“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” – Gal. 2:11
One of my favorite positions concerning the King James in regard to the underlying manuscripts that it was translated from, is that in areas where it supposedly differs, the Bible should always be “innocent until proven guilty.” In other words, there should be a real attempt made to search out a matter (Prov. 25:2; 2 Tim. 2:15) before completely denouncing it as an error. In our day and age, it seems to be the popular thing to run about blowing the whistle on all supposed errors. Now, I would be the first to stand in line to call out genuine error, however I would be so very careful to be sure of my accusation before taking a Bible to the court room for prosecution. In Galatians, Paul relates how he “withstood” Peter to the face over a certain inconsistency in his conduct. The red-blooded American likes this verse because it matches his personality of calling out error wherever and whenever it is seen. Naturally, they think the Peking Bible is not saying what their English Bible says. For those who understand Chinese, there is a very polite and kind way to ask someone a question, or to excuse oneself from encroaching upon the rules of conduct; that word is “请问”. In the passage we are looking at today, it seems as though the Peking Bible translated the English “withstood him to the face” as “I asked him politely to the face.” I am not going to attempt to explain that the King James did not mean what it said when it says Paul withstood Peter, nor will I try to claim that the Greek translates the word for “withstood” in several other ways. In fact, at face value, it would seem that the Peking Bible made a really bad blunder; it almost calls into question their ability as translators. Or does it? I am sure most of you Chinese scholars already knew this, but the word “请问,” in the past, as well as currently, can be synonymous with “询问、考问、试问,” which many of you know means to “examine, inquire, or question.” The dictionary gives this example sentence of 请 as a verb referring to “interrogating” someone: 京剧《渡阴平》：“艾敢请妙策，恭听号令。” In fact, in the legal world 询问 is the term used when cross-examining someone about the facts; it is literally translated as “an interrogation about facts.” Under the definition for 请问/询问, we find this entry: “This word refers to someone, based on their authority, responsibility, or position, believing it a necessity to assess clearly a situation by a formal inquest, it often implies a command to the hearer to answer and give an account.” (指根据自己的权利、职责或身份认为有必要弄清情况而正式发问，常隐含命令对方回答的意味。) Is that not exactly what was taking place with Paul and Peter? The problem comes from our misunderstanding of the word 请, which can also mean “please” and is a word coupled with a verb denoting politeness (恭敬), seen in words such as 请原谅, 请坐, and 请问 in the case it is at the beginning of a sentence or an exclamation. In our text, it is obvious the usage is different; you will notice it says that Peter was face to face cross-examined by Paul (当面请问). This is very different than starting a sentence with the word. It becomes painfully obvious that the Peking Committee did not mean Paul was polite, otherwise they would have said Peter was to be blamed! Furthermore, if you will search the Scriptures (Jn. 5:39), you will find the word is also used to represent “inquiry” and has nothing to do with being polite (Deut. 17:9; 2 Kgs. 22:14; 2 Chr. 34:22). This verse is the only instance in the Bible where it is used as a verb, and therefore its usage has nothing to do with the manner in which Paul is speaking, and has everything to do with the fact that Paul is “interrogating, examining, and demanding an answer” from Peter for his misconduct.
What is the conclusion? Perhaps we should allow the Peking Bible to be innocent until proven guilty. Perhaps we should study Chinese to a proficiency and realize we ourselves are not the final authority in what words mean. Use the Bible to define the Bible. How many of you have sourced a Webster’s 1828 Dictionary to define a word? How many of you have found in English the changing of words so blatantly, that you were forced to look into the history of the word just to prove what it means?