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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Grace-ful diablogue continues, issue #2

The second issue Dave raised in his last exchange was this:
We should also be wary of confusing plain language with literal language. Wayne's objection to "There is neither Jew nor Greek ..." seems fussy to me. Most of our everyday language is metaphorical or figurative, and I cannot imagine most readers of English having a problem interpreting there is neither as "there is no distinction made between", just as James can say, "The tongue is a fire" without inviting confusion, or Jesus can say, "This is my body," without starting a major schism. Oh, hang on, bad example.
Yes, Dave, the problem I have with the traditional wording of Gal. 3:38 is that I genuinely do not get the intended meaning from that wording (my wife, whose English is not exactly the same as mine, has the same understanding as I do from the traditional wording). I recognize that my idiolect differs from that of others on this point. And I'm glad there are those who get the intended meaning from the traditional wording. I appreciate it when they point out to me that there may be hyperbole or some other rhetorical device being used in the Greek, and if we recognize the hyperbole, it is said, we should get the intended meaning from the literal English translation. But it doesn't work for me. And it may not work for others. We can only know that if we do adequate field testing, as objectively as possible. We should, preferably, use test sentences not from the Bible so the results are not distorted if people answer on the basis of a "Bible English" dialect, rather than a "standard" dialect which can be understood by all speakers of English, whether churched or not. (I happen to believe that unchurched people should be able to read and benefit from the Bible as well as churched people. But Bibles written in "Bible English" have a dialect barrier that unchurched people may or may not be able to cross. Some may be too put off by that barrier to desire to try to cross the barrier.)

A possible test sentence could read this:
Here at this university, there are no men nor women, there are neither handicapped nor non-handicapped, there are no professors nor students; there are neither administrators nor employees; we are all one at the university.
We would ask people what meaning they get from this test sentence. If they get the meaning that even though there actually are these different categories of people, for some level of socialization, these distinctions do not count, then we find out that people can get the intended meaning. They should, similarly, be able to get the intended meaning from the traditional wording of Gal. 3:28.

BTW, I see the issue with Gal. 3:28 as being qualitatively different from the matter of translating figures of speech which Dave refers to in his post. We'll have to tackle translation of figurative language in future posts.

As we debate various translation wordings, I think one consideration is very important. It is: What meaning do "ordinary" speakers get from a wording? I think we should not have to explain to people what meaning they should get from a translation wording. That seems to me to be defeating the very purpose of translation which is to enable someone who does not speak a source language to be able to understand (linguistically, anyway, even if not fully conceptually) what was written in that source language.

I guess I'm being "fussy" or pedantic (and I recognize that I probably am both, at times) if my understanding of some wording should be corrected through teaching by those who get the intended meaning from that wording. If we believe that a translation does not need to be linguistically sufficient for people to understand intended meanings in that translation, then we don't have to revise a translation enough so that its users get the intending translation. Ultimately, then, there is no metric by which to judge communicated accuracy in a translation, because we can always resort to the use of extrabiblical resources, including teachers, to help people get the right understandings which they do not get from the translation itself. If we push this logic to its ultimate conclusion, we don't even need translations, because we can have an educated clergy who know the biblical languages and who can tell people what the source texts in the biblical languages mean.

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