[B-Greek] Jn 12:44

Webb webb at selftest.net
Fri Nov 18 14:18:12 EST 2005

Dear Iver,
You said: 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. 

I reply: I agree. The NIV translators were doing their job properly by
thinking of the English reader who may well be reading the text for the
first time or without theological knowledge. There are two sides to juggle
in the process of translation: first you have to interpret the author--using
everything you can glean in terms of grammatical, lexical, textual,
intertextual, and contextual information (for starters). Second, you have
the job of anticipating the effect of your chosen formulation on the
interpretative process of your reader, who only gets what you produce, and
may have access to very few of the clues you have. For example, even the
major textual clues may not be available if the person is hearing a
lectionary reading.

You said: 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 his thoughts. Whereas the
English thought pattern is linear by default, Semitic thought pattern is
"overlapping" by default.

I reply: I broadly agree with you on this whole point. But as for Luke
8:37b-39, I would probably just take the imperfect EDEITO as having
pluperfect force, something like this:

But he (Jesus) got in a boat and went back. Now, the man that the demons had
gone out of had been begging him to go with him; but he sent him off. He
said, "Go back home, and tell people what God has done for you." And he went
off and spread the news of what Jesus had done for him all over the town.

I'm not an expert on the technicalities of Koine Greek grammar, but from my
experience, I'd say that this is a natural way that the imperfect can
function. So it's not necessarily about a Semitic original underlying the
Greek. It may just be that the pluperfect is too strongly "marked" to be
natural there, so the imperfect works fine. I'll defer to people more expert
than myself to evaluate this estimation.

I said: 
>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
> in Jesus.

You said: 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. 

I reply: I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I was projecting
myself into the place of the non-expert English speaking person reading the
NIV version without the word "only", and I was commenting on why the NIV
translators, for that person's sake, added the word "only".

You said: The so called "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.

I reply: Very true, in terms of ambiguity. Translators need to take into
account ambiguities that may arise from their English renderings. That's
what the NIV translators did. 

You said: 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).

I reply: It's not a blunder in terms of Lattimore's expertise in Greek. In
purely grammatical terms, without reference to the broader conceptual
context, it simply looks like "and so's his father". BTW, he has the
alternative, "and the father of it (that is, the lie, or falsehood)" in an
endnote. Which means that he's very aware that the latter meaning is
grammatically possible--but he makes the deliberate choice to go with the
construal that is more natural of the two on a purely Greek-grammatical
All of which illustrates my point--and perhaps yours as well. The more
awareness a translator brings as to the intertextual nexus in which this
statement sits, the more competent he or she will be. A whole bunch of
things go into the pot--including, as you have observed, cultural and
language-cultural influences. As translators, I think we'll be at our best
when we're honest enough to admit that an unquantifiable combination of
things influences how the text was written--and how we and our readers
prefer to interpret it. We simply can't know everything, but we can
consciously acknowledge to ourselves what we do think we know--and how that
influences our decisions, and we can remind ourselves periodically how much
we don't know. That's the humility I was talking about.

Webb Mealy

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