What is obedience of faith?
Different languages overtly omit different elements of semantic structure producing syntactic structures that vary from one language to another. But the semantic elements underlying those syntactic structures are the same, again, making translation possible.
Romans 1:5 illustrates these principles nicely. This verse has a complex genitive phrase, hupakoen pisteos, which is often translated to English using Greek-like syntax which does not adequately communicate the underlying semantic structure of the Greek phrase. Traditionally, more formal English versions translate this genitive phrase as "obedience of faith." But this phrase makes little, if any, sense in English. It requires additional explanation for English speakers to understand what it means. But adequate translation should not require additional explanation to explain the semantic structure of the source text. Rather, adequate translation should express the same semantic structure that is in the source text using the syntactic structures that are appropriate for expressing that structure in the target language.
Let's do some commonsense observations of the Greek genitive, so that we discover its semantic structure. "Faith" is a noun in Greek, but it is a noun that encodes an action, not a thing. Faith is an action. It has no volition. It does not act on its own. Instead, it requires a person who believes ("has faith"). Greek allows the actor of some verbs, such as pistis (faith), to be ellipsized. Greek speakers clearly understood that pistis does not act on its own. Faith cannot obey, which is what a literal translation of only the overt syntactic elements of the Greek phrase superficially seems to imply ("obedience of faith").
Who might be the person or persons who do the believing in Rom. 1:5? The answer is clear. We don't have to guess. We don't have to do "interpretive translation" to make the believer(s) overt in any language, such as English, which requires the actor to be explicitly stated, in most linguistic contexts. Those who are to do the believing in Rom. 1:5 are the pasin tois ethnesin 'all the nations.'
The final part of the semantic structure here to discover is the relationship between pistis (faith) and hupakoe (obedience). Clearly, as noted already, it is not faith which obeys. So who is it that obeys? Again, the answer is right in front of us in the context. It is the same people, 'all the nations,' who believe who also obey. In Greek it is not necessary to explicitly state the relationship between faith and obedience. The syntactic structure of Greek, with its cases, enabled Greek speakers to quickly understand the underlying semantic structure which is what communicates meaning. (Syntax is the surface form that leads us to the underlying meaning.)
When people believe, they obey. Faith that is only cognitive, that does not result in obedience, is dead faith, as the book of James emphasizes.
An adequate English translation of Rom. 1:5, then, must make clear for English speakers who is doing the believing and what they do as a result of believing. In my opinion, an adequate translation of hupakoen pisteos within the context of all the other semantic elements of this verse would be:
so that all nations would believe and obeyor, even more explicitly
so that all nations would obey after believingI consider the following English versions to have adequate translations of the semantic structure of the Greek genitive phrase hupakoen pisteos:
in order to lead people of all nations to believe and obey (TEV)Have these translations accurately retained the semantic structure of the Greek genitive? Yes, far better than English translations which retain the Greek syntax, but not its semantic structure. Have these translations inserted translators' interpretive opinions. No, these versions simply translate the semantic structure which is already in the Greek, which we discover from studying the Greek syntax within its context. Have these versions "dumbed down" the translation? No, they have not made the translation simpler than it needs to be. Rather, they have translated the Greek more accurately than translations which attempt to retain the Greek syntactic structure, but not its semantic structure. There is nothing simplistic or "dumbing down" about being accurate or clear. There is only dumbing down when a translation is simpler than it needs to be for its intended target audience.
so that people of all nations would obey and have faith (CEV)
to lead people of all nations to believe and obey (NCV)
so that they will believe and obey him (NLT)
We can note that not even the NIV, which some have called a dynamic equivalent translation (I believe it is far more of a formally equivalent translation), conveys through adequate, clear, natural English the semantic structure of the Greek genitive phrase:
to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faithIn English we don't normally call people to (the) obedience. Instead, we call them to obey.
During translation, the more that we retain the semantic structures of the biblical languages using the syntax of target languages, the more accurate and clear our translations will be.
Categories: exegesis semantic.structure syntax bible.translation