Wilson Ramos’s Tattoo: A Quick Exegesis

OK, so this has nothing to do with baseball, but I figure it’s interesting and vaguely related to the Nationals. There’s an awful lot fuss being made about Wilson Ramos’s new tattoo, which apparently is the text of Philippians 4:13, and the amusingly loose translation of that verse that the Nats press corps has been slinging around. Here’s Mark Zuckerman:

Wilson Ramos arrived for spring training with a new tattoo emblazoned on his left forearm. It includes a flock of doves and a biblical quote in Spanish, which translated reads: “I put everything in Jesus, because he’s got my back.”

Adam Kilgore was careful to attribute the translation to Ramos:

The tattoo is a Bible verse in Spanish, Philippians 4:13, that Ramos translated as, “I put everything in Jesus, because he has my back.”

Naturally, that got Scripturally-minded Nats fans riled up–there are a lot of ways to read and translate a Bible verse, after all! Most Spanish translations render the verse as it’s written on Ramos’s arm: Todo lo puedo en Cristo que me fortalece. That is, “I can do everything in Christ, who gives me strength.” (and indeed, the verse is so rendered into English in the New International Version– “I can do all things through him [Christ] who gives me strength.”

But one of the perils of translation is that each translation adds overtones and false cognates that makes for tricky reading. Take the Spanish verb fortalezar–sure, it means “to give strength,” but is also used to mean “to fortify” in military contexts (a fortress is a fortaleza, for instance). That adds a martial undertone to the verse that might not really be warranted. In the original Greek, the verse is πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με. My Greek is pretty bad, but the second half (ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με) doesn’t carry the same “fortify” sense–it’s more like “in Him who increases my strength.” Saint Jerome rendered it into Latin as omnia possum in eo qui me confortat: “I can do all things in Him who increases my courage,” a slightly different shade of meaning again.

So no, Nats town: this is not really a verse about a vengeful Jesus watching Wilson Ramos’s back–but it is a nice look at how Wilson Ramos seems to be looking at his life after the kidnapping. Whatever he does this season, for Ramos, it’s going to be the best season ever. As Kilgore quotes Ramos: “I feel like I’m living again…I’ve got a new life.”

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