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Friday, January 04, 2008  

Christmas Challenge Results, Part 1

Just before Christmas, I challenged you to use Accordance to find out why most modern translations of Luke 2:14 read so differently from the KJV's familiar "peace, good will toward men." Twenty-one people responded to this "challenge" by e-mailing me a description of how they found the answer. The approaches ranged from simple lookups in a commentary to the use of multiple Greek texts and textual apparatuses. In every case, I was impressed with our users' resourcefulness, and the number of different methods used to skin this particular cat.

The answer: Everyone who tackled the challenge came up with the same basic answer: the wording of Luke 2:14 is not a translation issue, but a text-critical issue. The Greek text from which the KJV was translated has the word for "good will" in the nominative case (eudokia), the same case as the word for "peace." Consequently, both words should be translated as the compound subject of the phrase: "peace, good will toward men." The Greek text upon which most modern translations are based has the word for "good will" in the genitive case (eudokias), in which case it would act as a modifier for the word "men." Literally, it would read "peace to men of good will." Most translations render the sense of this phrase as "peace to those on whom his favor rests." It is interesting to note that a single letter (the sigma) at the end of this word makes all the difference in its meaning!

The methods: How did those who participated in the challenge uncover this textual issue? Here are some of the methods they used and resources they consulted:

The NET Bible Notes. One of the most widely consulted resources was the NET Notes module. The New English Translation (NET) is a modern translation of the Bible which has been made freely available via the internet. One of the distinctives of the NET Bible is its extensive array of translator's notes. In these notes, the NET Bible translators detail why they chose a particular wording, examine text-critical issues relating to certain passages, and give helpful background information. The text-critical discussions are written in non-technical language, and are much easier for the non-specialist to understand than any textual apparatus. The NET and NET Notes modules also happen to be included in every level of the Library CD-ROM as well as the Core Bundle of the Scholar's CD-ROM, so nearly everyone has them.

After listing the manuscript evidence for each reading of Luke 2:14, the NET Notes offer the following summary:

Not only is the genitive reading better attested, but it is more difficult than the nominative. "The meaning seems to be, not that divine peace can be bestowed only where human good will is already present, but that at the birth of the Saviour God's peace rests on those whom he has chosen in accord with his good pleasure" (TCGNT 111).

Metzger's Textual Commentary. That "TCGNT" at the end of the NET Notes entry on Luke 2:14 is a reference to Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. This reference tool contains Bruce Metzger's discussions of the textual variants listed in the critical apparatus of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament. Like the NET Notes, its major advantage over a critical apparatus is its accessibility. Metzger lists the major witnesses for each reading, then discusses why the editorial committee chose one reading over another, how variant readings might have arisen, and how certain they feel about what they see as the preferred reading. In the case of Luke 2:14, Metzger talks about how the final sigma of eudokias might have been written as a tiny stroke which a copyist easily could have missed, thus resulting in the nominative form behind the KJV's "good will toward men." Metzger also addresses an old objection that "men of goodwill" was an unlikely construction, citing evidence of such expressions in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Comparing Greek Texts. Many of those who responded to the Challenge went straight to the source and examined the Greek texts behind the various translations. By displaying the modern critical edition of the Greek New Testament (GNT-T) with the Greek text behind the KJV (GNT-TR), they were able to see the difference between eudokias and eudokia. A few used the Compare Texts feature of Accordance to highlight this difference, as shown below:

As you can see, checking the Compare texts button immediately draws your attention to the difference between the Greek texts. You can then drag your cursor over the highlighted words to see that eudokias is genitive and eudokia is nominative.

This summary of approaches is now getting pretty long, so I'll go into some of the more elaborate approaches our users took in my next post.

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