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Monday, March 13, 2006

Jesus' words: formal or conversational

The long comment thread on Mike Sangrey's posting Interpretation versus Translation -- Competition or Teamwork? had already shifted well off the original subject when Michael Marlowe, aka Son of Abraham, introduced a new and significant issue. To avoid this discussion getting lost, I am addressing this issue in a new posting.

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.

Any comments?

38 Comments:

At Mon Mar 13, 08:10:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

To my non-expert eyes it seems to be down-to-earth conversational language, not generally polished at all

Peter, you use the word "polished" here, but that is not a very good word to describe what I meant when I used the words "rhetorical" and "formal." The language is not polished after the manner of Greek oratory, but it does exhibit many characteristics that are not typical of informal conversation. In Christ's discourses we often find conventional features of the gnomic (proverbial) and prophetic portions of the Hebrew Bible. Probably the most noticeable of them is the tendency to employ verbal parallelisms. For instance, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, there are the beatitudes, a long series of blessings in parallel form. Even in short sayings of Christ we find that he often speaks in parallel couplets. This is not informal speech. He quotes the Old Testament. There are frequent allusions also. And other rhetorical features in Christ's discourses are clearly based upon forms of discourse in the Prophets and the Psalms. Chiasmus, for instance. People do not naturally speak in chiastically-arranged clauses, but we see this in the language of Christ. He frames his words in such figures because he speaks as a prophet. So that's why I say his words are "formal."

If we wish to represent this deliberate formality of speech in some manner appropriate to our language, I think we must use a formal register of English. But a chummy conversational style is not appropriate.

 
At Mon Mar 13, 09:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Michael,

I think there is something else going on. Chiastic arrangements are typical of a style we find in discourse that is to be memorized and is part of an oral tradition.

The analysis of whether is 'they' is appropriate with a singular antecedent only makes sense with reference to written discourse and prose literacy. That is my guess.

In any case I think such a prescriptive approach to language would cause us to reject most of the great literature we have inherited for some reason or other.

I also have to ask - have you read P & G's the TNIV and the GNBC? What do you think of their writing style? Chap.4 H #4 seems to me to be a string of sentence fragments. I think they are trying for an effect but I am not quite sure what effect.

http://www.cbmw.org/resources/books/gnbc/gnbc.html

 
At Tue Mar 14, 06:37:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Suzanne wrote: I think there is something else going on. Chiastic arrangements are typical of a style we find in discourse that is to be memorized and is part of an oral tradition.

It doesn't matter which way you look at it in terms of transmission. Obviously the words originated orally. The essential point is, the discourses and sayings of Christ are not pieces of casual conversation, they have been composed according to conventions of Hebrew rhetoric.

Suzanne: The analysis of whether is 'they' is appropriate with a singular antecedent only makes sense with reference to written discourse and prose literacy. That is my guess.

I disagree, because elevated speech imitates poetry and prose. In fact, the conventions of poetry and prose originated with elevated speech.

Suzanne: In any case I think such a prescriptive approach to language would cause us to reject most of the great literature we have inherited for some reason or other.

I think you "inclusive language" people are the most prescriptive people on earth. You want the "generic he" to become unacceptable, and you propose the use of "singular they" as a substitute. That's what this language reform movement is all about. Prescription. As for the great literature we have inherited--what will become of it if you succeed in this matter of the pronouns, and in all the other editorially-enforced revisions of our vocabulary? I suspect that feminist language-reformers have little appreciation for the literature of the past. I think they hate the literature of the past for its perceived "sexism."

 
At Tue Mar 14, 07:14:00 AM, Blogger Eddie said...

