This last Sunday was the Feast of St. Luke. It was more than coincidence I think that I happened across a couple of verses from his Gospel that I look at very differently now than when I was a Protestant.
The verses in question are Luke 11:27-28, “As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you nursed!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”
In my Baptist days, I was taught that this cut across Roman Catholic devotion to Mary. Here was a woman in the crowd praising Mary and Jesus was shutting her down.
But the truth is that most English translations are just reflecting an allergy to Catholic teaching by rendering these verses as they do. You see, the Greek word here translated “rather” (menoun) does not have anything like the contrary force in Greek that “rather” does in English. It is actually an emphatic particle normally rendered as “and.” In other words, if the Bible used italics for emphasis, the passage would better be translated: “He said, ‘*And* blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” He is not denying what she said, he is emphatically adding something to what she said.
It is the same word we find in Romans 9:20; 10:18; Philippians 3:8 and is only ever translated in an adversive way here due to the apparent honor being given to Christ’s mother. A fair-minded consideration makes the meaning “on the contrary” extremely unlikely.
Yet, even the Orthodox Dormition Skete New Testament tends to dilute this pro-Marian in its rendering, “Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”
The Eastern Orthodox Bible, however, brings out the real emphasis of the Greek very nicely, “But Jesus said, “Yes, and more than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
Far from diminishing Mary’s role as Christ’s mother as some Bibles seem to imply, the Greek actually agrees with her honored role and builds on that to say all who follow the Word of God are blessed as well. It is practically the opposite of the meaning I had been taught growing up.
In this one verse, we see the importance of recognizing the possible unconscious bias of Biblical translators, the importance of a close study of the original languages, and the importance of Holy Tradition as a guide to Biblical interpretation.