Friday, February 7, 2014

God Wants Us to -- What?

I use Logos' Catholic "Verbum" software a lot. It is a fantastic tool and offers a whole lot more than just the Bible. (There's a permanent link to the right if you want to learn more; just make sure you navigate to their Verbum packages.) The "Word Study" feature allows me to drill down into the details of Greek and Hebrew words. You can also compare different Bible translations to broaden your perspective. I can't recommend it enough. I have been using their Android app on my Nexus 7 tablet too, lately, and even it is powerful.

Immorality or Fornication? Or Something Else?

A significant sin we're supposed to avoid is translated differently, depending on what version of the Bible you're reading. Let's take a look at a verse from the New American Bible, Revised Edition, 1 Thessalonians 4:3:

"This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality."

Well, okay. It seems pretty obvious that people who want to be holy should strive to be moral. The more curious will discover a long and unhelpful footnote that talks about shady business deals.

The old Douay-Rheims translates the Latin Vulgate like this:

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: That you should abstain from fornication."

The quaint word fornication has a very specific meaning. "2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman." Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 565). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

Well, it looks like no married person need pay attention to this verse, since, by definition, we can't commit fornication. The New Revised Standard Version, another Bible popular with Catholics, also has fornication.

But wait: the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, commands us to abstain from "unchastity."

So, on something as important as what we need to avoid to achieve sanctification, we're left to chose among (1) shady business deals; (2) sex between unmarried persons; or (3) unchastity, whatever that is.

Porn Is Greek for Porn

Pornography from Pompeii. Yes, there
was porn before the internet.
Just not as much.
Verbum's word study feature resolves the quandary. All of these terms are translations of the Greek word porneia. (If that reminds you of of the word "pornography" you're on the right track.) Porneia is not a rare word, and is used to mean different things, depending on the context, but always has to do with sexual misconduct. It is broad enough to cover any sexual activity other than that between a husband and wife. (And we might as well add "open to the blessing of children" from other Catholic teachings.)

The English Standard Version, a fairly new Protestant Bible, translates it as "sexual immorality," which pretty much nails it.

There is no perfect translation. I think the NABRE whiffs this one, especially given the footnote which dilutes the sexual component. The stolid RSVCE, popular with Catholics who eschew the NABRE, is better. The Douay-Rheims hews close to the Latin, as always, but "fornication" is too narrow these days; ditto for the mod NRSV. Being able to flick from one translation to another is another benefit of Verbum.

In the end, we all know what we should or shouldn't be up to, and our decadent culture is not a reliable guide. Sexual morality hasn't changed. That's still a sin, and, yes, that, too (and nobody ever told you, but probably even that). St. Augustine wrote grimly that keeping pure is a lifelong battle with few victories. I daresay our culture is even more sex-saturated than ancient Rome's. Saints have agreed that we must leave off all confidence in ourselves, place ourselves under God's protection, avoid discouragement, and avail ourselves of the gift of confession.

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