[B-Greek] referential complexity: frames & scenarios and Galatians 6:18

Yancy Smith yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net
Tue Apr 27 11:23:06 EDT 2010

Don wrote:
I suspect that a serious student is going to want to come as close as she
can to the original text. Then just consider the issue of lexical study. Are
all translations equally accurate? Does it make sense to use an unabridged
English dictionary to get an "in-depth" meaning for a special term in one or
more English versions? Or do we think it would be better to look up the word
of interest in BDAG or KB etc.?  

Yancy: That is precisely the crux. 
What does it mean for the serious student to "come as close as she can" to
the original text? 
Wasn't it A. T. Robertson who said, "The Greek New Testament is the New
Testament. All else is interpretation."?
Does "as close as one can" mean formal equivalence? I rather doubt it. 
Cases in point are so many natural language phenomena like: participant
reference ambiguities, difference between languages in the use of the
article and anaphora, irony and other rhetorical devices not to be taken
exactly literally, idioms, unfamiliar or unknown and dead metaphors, foreign
information structure, genre, assumed knowledge, grammar skewed by social
pragmatics (as the Galatians 6:18 case demonstrates). The history of
interpretation is strewn with the evidence that common sense does not handle
these well. One great example of an easily misconstrued idiom is Mark 2:19
"the children of the bride-chamber," (KJV) though formally equivalent in
terms of the calc on English from the Greek text, is far from the original
meaning. And misleading. It makes you wonder what the KJV translators were
thinking, likely, "the nuptial apartment." Such "translating" requires
minimal thought about either ancient context or reader context, even less
about bridging the two. One group of West African translators I talked with
said that their audience would assume that "the children of the
bridechamber" were the children born out of wedlock that demonstrated the
fertility of the bride. It sounds quite logical when you think of it. But
here, if a translator wants her audience to get "as close as possible to the
Greek" she will have to deconstruct it, depart from formal equivalence that
represents "as closely as possible" the structure of the original entirely
and translate dynamically something like "the attendants of the bridegroom"
(NASB 95) or, even better, "wedding guests" (NLT).

This is only one of the dangers of calc and gloss translating. Simultaneous
translators in the UN would be shown the door for translating this way. But
we should not be so uncharitable in Biblical studies. I believe there is a
place both more and less literal translations. Literal translations focus
more on preserving Greek structure and less on contextualizing and meaning
for the reader. More dynamic translations tend to go the opposite route and
leave Greek structure and translate for meaning for the audience. There are
gains and losses in both ways. But one is probably "closer to the original"
using a variety of translations because the indeterminacy of various
translations represents the sense of indeterminacy of the Greek text. At
least the reader gets a sense of a range of meanings and choices different
translators make. But every translation should come with a caveat emptor, a
sort of warning label: "over-use of a single translation could be
detrimental to your spiritual health. Known risks include brittle faith,
hardening of the spiritual arteries, clogged thinking." Translations are all
interpretive representations of the meaning of the original. The attempt to
sell or recommend a particular translation because it is "closer to the
original" on some other general ground--that it is more literal or more
dynamically equivalent is the stuff of peddlers. Rather, each translation is
a memory bank of exegetical, interpretive, more or less deliberate

Faithfulness in translation is a virtue for which every translator should
strive BUT it should be measured in terms of the understanding of the
reading community, not by the ideals held by the translator. Very often
these two, translator ideals and audience understanding, are worlds apart.
Elizabeth is also quite right in emphasizing that reading and interpreting
Scripture is best done in community and in a reading tradition. But,
Scripture is a publically traded commodity and out there for all the world
to read, will-nilly with or against tradition. Individuals of the most
varied background read it and own it. The church doesn't own the Scripture.
So, it can be read and understood by anyone and that open conversation is a
good thing. At the same time, I am puzzled by the criticism of "meaning
based translation." Even a traditional translation, an Orthodox translation,
is going to have to be meaning based, even though the meaning is determined
by the tradition. Only calc and gloss translations might not be "meaning
based." A good source for looking at the ancient tradition of translation is
Bruce Metzger, _The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origins,
Transmission and Limitations_. It is well worth the read.

Yancy Smith
Yancy W. Smith, PhD
World Bible Translation Center
4028 Daley Ave., Suite 201
Fort Worth, TX 76180
p 817-595-1664
f 817580-7013
yancy at wbtc.org

Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of

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