‘Choppe and Chaunge’

What sort of language is this? Definitely not bible language - and you will not find it in any bible except William Tyndale’s.

His historic, ground-breaking, first ever Greek-to-English 1526 translation of ‘The second pistle of S. Paul to the Corrinthians’ (sic) chapter 2 (there are of course no verse numbers, this was before they were instituted) reads: For we are not as many are which choppe and chaunge with the worde of god: but as they which speake off purenes, and as they which speake of God in the sight off God, so speake we in Christ.

King James’s scholars threw out the phrase and, as they so often did, substituted the latinate: ‘which corrupt the word of God’. Although this, surely, has a completely different meaning, it persisted in different bibles well into the 20th century, when some new translations have ‘hawking the Word of God’ – culminating in the 1995 American Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version: ‘A lot of people try to get rich from preaching God’s Message’.

In October this year, Dr Morna Hooker gave the Hertford Lecture in Oxford on the subject of Tyndale as Translator. As a Greek scholar and one of the translators of The New English Bible, Dr Hooker was vividly aware of the impossible choices Tyndale faced. Many words have resonances beyond their literal meaning which rarely equate from one language to another, she told us.

A perfect example is the original word that causes such confusion in this passage. It turns out to be one of the most ancient in the Greek language. KAPĒ is the root noun, used by Homer as ‘a crib for cattle food, a manger’. The feeding connection metamorphosed into ‘a pub’ in Plato. By the mid 5th century BC the verb meant ‘to be a shopkeeper’ for Herodotus, which Euripides took down market as ‘to haggle over vegetables’. It was used by Aeschylus metaphorically for ‘making a trade of war’, and a later anonymous writer extended this to mean ‘playing tricks with life’. Aristotle gave it a criminal twist ‘to be vamped up for sale’, and Demosthenes went further ‘a dealer in petty roguery’. Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon of 1889, gives these additional translations: ‘like a petty trader, knavish, huckster, hawker, peddler, higgler’ (sic).

Case rests for William Tyndale.

Mary Clow

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