Monday, August 13, 2007

Scripture translation problems

This morning at Mass the translation of the Gospel struck me as very odd. It was from Matthew, ch 17, the story about Jesus paying the Temple tax. Someone asked Peter if "the Teacher" (ie. Jesus) pays the Temple tax. Peter said, "Of course." Then he went to the house where Jesus was, and Jesus asked him, "Do kings of the earth take taxes from their sons or from foreigners?" Peter replied, "From foreigners," and Jesus observed, "Then their sons are exempt."

The problem is that the translation now used at Mass doesn't say sons, it says "subjects." So the question runs, "Do kings of the earth take taxes from their subjects or from foreigners?" That translation just doesn't make sense, because governments certainly tax their own citizens. I suspect that the translation was changed out of a desire to use "inclusive language," that is, non-gender specific language. Sometimes inclusive languages works, but at other times it doesn't and actually gives a wrong reading of the text.

So I checked the commentary by Fr Daniel Harrington on Matthew. The Greek word is "sons," (uion), not "subjects." It definitely is a wrong translation. The whole point of the story is that Jesus doesn't have to pay the Temple tax precisely because he is the Son of God. Christians who are joined with him share in his sonship, so they are exempt too.

By changing the translation from "sons" to "subjects," the teaching about Jesus as the Son of God is lost. This is a Christological text, and the wrong translation obscures the whole point. This is what happens when translations are dictated more by the desire to be politically correct than by fidelity to the written text.

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