The language history of the bible is fascinating to me. Take any parable of Jesus, for instance. He most likely told it in Aramaic. It was written down a few decades later, usually in Greek. From there it was copied around for centuries, sometimes with minor deviations. Eventually it was translated into Latin (the Vulgate) which was pretty much the flagship translation for a thousand years. While there were partial English translations dating all the way back to the 7th century A.D., only in the last few hundred years did full English translations of the bible really take off. Today there are over 50 full English translations of the bible available at most bookstores and hundreds of websites.
Thousands of men and women throughout history have made it their life's priority to translate the bible into their native language, with accuracy and relevance. It is a monumental task.
If you've studied foreign languages, then you know that there isn't always a perfect translation for a word. Sometimes cultural concepts are buried in the word, and often those concepts get lost in translation. Today's post gives a possible example of this.
In the bible we have a copy of a letter a man named Paul wrote to a church in Ephesus. We've called the letter "Ephesians". It is a short yet deep letter full of valuable teaching to a church that was pretty solid, and wasn't facing any specific crises or issues.
To make it easier to find things in the bible, we've also assigned chapters and verses to the writings. My post today is from Ephesians chapter 4, verses 26 through 31. Paul might have called it "scroll three, lines 18 and 19".
Those verses have the word "anger" show up three times in most English translations. For example, here's what it says in the New International Version:
v. 26 -- In your anger do not sin.
v. 26 -- Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
v. 31 -- Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger.
Verse 26 implies that it's okay to be angry, just don't sin. Then it says to "not let the sun go down", or to not let the anger fester for too long. Then it says to get rid of all anger? Am I the only one confused by that? It sounds like three different things:
1) Be angry
2) Don't be angry for too long
3) Actually, just don't ever be angry
Let's try another translation. Here's the New American Standard version:
v. 26 -- Be angry, and yet do not sin.
v. 26 -- Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
v. 31 -- Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you.
The old King James version:
v. 26 -- Be ye angry; and sin not.
v. 26 -- Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.
v. 31 -- Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.
Most of those translations were very similar for those verses. How about The Message, a fairly new translation meant to put the bible in approachable, natural language:
v. 26 -- Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry,
v. 26 -- but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry.
v. 31 -- Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk.
I'll cut to the chase and tell you that if it seems like those three uses of the word "anger" are contradictory teachings, then we've missed the point. The point was written in the Greek language, to Greek readers. And while in English we usually see the same word (anger) all three times, in Greek they were three completely different words:
1) Orge (be angry) -- it can mean "a settled habit of the mind", but in this context it's not negative. It's conjugated as "orgizo", which is a permissive imperative. In other words, "Be angry" is probably a good translation, and the word here implies a righteous anger. A gut reaction to seeing evil. Do you get riled up seeing a parent abuse a child? That's orge. That's good.
2) Parorgismos (don't let the sun go down on your anger) -- irritation, bitterness or exasperation are good synonyms for this word. It's what happens when you let things fester too long. One of the main problems here is that it grows and can eventually give you a bias against whole groups of people. Example: Jenny wasn't nice to me. I didn't forgive her. I don't like Jenny. Jenny's from China. I don't like Chinese people now. I'm sure we would never judge a whole race, country, city or church based on our interaction with one person. I know I never have (blush).
3) Thumos (Get rid of all anger) -- explosive rage or revenge. This is the boiling-over type of fury often referred to as a "short fuse" or "going postal". It's not useful or beneficial. It always carries consequences to those who unleash it, and those who receive it. Not good.
So there's indeed a great teaching here from Paul. Nobody asked, but here's the Michael's Unofficial Dialect (MUD) version of the teaching:
v.26 -- Keep your anger in response to the wrong around you. Nurture it. Use it to make the world a better place.
v 26 -- Don't stay irritated at people for more than a few hours. Find a way to forgive. If you don't, your exasperations will blossom into prejudice and hate.
v. 31 -- Rage and revenge have no place in a life of grace. Stay on guard and keep them far from you.
I can also tell you that I've personally experienced all three types of anger this month. That is when the teaching truly becomes powerful -- when you can see it and apply it in your own life.
And just like that, an author who's been dead for 2,000 years reaches across time and makes me a better man. Pretty cool.