frankly, this is so obvious to me that I fail to understand how anyone can possibly justify another interpretation.  St. Jerome and I are agreed on this and I am satisfied that we will be vindicated on THAT DAY when God will reveal everything to us.


The only way that this highly interpretive and eisegetical commentary will work is if one ignores what the actual Hebrew text says grammatically and syntactically.  Dr. Sippo (a physician, not a biblical scholar[4]) makes some elementary mistakes in his analysis.  Gen 3:15 in the Vulgate does not use the neuter ipsum,  but the femine ipsa, so I really am unsure of his initial point.  He ignores the fact that the verb is third masculine singular. He ignores the fact that the pronoun his translates the masculine pronominal suffix attached to the verb.  With regard to the JPS version, this is an acceptable translation if the noun ZeRaH, seed, a grammatically masculine singular noun, is understood as a collective, which as we have seen in earlier analysis is certainly a plausible understanding of the text.  His argument is also largely a petitio principi – if you read what he says carefully, he simply assumes the validity of the Vulgate rendering and essentially uses it as proof of his assertions.    


These errors in themselves are sufficient to discredit Dr. Sippo’s analysis of the text.  Additionally, the substance of his argument is basically  the argument from parallelism, which I showed earlier is not valid here (i.e., parallelism doesn’t always work in a one to one correspondence with the items in parallel, and that parallelism is a feature of Hebrew poetry and higher rhetorical style, such as prophetic proclamation, not narrative per se).[5]  Parallelism does not contradict the grammatical/syntactical meaning of the text, but is used to enhance it.  Also, let me point out that Dr. Sippo attempts to use exegetical details to argue for his favorite translation (though he does so poorly), which Mr. Windsor above claims (erroneously) are not part of translation.

The Haydock Bible Commentary has this to say about Genesis 3:15:

Ver. 15. She shall crush. Ipsa, the woman: so divers of the fathers read this place, conformably to the Latin: others read it ipsum, viz. the seed. The sense is the same: for it is by her seed, Jesus Christ, that the woman crushes the serpent's head. (Challoner) --- The Hebrew text, as Bellarmine observes, is ambiguous: He mentions one copy which had ipsa instead of ipsum; and so it is even printed in the Hebrew interlineary edition, 1572, by Plantin, under the inspection of Boderianus... The fathers who have cited the old Italic version, taken from the Septuagint agree with the Vulgate, which is followed by almost all the Latins; and hence we may argue with probability, that the Septuagint and the Hebrew formerly acknowledged ipsa, which now moves the indignation of Protestants so much, as if we intended by it to give any divine honour to the blessed Virgin Mary. We believe, however, with St. Epiphanius, that "it is no less criminal to vilify the holy Virgin, than to glorify her above measure."

Haydock is fine for Catholic apologetics, but highly dated when it comes to scholarship.  In round two, I cited a commentary on Genesis with much more up-to-date information.  As Haydock does not deal with the actual details of the Hebrew text, his comments here do not support the affirmative position.  He argues essentially that non-extant Hebrew and LXX manuscripts prior to what we now have had a different reading of the text.  I have dealt with this in detail earlier in the debate.

I reiterate the premise of this debate.  It is not our purpose to say there are not OTHER viable translations, only that the traditional Catholic translation is viable.  I agree with Dr. Sippo, while “he” can be a viable translation in Genesis 3:15 - it makes much more sense the way St. Jerome translated it - as “she.”  Likewise, with Luke 1:28, is “highly favored” a viable translation of the word?  Yes, but in context, “Full of Grace” makes much more sense. The Vulgate, and by default - the DRB, is a viable translation.

Finding another ancient version which agrees with the Vulgate does not prove that the Vulgate is a valid translation.  It could simply mean that the same factors which caused Jerome to mistranslate were also present for the Peshitta.  In your rebuttal, you have failed to address the exegetical and contextual details against your position, and have therefore failed to substantiate the validity of the Vulgate renderings.[6]

[3] Ibid sub loc.

[5] Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry (Basic Books, 2011) covers all this in detail.  For a summary, see

[6] Just for fun, here is a translation (Lamsa) of the Peshitta on Gen 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your posterity and her posterity, her posterity will tread your head under foot, and you shall strike him in his heel”

Word Count (Not counting quoted text from Windsor): 899

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