“Exodus”: Heavily Semiticized (NT) Greek

They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
–Luke 9:31 (New Living Translation, ©2007)

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.
–Hebrews 11:22 (New International Version, ©1984)

Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.
–2 Peter 1:15 (King James Version, public domain)

decease-“departure.” The very word (“exodus”) used in the Transfiguration, Moses and Elias conversing about Christ’s decease (found nowhere else in the New Testament, but Heb 11:22, “the departing of Israel” out of Egypt, to which the saints’ deliverance from the present bondage of corruption answers). “Tabernacle” is another term found here as well as there (Lu 9:31, 33): an undesigned coincidence confirming Peter’s authorship of this Epistle.
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, public domain (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown)

In the previous post, we started to look at some of the things the word exodus has come to mean today (and I literally mean today as in this Friday, September 17, 2010). To continue, in this post, I’d like to begin seeing how the term exodus has found its way into recent translations of the Bible from what blogger Theophrastus has called “heavily Semiticized Greek” in “the NT ” (i.e., in “the New Testament”). You shouldn’t be surprised, then, to find the four epigraphs above to set this post up.

The first three epigraphs refer to the three and only three verses in all of the extant NT source manuscripts available that contain the Greek phrase ἔξ·οδος. Two of the three translations in the epigraphs are the first English translations, I believe, to have rendered this Greek phrase with the English word exodus. (Those two are the NLT for Luke 9:31 and the NIV for Hebrews 11:22). Of course, you can see that no English translator or translation team (yet) has made the Greek word in 2 Peter 1:15 read “exodus” (although a few commentary writers on the KJV have made clear how the single Greek word in 2 Peter 1:15 may relate it significantly to both Luke 9:21 and Hebrews 11:22). When we readers read the NT in Greek, the connections are easier to see. When we read in English translation (whether the NIV or the NLT or any other translation that explicitly inserts as English the word exodus in any one of these verses), then the connections are lost; neither the NIV nor the NLT use exodus in both Luke 9:21 and Hebrews 11:22. The range of meanings of the English phrase is not immediately clear (except the NIV does follow fairly closely the Greek phrasing and Greek modifications with “the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt” and the NLT adds its own modifications not in the Greek with “his exodus from this world“). Read side by side, the respective uses of exodus by the NIV and the NLT do show that the two exoduses are fairly different: the one refers to a historical event of a nation, the other to a prophesied eventuality of an individual. The one exodus carries, perhaps multiple, Hebrew and Israel meanings. The other so-called exodus (of the NLT) has one, and maybe a limited one, meaning for Christians: the passion and the death of the Christ.

Christian writer Francis Schaeffer gets to the meaning of what the gospel writer Luke means. In “Jesus Only,” his chapter in the book No Little People, No Little Places, Schaeffer keys in on the transfiguration of Jesus as in Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s gospels, and he makes a big deal about what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about in Luke. Schaeffer notes that there was a “three-way conversation… (propositional verbalized communication that could be understood by the disciples [overhearing] in normal terms) between Moses, who had died, Elijah, who had been translated, and Christ, who had come up the mountainside [with Peter, James, and John].” Schaeffer goes on: “It is intriguing that Moses, Elijah and Jesus talked about something.” Quoting from the NASB translation of Luke, Schaeffer adds: “However, we need not speculate [about the subject of their talk] because Luke tells us they ‘spoke of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:31). The only subject worthy of conversation at this moment was Jesus’ coming death.” The subject [i.e., “his decease”] is a worthy one, says Schaeffer, because Elijah who never died and who represents the prophets and the future is talking about the death of Jesus to come (but what a non-dead body, such as Elijah’s and Jesus’s after resurrection, looks like). The subject is also worthy, notes the Christian commentator Schaeffer to his Christian readers, because “[i]n Moses we see what we will be like between our death and the resurrection of our bodies–if Jesus does not come back before we die.” Let me only add that Schaeffer doesn’t necessarily represent Christianity or write for all Christians. Nonetheless, his is a view of Jesus’s “decease” (aka the “exodus” Luke refers to) as the Christian Christ’s death. Perhaps the NLT translation’s use of exodus in English explicitly does not change that view.

When we have more time, we’ll take a look at what the Septuagint translators did with the Greek phrase ἔξ·οδος. Eventually, let’s get to the various meanings of ἔξ·οδος that the LXX translators had to work with. We have not yet really considered how “heavily semiticized” ἔξ·οδος is in the NT, and I do want to continue with that.

Until then, here’s one more little bit from Rosenberg, whom I quoted at the end of the previous post. It’s from page 200 of his book and begins to hint at some of the literary quality of the NT Greek I’d like us to consider in the NT phrase exodus:

Reading is a necessary reflection of a person freed from the death obsessions of Egypt and pagan civilizations; it provides the story of Exodus of the mind as well as the body. Moses’ God untangles contradictions that begin in Egypt’s history, and Moses resolves the Egyptian afterlife into the redemptive power of facing up to history, the good with the bad. Instead of simply leaving Egypt behind, Moses internalized and transformed it into an ongoing journey.


3 responses to ““Exodus”: Heavily Semiticized (NT) Greek

  1. I just try to avoid using the NLT period. Horrible translation. 🙂

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