When A Word Is Worth A Thousand Complaints (and When It Isn’t)
Bible translation is about more than just technical accuracy.
I reached for my headphones. Not the little white ones, but the massive half domes deep within my bag. A table away from me in the cramped café, two souls were projecting a conversation in volumes fit for a lecture hall.
My hand stopped short. I found myself eavesdropping. And as I did, my annoyance melted into compassion.
The woman sat leaning hard against the wall, as if the chair itself was not enough. She told of cancer and medical bankruptcy—the sort of life-unraveling events when body and finances break at the same time. “Sometimes I wonder if God and Satan made a bet on me,” she sighed at the end of the story.
Knowing it wasn’t my place to keep listening, I donned my headphones. But her words, I wonder if God and Satan made a bet on me, drained my focus.
In Job 1, as our English translations currently have it, Satan walks into the heavenly court. God points out Job’s righteousness—that nobody on earth fears God and turns away from evil like him. Satan then answers that this is only because God has so blessed Job with riches and health. Take those things away from him, Satan says, and he’ll “curse you to your face.”
“Very well, then,” God responds, “he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (Job 2:5–6).
Countless readers throughout history have read this passage and scratched their heads. Why would Satan be allowed to stand in the presence of Yahweh—and to challenge him? If Satan can take away everything from Job, why shouldn’t he do the same to us? Do Satan and God make bets?
Speak of the Devil?
Few contemporary Job commentaries—even conservative evangelical ones—think we should be translating the character …
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June 18, 2021