Daily Archives: October 19, 2008

Hatin’ on the NRSV

This weekend’s Gospel foregrounds one of my pet peeves about the NRSV; it’s translations can be down-right misleading in ways that obscure some fascinating stuff. In this Sunday’s reading they fooled around with Matt 22:20 in a way that covers up a great sacramental reading of the story.

NRSV: ‘Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”’



KJV: ‘And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?’

NIV: ‘and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”‘

The Greek word variously translated as ‘head”, “image” and “portrait” is eikon–the same word from whence we get the word “icon”. I much prefer the translation “image”. In a similar way, the second is epigrammata. “Inscription” works fine in my book. The problem is that the NRSV attempts to give a precision that is not present in the original. As a result, it closes off the possibilities for readings that are available with the other (better) translations. Preeminently, it obscures the fact that the word really is image, something that I think factors theological in Jesus’ retort. The coin made with the image of Casar belongs to Caesar—however the human beings made in the image of God belong to God! Especially if those humans have been marked with an inscription—like, say, a cross upon the forehead—the sealing of baptism.

I think that’s a sacramentally rich reading of the passage—but one completely hidden by the NRSV.