—Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three.
Grace makes itself abound. There is no need—and no way—of forcing its hand.
Image from Amazon.
Which is why, then, the Apostle begins verse two with God forbid (mē génoito). There is a problem of translation here. The "God forbid" of the King James Version catches the urgency of the Greek, but the word God simply isn't in the original: that just says something like "Let it not happen!" Other versions render it in various ways. The Revised Standard Version says, "By no means!"—which catches Saint Paul's meaning better, but sounds far too relaxed. And the Vulgate translates it Absit, which means, literally, "Let it be absent!"
I propose, therefore, that we cut our losses, capitalize on the distinctive merits of each of these several versions, and combine the result in one new rendering. Let us keep the urgent negativity of the KJV's God forbid!, the almost Yiddish nuance of It shouldn't happen! in the original Greek, the refreshing note of Get out of here with that jazz! from the Latin Absit, and the sense of simple, literal impossibility in the RSV's By no means!—meaning, there just isn't any way. The locution that seems to me best suited to combine them all is the phrase No way! as it came to be used in the sixties and early seventies (Would you vote for Richard Nixon? No way!). Accordingly, my version reads as follows: Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Baby, there just ain't no way! How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?
To be filed under: things my Greek professors this year would definitely not have let me get away with in my translations. This book is delightful—intelligent, self-aware, shocking, funny, kind. I'm not nearly finished with it, but I loved (of course) The Supper of the Lamb and Fr Capon is proving to be just as eloquent here on law and grace as he was there on onions and puff pastry. Further updates forthcoming.