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Stop Fooling with My Text, Satan

by Stephen Hebert on Friday - 10 April 2009

in Biblical Studies, New Testament

My church, Ecclesia Clear Lake, is preaching using the lectionary as we continue our way through Lent and toward Easter. A couple of weeks ago the passage was John 12:20–33; a passage that presents certain curiosities (who are these “Greeks” in verse 20?) and a translational oddity. Here are several translations of John 12:31:

NASB ESV NLT The Message
Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out.

These translations are arranged as a spectrum of literalness. On the left the NASB represents the translation that is, generally, the most literal (though, perhaps not here). As we move right toward The Message, the translations become more and more non-literal or paraphrastic.

And here is a super-literal interlinear that I have created:

νῦν κρίσις ἐστὶν τοῦ κόσμου τούτου
now judgment is of the world this
νῦν ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου
now the ruler of the world this
ἐκβλητήσεται ἔξω
will be cast out outside

This happens to be a verse where all four translations take a fairly close, literal approach to the rendering. Notice the key difference between the paraphrastic translations (NLT and The Message) and my literal interlinear: the addition of the word “Satan” which does not appear in the text.

It is well known that paraphrastic translations supply information for the reader that is not actually in the text. As my friend, Diana, puts it (I’m paraphrasing here): “They take the choice out of the hands of the reader; the translators take that responsibility upon themselves.” The question here is whether or not it is appropriate to supply the idea that “the ruler of this world” is Satan.

The words “Satan” (ὁ σατανᾶς ) and “devil” (ὁ διάβολος ) are not very common in the Gospel of John. Here are the verses where they appear:

Passage ESV NA27
John 6:70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· οὐκ ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς τοὺς δώδεκα ἐξελεξάμην; καὶ ἐξ ὑμῶν εἷς διάβολός ἐστιν.
John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστὲ καὶ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν θέλετε ποιεῖν. ἐκεῖνος ἀνθρωποκτόνος ἦν ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ οὐκ ἔστηκεν, ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν ἀλήθεια ἐν αὐτῷ. ὅταν λαλῇ τὸ ψεῦδος, ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων λαλεῖ, ὅτι ψεύστης ἐστὶν καὶ ὁ πατήρ αὐτοῦ.
John 13:2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him… καὶ δείπνου γινομένου, τοῦ διαβόλου ἤδη βεβληκότος εἰς τὴν καρδίαν ἵνα παραδοῖ αὐτὸν Ἰούδας Σίμωνος Ἰσκαριώτου…
John 13:27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” καὶ μετὰ τὸ ψωμίον τότε εἰσῆλθεν εἰς ἐκεῖνον ὁ σατανᾶς. λέγει οὖν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ὃ ποιεῖς ποίησον τάχιον.

The question stands: Is it appropriate to assume for the reader that “ruler of this world” means, necessarily, Satan? Are there other possibilities?

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