Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 24 December 2022

Francis Young The Spectator Is Christmas really a pagan festival?

Fergus Butler-Gallie Church Times So here it is, Merry Christmas. . . but not everybody’s having fun
“Fergus Butler-Gallie speaks up for those who struggle with Christmas cheer”

John Barton Church Times And the Word was made words
“John Barton considers new translations of the familiar Christmas texts”

Church of England War, hunger, cold … and hope – bishops share their Christmas messages

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James Byron
James Byron
1 year ago

Fine piece from the ‘Spectator,’ nicely dispensing with both the puritan and neo-pagan myths about the origins of Christmas, leaving, as it says, a midwinter festival both sacred and worldly: how fitting for the feast of the Incarnation!

Kate
Kate
1 year ago

I have mellowed as I have aged. I no longer care about the origin of Christmas or the commercialism. I have learned that Christmas is simply what we make it and, for me, it is the birthday of my Saviour.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

I found John Barton’s piece very interesting. I’m familiar with some of the translations mentioned here (Peterson, Wright, Goldingay), but not others (Hart, Ruden). I especially enjoy Goldingay and Peterson. Barton might also have mentioned that the emergence of single-translator versions in the 20th C was actually the return of an old tradition (Tyndale, Wyclif, Coverdale etc.). Also, he omitted what was perhaps the most successful singe-author paraphrase of the 20th century – The Living Bible. As a young teenager, it was the version that made a Bible reader out of me. Its inaccuracies are glaring, of course (its successor,… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

I’m with Barton until the penultimate paragraph.

Surely it is for those services which bring in inexperienced potential Christians that it is most important that you use Bible readings with accessable language, and not scare them off with archaic translations which only have resonance for us pensioners.

James Byron
James Byron
Reply to  Simon Dawson
1 year ago

Are the obscure texts any less obscure in modern translations? Rarely if ever. But the poetry is gone out of it.

Tyndale, Coverdale and their successors are timeless if anything is timeless. Long may they continue.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  James Byron
1 year ago

Speaking for myself as a person who was a teenager in the 1970s, the King James Version was a closed book to me. When I heard modern translations read in church, that’s when I started paying attention. Yes, they seemed a lot less obscure to me.

Also, we know a lot more New Testament Greek now than we did when Tyndale and Coverdale did their work. We know, for instance, that καταλύματι probably means guest room, not inn.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

And “kadeshim” (2 Kings 23.7) perhaps should be translated from the Hebrew as “holy men” (from kadesh – holy) – or perhaps Goldingay’s Bible for Everyone gets it right with “hierodule” i.e. “holy servant”.

Tyndale may have poetic language, but he translates that word “male whore”. Can we let poetry and tradition be an excuse for continuing with homophobic and unscholarly, inaccurate translation? (Mind you, the NRSV is no better with “male prostitute”.)

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Simon Dawson
1 year ago

Thanks for that, Simon – I did not know that. Good learning for me. Yes. Goldingay is often very helpful.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Simon Dawson
1 year ago

P.S. The NRSVUE has changed its translation to ‘illicit priests’.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

Thanks for that, it is a hopeful sign there is movement in the scholarship here, and only a century after it was first challenged by Edward Carpenter in 1914.

I would argue that is still a mistranslation, projecting anachronistic Christian value judgements back into previous times.

The Hebrew language has words for prostitute, and for priest. So if the OT writers chose not to use those words, but to use a word meaning holy or consecrated men, why do we reject their choice when translating that word into our English Bibles?

Best wishes.

Unreliable Narrator
Unreliable Narrator
Reply to  Simon Dawson
1 year ago

The OT writers chose to use a word meaning “associated with a temple”, which it appears specifically refers in this context to prostitution as a religious activity. “Hierodule” means a servant or slave living in a temple and dedicated to the service of the deity. It’s not at all clear why this equates to “holy men”.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Simon Dawson
1 year ago

Totally agreed. My biblical quotes in my Christmas sermon were all from the New Living Translation.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

And that’s why I love Thinking Anglicans. People with diametrically opposite views on all matters Christian, contributing to debate in constructive harmony.

Best wishes to James, and Tim, and everyone else this Christmastide.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Simon Dawson
1 year ago

Agreed!

