Justification and Original Languages

For Paul, the Christian gospel is in some sense constituted by the revelation of the righteousness of God. But what is this tantalizing ‘righteousness of God’? … Central to the Christian understanding of the economy of salvation is the conviction that God is righteous, and that he acts in accordance with that righteousness in the salvation of humanity. It is clear, however, that this conviction raises certain fundamental questions, not least that of which concept of ‘righteousness’ can be considered appropriate to a discussion of the divine dispensation toward humankind. …

Modern theological vocabularies contain a host of Hebrew, Greek and Latin words, most of which possess, in their original contexts, a richness and depth of meaning which cannot possibly be conveyed by the mere translation of the word into English. Such an enterprise involves, not merely the substitution of a modern word for the original, but the transference of the latter from its own proper conceptual framework to one in which its meaning is distorted. This problem has long been recognized.

Jesus ben Sirach, presumably in an attempt to divert attention from the absence of a Hebrew original, complained that ‘things originally spoken in Hebrew do not have the same force when they are translated into another language…with the law, the prophets and the rest of the writings, it makes no small difference when they are read in their original language’. (Sirach, prologue). The conceptual foundations of the Christian doctrine of justification may be sought in the Old Testament, in a milieu quite different from that of western Europe, where it received its systematic articulation. The transference of the concept from this  Hebraic matrix to that of  western Europe has significant consequences (Alister McGrath, “Iutistitia Dei, A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, Third Edition ©2005, pgs 6-7)

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