When I first received this translation of the scriptures, La Sainte Bible, Version Semeur, I knew very little French. I had not had any formal classes in high school or college for French acquisition. My primary tool was an old textbook, Revised French Grammar (1901; revised 1942 during German occupation; an earthly treasure!) edited by Frasar, Squair and Parker. This was traditionally prescribed French of the Académie francaise which had been given to me by a retired French Professor from WTAMU where I taught ESL courses. I soon added a language series, cassette tapes, from Living Language to work on more pragmatic communicative French.
I began to have my quiet times using this La Sainte Bible and went to familiar verses, so the translating would be easier. I also relied heavily on cognates of which there are many in the scriptures. I also took my French Bible to church and tried translating while my husband, David, preached. (At least he never had to worry about my mind wandering or my falling asleep during his sermons!)
As I shared in my introduction post, when translating the scriptures from French to English, I strive to hear the first version of the work as profoundly and completely as possible, to discover the linguistic charge, subtle implications, complexities of meaning and suggestion in vocabulary and phrasing, and cultural inferences. Equally important is the emotional impact of words, the setting and mood, author’s voice, social context, etc. and the social aura that surrounds them. Just as we have tried to imagine the world that Jesus Christ was born into in the first century based upon information from the Old Testament, World History and Biblical scholars in our context here in the United States, the French translators of this Version Semeur have had to use their context (France, Canada, Africa, etc).
Translating scripture is not just allowing readers to perceive the text emotionally and artistically which corresponds to the aesthetic experience of the first readers as in literary texts, it is presenting a text which can and will be experienced on a spiritual realm, which is out of our wheelhouse!
For this series, I will share many insights from my studies of this text, the original Greek and Barclay’s commentary.
Evangile Selon Marc (The Gospel According to Mark)
It is with the apostle Peter that Mark collected the information necessary for the writing of this gospel. Mark became Peter’s transcriber after having been Paul’s companion and collaborator. This gospel contains details that bear the mark of the eyewitnesses.
The majority of scholars believe that Mark wrote from Rome in the years between 63 to 68 A.D. He speaks to Christians as well as pagans for whom he takes care to translate Aramaic and Hebrew expressions and to explain Jewish customs.
Mark is especially interested in the works of Jesus: he shows it in action by healing the sick and multiplying the bread for the crowd in no less than eighteen miracles. The works of Jesus authenticate his divinity. In fact, from the first verse, Mark tells us that Jesus is “Son of God” and, towards the end of the gospel at the foot of the cross, the Roman centurion exclaims: “This man was really Son of God!
These miracles, however, are not the work of a man who seeks glory: Jesus knows he will suffer. This is why Mark presents the life of Jesus as a preparation for his death: in the first thirteen chapters, Jesus announces, on several occasions, his suffering to come. The narrative, which follows his geographic movements, from Galilee to Judea, can also be read as a climb to Jerusalem where he will die. This death is nevertheless good news, for Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy: He came to “give his life in ransom for many” and as he had announced, he rose again. The Son of God could not stay in the grave!
II. My notes from translating the Gospel of Mark from French to English:
Mark 1:1-8 Preparation of the Ministry of Jesus
Marc 1 begins with a powerful prophecy from Malachi 3:1 :”Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight the path for Him”. Mark credits Isaiah with this prophecy but it is out of Malachi. ( If you look at the study notes in your Bible, you will find the correct citation to both Isaiah and Malachi). This is a minor point theologically and Bible scholars could speak to this, but nevertheless struck me as interesting.
Now, in translating, one needs to consider that this verse was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament book, Malachi)and was then translated to Greek (possibly using the Septuagint) and then English for our purposes. Therefore, as I look at this scripture, I need to consider 4 languages in the interpretation: Hebrew to Greek to French to English. Wow!
Consequently, I found three different ideas concerning the meaning of this verse.
First, the idea of making paths straight for a King to enter a city relates to the King of Kings, Jesus, coming into the world.
Secondly, our word “path” comes from the original Greek word τριβος (tribos) meaning a track worn from friction. Who wore this path down? What does it mean that John was going to straighten the worn path? Was it the sin of the world that wore the path down and Jesus came to redeem us from eternal death?
The third idea comes from Barclay in his commentary on Mark who said that this worn path came from the blemishes of the offerings and weary service of the priests in the Temple. The messenger, John, was to purify and cleanse the worship of the temple before the Anointed One of God came to Earth.
Next, the following verse, v.4, in the French is very succinct: Jean parut. Il baptisait dans le desert. It is an interesting stylistic choice here to divide John’s action into three parts giving more emphasis to each action and showing a cause/effect clause: “John appeared. John baptized in the desert. In effect, he called men to be baptized….” The Greek to English version combined the whole action into one continuing action. “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In addition, the Greek word used here is γινομαι meaning John “became”.
The final section of the Preparation of Jesus’ ministry is the most important. In verse 9, we have the first appearance of Jesus as he comes to Nazareth to begin His ministry. Mark chose not to include the story of Jesus’ birth or childhood. We have just learned that his cousin John prepared the way for him by baptizing for repentance and when Jesus arrives, he is immediately baptized by John in the Jordan river. (Next month, we are taking a trip to Israel and will stand at the shores of Jordan where this took place. This will be the highlight of my trip!) Mark tells us that at “the moment when Jesus came out of the water, he saw the skies tear apart and the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove”. The next part reveals different ideas in translation.
- In the French Semeur, –Tu es mon Fils bien-aimé, tu fais toute ma joie. Translation : “You are my beloved Son, You make all my joy!”
- Greek : Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν[s]σοὶ εὐδόκησα= You are my Son, whom I love, I judge you as good (or well pleased)
- English NIV: “You are my Son,whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
These three versions are very similar. This was a moment of identification. Jesus did not need to repent from any sin; he had no sin. However, it was important that Jesus identify himself with man. It was also a moment of approval. Jesus looked to heaven in order to gain the approval of His Father. Matthew records God saying “This is my beloved Son”. I love, however, Marks retelling of God speaking directly to Jesus “You are my beloved Son”.
The second part is also recorded differently. In the French translation, God is saying to His Son that he makes or completes ALL His joy. Wow, imagine Jesus hearing this from His Father. This is a beautiful validation and confirmation between a Father and Son. I love this. This verse was a great tool for me to share the love of God with my classmates and friends when I studied in Paris.
This section ends with Jesus being THRUST into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. (impelled him to go out in Greek). The same Holy Spirit who descending on Him as a peaceful dove thrust Jesus into the desert for a time of testing. The Hebrew phrases is for a considerable time but the English translation says “forty days”. (Barclay)
This is also the first mention of Satan in the New Testament. The word Satan in Hebrew means “adversary” and is used in the Old Testament as an opponent of ordinary humans(Barclay). Through the temptations of Satan, Jesus had to decide how he was to do his work. Satan tempted him to use his physical power and heavenly support (angels) as a rescue. Jesus had the beasts and angels as his companions. “He was not left to fight his battle alone- and neither are we”. (Barclay)
Societe Biblique Internationale. La Saint Bible : Version Semeur. Colorado : International Bible Society. 1992.
William Barclay. The Gospel of Mark: The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: The
Westminster Press. 1954.
Copyright 2018 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)