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
1 year ago

Unlike Francis Young who concentrates on the origins of Christmas, the bishops seem to see the meaning of the Season mainly in the context of high fuel bills, Putin’s wicked war, warm spaces and, much to the annoyance of Tory MPs, the ‘dream’ of despatching asylum seekers on a ‘plane as far away from Britain as possible. This is all very laudable in a Nation which will mainly ignore the CofE’ s religious teaching as being an unbelievable faery tale. Since most people’s faith doesn’t develop much beyond the School Nativity Play, it seems any attempt to make any theological… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by FrDavid H
Father Ron Smith
Reply to  FrDavid H
1 year ago

“In the beginning was The Word; the Word was with God and the Word was God…….. and The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”.

Deo Gratias! Christus natus est. Alleluia! Never was God so great as when God became so small! How blest we are!

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Father Ron Smith
1 year ago

Or, as ‘The Message’ puts it:

‘The Word was first,
    the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one…

‘The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.’

Peter
Peter
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

The twenty-fifth of December. The day of the Moon. In the year, from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created Heaven and earth, five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine; from the flood, two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven; from the birth of Abraham, two thousand and fifteen; from Moses and the coming of the Israelites out of Egypt, one thousand five hundred and ten; from the anointing of King David, one thousand and thirty-two; in the sixty-fifth week, according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter
Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

“Generous inside and out, true from start to finish”. The whole thing has a kind of American TV commercial vibe. “Mr. Clean leaves a sheen where he cleans” or “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with pepsodent”.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Rod Gillis
1 year ago

But not a bad way of explaining ‘full of grace and truth’ to people new to Bible reading (who think that ‘grace’ is something religious people used to say at meals). Sorry it rubs you the wrong way; I’ve noticed the opposite with many others. And yes – when Peterson started translating the psalms, he called it ‘The Psalms in the American Tongue.’

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

Sorry Tim, I just couldn’t resist. That translation of the prologue just cries out for a little satire. (but see below Psalms). A sense of humour about religious texts is not a bad thing. Take the legend about each of the twelve apostles contributing a sentence to The Creed, like guys sitting around a Madison Avenue office. Peter said, ” I think we need to lead with, I believe in God.” Andrew replied, ” That works, we like that one, and I think we should follow up with, The Father Almighty”. Judas (not Iscariot) riffed thusly, “Cool, and hey I… Read more »

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Rod Gillis
1 year ago

I remember watching a Hollywood movie’s translation of the Life of Christ when, during the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, one disciple turned to another and said “Somethin’ is eatin’ Jesus”

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
Reply to  FrDavid H
1 year ago

My sermon at the Eucharist of Christmas Eve focused on the incarnation of hope, from Isaiah. On endless peace, of course I referred to our sisters and brothers in Ukraine, and on justice and righteousness, to those for whom the climate emergency is a life and death matter, rather than the net zero lofty ideal we espouse. But overall, I agree: too many bishops’ sermons were political statements, more on food banks and the cost of living crisis. Perhaps a little refresher on what ‘the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this’ really means.

Last edited 1 year ago by Anthony Archer
Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

A blessed and peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone who reads and comments here, and a special thank you to our admins. See you all in 2023!

James Byron
James Byron
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

Well said, and gladly joined. A very Merry Christmas to one and all!

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
1 year ago

Merry Christmas to all!

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
1 year ago

I think Francis Young protests too much. Polytheistic cultures predating Christianity and Judaism celebrated the Winter Solstice. I believe early Christians often took over sites and dates holy to polytheistic peoples and grafted some Christian holy event on to them. Likewise with Christmas. The Gospels give no time indicator for when the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnation, occurred. I don’t know whether shepherds in the Middle East abide in the field with their flock year-round or not. Not to mention “sheep” and Jesus of Nazareth have long been interconnected. It’s symbolic. And the notion that December 25 was… Read more »

Mark
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
1 year ago

Peter, “cult” is not used in the pejorative way you assume in academic contexts: it is a neutral term (which is also how it is used in other European languages, e.g. “culte protestante”).

