Translation of Matt. 6:24-34

 

     Many of you know I’m re-translating the Gospels. Sometimes I’m simply putting in synonyms for English words, but sometimes I’m redefining them from the Greek. I am also correcting – yes, I say correcting – some of the grammar (usually in verb tense and voice) that has allowed for misinterpretation of what some of the original authors intended. It doesn’t matter whether you think it’s possible that fourth or sixteenth century translators made unintentional mistakes or not. I can substantiate every change I make. Yet it’s not my substantiation that is the real proof. The real proof is found by your heart in the recognition that it makes more sense and is in line with what Jesus taught and displayed.

     There is so much theological baggage attached to some words in the Bible that the practicality of its message is blurry. Why would anyone read a book that is not easy to understand? That’s why I’m writing a Bible study called Dry Bones: Breathing New Life into Petrified Words of the Bible. I hope it will be finished by June. The simple process of replacing an English word long used by the tradition with one of its synonyms can have an amazing effect on expanding and clarifying the meaning of a verse.

     This week’s lectionary text is about the transfiguration of Jesus in Matt. 17. I’m not there in my translation of Matthew, and it’s one of those texts that is not easily explained in this limited space of a blog. Instead, I’m going to give you my re-translation of an important text in the Sermon on the Mount that will not be part of this year’s lectionary since Lent starts a little earlier. My rendering of this text is subject to change until the day I publish my version of the Gospels. Until then, this is what I hear:

Matt. 6:24-34

     24 “No one is able to surrender to two masters because either he will slight the one and have a preference for the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other. In no way are you able to submit to God and at the same time, to an unjust system of economics based in the accumulation of riches.j

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mammon. A system where the rich dominate the poor, using unequal weights and balances. No one starts on equal ground. Jesus came to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor – a year of Jubilee – when all things are returned to balance.  “Mammon refers more to a system of meritocrity, of reward & punishment, of buying & selling; you get what you have a right to, you get what you deserve, you get what you’ve worked for.  It’s an economy of merit and achievement.” Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go.

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     25 “For this reason I am telling you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, how you will be clothed.  By no means! (not at all). The more excellent life is nourishment of the mind, and what is more excellence in the body is of the outer actions.k

     26 Fix your eyes on the birds of the air, how they sow nothing; and they don’t harvest nor accumulate into barns; yet your heavenly Father nourishes them. Are you not more important than they are? 27 Moreover, which of you by worrying is able to add one cubit to his height?

28 “And why do you worry about outer clothing? Examine closely the lilies of the field, how they increase: they don’t labor to exhaustion nor do they spin; 29 and yet I am telling you that even Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the vegetation of the field which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will not God clothe you much more abundantly, you who trust too little?

     31 “So never be anxious, saying, ‘What might we eat?’ or ‘What might we drink?’ or ‘How might we be clothed?’ 32 For all these things the multitudes seek diligently and your heavenly Father understands this of everyone. 33 Nevertheless, strive to secure first, perfect order and harmony and its purity of life, and all these things will be provided to you. 34 These things being so, don’t be distracted about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. The trouble of this day is enough.

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Is not the life more than food and the body more than clothing? is the traditional translation, and it makes good sense. However, following the Greek word definitions in the order they appear in the text, and making note of the metaphorical meanings of food and clothing, Jesus could be encouraging greater attention to spiritual development and the fruit of good works (the outer garment on the outside of people that others can see) produced by the body.

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(If you’re looking for a personal Bible study during the season of Lent, check out my suggestions for meditating on prayers based from the sermons of Martin Luther in his Church Postils.)

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