The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
19th of May, 2013

The Eternal Zoe

In many places where the NIV translates “eternal life”, as in Romans 6:23, the word in the Greek is aionios zoe. Eternal zoe. (aionios is where we get the “æon” as a name for a long period of time). Now zoe on the other hand, has the meaning of “life”, but with more than just the implication found in English.


The work of many translations is to move the Scripture to English; the work of the Colloquial Translation will not be any different, except in one thing: it will also anglicise Koiné Greek words for which no precise-enough equivalent in English exists. This way, we can have the effect of introducing a word, plus its semantic range, and it would be learnt just as a new and complex English word is learnt.
In doing that, of course, there would still be the attempt to bring the Greek into colloquial English.

This has two important implications, if achieved. Just as sub-dialects of English show up among immigrants and other recluse communities (“Jewish English” and Iyaric, for example), we would have Koiné Greek constructions as a strong linguistic stratum, probably as a substratum. The second thing that would be achieved would be a truly faithful bastardisation of religious language, such that the prostitute and the tax-collector alike can understand, once again, that “repent” doesn’t mean what the Roman Catholics have taught for centuries; that making apology and repenting are two different things (and, in the Bible, almost polar opposites). When, instead of saying “repent” (for that word has been damaged) we say “metanoia”—which means “change of mind” and is closer to “convert” in English—with a colloquial translation, we get this >< close to having the same effect today, that we had with the Gospel in the beginning.

I think the easiest way to introduce these gospelisms into English would be to try to a true translation, and put the Greek word (in Latin script) right next to any difficult translation. Only in extreme cases would the Greek word itself be left in without any attempt to subject it to an English equivalent.
This has already happened in an inchoate way. Mark 1:1 in the NIV says “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah.” The word euagelion—literally meaning “good message”—is not left either as Greek or as official English. In official English, it would be “the gospel”. But most people think they know the gospel, and yet the message they know is not good. The message they know is the one of the law of sin and death (“the wages of sin is death”), and that is what they hear every Sunday. But that is not “the gospel”, because under the gospel Jesus gets a convicted criminal off the death sentence not once (the adulteress) not twice (Barabbas) not thrice, but … “for all who believe”. Now this is the gospel.
The NIV also goes through a lot of anguish, but finally uses “the Messiah”. The implication, in the original Greek, is that there is only one Christ, and that “Christ” is not a name but a title. So while “Jesus the Christ” would be fitting, it is decidedly not colloquial. So what better solution than to re-establish the Jewish context that mandates the the in the name; but if you re-establish the Jewish context, why do you not use the Jewish word for “the Christ”, which is “the Messiah”? And so they did, and now Mark looks more to us like it did to its readers on the day it was first read.


by The 27th Comrade, Internet Mystic, Scyfy Technologies www.1st.ug