Originally published December 17, 2014: μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί
I had the privilege this Sunday of hearing a spectacular sermon by Rev. Stephanie Ford on the Magnificat. When the text was read before the sermon I noticed something that raised for me a question about translation and cultural assumptions.
The translation being read rendered Luke 1:48 as
God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
It is the second of these lines that concerns me. The Greek text of that second line reads:
ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί
Does the verb μακαρίζω really mean “call blessed” here? In the ancient world one did not “call” someone blessed, but simply blessed that person. It was a speech act. The act of affirming a person or making a positive statement about a person’s future was to bless that person (μακαρίζω).
The interpretive difference this raises has to do with who is doing the blessing, who is performing the speech act. To translate μακαρίζω as “call [someone] blessed” suggests that it is someone other than the speaker who does the blessing. The speaker is simply reporting the fact of “blessedness.” In both Classical and Hellenistic Greek, though, the subject of μακαρίζω is the person doing the blessing, not someone else reporting about it.
This issue did not come up in the sermon, which addressed more pressing matters and related the Magnificat fabulously to issues of justice that still should concern us in the 21st century. I apologize to Rev. Ford for being distracted by the Greek text! Her sermon was excellent and blessed.