Here I am again doing some musing on things deemed controversial. I labeled certain writings as musings because they aren’t fully fleshed out and filled in. Musings contains things that I know or at least believe to be true, that differ from mainstream ideas. They are put on the public square in order to be read, tinkered, or even challenged. Scrutiny will help me to make sense of what I am thinking, by either replacing my theory with a better one or sharpening my theory to take into account things unconsidered. This entry includes some of my thoughts on translation philosophy. My preferred translation and method of translation is a balance between formal equivalence (Literal) and dynamic (the HCSB calls this optimal), and despite what anyone claims even the more literal translations resort to dynamic equivalence from time to time. The NIV, and others is not the big bad wolf, despite what a few little preachers have to say, but listen to his side of the story, he simply had a cold and needed to borrow some sugar. This isn’t a repudiation of formal equivalent bibles, just some cases for dynamic equivalence. I briefly discuss verbal plenary inspiration, and say enough to get me in trouble, and then from there give some of my thoughts on translation.
This article was prompted by some thoughts from Earle Ellis on deficiencies in dynamic equivalent translations. I don’t wholly disagree with him but I do disagree in philosophy so I decided to temper some of this thoughts, or at least try to, his thoughts are:
(1) It rejects the verbal aspect of biblical inspiration.
(2) It gives to the translator the role that rightly belongs to the preacher, commentator and Christian reader.
(3) It assumes that the present-day translator knows what contemporary words, idioms and paraphrases are equivalent to the prophets’ and apostles’ wording.
(4) It advocates conforming biblical language and concepts to the modern culture rather than conforming the modern culture to biblical language and concepts.
(5) It appears to discard the Protestant principle that Christian laity should have full access to the Word of God written without interposition of clergy or of paraphrastic veils.
1. His assumption is that Verbal plenary inspiration is true. I find VPI to be flawed, and even damaging if looked at rationally:
1. God’s word is inspired.
2. VPI says every single word is inspired by God.
3. The autographs are inspired.
4. We don’t have the autographs.
5. We rely on textual criticism to restore the original text.
6. Textual criticism cannot completely restore the original text.
7. We don’t have every word of God.
8. We don’t have God’s word.
This is largely problematic. I believe the Spirit carried along the writers and that they were not left to their own but the exact dynamics are not really laid out. I am sure that God’s message does not lose its word-of-godness when word order is altered, words are updated, and foreign concepts are given a more familiar touch (without altering the message). Technically, once you translate a scripture to another language it is no longer the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word or words that God “chose” but an approximation from the receptor language. Wouldn’t the assumptions of VPI make translations not scripture? If VPI was the case then you would expect NT writers to painstakingly copy the words verbatim without any alteration, yet we find phenomena like this:
εγω μεν υμας βαπτιζω εν υδατι εις μετανοιαν ο δε οπισω μου ερχομενος ισχυροτερος μου εστιν ου ουκ ειμι ικανος τα υποδηματα βαστασαι αυτος υμας βαπτισει εν πνευματι αγιω και πυρι (Matt 3:11)
και εκηρυσσεν λεγων ερχεται ο ισχυροτερος μου οπισω ου ουκ ειμι ικανος κυψας λυσαι τον ιμαντα των υποδηματων αυτου (Mark 1:7)
απεκρινατο λεγων πασιν ο ιωαννης εγω μεν υδατι βαπτιζω υμας ερχεται δε ο ισχυροτερος μου ου ουκ ειμι ικανος λυσαι τον ιμαντα των υποδηματων αυτου αυτος υμας βαπτισει εν πνευματι αγιω και πυρι (Luke 3:16)
απεκριθη αυτοις ο ιωαννης λεγων εγω βαπτιζω εν υδατι μεσος υμων ον υμεις ουκ οιδατε οπισω μου ερχομενος ου ουκ ειμι [εγω] αξιος ινα λυσω αυτου τον ιμαντα του υποδηματος ταυτα εν βηθανια εγενετο περαν του ιορδανου οπου ην ο ιωαννης βαπτιζων… κἀγὼ οὐκ ᾔδειν αὐτόν, ἀλλ’ ὁ πέμψας με βαπτίζειν ἐν ὕδατι ἐκεῖνός μοι εἶπεν, Ἐφ’ ὃν ἂν ἴδῃς τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον καὶ μένον ἐπ’ αὐτόν, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. (John 1:27-28, 34)
ὡς δὲ ἐπλήρου Ἰωάννης τὸν δρόμον, ἔλεγεν, Τί ἐμὲ ὑπονοεῖτε εἶναι; οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐγώ: ἀλλ’ ἰδοὺ ἔρχεται μετ’ ἐμὲ οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἄξιος τὸ ὑπόδημα τῶν ποδῶν λῦσαι. (Acts 13:25)
Five different versions of John’s message, and some interesting theological points are made if we are careful. For the synoptics, Jesus’ immersion of the Spirit is a future promise (they view the statement from Jesus chronological point of view) in John it’s a present reality for all believers–the shift in tense from future to present was not accidental. John is noted to focus on pneumatology more than the other gospel historians—his shift in tense is the starting point for his pneumatic theme. This suggests that exact word order could be altered and the messages integrity maintained. When you compare Exodus 20 with Deuteronomy 5 there are deviations in word order and even insertions. Of course my view needs to be tempered. We need to translate as accurately as possible, but accuracy isn’t necessarily “literalness” sometimes wooden literalisms are mistranslation.
