Saturday, March 24, 2018

a key insight in Peterson's "Eat This Book"

We placed a number of nuggets from Peterson's Eat This Book within our DC quotes. It's a terrific meditation on devouring the word of God as a meal, a love letter, Scripture as text, form, and script-- what has classically been called lectio divina and what Peterson calls "spiritual reading". 

Here, I want to lay out part of his argument in the final chapter, "The Message", where he talks about the art and science of translation and paraphrase-- in part, to make the case for his own paraphrase of the New Testament. 

Peterson notes the two types of Greek that co-existed-- a formal form learned by scholars and a common form (called koine) whose continued popularity was driven by the New Testament. Of the 5,000 words in the Greek NT, 500 were unique to the NT, "never appearing in any extant Greek literature up to that point." (144) When archaeologists discovered copies of the NT in 1897, they were able to account for nearly all 500 words (145).  

Peterson then segues into a discussion of the Lord's Prayer as an example of the need for accurate translation. The word "daily" for "daily bread" is not known in classic Greek. First, Peterson observes (147) that the phrase is central to the prayer:

This is the only petition that deals with materiality. The Prayer has six petitions: the first three pray for the furtherance of God and his work — his holiness, his will, his kingdom; the matching triad is oriented around human needs — food, forgiveness, deliverance. The pair of triads is connected by the phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven,” which is to say that prayer has its source in heaven, the home country, so to speak, of God, but the action takes place on earth – our home country. Prayer that is not firmly grounded “on earth” is not prayer as our Lord taught us to pray.
Commentators have been tempted to spiritualize the reference to daily bread. But Peterson notes that the Greek word was discovered in a "shopping list" in "an ancient housekeeping book". (149)
Peterson also notes that "Israel shared the Canaanite language and culture without being overpowered by it...while they used similar literary forms, the content was radically different: Israel faithfully wrote the family stories of their ancestors, in contrast to the Canaanites, who invented fanciful myths about gods." (154) As an example, he cites their "unembarrassed" use of the Canaanite term for god, el. Peterson notes that myth is "cut loose from history" (156) with "no mystery" or "personal relationship" (157).


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