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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Reducing redundancy in translation

I can recall numerous occasions when my English teacher in high school marked redundant on a paper I had written. Redundancy is using more words than are needed to relate an idea. It tends to break the logical flow of a text, distracting the reader from its focus, thereby reducing its impact. An example of redundancy occurs in Matthew 24, where Jesus encourages people to be ready for his coming. Matthew’s use of several illustrations to emphasize the idea of readiness may have been appropriate for his Jewish audience, but many people in our society are distracted by this much repetition, wondering if Jesus was introducing a new point with each illustration.

I can picture my English teacher writing redundant over Matthew’s repeated references to the same idea in chapter 24. To reduce this redundancy for my target audience, I excluded the illustrations of the fig tree (verse 32) and the faithful servant (verses 45-51). The point of these illustrations is not lost, however, since Matthew has already clearly presented it earlier in the chapter.

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At Tue Jan 03, 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Funky Dung said...

That sounds more like editing than translating. Besides, some people really are that thick-headed and need all of the illustrations.

At Tue Jan 03, 03:52:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Which parts are redundant? Every single word in that chapter is of crucial importance to understanding the exact nature of the parousia in my opinion. Especially these days with all of the dangerous, off the wall, premillenialist talk going around.

The Olivet discourse is the key that opens up an understanding of other NT eschatological sections, like Revelation. The fact that he keeps repeating himself on the "nearness" of judgement is of major importance.

And besides all of that, it's apocalyptic language, not pure dialog. The rules against redundancy don't apply the same in all literature.

At Tue Jan 03, 04:16:00 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Two things I can't stand are redundancy and repetitiveness.

At Tue Jan 03, 04:53:00 PM, Blogger Funky Dung said...

Speaking of "parousia", when did "second coming" enter the picture (as opposed to merely translating it as "appearance and subsequent presence with" and leaving interpretation up to the reader)?

At Tue Jan 03, 05:46:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

The idea of a parousia traces back to Olivet, and Jesus' prophecy about the Temple being destroyed. Then reinforced in the ascension and the urgency of gospel preaching in Acts. Talk of the soon-to-come parousia is one the central and earliest forms of the gospel itself.

As for leaving it up to the "reader"....Which "reader" are you referring to? The readers of the first century or the readers now?

At Tue Jan 03, 05:56:00 PM, Blogger Funky Dung said...

I'm not trying to deny the doctrine of the second coming. I'm profess the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, after all. I'm just wondering if "parousia" might have been translated frequently into "church English", as Wayne calls it. It seems to me that the word might have broader meaning. For instance, I recently read "The Lamb's Supper" by Scott Hahn, which repeats the early Church Fathers who said that paraousia referred to not only the last judgment, but also Christ's presense in the Eucharist.

At Tue Jan 03, 05:57:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Just to add:

I'm still confused here. What exactly is redundant about Matthew 24? And what do you know about it's meaning so much so as to render parts of it redundant (I'm not trying to be rude. I'm just asking)?

At Tue Jan 03, 06:05:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

"I'm just wondering if "parousia" might have been translated frequently into "church English", as Wayne calls it."

I'm with you on that. I'm not advocating translating the word "parousia" anywhere actually. It's an obscure word. I just use it amongst my fellow Christians.

And I do believe it takes multiple meanings as well. Like in the Eucharist, as you mentioned.

I'm also a preterist. My concept of "the second coming" is a lot more different than Tim LaHaye's at least.

Anyways, I think my issue is with the article writer. I don't disagree with any of your comments so far. I just misunderstood something. All I'm really concerned about is a clarification to the "redundancies" in Matthew 24.

At Wed Jan 04, 04:23:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Dan, I have to disagree with your high school English teacher. Well, things depend on what genre you are writing in. You mentioned that it was a "paper" on which your teacher wrote redundant. And I would agree that redundancy is a bad thing in a scholarly paper, if that is what you mean. But in other genres repetition and redundancy is a good thing. It is sometimes part of good literary art, especially in poetry but also for all kinds of literary effect, including for emphasis. It is essential in teaching, which is why you will find a lot of redundancy in modern sermons and teaching materials. Of course Jesus was a preacher, and that is why he used a lot of redundancy in his sermons as well, to make sure that his point struck home. In fact he probably used a lot more repetition than is recorded for us.

Don't make the Bible sound like a scholarly paper, but more like the sermon which much of it is. So, my advice would be, forget your high school English and keep the redundancy.

At Thu Jan 05, 08:10:00 AM, Blogger Anne and Mike said...


The redundancy that you talk of is there for a purpose.

It's been identified that the Matthew, for example, has been written in a special literary way...called the Literary Form of the Parable.

Every sentence has a purpose. You'll come to recognize it when you see the Scriptures diagrammed into "Stories" which is its actual literary form. If you want to know the intention of the writer, keep the text in tact, since the literary form has critical relationships which break open the meaning of each Story.

The redundancy is there for the purpose of forming the Stories in the literary form. The Stories are formed around story and wisdom statements. There are other statements (focus, reflection and appropriating the wisdom statements) that are kind of like fluff...but important fluff... and often times, you'll see the redundancy in those statements. This is important because when checking to see if the Story is diagramed correctly, the reader can see the same "story" told twice. Once in the story and wisdom statements and once in the "fluff" statements. (Why is it important to know the Stories have been diagramed correctly, because each Story has a theme and the critical relationships show the meaning of the Story.)


(My dad discovered the literary form. You can find info at his website...his books are being revised, and were trying to get it out asap. In his first book you'll find Matthew diagramed into its Stories. In the meantime, there are a few examples on his website from Mark.

At Thu Jan 05, 08:42:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...


Sorry for the delay in responding to your question: What exactly is redundant about Matthew 24?

In Jesus’ response to his disciples’ question regarding the sign of his coming and the end of the age, he points out many signs they should be aware of, which implies the idea of readiness. In verse 44, he makes this idea explicit, “Therefore you also be ready.”

In the illustration of the fig tree, Jesus implies the idea of readiness in the expression “summer is near”. In the illustration of the faithful servant, Jesus again suggests the idea of readiness in the expressions “the master will come on a day when he is not looking” and “at an hour that he is not aware of”.

If you think there is a different point to these illustrations, please let me know. It seems to me that they simply repeat the same idea of readiness that Jesus already covered in great detail.


At Thu Jan 05, 09:34:00 AM, Blogger Funky Dung said...

But is it a translator's place to edit Scripture? I'm all for translating the original author's intended meanings as accurately as possible. I don't think stylistic editing is called for, though. The Bible's already a best seller, so there's no need to make it a snappier read. ;)

At Thu Jan 05, 11:19:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

For the sake of clarity and naturalness, every translation has added words that aren’t in the original languages. It seems to me there are times when words (redundancies) should be eliminated for the same reason.

By the way, I love your photo. Much cuter than mine.

At Thu Jan 05, 02:31:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Dan, it seems to me that you are making a rather different point when you mention that words should be eliminated in translation, as well as added. And this is certainly true, at the level of individual words and short phrases. But I don't think it is true at the clause or sentence level. I would be worried if I found in a translation a whole clause which was not in the original, and similarly I would be worried if a whole clause in the original was missing in the translation. Of course sometimes this can be justified because individual words have rather complex senses: if instead of "propitiation" I read something like "sacrifice which reconciles with God", I would not complain at the added subordinate clause, and similarly there are some clauses which could be simplified to a single word in English. But that is all at a much lower level that the cutting out of apparently redundant illustrations which you propose.


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