Bono the Just + James 1:27

Tyler Williams at Codex recently posted Bill Hybel’s recent interview with Bono of U2. Be sure to check it out.

I’m relatively late in the game as a fan of U2. In my days as a “Christian-music-only-fundie” I shunned the group, but they finally won me over while at Seminary. I am continually impressed with Bono’s concern for the plight of the poor. While “Bono the Just” is certainly no ascetic (he is after all, a rock star), his concern for the poor resonates loudly with a major theme of the Epistle of James. This care for the poor is integrated in James’ view of Christian faith(fulness), as is illustrated in 1:27, in regard to care for widows and orphans:

θρησκεία καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμίαντος παρὰ τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὕτη ἐστίν, ἐπισκέπτεσθαι ὀρφανοὺς καὶ χήρας ἐν τῇ θλίψει αὐτῶν, ἄσπιλον ἑαυτὸν τηρεῖν ἀπὸ τοῦ κόσμου. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (Darby) Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)

I’ve provided Darby’s translation along with the NIV to illustrate the tendency to separate sanctification from social concern. Sean McDonough, of Gordon-Conwell once noted in a lecture the absence of καί between the phrases ἐπισκέπτεσθαι ὀρφανοὺς καὶ χήρας ἐν τῇ θλίψει αὐτῶν “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” and ἄσπιλον ἑαυτὸν τηρεῖν ἀπὸ τοῦ κόσμου* “to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Interestingly enough, the NIV and every major English translation inserts an “and” in between the two phrases.** Only Darby’s translation reflects the absence of a conjunction. While the lack of the conjunction in Greek does not necessitate a lack of a conjunction in English,*** this seems to be a case where a more “wooden” translation would have better communicated the “flavor” of the text. Without the “and,” care for widows and orphans is more closely connected to keeping oneself clean of worldly influences. With the “and” inserted it seems easier to conclude that if I have kept myself “unsoiled” and “sanctified” then I at least have half of the game down. Without the “and,” at least the two aspects of “pure religion” are more closely related and interconnected, so that it is an “all or nothing” deal (a concept that would resonate with James’ condemnation of “double mindeness” [1:8; 4:8]). At most, James is saying that one keeps oneself unspotted from this world primarily by taking care of the vulnerable. I will leave this up to the grammarians to decide. In the meantime, I’m going to brush up on asyndeton.

* P47 has ὑπερασηίζειν αὐτου̂ς, “to protect them,” while some miniscules (614, 1505) have the plural, ἀσπίλους ἑαυτοὺς τηρει̂τε.
** Based on a comparison of all English versions in BibleWorks 7.0. The ASV, ERV, KJV, NAS, RWB and WEB do have the “and” marked in some way to indicate that the conjunction is not present in the Greek. All other English translations represented in BibleWorks simply include “and.”
*** Actually, Mayor suggests that asyndeton in this case serves antithetically, which would imply the translation: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress, but to keep onself from being poluted by the world” (Mayor, ccxxvi; 74).

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