Translation isn’t just about transferring words in their exact order but also making the thoughts intelligible in the receptor language. For example, when describing the healing of the paralytic man, mark says “ἀπεστέγασαν τὴν στέγην” but Luke says ἀναβάντες ἐπὶ τὸ δῶμα διὰ τῶν κεράμων. Mark addressing Roman’s uses the common word for a Roman roof (see Matt 8:8 and Luke 7:6–this is a gentile speaker), but Luke is more accurate and describes the door at the top of Jewish houses. I think this conveys not only that restrictive syntax isn’t what early Christians believed but also that you could substitute a well- known concept or word in the place of a less well known one.
2. I partially agree with this. Everyone has the right to understand the Bible, but because we are removed by culture, beliefs, and timeline things need to be translated. The culture, the worldview, the sociopolitical atmosphere, the language etc…need to be translated. To take this premise to its logical extreme we should leave it un-translated (shouldn’t they be able to read without middle man?). If we agree that it should be made available in everyones receptor language and it should, why should it stop at word order, or exact part of speech replication (verbs and nouns function differently in different languages)? Now you know me well enough that I am primarily concerned with understanding the Bible in its original context—so I lean dynamic equivalence if its helps portray the original meaning better. The NIV translates “raqia” vault, instead of firmament or expanse (Genesis 1:6). This is a form of dynamic equivalence I like. OT and ANE scholars recognize that ancients viewed the sky as a dome to hold up the water above the dome. “Sky” and “atmosphere” are acceptable translations for a modern reader unconcerned with ancient culture but for my taste it is misleading and misses the beauty of ancient pre-scientific thought (but if Mark can call a Jewish roof a Roman one, then this is acceptable). “Expanse” is accurate but it doesn’t faithfully translate what an ancient would have read and understood. “Dome” or “vault” is spot on.
3. Formal equivalence assumes that modern readers “can’t” know “what contemporary words, idioms and paraphrases are equivalent to the prophets’ and apostles’ wording.” We don’t know in some cases but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try the best we can to get as close as possible
4. Not necessarily, my philosophy is to make the original meaning as accurate as possible, but sometimes this means using a modern idiom that is very close in approximation to the original one. This is difficult—for one I want to protect the integrity of the original author’s style and word choice etc…The expression, “Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι” does not make sense literally. “What to me and to you, woman,” has to be ironed out (and this is true of all translation, that’s why we generally don’t read interlinear bibles, they don’t make good sense). Once you iron it out, should we suppose that Jesus is calling his mother “woman”? If it was a term of endearment then, why not add “dear” to soften what sounds like a harsh expression to us? In a similar vein most translations, especially literal ones, tone down harsh idioms and expressions. Ezekiel 16 is hardly as offensive in English as it is in Hebrew—because we have to consider the receptor language. “Those who urinate on a wall” (1 Sam 25:22; 1 Kings 14:10) is an idiomatic way to refer to man—women can’t urinate on walls,but that’s a bit graphic for us—“men” is better.
5. This objection seems to be a rewording of two and was addressed above.
I think we can all agree with the words in the introduction of The Wisdom of Sirach:
“Wherefore let me intreat you to read it with favour and attention, and to pardon us, wherein we may seem to come short of some words, which we have laboured to interpret. For the same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them: and not only these things, but the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their own language. “