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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Paul Whiting: How to read the Bible Book-by-Book---Getting an Overview

Paul Whiting: How to read the Bible Book-by-Book---Getting an Overview

Paul Whiting occasionally comments here on BBB. His post about reading the Bible to get the overview of an entire book of the Bible is right on (or spot on, for some of you!). Is this relevant for Bible translation? Absolutely. Mike Sangrey is our man to preach this sermon the best. Note his recent post on coherence. Elsewhere Mike has written about precis. It is important for books of the Bible to be translated in such a way that their coherence and thematic unity will be just as clear in translation as it was intended to be in the original biblical texts.

And for more of this sermon you'll just have to join in the cheer to encourage the preacher. Ready? OK, chant with me, on 3: 1, 2, 3: "Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike!"



At Thu Jan 05, 04:19:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Wayne said: And for more of this sermon you'll just have to join in the cheer to encourage the preacher. Ready? OK, chant with me, on 3: 1, 2, 3: "Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike!"

laugh You are much too kind. And if you weren't a good friend I would accuse you of flattery. Nevertheless, even though it's undeserved, it does feel good. So, you've goaded me into perhaps sticking my foot in my mouth. I pray in some way what I say here will be helpful.

Part of me really likes what Paul Whiting says (as well as Fee's book and other books like it).

However, the other part of me is bothered by some of the ideas. Not bothered in the sense that they're bad or harmful ideas, they definitely aren't. But bothered by the fact that I, well, how can I say this, I try so very hard to understand the big chunks of Scripture, but, I don't do what Paul suggests. That strikes me as odd. Why don't I do it? I'm not sure.

So, let me encourage people to go and read Paul's blog entry How to read the Bible Book-by-Book, he makes some good points; but, let me also share one or two things I do as a starting point to understanding the Bible.

I bring the text into a word processor (I use OpenOffice) and strip out all the verse and chapter divisions. I'm essentially deconstructing the intrusion of the discohesive effects of these two things. I understand that the chapter divisions were very poorly done. The reader should note here that the chapter divisions were not arrived at through any linguistic analysis. Believe or not, sometimes it was simply where the manuscript ended one page (leaf) and began another. So, in a nutshell, the chapter divisions are worthless. The original author did not write the chapter divisions and modern English letters do not have chapter divisions. Using them is (dare I say it?) bad translation. I think there is one case where the chapter division actually occurs where the original is in the middle of a sentence.

After stripping out the distractive verse numbers and chapter divisions, I paragraph the text. How to do this? Well, use something. I use my Greek NT (GNT) and simply break up the text in the same way the GNT does. A little later in my efforts I develop my own paragraphs (which generally agree, but not always). You could use your favorite commentator; however, note that many commentators are verse oriented so they're not nearly as sensitive to the pargraphing as they need to be.

I then read the entire letter. If you can't do this with the time you have, well, you need to get more time. Seriously, the book is to be read in one sitting and this will really help you. Yes, I know Luke will be very difficult (I haven't done it either), but don't start with Luke, start with Ephesians or Philippians or James (James is incredibly cohesive but few commentators recognize it). No note-taking (Paul Whiting stresses this, and he is exactly right). However Paul's 5 steps move much, much too quickly into developing notes. You have to read the book a half dozen or more times before you get any type of feel for what it is actually saying.

I think this is because of two reasons: Firstly, we are way, way too verse oriented in our approach to Scripture. That is, we've habituated a verse oriented interpretive framework within our mind. It takes a lot of work to get beyond that. Secondly, we bring way too much theological baggage to the reading. This also takes some effort to overcome. It essentailly boils down to a willingness to submit to the text and it's Author.

After several readings I start to get a feel for what the author is saying. What happens at this point is to review the paragraphing. The linguistic fact that supports this is that an author (and therefore the reader should follow the author's lead) will chunk a text into cohesive units of thought. Frequently what happens in my trips through the text is I'll notice a chiastic structure or an inclusio (sandwhich or bookend) structure. These syntactic clues lead me toward the authorial intent simply because I'm chunking the text in the same way he did.

So, those are the first couple of steps. The goal is to capture the syntactic structure as accurately as possible. If you've done your work correctly, the whole text starts to flow. You start to get a feel for how the unit of thought of one paragraph leads into the unit of thought of the next one. If it doesn't, or there's a place where you think, "Hmmmmmm...the Apostle Paul has a senior moment here", then you've missed something. He's right; you're wrong. You're structuring the text wrongly; a word or two is translated poorly; or you're interpreting something based on a bad assumption (one you might not even know you're making).

Well, I hope that helps in some way. I'd be interested in any feedback. Especially by anyone willing to try what I'm suggesting.

O!, one other thing: what does this have to do with making Better English Bibles? Well, understanding the authorial intent is prerequisite to accurately choosing the correct words in translation. It's the context that disambiguates the word choices. And context is a word that is often misunderstood. It is not the stuff that goes before and the stuff that goes after--it is the stuff that you're thinking within. I tend to think we should translate clauses (not words) within paragraph boundaries. That is, it's the unit of thought expressed by the paragraph that should guide our efforts at accurately rendering the clauses.

May God's message have it's way with our lives.


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