Very interesting question. I have made an entry on my blog, Martyrologist that links back to yours.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 08:00:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

I like this thread. I would just exercise caution about making generalizations about "Jesus' words." The gospels contain a variety of discourse types spoken by Jesus (parable, pronouncement story, conversation, and more) and these are recorded by the four evangelists often with considerable variation in the amount of "formality" recorded. It is impossible to make any blanket claims about the relative register of "Jesus' words." This is a good subject for a thesis but I'm not sure it can be elucidated in a blog format.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 08:04:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

I'd also like to add that I was sorry to see Suzanne and son of abraham inserting the "inclusive language" arguments into this thread. Is there nowhere we can be free from their endless wrangling? Better Bibles treats a wide variety of topics and that particular topic is beginning to irritate me.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 08:54:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

lingamish wrote: It is impossible to make any blanket claims about the relative register of "Jesus' words."

That's true enough. The language is best described as a hebraistic variety of Hellenistic Greek, which in itself tells us nothing about the level or register. We have no reliable transcripts of common speech for the period. But it is plain to see that the language of the New Testament belongs in the same class as that of the Septuagint, which is by no means a record of ordinary conversations. And the presence of rhetorical features like the ones I have noted also indicates that the words of Christ were spoken well above the level of ordinary conversation. Peter is not on safe ground when he tries to build an argument for the use of a common-speech idiom in translation on improbable speculations about the register of the Greek.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 12:30:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

It is true that Jesus' speech often echoes the cadences and rythmes as well as the imagery of the prophets. This howver, merely pushes the question back a stage, what is the appropriate register for the prophets... As oral rhetoric, from people presented (largely?) as having no official status, this is likely to have been that of a street orator - neither formal nor yet conventionally conversational. As texts recorded (probably) well after the original event they may have taken on more formal overtones...

And the same sort of thing is probably true of Jesus - a street preacher or political orator is nearer the mark than a literary register, but not either conversational...

 
At Tue Mar 14, 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I realise I've neglected to address the issue of singular "they" (as a goy from outside the USA I can't really comment, it strikes me as natural in either formal or informal contexts). However, recognising that led me to the comment: If one of my colleagues is speaking to a class then they ;) use a register that is neither that of their writing, nor of their conversation, but something different - an oral rhetorical English...

 
At Tue Mar 14, 12:52:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

I like to think of the koine Greek of the NT as "edited common style," though I like Tim's oral rhetorical.

By that I mean two things and I don't mean a third.

1. That Jesus original manner of speaking with people was rather common. In other words, koine. I come to this position because of the significant emphasis on the incarnational nature of Jesus' life. I think it safe to assume Jesus' presentation of the Sermon on the Mount would have been more highly polished. I also think Luke 15 is a good example of a highly polished presentation, although I suspect that is more the result of Luke's efforts than Jesus'. However, polished does not mean academic, hightened vocabulary or anything else that would elevate the presentation above the natural grasp of the common individual. I view this the same way as my editing a transcribed sermon for publication--there's a cleaning process that doesn't compromise the original message.

2. The authors of the NT edited Jesus' speech so that the gospel message would be communicated, solidified, and carried for their (and our) indefinite future. So, rhetorical forms were used to "make the message stick. Again, this emphasizes the communicative nature of the text we have while tossing some of the negative effects associated with conversation (making additional statements that massage the previous statement toward greater accuracy since it wasn't said precisely enough to begin with, for example). Obviously, the authors wrote in Greek--surely the purpose was to communicate to a very broad audience, perhaps not only in space, but in time.

3. This editing in no way means that the NT authors manipulated what Jesus said away from accurately conveying what he actually said. I won't get into the theological reasons for saying that; I'm limited by the constraints of a comment.

Lastly, regarding the use of specific rhetorical structures: I would caution being too quick to determine that their use of chiasm (and other structures) in normal communication was just as uncommon as it is with us in English. If they structured their koine texts with these rhetorical devices and we don't, then they were more comfortable with them than we are. In other words, they would have used these devices in normal conversation--the more clever and witty people would have used them more often. It would not have been to the same extent as used in writing; but, it would have been used.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 02:33:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Mike S. wrote: surely the purpose was to communicate to a very broad audience

I want to emphasize the fact that the NT was written for the Church, not for an audience outside the Church. The internal evidence for this is compelling. So I would challenge any argument that is based upon the idea that the NT was written for "the masses" as a sort of evangelistic literature. People today want to use the Bible in that way, and so of course they want to adapt its language to that purpose, but it was not designed for that purpose.

