[B-Greek] The Elephant on the List

Dr. Don Wilkins drdwilkins at verizon.net
Thu Feb 18 14:56:17 EST 2010


For awhile there, I thought no one was going to say that the emperor  
is wearing no clothes. Glad to see that a few have.

I'll testify to two simple facts, which are anecdotal but relevant, I  
think. One, I am a translator and interpreter by trade, not of a  
loose translation but the NASB, which is considered very trustworthy.  
I only use the original Greek in my own NT study, and would never  
rely on the NASB or any other translation as a substitute for it. I'm  
marginally interested in translations as commentaries representing  
the views of their translators.

Two, there are people who sincerely believe that the KJV is divinely  
inspired and better than the original texts from which it was  
translated. If I understand Mark's arguments correctly, these folks  
could be right, at least in terms of practice if not in theology. I  
think this illustrates John's point.

I'm not sure how many elephants Mark actually sees, because he seemed  
to offer several descriptions. But to me, the elephant in the room is  
the feeling of the average Bible believer that his English Bible (or  
Bible in any modern language) is the "Holy Bible". Perhaps it is to  
the extent that it accurately represents the original manuscripts in  
simple passages, but in the end, it's just a translation with varying  
levels of accuracy. Even the KJV translators recognized their own  
fallibility, as they made clear in their preface. And when Mark  
claims that the translations have made the Greek clear and given us  
the big picture (I'm summarizing, not quoting him), I think he isn't  
seeing the trees for the forest. This also seems analogous to the  
issue of mathematical precision. You can be given data accurate to  
say, within an inch, and manipulate that data in a way that results  
in answers down to hundredths of inches. Amazing! But would you work  
in a building that had been designed in dependence on that level of  
accuracy for its safety? I think this is what we do when we rely on  
interpretive translations of difficult texts. When translations  
differ, no more than one is right, and it's possible that none is  
right. Thank God for translations, but they're not a panacea.

One more thing: I'm tired of well-meaning people who talk about how  
good or bad, literary or non-literary NT Greek is. These are sweeping  
generalizations. If you've read a lot of Greek, you're entitled to  
your opinion, but you still don't know the Greek as well as a first- 
century speaker and writer of Greek did.

Don Wilkins

On Feb 18, 2010, at 10:39 AM, John M. Linebarger wrote:

> I'd like to gently challenge one of the statements in Mark  
> Lightman's post:
>
>> The English Translations, taken as a whole, are always MORE clear  
>> than the Greek; they always convey MORE information about  the  
>> underlying Greek text than the Greek text itself does.
>
> How is this possible?  If a translation is more clear than the  
> original, surely it is because the translators have chosen one of  
> the interpretive options allowed by the original and reflected it  
> consistently in their translation.  However, clarity is not the  
> same as accuracy, and only an inspection of the original will  
> reveal other interpretive options that are available.  I would  
> contend that in those situations, the "clear" translation is  
> actually achieved by *reducing* the amount of information present  
> in the original.
>
> This phenomenon, in my mind, by itself justifies the heavy  
> investment in learning Greek and studying the text in the original.
>
> What say you?
>
> John M. Linebarger
> Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
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