On the Path

Some words in a translation are pretty much constant- one for one.  A camel is always a camel- though perhaps not in Arabic where I’m told that the words for camel rival the purported variety of Inuit words for snow .  In Nkonya, where we have no beasts of burden, the terms “afrimu”, and “landuu” circulated between donkey and camel for longer than I would have thought possible.  Eventually “afrimu” landed on donkey  and we have a rare  borrow from Ewe of a word that basically means “humped” to describe a camel.

Some words are better translated by one of  a cluster of terms, depending on the precise meaning in context.  This is true of the word “righteous”.  It  means one who does what is right or good.  But right or good by whose standards?  This has become a most flexible concept in our society. In the Bible the meter stick belongs to God and is more precise than a platinum bar, or a sodium spectral line, or even a Helium-Neon stabilized laser wavelength.

Newman’s Dictionary says: Righteous: conforming to the standard, will, or character of God; upright, righteous, good; just, right; proper; in a right relationship with God; fair, honest; innocent.

In the Nkonya New Testament the expression that we use most often in discussions of theology to describe someone who is righteous is literally, “someone who’s case lies on the road in God’s sight.”  If you have veered off the path and careened into the under brush you are no longer on the road- you are unrighteous.

I thought about wiggle room in translation this morning when I came to Matthew 9:13 in Knox’s translation.

“Go home and find out what the words mean, It is mercy that wins favour with me, not sacrifice. I have come to call sinners, not the just.”


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