Luther's translation of αἰών/αἰώνιος

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Robert S. Daniel
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Luther's translation of αἰών/αἰώνιος

Post by Robert S. Daniel » May 27th, 2020, 6:40 pm

Hi,
Any hints as to books/journal articles that might address why Luther chose to translate αιων as Welt and phrases like εις τους αιωνας as in Ewigkeit rather than a German equivalent of the English "age" and "into the ages"?

Any hints as to how I might go about searching a database like jstor or ebsco for such a topic? Or a database that might be more suitable for that kind of search?
Thanks,
Rob
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nathaniel j. erickson
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Re: Luther's xlation of αιων/αιωνιος

Post by nathaniel j. erickson » May 28th, 2020, 9:01 am

1. As one of the site admins is sure to tell you at some point, we use actual names on this forum, not pseudonyms, so it would be good to change that.

2. Do you have a particular passage or passages in mind on your question about Luther? In Ewigkeit makes as much sense as "into the ages" as a translation of εις τους αιωνας, which is often translated as "forever" in English translations. The translation "forever" ~ in Ewigkeit. We are clearly dealing with rendering an idiomatic expression across both language and cultural systems with this phrase. Thus, the "punt" translation of "into the ages" is not inherently clarifying as to what the expression means. Likewise, there is nothing surprising to me about Welt for αιων, at least in some of its usages (note, I am not a fluent German speaker, but I do read a lot of German). It would be much like the use of "world" in a phrase like "world system" where world is not a reference so much to a place but to a concept, a description of a unified epoch, era, or worldview. In Die Gute Nachricht Bibel "Welt" language is frequently used for concepts such as the Kingdom of God and the anticipated eternal dwelling place of humanity. Maybe there is a long-standing preference for that metaphor in German Bible translation going back to Luther?

Probably one of the best places to look for discussion on this word and translation in the German tradition would be to look at the entry in BDAG and trace some of the German articles cited there. You might be able to find one of the German versions of the lexicon online and see what they say. I've never actually looked. Also, if you have access to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the entry there will cite lots of German scholarship on the on αιων which may be helpful, given that it was a German work originally.

If you are looking for things in English, then I have absolutely no idea where to look.
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Nathaniel J. Erickson
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Luther's xlation of αιων/αιωνιος

Post by Barry Hofstetter » May 28th, 2020, 9:38 am

nathaniel j. erickson wrote:
May 28th, 2020, 9:01 am
1. As one of the site admins is sure to tell you at some point, we use actual names on this forum, not pseudonyms, so it would be good to change that.
Yes, this moderator meant to embed a note in one of Rob's message, but hit the wrong sequence of buttons, and it didn't embed. Rob, please contact a moderator so we can change your screen name to your real name, per B-Greek policy.
2. Do you have a particular passage or passages in mind on your question about Luther? In Ewigkeit makes as much sense as "into the ages" as a translation of εις τους αιωνας, which is often translated as "forever" in English translations. The translation "forever" ~ in Ewigkeit. We are clearly dealing with rendering an idiomatic expression across both language and cultural systems with this phrase. Thus, the "punt" translation of "into the ages" is not inherently clarifying as to what the expression means. Likewise, there is nothing surprising to me about Welt for αιων, at least in some of its usages (note, I am not a fluent German speaker, but I do read a lot of German). It would be much like the use of "world" in a phrase like "world system" where world is not a reference so much to a place but to a concept, a description of a unified epoch, era, or worldview. In Die Gute Nachricht Bibel "Welt" language is frequently used for concepts such as the Kingdom of God and the anticipated eternal dwelling place of humanity. Maybe there is a long-standing preference for that metaphor in German Bible translation going back to Luther?
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the translations such as "into the ages" are examples of hyper-literalism which obscure the meaning. αἰών has a comfortable history of meaning things like "eternity" and "forever" in Greek literature long before the NT.
ⓒ infinite or indefinite period of time, eternity: αἰὼν ἄπαυστος endless eternity AESCHL. Suppl. 574; εἰκὼ δ’ ἐπενόει κινητόν τινα αἰῶνος ποιῆσαι he had it in mind to make a mobile image of eternity PLAT. Tim. 37d; τοὺς ὑπὲρ τοῦ αἰῶνος φόβους fears about eternity EPIC. 5.20.7; οὐ γάρ εἰμι αἰὼν ἀλλ’ ἄνθρωπος for I am not eternity (an eternal being), but a man ARR. EpictD. 2.5.13 | εἰς ἅπαντα τὸν αἰῶνα forever LYCURG. 106 = τὸν ἅπαντα αἰῶνα ARISTOT. Cael. 279a 22 = τὸν αἰῶνα EPIC. 2.43.7, 6.14.1 etc. = εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα LUC. Philopatr. 17 VT Gen. 3:22, al. NT Matt. 21:19 etc. = εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας VT Dan. 7:14 NT Luke 1:33; εἰς ἡμέραν αἰῶνος up to the day of eternity NT 2Pet. 3:18; εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος for all of eternity VT Tob. 6:18 (v.l.) = εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων NT Gal. 1:5; εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων for all the generations for all of eternity NT Eph. 3:21; ἐξ αἰῶνος καὶ ἕως αἰῶνος since forever and forever VT Jer. 7:7; ἀπ’ αἰῶνος since forever NT Luk. 1:70 = ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος since the world existed NT Joh. 9:32; ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων from the ages NT Eph. 3:9; πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων before the ages NT 1Cor. 2:7
Montanari, F. (2015). M. Goh & C. Schroeder (Eds.), The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek. Leiden; Boston: Brill.
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Robert S. Daniel
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Re: Luther's xlation of αιων/αιωνιος

