[B-Greek] Jn 12:44
iver at larsen.dk
Fri Nov 18 04:08:00 EST 2005
You said in your last post: But the translator should practice being consciously aware of the
different levels of influence that result in any choice of rendering.
Very true! But sometimes we are not conscious of things that we have not yet learned or understood.
The various "paradoxes" and inferences you mention below (in an earlier post) are based on English thought patterns
rather than the way the
author of John is thinking. Meaning is not only a matter of looking at individual words, translating those words into
English and then process the meaning from there using English reason and thought patterns. We need to recognize that
John is thinking in a Semitic pattern rather than modern English pattern. That John writes in Greek does not mean that
he doesn't think primarily in Semitic terms. So, even a good knowledge of Greek is not always sufficient to understand
Whereas the English thought pattern is linear by default, Semitic thought pattern is "overlapping" by default. To
understand the overlapping pattern of Semitic thought, think of 3 transparent sheets for an overhead projector. In a
linear mode, we would prepare each sheet to be complete in itself and we would put the three sheets on the OH in
succession, where the order is important, because they would be arranged acceding to linear and logical progression. In
the overlapping mode, the first sheet would give a general outline and indicate part of the picture. The next sheet
would add some more details to the same picture and it would be placed ON TOP of the first sheet to fill in some
details. The third sheet would add further details, and would again be placed on top of the first two. Only when you
have all three sheets overlapping do you see the full picture.
This overlapping structure can be seen throughout the OT and occasionally also in the NT, especially in those passages
that clearly go back to a Hebrew source or are written by a person whose mothertongue was Hebrew (or Aramaic).
Let me (please allow me) to quote a passage from Luke 8:37-38 (RSV) to show just one example:
"Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized
with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned.
38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying,
39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away,"
When an English reader has reached to the end of v. 37, he would think that Jesus has by now returned to Capernaum.
After all, he got into the boat and returned.
However, in v. 38 the healed man asked to come along in the boat with Jesus, and that request must have been made before
Jesus left. V. 37 is the first OH sheet. KEEP it on the OH, because more details are coming. Details that happened
before the end result of leaving.
v. 38 is the second sheet, indicating that before he left, the man asked to come along. But Jesus refused and sent him
Now reaching to the end of v. 38, some of us would think that he has already gone, because Jesus sent him away. But wait
for the third sheet.
v. 39 tells us that before Jesus sent him away, he gave him instructions about what to do.
Exegesis and translation is not just understanding words, but understanding thought patterns and cultural context. Most,
if not all, English translations are misleading in this particular passage, because they translate the words without
regard to a major difference in thought patterns.
>From this background let me comment on some of yours below:
----- Original Message -----
From: "Webb" <webb at selftest.net>
To: "'Scott Wells'" <wellsscott at bellsouth.net>; "'B-Greek'" <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2005 8:19 PM
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Jn 12:44
>I had another thought about Jn 12:44 and NIV, and that is that NIV
> translators chose the general formulation:
> When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me, but in the one who
> sent me.
> Taken by themselves in English, the words, "he does not believe in
> me, but in the one who sent me", seem to say that the person doesn't believe
> in Jesus.
Yes, it seems so, as long as you do your exegesis without reference to the thought pattern of the author. You
superimpose an English linear thought pattern onto the text, a thought pattern that is alien to the original text.
John is saying that he doesn't only believe in me, but also, and more importantly, he believes in the Father.
Do not remove sheet 1 from the OH, but keep it there so that it is further qualified by the second sheet. However, if
the reader is English, he would already have removed the first sheet. That is why adding "only" is a way of bridging the
gap between linear and overlapping thought patterns. The word "only" is not in the Greek text, but it is implied in
Semitic thought pattern.
> Notice that a slight change in the English phraseology might solve
> the problem of unwanted ambiguity that NIV translators solve by inserting
> "only", but without requiring that expedient.
> And Jesus shouted out and said, "When a person believes in me, they're not
> believing in me but in the one who sent me, and the person who sees me sees
> the one who sent me."
It doesn't solve the problem, because it doesn't recognize what the problem is.
> The paradox remains, but the ambiguity of a flat contradiction seems to be
The socalled "paradox" and "ambiguity" is something that is not part of the original text, but superimposed on it by an
English reader, based on English thought pattern.
> Speaking of making translations based on conceptual or theological bases,
> another thread was talking about Jn 8:44: hOTAN LALHi TO YEUDOS, EK TWN
> IDIWN LALEI, hOTI YEUSTHS ESTIN KAI hO PATHR AUTOU.
It is not a matter of theological base, but a matter of communication rules and differing thought patterns. If you don't
recognize that, you will continue to draw wrong conclusions about and from texts of the Bible. You could say that the
exegete ought to interpret from a Semitic conceptual base, if the text was thought out by a Semitic mind. (Luke often
retains Semitic features from his sources, possibly because of a very literal - and therefore misleading - translation
style of his sources.)
> Just taking the Greek by itself, it looks as though Jesus is saying,
> "...because he is a liar, and so is his father". In fact, that is how
> Lattimore, the expert translator of the Greek classics (and later works from
> the period of the NT and beyond too) translates the verse.
I find it very hard to understand that Lattimore could make such a blunder. The word PATHR in John 8:44 does not mean
"father", but "originator" as Chrysostom understood (thanks, Yancy). The AUTOU (in this context it must be neuter)
either refers to TO YEUDOS or the acitivity of lying (ad sensum).
> How can anything surprising to us (as translators) ever get *into*
> scripture, if we stop it at the door on the basis of assumptions about what
> it is possible for the scripture to say? It's a humbling question.
The problem is more that some translators lack the proper understanding of either the context or the difference in
thought patterns. The result of that is faulty exegesis and/or misleading translations.
Bible translation consultant
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