Once again this year I prepared a translation from the Bible for my family’s Christmas gathering. This year I did Matthew 1:20-23.
Now starting in verse twenty, part of the story is cut off. Just before the part where I started my translation, Mary is found to be with child and Joseph who is about to marry her is faced with the traditional consequences of a woman getting pregnant before she is married. He could either have a public example made of her, which in his day and age would most likely mean that Mary would be stoned to death, or he apparently had the option of disowning her privately.
20 But pondering these things, lo the angel of the Lord appeared to him saying, Joseph son of David, fear not to take upon yourself Mary your wife, for the thing being brought forth in her is from the spirit devoted to God.
21 She shall bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their faults.
22 But all this happened so the thing said by the Lord through the prophet may be fulfilled saying,
23 Lo a maiden shall carry in the womb and shall bring forth a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is translated God with us.
For the most part this was a rather straightforward text to translate, but there were a few things I found interesting.
In the first was the phrase παραλαβεῖν Μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου (paralabein Marian ten gunaika sou).
What was odd is that we have two words here that can indicate the idea that Mary is Joseph’s wife. The first is παραλαβεῖν (paralabein) which means things like ‘to take up with an oath,’ or, ‘to take upon yourself,’ and can also mean ‘to take to wife,’ and so I wanted to translate the phrase ‘fear not to take to wife Mary.’ This however was oddly followed by γυναῖκά σου (gunaika sou), which would be most obviously translated as ‘your woman,’ or ‘your wife.’
This left me with the possibility to translate the phrase, “Fear not to take to wife Mary your woman” which could suggest that while they weren’t yet married, Mary was already attached to Joseph in a way that she was thought of as his, or that being married to Mary was perhaps a burden. Given the day this was written in, both understandings may have been likely.
The King James Version seems to ignore the phrase ‘your woman.’ This could be because it was it was understood to only make the idea of taking Mary to wife more emphatic, but I’m prone to thinking of the verb ‘to take up’ and the phase ‘your wife’ as separate ideas.
Another part I found interesting are the words that mean Holy Ghost in most English translations. The word for ghost in this case is πνεύματός (pneumatos) which means things like air, wind, and breath. The meaning breath is most likely where the idea of a ghost or spirit comes from, but I still found the idea of thinking about a holy wind interesting. This was especially true since the word used for holy here is ἁγίου (hagiou) which means something like ‘devote’ or ‘one who is devoted to god,’ thus allowing me to render ‘the spirit devoted to God’ in place of the more traditional Holy Ghost.
This didn’t stop me from thinking about the idea of a theology where the Holy Ghost was replaced with the Wind devoted to God.
Another thing I found rather interesting was the Greek idiom to describe a woman as pregnant. It was so amusing to me I translated it almost directly. The Greek phrase is ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει (en gastri exei) which means he/she holds in the gut or belly, and of course when referring to a woman it means she’s pregnant.
Lastly, I found the word used to describe a virgin interesting. It’s παρθένος (parthenos), which you may recognize in the word Parthenon, the temple of Athena. Parthenos was a common title for Athena and refers to the goddess’ youth or virginity. The word means either ‘young girl’ or ‘virgin.’
Interestingly during the time that Christianity was overtaking Roman and Greek paganism, the image of Mary was used to supplant Artemis or Diana who was also a virgin goddess. This is why Mary is often depicted with a crescent moon in Catholic art.
20 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐνθυμηθέντος ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου κατ’ ὄναρ ἐφάνη αὐτῷ λέγων, Ἰωσὴφ υἱὸς Δαυίδ, μὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν Μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου, τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου:
21 τέξεται δὲ υἱὸν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν, αὐτὸς γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν.
22 Τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,
23 Ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουήλ, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Μεθ’ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός.
The King James Version for comparison:
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.