August 6, 2009

"The ____ of my Father" - House, Things or People?

'Sacred space' is fine and may as well be a regular location. I think congregations of believers are supposed to claim the land and be built up as God's house on Earth for a time. But I think it's wrong for anyone to expect the Spirit of God to meet them in the same spot for decades or centuries to come. God may be pleased to blow in and out from time to time. Or he may honor constant humility with constant revival. But if you build an edifice without an exit strategy, you're expecting that building to outlast God, because given enough time, it will and it does.

I didn't bring this up just to rant but to say that I blame christendom's institutionalized mindset for the (bad) translating tradition of making twelve year old Jesus say, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?".

Simply put, there is no good reason whatsoever for inserting the word house. "About my Father's business" isn't perfect, but it's infinitely better by comparison. And while it's nice that recent major translations put this in as a footnote, isn't that backwards? Seriously, why should the editorial content go into the text? If they're so set on respecting tradition, couldn't the footnote say, "Traditional rendering: 'in my Father's house'"? But then they'd have to consider the best option - leaving it out completely.

The Greek literaly says, "Didn't you know I had to be in the [things] of my Father?" (OR "in thes of my Father" if English had a plural "the"). But I have a suggestion. Since the article is plural and can mean "among", couldn't the verse just as easily read, "Didn't you know I had to be among the people of my Father?" Maybe. Maybe "business" is safer, but it's still worth asking - if you've got to insert a word anyway, why did the translators see a building here? Why not a people? (Besides, "house" isn't even plural. The empty modifier is plural.)

Not even the Vulgate says "house"!
et ait ad illos quid est quod me quaerebatis nesciebatis quia in his quae Patris mei sunt oportet me esse
(My Latin's much worse than my Greek, but I know it doesn't say house! I think the end of it says, "I had to be among these who are my Father's." But if someone could check me on that, I'd be grateful.)

Quick story:

Jesus' question does imply his parents were surprised to find him there, and they could have found him before sunset on the second day, after walking back, if they'd gone straight to the temple. The Temple was the last place they looked. Now, they'd been in Jerusalem together for at least a week and Jesus had chances to go see the Temple, if he'd wanted Joseph to take him. Apparently, Joseph & Mary didn't think he was much of a fan.

BUT, when the festival ended and the crowds started leaving, Jesus made a bee line for the Temple courts. I'm guessing something (or Someone) told Jesus he'd find more devout folks there after the hubub was over. When you think about it, this is all as plain as day. Jesus going to the Temple one day after the festival is like going to First Baptist downtown one week after Easter. There may still be phonies but you're more likely to find real devotion.

After all, there's nothing wrong with having a regular, sacred space. ;-)

But timing can be just as important.


Peter Kirk said...

Bill, I take your point that the Greek is ambiguous. But it is indisputable that in the Old Testament dispensation, then still in force, God was considered to have a house. Jesus was not afraid to call the Tabernacle or Temple God's house elsewhere, e.g. Matthew 12:4, John 2:16. And in the context it seems Jesus was referring to a place.

Perhaps a better translation would be "at my father's", implying a location but not specifying a house.

Bill Heroman said...

I know not dispensations (necessarily) but I agree with all your points individually, Peter. Still, pulling in the word "house" seems very unjustified.

You're right about my main point, and I'll bring it up again soon in another post. However, while I was on the subject I wanted to point out the preference for "house" is a boon to the institutional agenda.

I like your suggestion, but how does "en" become "at"? And what about the plural article?

Seriously, school me, Peter. How does anyone argue the number of "tois" is irrelevant? Is that some kind of advanced grammar of which I'm unaware? Or just a common oversight, justified by precedent?

Peter Kirk said...

Well, en can very often be translated "at". It is all a matter of which preposition is preferred in a particular situation in each language. We say "in the city" when we are outside and "at home" when we are inside. "At my father's" in English implies inside his house or perhaps in his yard. I don't think Greek en necessarily implies inside any more than English "in". Anyway very likely Jesus was in a covered colonnade rather than inside a building.

But you have a point that the plural counts against the house interpretation. I would need to do some research to find out if this was a common idiom for "in the temple", or maybe "in the temple courts" (plural). This is where you need biblical languages and contemporary literature expertise as well as good historical sense.

Bill Heroman said...

I get what you're saying about the prepositions, but literal weighs over 'DE' for me, in principle. As always, I hugely appreciate your patience with my elementary linguistics, Peter. I'm gonna have to double your salary! On second thought, triple it! ;)

The collonades and courts being plural is a very good point.

Any idea on the latin?

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