Jesus' words: formal or conversational
At the end of a comment mostly about singular "they", Michael wrote:
I agree that the style of the translation should imitate the style of the original. But I don't think it's true that the words of Christ in the NT are in conversational style. I think they are highly rhetorical, and for the most part they follow conventions of gnomic and prophetic literature. These are not really the same as the conventions of formal prose style in English, but the discourse is definitely formal in character. So when I see Christ's words translated into an informal conversational idiom--as they are in the recent "common language" versions and paraphrases--I think the translation really gives a false impression.Perhaps this is the centre of the problem which has led to such sharp disagreement about singular "they". Are Jesus' words as reported in the Bible conversational, in the same sense as the literary examples discussed earlier in the comment thread concerning singular "they"? Or are they prepared discourses in highly polished formal style? Or somewhere in between? That certainly affects how they should be translated.
How do we decide this question? I assume that Michael is not taking a theological perspective that anything which Jesus said must have been in the most perfect and exalted language, so wonderful that it deserves to be printed in red whoever might have spoken it. If we look at the evidence, we will find that Jesus' words, as they appear in the New Testament (and so mostly not in fact his Hebrew or Aramaic ipsissima verba), are in the ordinary Koiné Greek of their period. But what particular register of Koiné Greek? I must say I don't know. It certainly wasn't the formal Greek of Luke 1:1-4, nor was it the involved argumentation of Paul's letters. To my non-expert eyes it seems to be down-to-earth conversational language, not generally polished at all, although scattered with sometimes cryptic sayings which do show some signs of careful wording. But if Michael or anyone else has any evidence that Jesus' words are in fact in a formal style, I would like to see it.
If Jesus' words are in a conversational style as I believe, there should be no requirement that an English translation of them be in the most formal literary style; in fact such a translation would be inaccurate and misleading. It must therefore be acceptable to use in the Bible, at least in Jesus' words, constructions like singular "they" which are widely used in conversational language but, at least according to some, not acceptable in the most formal language.