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

Dr. Don Wilkins drdwilkins at verizon.net
Tue Apr 27 15:57:49 EDT 2010

I would like to respond to several posts here, including Steve's and  
Carl's. Yancy first:

On Apr 27, 2010, at 8:23 AM, Yancy Smith wrote:

> 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).

I'm not here either to bury or praise NASB '95, but to me, "wedding  
guests" is far too inclusive. In any case we also have a "lit" (for  
"literal") note on it to provide a formal equivalent. My motto in  
such cases is, "A lit note covers a multitude of sins." Lit notes are  
not necessarily intended to explain themselves; the idea is to send  
the reader to further research or to ask an authority for more  
information. The authority could be commentaries, or one's local  
pastor, or one's local linguist.
> 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
> decisions.

When I proposed the idea of a woodenly formal translation, I actually  
thought the linguists on the list might like the idea (silly me!). I  
got this impression from carefully reading linguistic approaches.  
Ironically for me, the linguists's attention to the smallest details  
in the text, including word order, and on "scenarios" stuck me as  
strongly favoring the old grammatico-historical approach that I still  
use. It appears that all the linguists are roundly condemning formal  
equivalence, but I'll give some examples below in reference to Steve  
Runge's Grammar. I think inaccurate generalizations are being made,  
and I hope a couple of examples will help to clear any confusion.  
BTW, I don't see myself as a peddler of a particular translation. As  
a matter of fact, I recommend the NASB as one of several good formal- 
equivalency translations.
> 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.
Read it, recommend it as well.
> 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
> battle.

Now then, let me turn to Steve Runge. Steve has distanced himself  
from the NASB and other FE translations; note his statement, "I am  
focused more on exposition and preaching, not translation. If I WERE  
to focus on translation, I would lean more toward the functional  
equivalent end of things, meaning of the discourse features that  
accomplish various tasks, not just preserving the words or  
structure" (April 26, 2010 3:26 PM post).

The consensus seems to be that the translator/linguist's personal  
input is desirable in translation, i.e. her personal knowledge, her  
professional experience and skills, etc. Obviously this input will  
lead to significant variations in the translation from one translator  
to the next, resulting ultimately in a wide range of translations in  
the marketplace. I have no problem with viewing these translations as  
commentaries, as someone has already suggested. But I have contended  
that there is a need for translations whose goal is to deliver  
something as close as possible to the original text for study  
purposes (if for no other), i.e. a text that just preserves the words  
and structure, to paraphrase Steve above. The negative response this  
has received seems, if I may say so, very much like the opposition to  
a bill in congress posed by many who have not yet read it. So let me  
offer a couple of examples from Steve's grammar to illustrate the  
idea. Let me first point out--for Yancy and others who may share his  
suspicions--that I don't have a financial stake in a wooden  
translation. I doubt that one will be ever be done (other than  
interlinears) because historically they don't sell.

It has been strongly contended that one cannot do NT linguistics on  
an English translation. I would personally agree that serious  
exegesis cannot be done with only a translation, though I think we  
all concede that in many places the English does effectively serve  
the purpose. In his Grammar Steve deals with the problem of  
information structure and emphasis, which has always been a challenge  
for exegetes. After arguing for Dik's view of P1 and P2 prominence  
before the verb, and supplying general examples, he embarks on an  
examination of passages in English only, specifically noting, "The  
analysis is of the English, not the Greek that underlies  
it" (Grammar, p. 233). He uses FE translations; indeed, he uses FE  
translations throughout the Grammar. I have not found an explanation  
for doing it here (information structure and word order), and in the  
following chapter he again includes the Greek. Perhaps he would  
contend (and I invite him to comment) that the English examples have  
no real value apart from illustration; but the impression the reader  
receives (at least this reader) is that with possibly a few  
exceptions, the analysis works just as well on an FE translation as  
it does on the original Greek. It is hard to imagine his coming to  
conflicting conclusions in a Greek-only analysis. One might even  
think that English-only analyses are adequate for linguistic  
exegesis, provided an FE translation is used.

One specific example: Steve discusses 1 Pet. 4:7-8 in his Grammar,  
pp. 266f. While providing only the English for v. 7, he notes the two  
imperatives in v. 7, followed by the participle ECONTES in v. 8. He  
criticizes the NASB for having an English imperative instead of the  
participle, on the ground that the participle is not "on the same  
par" in importance with the imperatives. The translation that I am  
hypothetically suggesting would keep the verbs in their original form  
(or superscript the form if the English were too confusing), in this  
case preserving ECONTES as a participle. I may not agree with Steve's  
linguistic appraisal here, but I assume that keeping the participle  
as-is would eliminate the stated criticism.

I doubt that every linguist on the list agrees with Steve on all  
points, and perhaps his heavy use of English citations would be  
viewed as a bad idea, especially if it is really impossible to do an  
adequate linguistic analysis on anything but the original Greek. But  
it seems that he has done that in his Grammar. And lest anyone  
(including Steve himself) say that he has used English only for the  
benefit of non-Greek readers, I would point out that the book is by  
title "A Practical Introduction for Teaching & Exegesis." I.e. the  
intended audience is those who are competent in exegesis as well as  
teaching, and surely that requires expertise in Greek. BTW, except  
for some disappoints (e.g. the section on information structure) I  
like the book, for what my opinion is worth.

Finally, I'll turn briefly to a couple of comments by Carl. In his  
April 27, 2010 3:38:03 AM PDT post he paints what I would consider an  
accurate picture of the typical factors in choosing a translation,  
noting at one point,

For many their church or community has settled the matter without  
consulting the individual reader. Others explore what's available and  
make their own choices. Many will seek out advice from those whom  
they trust as more knowledgeable than themselves and then decide  
whether to heed such advice or make their own selection of one or  
more versions.

He continues,

"A text only comes to mean something in a particular social cultural  
religious framework at particular place and time for members of a  
community of shared meaning."
I think this is quite true. It suggests, as does the even-more- 
restrictive formulation, "the idea that meaning is only actualized  
for an individual within a very narrow time, location, cultural,  
historical, religious context",  that those who reside outside of  
that "very narrow time, location, cultural, historical, religious  
context" will not ever have access to the entirety of the meaning of  
such a text -- and that includes all of us who confront the Biblical  
Greek text in the 21st century.

Taking further advantage of Carl's permission to explore the topic, I  
note that there are people who believe that the meaning of the  
biblical text is what it means to a particular reader at a particular  
time, place, etc., completely separated and disentangled from  
whatever it may have meant to the original audience. I *think* that  
we are all at a consensus in rejecting this position and viewing the  
irrelevant mental and experiential baggage that a translator or  
reader brings to the text as an impediment to correctly understanding  
it. Whatever we individually think of the value of linguistics in  
exegesis, I infer that we value and focus on the details of the  
original text and the original scenario, i.e. the textual and  
historical contexts. I would like to know if this is a mistaken  
inference on my part.

Don Wilkins

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