Butchering the Bible: “Hail Mary, Full of Grace!”

Scribalishness’ post on Really Bad Bible Interpretation recounts a time when she wanted to refute a pastor mid-sermon:

”Now,“ he said in his best Texas-preacher voice, ”that little word, ‘et,’ isn’t translated, so you can’t see it in your English Bible. But, it’s there. And here’s the amazing thing: it’s spelled alef tav. Now, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is alef. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is tav.“ His face began to turn red with excitement. The jugular veins were bulging as his voice grew louder. And, wiping the sweat beads from his forehead, he said profoundly: “Alef and tav, the first and the last, the Alpha, the Omega! Jesus Christ in Genesis 1:1!!!!”

Her hysterical story reminds me of a similarly torturous experience I once had.  It was December 8, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception for Roman Catholics. Since it was a holy day of obligation, I had to go to Mass, and my own parish’s mass times didn’t work.  So I tried a different parish that day.  Bad mistake.

The priest, in his sermon, homilized on a Catholic favorite: the Annunciation.  In the words of the traditional rosary:

Hail Mary, full of grace!  The Lord is with thee. (Luke 1:28)

For those who aren’t familiar, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception refers to the Roman belief that Mary was born without original sin.  This particular priest seemed bent on finding this dogma in Scripture itself.  Because Luke does not mention any point at which Mary became “full of grace,” he argued, she must have been so from her birth.  

(Also, apparently the participle κεχαριτωμένη, here translated “full of grace” but in the modern Catholic NAB rendered “favored one,” is equivalent to “born without original sin.”  What.)

At this point I wanted to get up from my pew and leave.  I felt lied to.  I hadn’t even begun studying Greek then, but my bad exegesis detector was already beginning to work.  I wondered if anyone else had caught the glaring discrepancy between what the text said and what he thought it said.

Has your awareness of biblical languages – or of the Bible in general – ever made you want to scream at a sermonizer?

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