Tuesday, July 20, 2010

*BEST OF DTB #9* The Woman in the crowd (Luke 11:27-28)

One of the most cleverly veiled arguments against Catholics is the short exchange between Jesus and a woman in the crowd. Anti-Catholics assert that this exchange refutes the practice of Marian devotion.

What was Really said?

The exchange is recorded in two verses in the 11th chapter of Luke's Gospel. The Douai Rheems records it this way;

[27] And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. [28] But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.

The New American Standard Version:

27While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed."
28But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."
The King James:
27And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.
28But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
However, my adversary chose to quote this passage from the New International Version.

27As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."
28He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
The difference may appear subtle at first blush but it really is an important distinction to understanding this passage.

Literal vs Dynamic

To understand the different ways this passage is rendered, one must understand the difference between literal Bible translations and dynamic translations.

Literal does not necessarily mean accurate

A literal translation is a translation that seeks to translate the passage as close to a word-for-word rendering as possible. This type of version is good for advanced study. Bear in mind that calling a Bible a literal translation does not indicate that it is necessarily an accurate translation. It only indicates a type of translation.

The King James Version is a literal translation but it is certainly not an accurate one. There are thousands of documented errors in the KJV.

The good thing about literal translations is that they are very good at getting to the actual exegesis of the passage. The bad thing is that they give no credence to the culture of the time, the literary style or the difficulty of translating a passage from Hebrew/Aramaic to Greek to Latin and then to English. This creates a slew of terms that lose meaning in the translation.

One example is the fact that there is no New Testament word for cousins, so these are rendered as brothers. As a consequence, uneducated readers misread many passages by not understanding these factors and assuming the english translation translates itself.

Dynamic translations are, themselves, interpretations (and the New International is one of the very worst).

A dynamic translation is designed to be easier to read by putting the passage into language the modern reader will understand. In short, the dynamic translation seeks to interpret the passage for you. Needless to say, this is a much more liberal way to translate scripture and some pretty awful translations have resulted.

The New International version is just such an example and it's translation of Luke 11:27-28 is a classic example.

Let's read it again;
27As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."
28He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."

Whereas the other translations quoted the woman as blessing Mary's womb and breasts (her maternity, in other words), the NIV quotes her as addressing the person of Mary, not her motherhood.

Do not be fooled. This is not as subtle a difference as you suppose. However, before I explain why the NIV's translation is misplaced, I must prove it is inaccurate.

There are two greek words for 'mother' that appear in the New Testament, pronounced Maytare and Pentherah. Neither of these two words are present in Luke 11:27. The insertion of the word ''mother'' into the text is the translators' attempt at their own interpretation.

The NIV says what many protestants believe......but they are wrong.

In it's defense, the NIV is only expressing what many protestants believe- that the woman in the crowd is blessing (elevating) Mary and that Jesus is saying, at a minimum, that Mary is no better than anyone else who hears and obeys the word of God.

If you read the NIV's translation of the passage, you are mislead into such a conclusion, especially, if you do not understand the actual exegesis of the passage.

In short, protestants believe that the woman is calling Mary- the person- ''blessed'' and the Jesus is rejecting such an assertion.

I have already demonstrated that the woman is not directly blessing Mary- the person- but her maternity. In actuality, Jesus does not disagree....but we'll get to that in a minute.

Mary is not blessed? Sorry....the Bible doesn't support that notion.

So that I can not be accused of misrepresenting the protestant position, let me quote one of the heretical statements from the person I was debating. To be honest, I was shocked that he actually had the temerity to enunciate this position.

............... Now lets look at Luke11:27-28 shall we------------> As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." The Woman was obviously corrected (just catholics are just like the Woman in the crowd blessing Mary)........

This person's own words condemn him. he is saying- flat out- that Jesus has instructed us not to bless Mary. This is actually a blasphemous assertion. The Bible demands that we honor our father and mother. This person is accusing Jesus of violating one of the Ten Commandments!

Jesus even spells out the gravity of this very truth to the Pharisees.

Matthew 15:4 For God said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and 'Whoever curses father or mother shall die.'

but that is a violation of the scripture by extrapolation. We do not even need to do go that far, for the Bible tells us EXPLICITLY that Mary is to be blessed among all women (Luke 1:42) and by all generations! (Luke 1:48).

Why would the Holy Spirit allow the gospel writer to record Mary saying of herself that all generations would call her blessed, only to see Jesus reject such a claim less than 10 chapters later?

This is an absurd suggestion!

Let's get down to brass tacks

Now that we have examined what the passage clearly doesn't say and what it clearly cannot say, there is only one thing left to do....

Let's look at what the passage actually does say. The answer may surprise you.

The Woman in the crowd says "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed." The greek word for womb is pronounced koyleeah and the word for breasts mastos. That the woman is blessing Mary's maternity of Jesus is inescapable.

So, why does Jesus disagree?
11:28 He replied, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."

He doesn't. The mistake you are making is in misinterpreting the word rather.

(rā th 'ər, rä' th ər)

  1. With more logic, wisdom, or other justification.
    1. More readily; preferably: I'd rather go to the movies.
    More exactly; more accurately: He's my friend, or rather he was my friend.
  2. To a certain extent; somewhat: rather cold.
  3. On the contrary.
  4. (rā' th ûr', rä'-) Chiefly British Most certainly. Used as an emphatic affirmative reply.
Protestants imply that Jesus is using definition #4, on the contrary, but that is not at all the case. Jesus is actually using a term that denotes agreement with the woman to an extent, but showing emphasis on Mary's obedience rather than her maternity.

The exegesis of the word bears this out unmistakably.

The word rather, in this passage, is translated from a greek word pronounced menoongeh. This word is a conjunction of the words men (to affirm), oon (accordingly) and gheh (which denotes emphasis).

It is very clear that Jesus is not saying "not 'A' but 'B'" but is, in fact, saying, "yes 'A' (men) and (oon), even more than that (gheh) "B".

So, to paraphrase....

Woman: Blessed is your mother for carrying you and nursing you.
Jesus: Yes, but more blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey.

A fair objection

A fair minded person, considering my words, would concede several points.
  1. Mary is clearly blessed.
  2. On this point, Jesus agrees with the woman.
  3. Though Mary's maternity is worthy of blessing, more worthy is hearing and obeying the word of God.

If the person is fair enough to concede those three obvious points, I should be fair enough to concede an obvious objection that could be raised.

Objection: Fair enough! It says Mary is to be blessed...but not anymore than any other person who hears the word of God and obeys.

That is a conclusion you could come to by reading the text. After all, the verse implies that the greater blessing goes to they (plural, inclusive) who hear the word of God and obey. This means that all who hear the word of God and obey are blessed in this way.

I gladly concede the point.

Yet, you must concede that the greater blessing goes to the one who shows the greater obedience. Thus, the Bible tells us that John the Baptist was the greatest (most blessed) among men born purely of women (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28) and that Mary was most blessed among Women (Luke 1:42).

So, the logic brings it back full circle and closes the discourse between the woman and Jesus. For, though it is true that the Bible is saying that all who hear and obey the word of God are deserving of this special blessing, it tells us, by inference, that Mary is at the top of this list because she is most blessed among women and is to be so for all generations.

So, Jesus is, in essence, saying "Yes, she is blessed for her motherhood, but most because she heard and obeyed.

Of course, what Jesus says of Mary, implicitly, is what Elizabeth says explicitely;

Luke 1:45 Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."


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