By Seth Busetti
Some things are just lost in the translation. Here’s a fun game I saw on a YouTube video from this guitar-whiz guy named Steve Terreberry. Go into Google Translate. Enter your favorite song lyrics in English, and translate them to some other language, like Japanese. Then, copy the translation and translate it back from that language to English.
Here’s a simple example.
I once was lost, but now am found
Translate that to Azerbaijani
Mən bir dəfə itirdim, amma indi tapdım
Okay, let’s copy that and translate back to English, to get a humorous result.
I lost it once, but now I find it
Oops, that’s not quite right. Although I definitely have lost it more than once! Notice how a simple uninspired translation got the meaning all mixed up. So what if we try it again on something a bit more complicated. This one is the first verse from the popular Hillsong United song “Oceans” leading to an unfortunate result.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And let Google translate that into Turkish
Beni sularda ararsın
Ayakların nerede başarısız olabileceği bilinmeyen
Ve seni gizemde buluyorum
And now translate that back to English
You call me in the water
Unknown where feet can fail
And I find you in mystery
In the depths of the ocean
My faith will stop
The first three lines were basically okay, but look what we did to line four. We went from the very uplifting and empowering message of “My faith will stand” to something quite different in “My faith will stop.” Now that ought to leave you with a rather different impression of the song!
Besides introducing you to a fun game for the whole family, I want to draw your attention to the challenges of interpreting between different languages, cultures, and time periods. Something like this happens as we start to read the New Testament for ourselves. Many of us old enough to remember cassette tapes and that great sitcom ALF were raised reading the King James version of the bible. Many of our doctrinal traditions were established using this version (NIV and NASB were just starting to gain popularity). The KJV was finished in 1611, and it was heavily influenced by the Latin Vulgate as well as original Greek texts. As a result, we get some very colorful old timey language. We’re introduced to one special term “lucre” in 1 Samuel, referring to Samuel’s wicked sons.
1 Samuel 8:3
And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
This word lucre is translated from the Latin ‘lucrum’ which the Oxford dictionary defines as: “money, especially when regarded as sordid or distasteful or gained in a dishonourable way.”
The translation seems right, the Hebrew word is betsa, which a brief check with the Strong’s concordance shows to basically mean the same thing – unjust gain. What happens when we move into the New Testament? Here’s an example.
Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.
The Greek phrase rendered as filthy lucre is aischros kerdos. Strong’s again indicates the first word means unjust and the second means gain. So unjust gain or filthy lucre seem like fair translations (I’m not a biblical texts expert, sorry to disappoint). In other places the words are combined as aischrokerdōs, basically meaning the same thing, unjust gain.
1 Peter 5:2
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.
Okay, so this is solid. We’ve got a good basis to say that God really really dislikes unjust gain, or filthy lucre, or in our vernacular good old fashioned lyin’, cheatin’, and stealin’ to get ahead.
But when did this decent translation of the text turn into notion that all money or wealth is unjust? Am I the only one that had some of this baggage growing up? Turns out not. Flashback to the Middle Ages. The Medieval Catholic Church, in an effort to simultaneously marginalize, condemn, and protect Jews, formalized the practice of Jewish moneylending. The idea was basically that Christians ought not participate in collecting interest or anything that resembled usury of other Christians. But business still needed to be done, cathedrals and city projects needed to be financed. Enter the Jews. Because Judaism and the laws of Moses elevated honesty and righteous business transactions, religious Jews could be trusted with money. What the Church rendered as the spiritual dirty work of money lending, banking and financing, could be passed off onto them, and everyone got stuff done. The historical narrative of antisemitism and the stereotype of “greedy Jews” only devolves from there. Okay, that’s as deep as I’m going to go with that. There’s a ton of great books on this, by the way.
My point is not to dwell on the history lesson, but pose one real source for where we got this idea that money was evil. Somewhere in history, maybe it was the Middle Ages, Christians started passing down the belief that in order to get ahead in life you had to be greedy, dishonest, unjust, and a lover of filthy lucre. In contrast, good, honest Christians were more inclined to lead simple, meager lives with low aspirations. Or at least that’s my oversimplified retelling of the story.
It turns out this belief that Christians should abstain from making money and being in the marketplace is just not true. God definitely does not want us to take advantage of people or to lie, cheat, steal, or manipulate our way to the top of anything. But the thought that wealth in and of itself is evil is just distorted.
Abraham was rich. Joseph was rich. David was rich. Daniel became rich in Babylon, as did Ezra and Nehemiah. Jesus’ ministry was funded by rich believers. He was buried in a rich man’s tomb. The problem isn’t money. Money isn’t the root of all kinds of evil, the love of money is. That means idolizing money or materialism, or more simply, having an unhealthy relationship with money.
How is your relationship with money? Do you have a healthy perspective? Is it a tool for you to serve God, provide for your family, and bless others? Or is money a crutch, an obstacle, an idol, or is the pursuit of money like a drug or addiction?
We want to help you build a healthy relationship with money and wealth. We’ve designed a special course called Entrusted With Money that we know will help. You can find more information about it here.
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Here are a few other blog posts that you might enjoy.
5 Ways to Tithe When You’re Between Churches
3 thoughts on “Who Said Filthy Lucre?”