The authors of the NT edited Jesus' speech so that the gospel message would be communicated, solidified, and carried for their (and our) indefinite future. So, rhetorical forms were used to make the message stick.

I reject that view of the text. I think it involves not only a false view of inspiration but also a failure to properly weigh the historical probabilities. Surely the words of Jesus were impressive enough without an editor's help.

In other words, they would have used these devices in normal conversation

That's quite a stretch, Mike. Granted, a few people who just naturally had a way with words might have done this, but it can't be supposed that such rhetorical devices were used in ordinary conversation by people in general. And at the very least, you must admit that these rhetorical devices do show that the speaker or writer is making an effort to be impressive.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 04:02:00 PM, Blogger yuckabuck said...

son of abraham,
Can you clarify your point in your last comment: "I want to emphasize the fact that the NT was written for the Church, not for an audience outside the Church." How does the audience for the NT being the church preclude its tone being conversational, and demand a more formal tone?

 
At Tue Mar 14, 04:24:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Tim, I think you put things more clearly than me with "a street preacher or political orator is nearer the mark than a literary register, but not either conversational"; you also mentioned a college lecturer which may be more appropriate for some of Jesus' teaching. "Conversational" was perhaps not the best word, but neither is "formal"; a good street preacher or orator tries to bring in some good rhetoric, but not formal literary characteristics. And then of course Lingamish is right that there is a lot of variety in Jesus' words. As for singular "they", I am sure that it would is common in transcripts of modern political orators, especially those of the more populist bent which would fit with Jesus best.

Michael is right that "We have no reliable transcripts of common speech for the period." But we do have a wealth of informal letters from the period, mostly surviving in Egypt and written by common people who wrote as they spoke rather than in a formal literary way. And, although I am no expert on this, I understand that in general the Greek style of the NT is very similar to that of these informal letters, but less similar to surviving formal documents from the period which tend to "Atticism", a deliberate imitation of the style of classical Athens.

As for Michael's reference to "the fact that the NT was written for the Church, not for an audience outside the Church", how does he reconcile this alleged "fact" with John 20:31?

 
At Tue Mar 14, 04:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Mike,

Have you read Kenneth Bailey's books, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes? 1983. He has developed a rhetorical criticism of the parables. Rather than focus on chiasmus, he discusses parallelism in the following terms - synonymous, antithetical, inverted, step and synthetic.

About his method in general, he says,

Briefly the method we have evolved is to make use of four tools. The first is to discuss the cultural aspects of the parable with a wide circle of Middle Eastern friends whose roots are in isolated [essentially illiterate]conservative village communities and try to find how the changeless Middle Eastern peasant sees things. The second is to examine carefully twenty-four translations of the NT in Syriac and Arabic to see how Christians in this part of the world have understood the text from the second to twentieth centuries. The point here is that translation is always interpretation. The translator must decide what the text means before he can translate it. A parable passes through the translator's mind on its way to the new language. Through a careful reading of a series of such translations one is able to learn a great deal about how Middle Easterners themselves have understood a given text. The third is to look for parallels in literature as close to the NT as posssibe. Finally, the literary structure of the parable or parable passage must be examined with care. p. xiv.

Personally I find this work more useful than discussing the Koine Greek written style of the gospels.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 04:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter,

I listened with special acuity to our minister last Sunday. He is an excellent speaker and we have an extremely formal church. I clearly heard him use the expression, 'someone' ... 'they'. He was even preaching from the RSV.

