Our Lord Has Come!/Come, Lord!

μαρὰν ἀθά/μαρανα θα

 

מרנא תא                 מרן אתא

μαρὰν ἀθά                   μαρανα θα

maran ‘athâ                maranâ thâ

Our Lord has come!      Come, Lord!

 Textually, you can’t get more interesting than this. Depending on the biblical translation you rely upon, you will find the verse above from  1 Corinthians 6:22 written either in the preterite or the imperative sense. Doctrinally, it makes very little difference as I found when looking up the original transliterated term “maranatha,” little realizing the bird’s nest of textual criticism I had stumbled upon.

As usual, it all started with Wikipedia and this interesting comment:

“In general, the recent interpretation has been to select the command option (“Come, Lord!”), changing older decisions to follow the preterite option (“Our Lord has come”) as found in the ancient Aramaic Peshitta, in the Latin Clementine Vulgate, in the Greek Byzantine texts, Textus Receptus, critical Greek texts like Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, Cambridge, etc., and in the English translations like the King James Version, the Finnish Raamattu, etc. One reason the change from the previous scholarly view has occurred is that the P46 papyrus (ca. A.D. 200) divides it as μαρανα θα (“marana tha”).”

You see, the extant manuscripts of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians all provide a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic for this particular expression, so that depending on how the translator chooses to split the transliteration, maran ‘athâ or maranâ thâ, the meaning will be strikingly different.

As it happens, I have Charles Hodges’s A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (1857) at hand but the normally brilliantly clarifying theologian only adds to the confusion by asserting: “Maran atha are two Aramæan words signifying ‘The Lord,’ or ‘Our Lord comes’.” No help there since the master theologian merely keeps the possessive but discards the imperative for the declarative without explanation.

Wanting to avoid even the appearance of indulging in linguistic sleights of hand, the most recent authoritative translation of the Bible, the English Standard Version (2001), takes the imperative, eschatological road, “Our Lord, come!” simply noting in a footnote the original transliteration as having been Maranatha, without a hint of the inherent ambiguity. Strong’s Concordance wades right in and gives both meanings [“either: Our Lord hath come, or: Our Lord cometh (will come, is at hand)] while preferring the latter as did Hodge.

Frankly, I find the textual ambiguity exhilarating, as should all Christians, since it is yet another hint of the “Already and Not Yet” dichotomy that we live with every day, not simply in our daily lives but also in the word of God as a whole, most notably in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament as well as in the historic and prophetic books of the old including the Psalms.

For example, in Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20, Jesus says explicitly that with his arrival on earth the “kingdom of God has come upon you;” yet in Luke 17:20, “being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed’.” Paul in Ephesians 2:6 writes that God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” placing us already in a sphere where we are yet yearning to be.

Add to this the books of Daniel and Revelation and you clearly have an existential and eschatological dilemma unless, barring the historical interplay within all these accounts, we acknowledge the twin nature of the Christian life. We have been saved (having a new and eternal life) but we are yet to be saved (having still to face corruption and death). The tension between what God has already done for us and what he has yet to do is played out most clearly in ourselves, as Paul points out in Romans 7, for we are always engaged in a struggle between our new nature in Christ and our old “dead” nature. The term Martin Luther coined to describe this condition is simul justus et peccator. We are at the same time saint and sinner, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10).

And if it gets messy just trying to describe it, it’s even messier trying to live it except that we don’t do it alone but by the grace of God the Father in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

To get back to that textual anomaly we began with, how apt a linguistic tangle is that?! It functions metaphorically on at least one level, to wit, as describing the belief of every Christian. Christ Jesus has come in the historical and spiritual sense and, eschatologically, Christ Jesus will come on that day when he returns.

So maran ‘athâ or maranâ thâ? Take your pick. Personally, I like it both ways.

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4 thoughts on “Our Lord Has Come!/Come, Lord!

    1. I couldn’t have received a finer compliment. Soli Deo Gloria. I hesitate to think what that early church father (and, if I remember correctly, the first “modern” textual critic) would think of the suffering Egyptian church right now, since he himself fled from Alexandria due to persecution.

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