The Book of Jude and English Bible Translations

erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus by Albrecht Durer (1526)

I’m finished with my rough translation and about 50% of my detailed grammar work for my own translation of the Book of Jude. I still have to (1) classify all the accusatives and datives, (2) re-evaluate my translation of the tense, voice and mood, (3) look over pronouns again, and then (4) look at the textual critical issues. I’m using the TR for my base translation, and there are several areas where it differs from the UBS-5. This will make a difference if, for instance, you compare the NKJV to the ESV.

It is fascinating to see how the different conservative English translations offer different, but legitimate, takes on how to translate the text. This is precisely why the English reader would do well to switch his primary devotional translation for a change of pace. This is also precisely why I decided to translate the Book of Jude for myself, so I could point these issues out.

Here is a teaser issue . . . compare Jude 20-21a:

  • KJV:  “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God . . .”
  • NASB: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God . . .”
  • NET: “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, maintain yourselves in the love of God . . .”
  • Me: “But you, beloved, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, by praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God . . .”

What is Jude communicating here? There are two clear options:

  1. Is he telling them how to keep themselves in the love of God? Is he telling them what to be doing and also how to do it? Is he saying that we keep ourselves in the love of God (1) by building ourselves up in our faith and (2) by praying in the Spirit?
  2. Or, is he simply describing two complementary actions they ought to be taking (i.e. building themselves up and praying) while they are keeping themselves in the love of God? Is this statement really just a descriptive aside before the command to “keep themselves” in Jude 21?

Here is the Greek text in question:

  • ὑμεῖς δέ, ἀγαπητοί, τῇ ἁγιωτάτῃ ὑμῶν πίστει ἐποικοδομοῦντες ἑαυτούς, ἐν Πνεύματι Ἁγίῳ προσευχόμενοι

This whole issue hangs on the preposition ἐνMost translations (e.g. KJV, NKJV, Tyndale, ISV and NASB) see this preposition expressing association, and just use the word “in,” as if the these are merely two complementary actions that accompany the command to “keep themselves.” The NET and the Lexham English Bible, however, understand the preposition to be describing the means by which the first action is achieved. Thus, Jude is telling them that they keep themselves in the love of God by means of (1) building themselves up in their faith and (2) praying in the Spirit.

What difference does this make? Here is a paraphrase of the two options:

  • Option #1: “But you, dear ones, as you build yourselves up in the most holy faith and pray in the Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God . . .”
  • Option #2: “But you, dear ones, by building yourselves up in the most holy faith and by praying in the Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God . . .”

I go with the second option, because I believe the context makes more sense that way. Otherwise, you just have a vague imperative command to do something, and no earthly idea how to achieve it.

But, what’s the “right” answer? How should it really be translated? The interesting thing is that there really isn’t a definitive answer. Both translations are plausible and even probable. In fact, only two English translations even agree with my own translation – most disagree. I could say more, but you get the point!

We are blessed in the English-speaking world with a wealth of wonderful translations. We should start making more use of them!

 

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