Sunday, August 25, 2013

Translating Matthew 28:1

A reader asks about the translation of Matthew 28:1 and what it implies for the arrival of the two Marys at the tomb.The question comes because Tyndale translated it:
The sabbath day at even which dawneth the morrow after the saboth, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the sepulchre.

The Greek text in question is:
Ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων, τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων, ἦλθεν Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία θεωρῆσαι τὸν τάφον. (Matthew 28:1)
My translation (at least for today) is:
Long after the Sabbath, at the dawn of the first of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb.
To me the text seems pretty clear that the two Marys came at dawn on the first day of the week.

I can actually see where Tyndale comes up with his translation. The text has ὀψέ which looks a lot like ὀψία which was used just a few verses before in Matthew 27:57. The Greek term ὀψία does mean evening, and ὀψέ is related to it both terms referring to lateness, but they are not the same term and do not mean the same thing. It is an easy mistake to make.

I think William Tyndale was a phenomenal translator. It is perhaps too easy to take a few hundred years of hindsight and nit-pick the work of someone else. This passage simply has a nit. Even when he was wrong, his prose is beautiful, much better than mine.