Interpretation versus Translation: Debatable Exegesis
If people disagree with many of your interpretations, you can hardly blame them for rejecting the translation that incorporates them, can you?
Look at any exegetical commentary and you will see the extent of the disagreement among scholars in verse after verse. Whose interpretation will get control of the version? It's a real problem.
Yes, Michael, you have a point here. There is a real problem here.
There are some passages in the Bible where the exegesis is really debatable. What can be done in these circumstances? Here are some alternatives:
- The translators can choose one of the two or more interpretive options. This is perhaps theoretically undesirable, and I would accept that it is truly undesirable where there is a real theological point at issue - which is rather rare. However, in practice all translations do this, if only in their choice of word-for-word gloss in a highly literal translation. The debate over "propitiation" or "expiation" illustrates how this has happened even in entirely literal translation; at this point, even at a theological crux, ESV is "interpretive" in rendering "propitiation" rather than "expiation".
- The translators can choose one of the interpretive options to put in the text, and put the alternative(s) in a footnote. I consider this the correct thing to do in the rather few places where there are theologically significant exegetical alternatives.
- The translators can try to leave in the translation an intentional ambiguity between the various possibilities, attempting to reflect the ambiguity of our understanding of the original - although usually there is no intentional ambiguity in the original, only a failure to understand it now. This is the approach which the translators of FE (formal equivalence) versions usually try to take. But it is not always possible; for example, there is no way to be ambiguous between "propitiation" and "expiation", except perhaps with a long paraphrase. And even if some kind of ambiguity is possible in the translation, this is usually at the cost of using target language phrasing which is generally unclear and confusing to readers, and which may allow not just the two or three interpretations which scholars consider possible but also other interpretations which are exegetically impossible in the original language text.