Monday, March 05, 2007

I can say it better than God did, V.

To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:10)

Here we have a beautiful and concise description of St. Paul’s exercise of the Office of the Keys. His offer of forgiveness is apostolic, which means that, as our catechism puts it so well, it is “as valid and certain in heaven also as if our dear Lord had dealt with us Himself.” But here it is even clearer than that, for St. Paul’s offer of absolution is “in the person of Christ.” What a marvelous declaration of the Office: he is bold to say that his exercise of it is not merely in the stead of Christ, but in His person (Greek: prosopon). Wow, that’s going a bit far! Imagine if such a thing were found in a new hymn or document sent to an LCMS doctrinal reviewer! It would never pass!

No wonder the Calvinists who translated the New International Version could not stomach such a bold assertion. So they had to change this just enough to make it acceptable to their sensitivities. The NIV has thus re-rendered it thus:

If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake.

Leave it to the Calvinists (and some pretty blind Lutherans who follow their lead) to misunderstand the Office of the Holy Ministry. By the way, all you Lutherans who like to get misty-eyed about how great the English Standard Version is, here’s how the ESV has followed suit:

Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.

In the presence of Christ? Oh sure, that’s what prosopon means! Not! It’s a simple Greek noun, and it doesn't mean sight or presence. It means person. Deal with it, fellas. And quit messing with the Sacred Scriptures.

(Thanks, and a tip of the hat to Rev. Chad Kendall.)


Father Hollywood said...

The NKJV also mistranslates it as "presence."

Father Eckardt said...

Right. Seems they were doing a bit more than updating the language.

Michael said...

That puts a whole new light on Hebrews 9:24 (where even the KJV gets it wrong).

Father Eckardt said...

Ah, not exactly. Hebrews 9:24 has For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Here "prosopon" is indeed translated "presence," but the difference is that here it adds the word "to appear" (emphanisthenai) and lacks the preposition "en" which gives us a literal rendering "appearing (before) the face of God." That is, context tells us here that Christ appears before the person of Another, i.e., God (the Father), whereas in the former case, St. Paul acts in the person of Christ. So, yes, it would be better translated "person" even in the Hebrews text, but at least there the same sense is preserved. Not so when the 2 Corinthians reading is rendered with "presence."

Anonymous said...


If your understanding is correct then I'm wondering if you object to the translation of "εν προσωπω ιησου χριστου" in 2 Corinthians 4:6 as "in the face of Christ"? Also, would you object to 2 Corinthians 2:10, "εν προσωπω χριστου" being translated as "in the face of Christ?"


Father Eckardt said...

Good for you, anonymous! The Greek "prosopon" does *not* actually mean person; it means face. Of course, what I am arguing here (and what many have argued) is that "in the face of" essentially means "in the person of." Indeed the Vulgate translated "in persona Christi." So you caught my little slip: Prosopon is indeed a simple Greek noun, and it means face. However, what "prosopon" generally means with the preposition "en," according to a great number of ancient references, is "on the part of an individual," i.e., of a person. Hence the Vulgate and KJV translations. So, Yes, to answer your question: 2 Cor 2:10 is more literally rendered: "for your sakes I forgive it in the face of Christ." Nice job.

Pr. H. R. said...

I'm afraid I'm jumping in a little late - I've been on semi-blog fast for Lent...

Both words (prosopon and persona) have their start in the theatre where they mean "mask." That is, the persona or prosopon was the mask an actor wore to take on a given character (recall that in classical theatre one actor would always play many roles).

This is how the terms took on the meaning of "person." It also caused a lot of trouble when these terms were imported into trinitarian theology. Three personae or prosopa, given the history of "mask" lent itself to an obvious misunderstanding: modalism. Thus the Greeks eventually liked hypostasis better than prosopon for the person and ousia for the substance. In that Latin word "sub-stantia" you can see that originally "hypo-statis" was the word for the Godhead's being.

At any rate, a very good translation of the passage Fr. Eckhardt brings up would be: I forgave with my Jesus mask on. What a beautiful picture of the Office: in the stead indeed!


Father Eckardt said...

Interesting input, Pr. H.R., and helpful. Thanks.