Friday, March 10, 2023

The Thunderclap of the Gospel

One of my favorite Pauline letters is 1 Thessalonians, which I was reading this morning in my Bible time

I've taught the exegesis of this book some 20 times in my career. If you're anything like me, it's impossible to think of the apostle Paul without thinking about missions. It's almost as if that's all he thought about. Missions was serious business with Paul. He knew it would take blood, sweat, and tears. And the flame of the gospel, once it began to fan out into (and beyond) Europe, eventually ended up on an island in the Pacific where an 8-year old boy took a deep breath, steeped into the aisle, and went forward in church to surrender his life to Jesus Christ. 

How did the gospel get from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth? The answer is found in 1 Thess. 1:8. Today I was awestruck by the verb Paul uses to describe it. See that word I've circled? 

That one word tells us exactly everything we need to know about what the great Roland Allen once called "the spontaneous expansion of the church." But here's the interesting thing. No one is quite sure about the best way to translate the word into English. The Greek verb comes from exēcheō. A shorter form of this verb is found two times in the New Testament, where we find both of its possible meanings:

  1. to echo/sound/ring out = 1 Cor. 13:1 "resounding gong"
  2. to make a loud noise = Luke 21:25 "roaring of the sea" 

Of course, I couldn't wait to see how various translations rendered the word. Here's a sampling:

  • NIV = rang out
  • ESV = sounded forth
  • KJV = sounded out
  • Luther = ist auserschollen
  • Schlachter = ist ... erklungen
  • LBLA = ha resonada
  • DHH = se ha extendido
  • LSG = a retenti
  • Vulgate = diffamatus est

All of these translation mean virtually the same thing, namely that the word of the Lord sounded forth or rang out. Coverdale, however, went with "noysed out." Which leads me back to my original question: Which idea did Paul have in mind when he used this verb: echo or noise? The church fathers don't help us much here. Chrysostom felt that Paul was referring to a trumpet call. Jerome, on the other hand, preferred the idea of loud thunder. Maybe I should leave it at that. But I am not content. Deep inside me is a God-given urge to make the best of a confusing situation, at least in my own mind. So, without any further ado, allow me to give you my 10 suggestions for rendering Paul's verb into English, beginning with my least favorite and ending with my number 1 preferred translation. Ready?

10. echoed forth

9. noised abroad

8. rang out

7. sounded forth

6. trumpeted forth

5. resounded forth

4. reverberated forth

3. rumbled forth

2. roared forth

And my NUMBER 1 choice is ... 

1. thundered forth

Hence I might render the phrase as "For the word of the Lord has thundered forth from you ...." Turn this into a paraphrase, and we get: "For the word of the Lord has echoed forth from you like a thunderclap ...." The idea is similar, I think, to an editorial I read in the New York Times after Queen Elizabeth died. It appeared on Sept. 8, 2022 and the author was Mark Landler. He wrote:

But news of her death still landed like a thunderclap across the British realm, where the queen was a revered figure and an anchor of stability. 

How about you? What's your preference? 

I'll close with the words of John Stott in his Thessalonians commentary (p. 37). He says that "the gospel proclaimed by the Thessalonians made a loud noise, which seemed to reverberate through the hills and valleys of Greece." 

Yes, even to the shores of Kailua Beach.