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Monday, August 6

Preserving Images in Translation (Heb 10:29)

We all know by now that it is often impossible to bring the full meaning of a word into English. Languages do not have equivalent vocabularies. But that does not mean we stop trying.

One of the areas where this is especially difficult is when there is a specific figure of speech, a specific image or nuance in a word.

For example, in Heb 10:29 we read, “How much greater punishment do you think will be deserved by the one who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was made holy, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” 

“Trampled … underfoot” translates καταπατήσας, from καταπατέω. As is true of many words, it can be used in a literal and a figurative sense. BDAG gives its semantic range as:

  1. to tread so heavily as to injure, trample under foot, citing Mt 7:6, Mt 5:13 (Lk 8:5), and Luke 12:1.
  2. to look on with scorn, trample under foot, treat with disdain, citing our passage.

In other words, it is a pretty strong word. It evokes a serious if not painful situation. We’re not talking about accidentally bumping, but doing serious damage. Andy actually described it quite eloquently. “Trampled,” he writes, “preserves the sense of moral disgust at what is being done to Christ in this verse, and thus in turn provides even more justification for the ‘outrage’ of the Holy Spirit. It hits more forcefully the reader or listener who may at the time be perpetrating this specific sin.”

The RSV misses the picture created by the word when it writes, “How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God.” NET uses “contempt,” and TEV has “treat as a cheap thing.” The RSV has been “fixed” in the ESV: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God” (also also KJV, NKJV, HCSB, NIV, NLT, NJB).

To have heard the truth of God’s Word and to willfully disobey is truly a hideous thing as it treats Jesus as a profane, common thing.  As the author of Hebrews says, “How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (v 29) … It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v 31).

Trampled indeed.