April 11, 2007

It Is Finished

While leading a bible study for our Governor and his staff Tuesday morning the question was raised concerning the last words of Jesus, "It is finished." (John 19:30) One of the staff members stated their pastor on Sunday indicated this statement was in fact a word used by merchants to show that a bill had been "paid in full." Said staffer commented that this was quite a jump in translation from "It is finished." This was my cue to enter the conversation.

I explained, as I did in a previous post, there are words/phrases that simply don't translate into English (or other languages, I suppose) very well, if at all. With this particular phrase the Greek word is tetelestai, from the root word telos meaning end, the last part, conclusion, or goal. This verb is in the Perfect tense which "involves a present state which has resulted from a past action. The present state is a continuing state; the past action is a completed action." (Syntax of New Testament Greek, Brooks and Winbery). The evident impact of this information makes it clear that much more was being said by Jesus than "It's done." While the notion of the completion of an activity is certainly involved it in no way begins to gather up all the significance of this marvelous statement. "It is finished" as a continuing state resulting from a completed past action means that our debt of sin continues to be "finished"/"paid in full" as a result of the completed past action of Jesus on the cross.

So, what is a translator to do? As always, the best they can. If all of the significance of this one word in John 19:30 was put into a translation it would weigh the reading so heavily as to be unacceptable. Even multiple translations, taking this word from various angles, fail to gather up all of the significance and power. As a further commentary on this idea of "It is finished" see Hebrews 7:26-8:2. Jesus is here described as the superior High Priest. Note that He is seated. Unlike the priests of old, who were constantly offering sacrifices, Jesus has no need to offer sacrifice because "It is finished."

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