The Gospel of Juan

Yesterday I finished a read-through of John. That in, and of itself, is not unusual. What was unusual about this is I read it in Spanish.

One of my goals moving forward is to become better at Spanish, but I had never seriously read anything in Spanish beyond instructions or a gossipy webpage. I chose the Gospel of John because I am very familiar with it and I figured that would help me. I know that was true of learning Greek and Hebrew, that parts of the Bible I had memorized or knew well were always easier to translate.

I find the Spanish language beautiful to the ear and to the mind. Once you get your mind around the way it works it is a logical language that makes sense — unlike the ever elusive English. My great failing is conversational Spanish because I rarely get the chance to practice, and I found reading the biblical text each day, with its many conversations tucked away inside of it, was a partial (though not complete) help in improvement.

Here are five things that stood out to me as I wrapped up Juan.

First, words I knew in Spanish from other contexts felt odd in the biblical material. I don’t know why this is, but it is true. It took a long time for me to get accustomed to thinking of Jesus as ‘el hombre’. Yet that is where John begins — 1:14 – ‘el Verbo se hizo hombre y habito entry nosotros.’ I felt the same way with the metaphorical language of Jesus being ‘el pan de vida.’ Again, I know these things, but I had so spiritualized such words as God made man and bread of life that I forgot the everyday nature of these words until I worked them through in another language.

Second, more than a few times I realized things I had never realized before. Now, keep in mind I have read John many times in Greek, the language it was written in, but it took reading it in Spanish to FINALLY SEE in John 3 that Jesus was going from Judea back to Galilee when he encountered the Samaritan woman at the well. For forty years It has been stuck in my head he was going from Galilee to Judea, but it was always the other way around. It’s been right there in front of me, but I couldn’t see it. Gracias, el Español. Gracias.

Third, in reading the text of John much of the mystery and mystique of the helping verbs like ‘habia’ and ‘habrian’ was removed. Full disclosure, they still stump me a lot and my ear doesn’t hear them well, but I think I finally kinda understand. Sorta. Maybe.

Fourth, the place where I really struggled was in those very philosophical chapters in the middle, 14-17. I’ve read them so much in English and Greek that I no longer saw the metaphysical nature of what Jesus was claiming about himself and the Holy Spirit and the disciples. But in Spanish, the verbs and their tenses and the lacking nouns made it all so much more mystical.

Fifth, several times the Spanish rendering took me back to the Greek and left me scratching my head. For example, Juan 14:1 is rendered as ‘No se angustien. Confien en Dios, y confien tambien en mi.’ The opening phrase is something like ‘don’t be worried’ or ‘don’t be in anguish’ (I love cognates, they are my favorite). In English this is ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ I checked the Greek, and sure enough in the GNT it is ‘kardia’ — heart. Yet, here in the Spanish, there is no ‘corzaon’ where you expect one. I have no idea why.

There were many other fun things along the way, such as no quotation marks in dialogue, but these were the main things that stood out to me. I don’t want to sound too strange, but reading the crucifixion in Spanish seemed a little more urgent, and Pilate felt a little crueler.

It took me a long time, a little each morning, and I wore out my Spanish-English dictionary and several times had to look up idioms on my iPad. I will continue my Spanish lessons, but I will take a break from reading the Bible in Spanish for a while. I do think this fall I will try and find a Spanish third or fourth grade level chapter book to read. That might be helpful.


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