89 Sir or Lord? John 6:34
In reading the Bible, it is clear when a person was speaking to Jesus, or to some other person. We know Jesus as Lord, but at what stage did the disciples and other followers of Jesus acknowledge Him as Lord, and not merely a rabbi? I am convinced it was only after His resurrection for: “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” (John 20:9) I think that knowledge broke through when Thomas exclaimed “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) How then should we translate referrals to Jesus prior to that time?
Consider the following example:
The Greek word “kuriè” is normally used to address someone as “sir” but also as the divine “Lord”. After Jesus had fed the thousands with the five barley loaves of bread and two fish, they found Him in Capernaum the following day. He then explained to them the deeper meaning of the feeding of the thousands. It was not about their physical hunger and needs, but about their spiritual needs and salvation. He was the true bread of life that came from heaven. That was when these followers pronounced their need. How would the people have addressed Jesus? Would they have said: “sir”, give us this bread.“(NIV.) Or would they have addressed Jesus as “Lord”? “Lord, give us this bread.” (KJV.) (John 6:34) In retrospect we know that they were addressing Jesus the Lord. But did they have that meaning of the word “kurie” in mind when they spoke to Jesus?
The same question is in the limelight when we write adjectives referring to Jesus with capitals to give that indication. In antiquity an important or literary document was written in bold letters, called uncials reminiscent of our capital letters. Everyday notes were written in cursive letters called minuscules. No document used both type of letters in the same document the way we use small letters and capitals. Though the King James Version did not use capitals in that way, the Modern King James Version followed the Literal Translation and do used capitals: “(MKJV) And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes on Me shall never thirst.” If you were tasked with the translation of the Bible, what would you do?
When we translate the Old Testament and are confronted with passages that are also fulfilled in Christ, another aspect has to be taken into consideration. The Old Testament narratives tell the history that had taken place in the reality of that day. But on a different level many are also prophecies finding their higher or final fulfilment in Christ. In Isaiah 7:10-13 we have a conversation between Isaiah and Ahaz where God actually dares Ahaz to ask for a sign that God will destroy the threat from Aram and Ephraim. When Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, God Himself gives Ahaz a sign. (Verses 14-16) “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” The Hebrew word “almah” used here means a young woman who had not yet borne a child. It could therefore be a virgin, but not necessarily. Whether this prophecy refers to the young wife of Ahaz, or even that of Isaiah, we do not know. Neither do we know anything about this little boy that was born in that time. But before he was five or six years of age, the Syrians and Ephraimites were destroyed and this prophecy was fulfilled. If this did not happen in real time with real people, it would mean that God actually lied to Ahaz!
But in the New Testament something else demands our attention. Matthew quotes this prophecy and applies it to the virgin birth of Jesus. This is the deeper level of the fulfilment of this prophesy. Now it is not a young woman, but a real virgin who had never been with a man but was conceived by the Holy Spirit! Now it is not the deliverance of a little nation from their enemies, but the salvation of the world from eternal damnation. Now it does not concern a little boy learning to discern right from wrong, but the Son of God who never did wrong, yet was condemned to be bear our sins on a cursed cross!
The problem of the translator of the Bible now is this: How could he convey the double leveled meaning of this prophecy in Isaiah? If he uses capital letters in Isaiah, and refers to his mother as a “virgin” as does most versions of the Bible, he elevates this little boy to some deity. This is unacceptable. Otherwise he would make the prophecy directly applicable only to Jesus, and thereby disown the original prophecy. This would in effect make God into a liar towards Ahaz!
If you were the translator, how would you solve this dilemma?
Should we write all prophecies in the Old Testament that had their final, higher fulfilment in Jesus Christ with capital letters, or not?