Now, he is an Aussie, I admit this, but he is well educated in Aristotle and the philosophers (I always check out these things just for fun) and Dr. Packer was sitting nearby. Of course, we know already Dr. Packer finds this 'perfectly standard'. I really can't imagine who wouldn't, except in a certain kind of written discourse, abitrated by Strunk & Wagnell, evidently.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 05:33:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

The literary form of the gospel narratives (synoptic and otherwise) have very few parallels in the ancient world (let alone exact ones), and anyone who thinks they can proclaim the in's and out's of this subject and make defintive statements on the nature of these texts must think everyone else is a fool. It isn't very helpful.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 06:12:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

I wrote: "The authors of the NT edited Jesus' speech so that the gospel message would be communicated, solidified, and carried for their (and our) indefinite future. So, rhetorical forms were used to make the message stick."

"Son of Abraham" (Michael Marlowe) replied: "I reject that view of the text. I think it involves not only a false view of inspiration but also a failure to properly weigh the historical probabilities. Surely the words of Jesus were impressive enough without an editor's help."

I suppose I need to deal with this since it interprets what I said in ways I didn't mean.

Either you're misunderstanding me or you're not dealing with the GNT evidence that is right in front of both of us.

The authors of the NT didn't record the exact words of Jesus. I think it is widely recognized that Jesus didn't speak Greek 100% of the time. Also, there are parallel texts in different gospel writer's accounts that utilize different words.

For example, here are two parallel examples that start with the phrase, "Jesus said to them", so these are two authors giving two records of a single speech.

Matthew 9:15:
μὴ δύνανται οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος πενθεῖν ἐφ' ὅσον μετ' αὐτῶν ἐστιν ὁ νυμφίος ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι ὅταν ἀπαρθῇ ἀπ' αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος καὶ τότε νηστεύσουσιν
"Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." (ESV)

Mark 2:19
μὴ δύνανται οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος ἐν ᾧ ὁ νυμφίος μετ' αὐτῶν ἐστιν νηστεύειν ὅσον χρόνον ἔχουσιν τὸν νυμφίον μετ' αὐτῶν οὐ δύνανται νηστεύειν
"Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast." (ESV)

They are very similar; however, they are different. Who made the decision to record the words differently than they were actually spoken? That is, who performed the role of an editor? My answer: Men fully empowered by the Holy Spirit to accurately and authoritatively convey the exact message from God.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 06:25:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Suzanne asked:
Have you read Kenneth Bailey's books, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes? 1983.

No, but I've wanted to get those books. However, I have read some of his writings and I have recommended him to people. I had spent several years analyzing Luke 15 (the prodigal son parable and context) and then read his thoughts and cultural insights of that text. I had struggled with the common interpretation that the younger son had repented at the pig pen. The text just didn't seem to be saying that--too many indicators that he was still proud. When I read Bailey's observations (both textual and cultural) he convinced me the cautions were well founded.

FWIW: The younger son repented when he saw his father run. Older Jewish men never, ever ran in public--it was a shameful thing to do. In other words, the father took the younger son's shame on himself.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 06:48:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Older Jewish men never, ever ran in public Yes, I just reread his analysis of that today.

I was given Bailey's book years ago by my mother-in-law who speaks Arabic and has collected Arab proverbs for years. They were missionaries in North Africa.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 07:10:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Michael said:

I want to emphasize the fact that the NT was written for the Church, not for an audience outside the Church.

Michael, I would agree that most of the NT was written for the Church.

You then said:

The internal evidence for this is compelling.

True, for the majority of the NT. But what kind of evidence would you consider John 20:31? What audience would the author of that verse be addressing? The Gospel of John is fairly large, a good percentage of the totality of the NT.

Also, we do not know if Theophilus, the audience for the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was a Christian or not. Our Sunday School teacher, a NT scholar, addressed that very issue this last Sunday. It is entirely possible that Theophilus was acquainted with the broad outlines of the history of Jesus life on earth and the early church through the journeys of Paul, but that he had not yet become a committed follower of "The Way."

 
At Tue Mar 14, 07:26:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Peter wrote: As for Michael's reference to "the fact that the NT was written for the Church, not for an audience outside the Church", how does he reconcile this alleged "fact" with John 20:31?