Post by Robert S. Daniel » May 28th, 2020, 11:49 am

Hi, thanks to both of you for your replies. I'll send a message to the admin and ask to have my name changed to Robert S. Daniel, which is my true identity. Except after I've stepped into a phone booth. :-)

My thinking behind the question is that for one thing, the KJV seems to have followed Luther by using "world" instead of "age". The RSV changed a good number of those "worlds" to "ages", and some newer translations like NT Wright's Kingdom New Testament change all the rest. Well, at least some of the ones that the RSV didn't. And there seems to have been more recognition in recent times that the background thinking of the NT authors was the apocalyptic two-age framework, which is IMO obscured by the use of "world" instead of "age". The word "age" has the connotation a period of history or pre-history, such as "stone age" and "iron age" that "world" doesn't have. Of course word meaning and usage is somewhat flexible but I think "age" would more clearly convey the thinking that I think is behind the usage of the word αιων in Paul and other NT authors.

There are over a hundred instances of the word αιων in the GNT, but one that still reads "world" in the NRSV is Romans 12.2,
καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός ὑμῶν, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.
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nathaniel j. erickson
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Re: Luther's xlation of αιων/αιωνιος

Post by nathaniel j. erickson » May 28th, 2020, 12:43 pm

There are over a hundred instances of the word αιων in the GNT, but one that still reads "world" in the NRSV is Romans 12.2,
καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός ὑμῶν, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.
I imagine this instance is still translated "world" for the same reason that most Bible translations translate Ps 23 to sound like the KJV, even when that means footnoting practically every word to provide an alternate rendering. It is simply too well known of a verse for translation committees aiming at some sort of "formal equivalence" (whatever exactly that is) to consider changing venerable wording. Same principle with John 3.16. Side anecdote, I once had a class with Dr. Bill Mounce, who was the main translator and editor of the NT for the ESV. He said he tried hard to change John 3.16 to something like "For God loved the world in this way...", but couldn't pull it off. If the NRSV has changed the word to "age" elsewhere, there seems to be no other obvious reason for keeping it "world" here.

Personally, I like the "World/Welt" rendering of αιων in a lot of instances. If "age" in the apocalyptic framework conveys a sort of transition from one time period to another, then "world" conveys more forcefully the totalizing difference envisioned in a κοσμος where Christ is not only enthroned over all, but is acknowledged as such. It is a change of "world-systems" and "world-governance" and "world-view" such that there is a new "world-order". The two notions seem to be complimentary notions to me.
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Nathaniel J. Erickson
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Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Luther's xlation of αιων/αιωνιος

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » May 28th, 2020, 1:23 pm

nathaniel j. erickson wrote:
May 28th, 2020, 12:43 pm
He said he tried hard to change John 3.16 to something like "For God loved the world in this way...", but couldn't pull it off. If the NRSV has changed the word to "age" elsewhere, there seems to be no other obvious reason for keeping it "world" here.
Not clear what your saying Mounce was trying to do.

NA27 John 3:16 οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾿ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

R–P John 3:16 ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον ωστε τον υιον αυτου τον μονογενη εδωκεν ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται αλλ εχη ζωην αιωνιον.

This entire discussion illustrates the fact that translation is often more about the target language than the original language.
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Jean Putmans
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Re: Luther's xlation of αιων/αιωνιος

Post by Jean Putmans » May 28th, 2020, 2:02 pm

Maybe Kittel Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Lemma αιων could solve the Luther-Translation-Question (Luther knew Greek as well as Hebrew): In Chapter C the Kittel Dictionary explains the double meaning of αιων: 1) eternity and 2) so called "Welt-Zeit" (= the limited time of our world: the time between creation and end of the Kosmos); the Hebrew word has the same double meaning (Luther will be very aware of that).

I use a German printed edition of Kittel, but as far as I know,some Biblesoftware have electronic English editions. Maybe someone could help You with a printscreen of that part (Chapter C of Lemma αιων).

Regards

Jean Putmans
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Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: Luther's xlation of αιων/αιωνιος

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » May 28th, 2020, 2:03 pm

He said he tried hard to change John 3.16 to something like "For God loved the world in this way..."
ESV: "For God so loved the world"

It was hardly about "world" but rather "so". This is a well known problem in some translations, it happens to be the same problem in Finnish, too. "So" may be understood "so much" in the context, but the text really means "in this way". In Finnish it's "niin" vs. "siten / sillä tavoin".
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Jason Hare
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Re: Luther's translation of αιων/αιωνιος

Post by Jason Hare » May 28th, 2020, 2:19 pm

I just wanted to let you know, Rob, that I have changed the title of the thread. If anyone in the future wants to search for "translation" for whatever reason, having it read "xlation" isn't going to help. I'm also adding diacritics to the Greek words, again, to help future searches.
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Jason A. Hare
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Robert S. Daniel
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Re: Luther's translation of αἰών/αἰώνιος

Post by Robert S. Daniel » May 28th, 2020, 4:49 pm

Thank you for fixing my post. I'll try to add the diacritical marks myself next time, although I have Windows 10, which doesn't do that. I added a .dll that is supposed to enable diacritics but it doesn't seem to work very well. My best option so far has been to find the word I need in an existing document and cut and paste.
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