[B-Greek] referential complexity: frames & scenarios and Mark 2:19

Yancy Smith yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net
Fri Apr 30 11:21:17 EDT 2010

Don said:
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.

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  

Yancy: By "irrelevant mental and experiential baggage" I assume you don't mean the effect of the native language on the mind of the translator, which is demonstrably non-neutral. 

This suggested approach is one among several. The other is to turn what one may think of as "sin" into a virtue by recognizing that translation is contextualizing with the needs of a particular audience in mind. Thus, the "need" for a "lit" note, because the readers of a "literal version" expect to be told when the version is not "literal." (I assume that the definition of literal is not quite literally literal, but "literal" limited by the possibilities of English grammar.) Perhaps what is needed to avoid unnecessary guilt over this "sin" is a redefinition of "faithfulness" in translation. Here is a suggestion: translation of the Greek text is faithful to the extent that it defensibly or fairly represents the original in such a way that the specific audience can grasp the "intended interpretation" (of the translators representing the "original authors") in their context and that the intended interpretation can be fairly considered a probable cross-language quote of the original. "Fair" and "probable," of course represent judgments of a competent, yet diverse reading community (Bible scholars, naïve readers, confessional and non confessional readers). The translation should be "expressed in such a manner that it yields the intended interpretation including contextual effects without putting the audience to unnecessary processing effort" (Ernst-August Gutt, _Translation and Relevance: Cognition and Context_, 107). Faithfulness, however, is a virtue cultivated or a competence gained in the practice. The very existence and diversity of the multiple translations of any published document supports the notion that "the" original context is ephemeral and no longer exists. It is just beyond the reach of our ability to reconstruct completely. And multiple contexts in which a text is read seem to raise as many interpretive questions as they answer. Pick any text from the Gospels and any point in the history of interpretation and try to discern "the context" in which the words are meaningful. It is quite complex and multi-leveled. It seems to me that to understand an ancient Greek text canonical text is to engage in multiple contextual readings, and, in most cases, to engage multiple contextual readers and intended meanings. That, for me, is the value of a list like B-Greek. It is potentially a good place to have one's feet held to the fire by a competent, diverse reading community. 

Which brings me to the reductio ad absurdum example of literal translation I gave of Mark 2:19. Don argued that "wedding guests" is too inclusive. But the phrase οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος (lit., “the sons of the wedding hall” or “sons of the bridal chamber”) has been translated by some scholars as “the wedding guests” and by others as “the groomsmen.” The word νυμφών is used in Tobit to mean “bridal chamber,” in the sense of the room where the bride and groom would spend their first night together (Tob 6:14, 17 LXX; 6:13, 16 NRSV). The lexical evidence is fairly balanced. It is used in Matt 22:10 to mean the room in which the wedding banquet was eaten. The Matthean usage supports the translation “the wedding guests,” but the analogy with the phrase ὁ φίλος τοῦ νυμφίου (“the friend of the bridegroom” or “the best man”) in John 3:29 supports the translation “the groomsmen.” But, even if the phrase were indicating literally only the groomsmen, the usage here is not exclusive but a metonymy. The point of the comparison is that, just as one does not fast during a wedding, so Jesus and his disciples do not fast. 

Yancy Smith
Yancy W. Smith, PhD
World Bible Translation Center
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Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

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