Simple. I don't accept your interpretation of John 20:31. It's not as obvious as you might think. First of all there is a text-critical issue here. The UBS edition of the text indicates it by bracketing the sigma in πιστεύσητε. Without the sigma it is a present subjunctive meaning "that you may continue to believe" or "be confirmed in your faith" rather than an aorist "that you may believe now." C.K. Barrett discusses this question in his commentary, and he prefers πιστεύητε. So do I.

Likewise, David K. Rensberger in his introduction to John's Gospel in the HarperCollins Study Bible says that the verse "probably means that the book was intended to inspire members of the community to maintain their belief during a troubled time, rather than to convert outsiders. There are many things in John that have meaning only for those who are Christians already" (p. 2012).

This makes more sense to me than the idea that John wrote his Gospel to people outside the Church.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 07:57:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

There is an invalid assumption lying around here. Even if we say that most of the NT was written for the Church, it does not follow that some, maybe all, or it wouldn't have be perfectly clear to outsiders as well.

Being written for the church does not equal being particularly technical or hard to understand.

Much of the NT was written to Gentiles who were recent converts and didn't share the extensive Judaic background that was common in New Testament Palestine. It seems patently false that Paul would send them letters alternately encouraging them, bawling them out, and expressing affection for them in anything but the ordinary language of the day.

I think the Bible was, for the most part, crystal clear to its audience. It hit them where they lived. Our versions should do no less.

The problem to me is that most of the more or less literal versions do not hit the people of the church where they live.

Furthermore, I believe the church is essentially evangelistic. I don't buy the position that we insist that the foundational document be hard to read.

But then maybe we'll just have to agree to disagree.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 08:45:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

This makes more sense to me than the idea that John wrote his Gospel to people outside the Church.

Michael,

I am not sure if I am misreading this, but it seems that you have taken Gordon Fee's position, while Carson is struggling to keep this open. Carson concludes his paper with this comment.

On the other hand, I fear that the objections of Fee and a few others may discourage some from reexamining the issue with fresh eyes, feeling that the possibility that John’s Gospel was written primarily with evangelistic intent has been ruled out of court by their work. This essay is first and foremost an attempt to keep the issue open.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 08:47:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Mike S. wrote: I suppose I need to deal with this since it interprets what I said in ways I didn't mean ...

I don't think I misunderstood you, Mike. In your former message you suggested that the original discourses of Christ may have lacked the rhetorical character that I was emphasizing, and you suggested that these rhetorical features were secondary, editorial adornments. But your little lesson in Gospel parallels does not illustrate any editorial activity of this nature. You merely indicate that there is variation in wording between the Gospel accounts. If you want to go on and try to prove that rhetorical features were regularly added to dominical sayings that lacked them, I am willing to interact with your arguments. But you are going to have a hard time getting your arguments past my criticism. I am quite sure that Christ spoke in the manner of the prophets, with impressive words, just as the Gospel writers present them.

Actually, I think this source-critical theory you introduced is irrelevent to the subject we were addressing: the nature of the language of the New Testament. It does not matter what view you may have about the origin of its features, unless you wish to imply that the simpler "conversational" words of Jesus, as you imagine them, are more appropriate as a model for translators than the words of the Greek text.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 08:54:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Mike,

Bailey's book is available here. One of your recent posts reminded me of his ideas. I would say that Bailey is esential reading for Bible translation.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 09:09:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne said:

I would say that Bailey is esential reading for Bible translation.

I affirm what Suzanne has said. Bailey knows what he wrote about. It is critically important to read the gospels from within the cultural and historical contexts in which they were written, as Bailey does. Bailey's book has been around for awhile, but it has stood the test of time and continues to be appreciated by many who want to know the context in which the gospels, especially Luke, were written.

 
At Tue Mar 14, 10:22:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Richard wrote: There is an invalid assumption lying around here. Even if we say that most of the NT was written for the Church, it does not follow that some, maybe all, or it wouldn't have be perfectly clear to outsiders as well.

