Monday, June 25, 2007

The Heart of the Matter

I recently heard a sermon on Chapter 14 of St John's Gospel. Being interested in learning languages, I regularly carry a Greek New Testament to church. Hoping to learn via immersion, I read the Greek while hearing the English.

At any rate, a grammatical curiosity struck me.

This is the Greek for John 14:1

μη ταρασσεσθω υμων η καρδια πιστευετε εις τον θεον και εις εμε πιστευετε

In English translations, there is a big divergence in translating the word καρδια, which, like cardiologist, deals with the heart.

As I read the Greek and heard the translation, I noticed an inconsistency between what I saw in Greek and what the pastor read. Checking multiple translations through my phone, the divergence was clear. Here are 2 examples that illustrate this, from the NKJV and the ESV.

1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (NKJV)
1"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. (ESV)

It seemed like almost every translation preferred "hearts" over "heart".

Now, καρδια for "heart" is indubitably singular, and the υμων of "your" is certainly plural but the question arises, why would a singular word be translated as plural?

Why would there be just one heart for all of the disciples?

Knowing that there is nothing new under the sun, I checked google for any discussion of this matter. Indeed, this has been commented upon by others, with regard to a different part of John here.

It seems like modern translators are unhappy with many individuals having one heart.
But I would respond to any skepticism that "hearts" should be "heart" by pointing out that when Jesus talks about evil in the hearts of those who doubt him in Matthew 9:4, we read και ιδων ο ιησους τας ενθυμησεις αυτων ειπεν ινα τι υμεις ενθυμεισθε πονηρα εν ταις καρδιαις υμων.

Clearly, there are some occasions where a plural form of καρδια such as καρδιαις is acceptable. But again, what is the "heart" of the matter?

I think that meditating on the notion that Jesus spoke to his disciples and referred to them as having one heart is something we deeply need.

It would surely be fascinating if Jesus would use a singular heart to talk about our lives. In our day and age, it is almost impossible to believe that there is only one body of Christ, but this is the case. And I almost wonder if this issue of preferring multiple hearts is not due to our society's preference for individualism. Greek may just be more amenable to thinking more corporately, but I doubt it, given Matthew 9:4.

Perhaps if we thought of passages such as John 14:6 in a more holistic sense, we would have a better grasp of who we are as the Church. And it might point to one reason why images such as these were painted--for they serve to remind us of the one heart that really matters, and that we are joined it to as Christians.

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