Archive Authors Civic Polity E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Explorations in Exile (3)

(Part 1; Part 2)

The Vulgate is a good translation of the Bible.

Stop laughing.

No, really, the Vulgate is a good translation of the Bible. It’s not perfect; but, then again, neither is the ESV, the NIV, or the KJV.

So it might be worthwhile to look at how an ancient translator who knew both Greek and Latin chose to render the terms in 1 Peter sometimes translated as “exile” in contemporary English versions.

Latin had terms for “exile.” An exile was an exsul; exile itself was exsilium or deportatio; to exile someone was exterminare, relegare, or deportare.

None of these terms is used in the Vulgate version of 1 Peter.

Peter’s address in 1.1 is rendered as: Petrus apostolus Iesu Chrisi electis advenis dispersionisAdvenae are strangers, aliens, foreigners, immigrants, so: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect strangers of the dispersion.” “Strangers” or “foreigners,” because they lived outside of their ancestral homeland.

Again, Peter’s command in 1.17 is rendered as: in timore incolatus vestri tempore conversamini. Incolatus, a fourth declension genitive singular noun, simply means “residing” or “dwelling,” so: “Conduct yourselves in fear in the time of your residing [on the earth [not yet fully purged of corruption]].”

Again, Peter’s plea in 2.11: carissimi obsecro tamquam advenas et peregrinas abstinere vos a carnalibus desideriis quae militant adversus animam. Advena a second time, as well as peregrina, which also means “strangers, aliens, foreigners.”

In each of these three instances, the translator has chosen a term that refers to dwelling outside of one’s homeland (in some respect), but has likewise chosen terms that are more neutral in their connotations than “exile” normally is. We sometimes, it is true, now use the term “exile” for similar purposes because its semantic range has expanded; but we should remember that in its ancient canonical and cultural contexts “exile” usually has a very specific legal and political meaning. Thus modern uses of what we might call “expanded exile” sit uncomfortably with the way the term is used in discussions of the ancient world (and in the ancient texts themselves). This confusion in turn runs the risk of imputing characteristics to the Christian condition–even accidentally–whose weight the texts are perhaps not intended to bear. Nulla theologia sine philologia!

Next time: a look at the motif from the angle of a Platonic exitus-reditus schema.


By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.