For some time, a few scholars at BYU have been working on what’s being called The BYU New Testament Commentary. Last year, at annual conference for the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, John Hall, a classics professor at BYU, gave a presentation that included some information on the project. I’ve also heard him speak about the project two other times during BYU Education Week addresses he gave.
As they have worked on a new translation of the New Testament—not likely to become an official version used by the Church—he has shared a few examples of translations they’ve done from the Greek that vary slightly from the way things read in the KJV. There’s one re-translation I particularly like, and that I’ve occasionally shared with people, but I was just reading through notes someone else blogged about from another address given by Prof. Hall, and he shared an experience with President Eyring that influenced the way he translated this particular passage, and which I don’t recall having previously heard.
First, earlier in his address, according to these notes, Prof. Hall said:
I will tell you this, and I say in total humility, I really do. There are times that we look at the Greek texts, and there are different versions of the Greek texts, and we think about a translation and pray about a translation. There are times I can tell you, that the Spirit has touched and directed us. There’s no question in my mind. It doesn’t happen with every section or verse, but it has happened.
Also: we’re not just doing this for the members of the Church. We’re writing this so the world can see that the N.T. itself is the best witness of the Restoration there is. That the Restoration is the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ and that we can prove the truthfulness of what we say from the text of the N.T. itself—if it is translated correctly. That’s another reason we’re doing this. The most important reason is that by reading this, people can come to realize who the Savior is and what His mission is.
He later shares his translation of a verse that reads in the KJV as:
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:1-3).
His translation of verses 1 and 2 reads:
“My children, these things I am writing to you so that you may not go wrong, and if anyone should go wrong, we have One called to stand at our side in the presence of the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the Son. And he himself is the mediating sacrifice for our wrongs: not only for our wrongs, but even for the sake of his entire creation.”
But it’s verse 3 that I particularly like:
The King James version says “we know that we know him if we keep his commandments.”
We write “and in this we know, that we have come to know him in person if we but will stand watch as a sentry awaiting his every instruction.” That’s what the Greek says. Keep his commandments, on the one hand, and stand watch as a sentry awaiting His every instruction.
In the time of KING JAMES, instruction from God was what was written in stone at Sinai. It didn’t change, there was no adding to it or taking away from it, it was constant. There it was “written in stone”. But in the time of the apostle John and in our day there is continuing revelation, to the church through the prophets and personal revelation to us as individuals. “If we stand as sentries” the verb there is a Greek technical military verb to do guard duty. To stand as sentries, and then awaiting His every instruction—so it’s an admonition to be faithful followers of the Savior by seeking what He wants for us as individuals to do.
He then goes on to share the following experience with then-Elder Eyring (prior to his call to the First Presidency):
This translation that I came up with about a year ago was probably influenced by a meeting I had with Elder Eyring. He couldn’t find a resolution to a problem. Some of the brothers there were disturbed that he as an apostle didn’t have an answer for them about how to do whatever it was and he saw that they were worried by that. He said, “Brethren let me tell you something. There are so many times that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have a problem we have to solve or confront or deal with, and we want a solution right then so we can get it done and get on with our life and get on with the dealings of the Church. But often the answer doesn’t come.” Then he said, “It might come 6 months later or a year later. And when it does come, we then see: now it’s the right time—it’s come at the right time!” And with tears in his eyes he said, “The one thing I have learned more than any other thing being an Apostle of the Lord is that this is His Church! He’s in charge! He can do what He wants to do when He wants to do it! Who are we to tell Him?” He said, “Our responsibility as church leaders—and it applies to the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and every member in the Church too. Our responsibility is to wait, listen, and when He tells us what to do we do it—whatever He wants done, when He wants it done.”
To me that’s the meaning to John 2:3. We stand watch as sentries awaiting his every instruction. And when it comes, we do it.
We are what the lord has to work with. We are priests and priestesses. We have been given keys to the Priesthood. We have covenanted to be the servants of Jesus Christ.
As I read this I wondered how often I’ve heard others express frustration that Church leaders haven’t given them the direction they wanted, when they wanted it. There may be lots of reasons we don’t always hear what we’d like to hear from Church leaders, but one is certainly that their errand is not their own. They are called by Christ to witness of His name, and of His word.
Our responsibility is only to stand watch as sentries, awaiting every instruction—for “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).