Jesus Ran Away

Written around May 2,

and finally posted…

This past week I have been going through the final checking process for the Gospel of Luke in four related languages in Papua New Guinea. Here is one of the most interesting translation problems that we were able to resolve so far…

In Luke 5:15-16 here is what the NASB says:

“But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”

Clearly, the intended meaning of the imperfect verbs is that these are things that were repeatedly happening throughout a period of time (including the news spreading, the crowds gathering, and Jesus slipping away). The implied information must be that Jesus would actually teach and heal the people when they came to him before he slipped away for prayer. However, in all four of the translations that we are checking, they understood this passage to mean that the people were coming to Jesus to be healed, but he wasn’t there when they sought him out because he had run away from them to be by himself and pray!

It’s not surprising that they would have this interpretation, since the second sentence begins with an adversative conjunction. Even most English versions begin vs. 16 with ‘but’, which certainly may suggest the faulty reading. But ‘but’ may often over-translate the Greek connective DE, which is better seen as the normative connecting particle for narrative when there is a shift in the subject. Expressing any more contrast begins to err in this passage.

“And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.” (REB)

“So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (NKJV)

The implied information is expressed well in these translations without ‘but’…

“And from time to time he would withdraw to remote places for prayer.” (REB)

“So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (NKJV)

“As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.” (The Message)

Other versions include the word ‘often’, so their use of ‘but’ does not give the wrong impression (NASB, NIV, NLT, NCV, CEV).

Also, consider these excellent renditions…

“However, he continued his habit of retiring to deserted places and praying.” (ISV, Version 1.1)

“Yet Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” (NET)

Several versions present the faulty possible interpretation that Jesus was nowhere to be found when the people were seeking him out…

“But so much the more the report went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” (RSV)

Compare the KJV, Darby, Young, ASV, Phillips, Wuest, TEV, NAB, NRSV, GW, and ESV, which also leave the interpretive possibility open that Jesus would hide from the crowds.

Jesus didn’t run away from the crowds of people when they were coming to hear him and to be healed by him. But he did often withdraw from them to be alone with his Father in prayer.

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