Reply to Contra_Mundum Regarding Acts 16.34
Posted by John Meade on August 3, 2010
My post on the The Peshitta’s Reading of Acts 16:34 has caught the attention of some paedobaptists on the Puritan Board. I do not want to get a membership just to respond to them, so I will reply briefly here and maybe they will find me .
The translation the Peshitta provides does not “tend” to providing credo-baptist support, to the exclusion of a household that included anyone there under the terms, inclusive. It is simply a straightforward, and very faithful, translation into a Semitic language (which prefers certain renditions of Greek phraseology, not any different than a modern English translation will do); and simply put, very much follows the word order of the Greek. Being myself a person familar to varying degrees with both biblical Hebrew and the modern Semitic tongue, Arabic, I would have to say that Meade’s conclusions drawn from the translation is as tendentious as anything he tries to pin on a paedobaptist.
There are a few misconceptions in the gentleman’s response that need to be pointed out. First, there is debate over the ambiguities of the Greek text. No one can come to this text in Greek and claim with all certainty that it supports or denies an inclusive household baptism apart from the faith of the baptizee. The grammar will simply defy dogmatism in this case. Hence the debate between credobaptists and paedobaptists over this text.
Second, the gentleman has probably not compared ancient translations with their source texts very much, if at all, because he would know that they are rarely if ever “not any different than a modern English translation”. I make this point not to dismiss what the gentleman has claimed, but only to show that he has claimed much in this statement without providing any demonstration. The Ancient Versions, especially the Peshitta (“the simple translation”) attempted to make the source text palpable for their readers. The Syro-Hexapla for the LXX and the Harclean translation for the NT were more technical translations and extremely literal and would have been difficult for a person to read who did not have some competence in Greek and Syriac. The Peshitta’s method of translation committed itself to simplifying the source and smoothing out ambiguities at times (the reader is guided to Ecclesiastes 3:1 for an example of how P simplified the lexical items for time in the Hebrew text, and the general trend of the translators using the LXX in order to better render the Hebrew source for his audience). Therefore the Syriac translation of the NT can be consulted for how the East was reading the Greek text (see Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 124-8, for an explanation of importance of the Versions for exegesis; his comments are relevant for the NT as well.).
Third, the gentleman probably did not read my comments very closely, since he concluded thus: and simply put, very much follows the word order of the Greek. Here is what I originally wrote: Now, this Version of the Bible sometimes interprets the ambiguous sections of the source text, such as the adverb in the Greek text above. Notice that the Peshitta does not represent a different text of the NT. Rather, the differences are on the level of translation not text. There are two differences in this text: 1) they translated πανοικει as a noun “and the sons of his house,” and 2) they translated the Greek participle πεπιστευκως as a prepositional phrase “in/because of faith” (ܒܿܗܰܝܡܳܢܽܘܬ݂ܳܐ).
How does the first point at all confirm what the gentleman has concluded, apparently from his own reading? P has added the word “and” and has made household (“the sons of his house”) into a separate subject distinct from the jailer. Syriac has adverbial endings or uses nouns in adverbial position or uses prepositional phrases. It could have translated πανοικει with something like ܟܠ ܒܝܬ and placed the phrase in adverbial position or with ܥܡ ܟܠ ܒܝܬܐ “with all the house”. The fact is, they did not understand the Greek adverb in this manner. They placed a waw before it and turned it into another subject for a reason. The last point is most important: the Syriac translator turned the NMS participle into a prepositional phrase. Now, Syriac can render Greek participles very literally if they so choose. They do not have case, but had they wanted to communicate that πεπιστευκως was modifying only the jailor they would have used the masculine singular form of the participle and it would have agreed with the jailer in number, gender, and definiteness. They don’t do this and the slight change from the ambiguous Greek text is for a reason.
All of these factors add up to the fact that the Peshitta does not have a different text than the NT, but in fact it was trying to make the source palpable. The Syriac is easier to understand than the Greek original as a result. There is no doubt that the prepositional phrase “in/because of faith” modifies both subjects of the verb, he and the members of his house. Both subjects are thought to be rejoicing because they believed.
Now of course the Peshitta cannot be given a privileged place at the table. It simply represents one tradition. And we do know that the Eastern tradition accepted the practice of paedobaptism universally much later than the West. Therefore, their Version seems to confirm what they actually practiced at least in Acts 16:34.