Friday, 4 April 2014

Love: Lost in Translation?


Today Christian Book Distributors (CBD) came through once again with yet another treasure: “Kenneth Wuest's Word Studies in the Greek New Testament.” It is a four-volume collection that includes his own translation of the New Testament that he calls “An Expanded Translation.” Until recently, I didn’t even know this translation existed.

I quickly turned to John 21 and the passage where Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me.” It’s an interesting passage in which most English translations completely miss what is really being said in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter, mostly because of our limited words for “love.” In the Greek there are three main words for our English word “love.” They are Agape, Phileo, and Eros. The first two of these appear in this text.

Agape is a form of love that is focused on giving and is completely unselfish and independent of the worthiness or merit of the one being loved. It is the way that God in Christ loves us. It is the love of John 3:16.

Phileo is probably a little more distinguishable in that from it comes our word “Philadelphia,” and which is known as in the city of “brotherly love.” It is the response of the human spirit to someone that it finds appealing or pleasurable, as in a friendship.

The third word is “Eros” from which we get our English word “Erotica.”

Back to Jesus and Peter. You know the story. They just had breakfast on the shore of the lake and Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter answers, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” But is that really the way the conversation went? No, it isn’t.

The first time He asked, Jesus said, “Peter, do you agape me?” Peter answered, “Yes Lord, I phileo you.” The second time, Jesus asked, “Peter, do you agape me?” Peter answered, “Yes Lord, I phileo you.” The third time Jesus asked, “Peter, do you phileo me?” Peter answered, “Yes Lord, I phileo you.”

This conversation is completely lost in the English. Prior to today, I have only ever found its distinction alluded to in the Amplified Bible, which is one of the reasons that I enjoy that verson so much.  But now I also see the distinction in Kenneth Wuest’s, “The New Testament: An Expanded Translation.” Notice how he deals with John 21:15-17. He writes,
Then when they had breakfasted, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a love for me called out of your heart by my preciousness to you, a devotional love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for me? Do you consider me more precious and thus love me more that these [fish]? He says to Him, Yes, Lord, as for you, you know positively that I have an emotional fondness for you. He says to him, Be feeding my little lambs. He says to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a devotional love for me called out of your heart by my preciousness to you, a love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for me? He says to Him, Yes, Lord. As for you, you know positively that I have a friendly feeling for you. He says to him, Be shepherding my sheep. He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a friendly feeling and affection for me? Peter was grieved that He said to him the third time, Do you have a friendly feeling and affection for me? And he said to Him, Lord, as for you, all things you know positively. You know from experience that I have a friendly feeling and affection for you. Jesus says to him, Be feeding my sheep.
Did you see the distinction there between Agape and Phileo? What was really being said? Hmm. Clearly there is much more going on here than the boring English, “Do you love me?” Such is the nature of the Greek New Testament; there are so many delicate shades of meaning that are simply lost in translation, and thus lost to us, which is why I am excited to delve into this new reading adventure.

Having said that, we do not need to be Greek scholars to understand the mind of God; we need simply to be His children, filled with and taught by His Spirit. "But as for you, the anointing (the sacred appointment, the unction) which you received from Him abides [permanently] in you; [so] then you have no need that anyone should instruct you. But just as His anointing teaches you concerning everything and is true and is no falsehood, so you must abide in (live in, never depart from) Him [being rooted in Him, knit to Him], just as [His anointing] has taught you [to do]." (1 John 2:27; Amplified)

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Steve Jurvetson

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