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
1 year ago

I am tapping this out at 1:30 am Christmas morning as the snow falls here in Nova Scotia. The Francis Young article (The Spectator) is enjoyable. However, the question is best framed as, is Christmas Christian? You bet it is. I was called out of retirement to preside and preach at a Christmas liturgy for Christmas Eve. I’ve done fill ins in retirement but this was the first Christmas liturgy I’ve done in over a decade. What a gift. The Gospel was Luke 2:1-20. In the story, the first ‘word’ we encounter is a word from a powerful man, the… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Reply to  Rod Gillis
1 year ago

Beautifully put. Rob. Good to see that, like many of us, you are still active in retirement ministry. I can’t think of any more privileged a situation. Happy St. Stephens Day. I am guessing that Blessed Stephen knew the truth of the Incarnation of Jesus, and was not afraid to tell it – through to martyrdom.

David Lamming
David Lamming
Reply to  Rod Gillis
1 year ago

Thank you, Rod, for that (for me) new reflection of the contrast between Caesar Augustus’s ‘decree’ and the ‘word made flesh” in Luke’s account of the incarnation. Happy Christmas to you (it’s but Day 3 and there are 12 days of Christmas – or, with the Epiphany season, over a whole month still to go till Candlemas!) And prayers and good wishes for all you, and family, friends and all who are enduring the current extreme weather in north America at the moment.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  David Lamming
1 year ago

Thanks David. I find those stories rich and bottomless. We were lucky weather wise here in Nova Scotia, mostly a fast moving wind and rain event locally; but the weather bomb has certainly caused and continues to cause havoc in most of Canada and the U.S. Even though we escaped the snow here, the wind caused outages and travel disruptions by sea and air. At the Christmas Eve eucharist, I included prayers for those traveling. Many families had loved ones stuck in airports or otherwise not able to travel as a result of severe hazardous weather. And yes, several more… Read more »

Peter
Peter
1 year ago

Today Christ is born in Bethlehem of the Virgin.

Today the Beginningless doth begin, and the Word becometh incarnate.

The powers of heaven rejoice, and earth is glad with mankind.

The Magi do offer presents, and the shepherds with wonder declaim.

As for us, we shout ceaselessly, crying,

 

Glory to God in the highest,  

and on earth peace,

good-will towards men.

(John of Damascus – 7th century)

A Peaceful and Holy Christmastide to one and all.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter
Charles Clapham
1 year ago

Theological/linguistic question (to provoke those with leisure time over Christmas), loosely inspired by John Barton’s piece on different translations: Why do English translations of the prologue in John’s Gospel say ‘and the Word was God’, rather than ‘and God was the Word’, as would be the case if you simply followed the word order of the Greek (kai Theos en o logos) or even Latin (et Deus erat Verbum)? My German bible, by contrast, follows the Greek word order (‘und Gott war das Wort). I was asked this question by a parishioner and have never been able to find a… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Charles Clapham
1 year ago

Charles, the following note is provided to John 1:1 in the Revised Standard Version Interlinear to The Nestle Greek Text. ” But note that the subject has the article and the predicate has it not; hence translate–the word was God.” [Translated by The Rev. Alfred Marshall D. Litt. Zondervan, eighth printing 1975] See also similar explanation, “The word was divine”, pred. wt. art., insisting on the nature of the Divine Word.” [That is the entry for that construction in: A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor. Rome, Biblical Institute Press, 1979.] There is a… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  Rod Gillis
1 year ago

That’s very interesting, Rod. Different languages have different ways of marking the subject, object etc. In English, word order is important; in many other languages, not so much. When I was working in the Arctic I discovered that in Inuktitut the object of a sentence had a suffix that marked it as such, but the common order of things was object-subject-verbs, rather than object-verbs-subject as it is in English.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

I’m thinking of all the blessed suffix types in biblical Hebrew, although for for the direct object there is a (sometimes) marker. You may be familiar with this already; but here is a link to Piqsiq’s Inuit throat singing version of, Carol of the Bells.

https://youtu.be/SW3kbdoUNgg

Unreliable Narrator
Unreliable Narrator
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
1 year ago

Normal word order in English is Subject-Verb-Object: The dog bit him. It’s not clear that the terms “subject” and “object” are the most helpful when describing Inuktitut, but if so, then SOV has been described as predominant (Allen, Genesee, Fish, Crago; 2009)

Charles Clapham
Reply to  Rod Gillis
1 year ago

Many thanks Rod, that’s the clearest explanation I’ve heard. Much appreciated!

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