Richard, I do not have that assumption, and it has no place in my argument. My statements regarding the linguistic character of the NT are based upon features of the text itself, and upon a comparison of its language with secular Greek sources. I began to discuss the intended audience of the NT only because Mike introduced the idea that the Gospels were intended "to communicate to a very broad audience," and upon that premise he wished to base a conclusion regarding its linguistic characteristics, in a rationalistic, non-empirical way. I've seen variations of this argument before. If we unpack it, it runs something like this:

The New Testament was written for evangelistic purposes. But this purpose would not be well-served by writings which required much background knowledge and familiarity with Jewish terminology to be understood. Therefore the New Testament must have been written in the ordinary and simple 'street language' of the gentiles. Otherwise, it would not serve its true purposes.

Now, the problem here is that all of the statements in this chain of reasoning are demonstrably false. They cannot be sustained in the face of the empirical evidence. The truth is, the New Testament was written for the edification of members of the church, it does require knowledge of the Old Testament and of contemporary Jewish terminology to be understood, and much of it is written in a hebraistic style of Greek. It must have seemed very "Jewish" to the uninitiated, and strange to those who were not already familiar with Judaism.

You say: Much of the NT was written to Gentiles who were recent converts and didn't share the extensive Judaic background that was common in New Testament Palestine. It seems patently false that Paul would send them letters alternately encouraging them, bawling them out, and expressing affection for them in anything but the ordinary language of the day.

I grant that "encouraging them, bawling them out, and expressing affection" are things that do not demand much knowledge of the OT and Judaism, but you are giving a very inadequate summary of the contents of the Pauline epistles if you reduce them to these things, and neglect to mention his theological teachings. Tell me this--do you suppose Paul would have presented so much of his teaching as interpretations of Old Testament passages if the recipients of his letters had no familiarity with the OT? I think that's very unlikely. And as a matter of fact, Paul often does use key words in Jewish senses that are very unlikely to have been commonplace in the ordinary language of the gentiles.

If you want to put the Bible in simple English that is easily understood by unchurched people, go ahead. But you can't base that on arguments about the original text. You must base it on your own vision of how the Bible might be adapted to the purpose of evangelism.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 12:13:00 AM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Son of Abraham wrote: My statements regarding the linguistic character of the NT are based upon features of the text itself, and upon a comparison of its language with secular Greek sources.

Hmm, suppose English were 2000 years dead, and I plunked down in front of you a novel by Hemingway and one by Faulkner and asked whether these guys had different varieties of English such that speakers of the Hemingway variety wouldn't completely understand the Faulkner variety.

You can probably see where I'm going. My take is that Josephus and Luke are in the same ballpark the way Faulkner and Hemingway are. If you're a thoroughly competent speaker of Koine the range of registers you command includes the Atticized style of Josephus and the grocery list style of the various business fragments, and Luke sounds fully natural.

The big problem is that the guys who first looked at this stuff and set the grounds of the discussion didn't have particularly good tools to evaluate the myriad of differences they saw. As you yourself have pointed out, they divided language up too simplistically.

Not only was their understanding of speech styles and registers inadequate, no one at that time had any understanding of what happens in language contact situations, what happens in language koineicization/standardization, what diglossia is, and so forth.

You said: If you want to put the Bible in simple English that is easily understood by unchurched people, go ahead. But you can't base that on arguments about the original text.

On the contrary. I see no real difference (other than perhaps register) in the language in the Pauline epistles between sections which draw on Jewish thought (granted the greater part of Paul's writing) and the sections where he gets personal.

Most of my work in understanding what the Greek of the NT means comes from internal comparison within the NT. All I need for my argument to go through is that the text sounded natural to the intended audience. (BTW, natural does NOT mean simple. It covers the whole range of registers that is implicit in the text, from high to colloquial.)

And I still stick to the harder-to-prove position that the language of the New Testament was "heart language" to bilingual Palestinian Jew and monolingual (but possibly diglossic) Anatolian and European Greek alike. The non-Jews may have missed some of the allusions, but they by and large got the point.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 06:51:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Michael Marlowe wrote:

I've seen variations of this argument before. If we unpack it, it runs something like this:

The New Testament was written for evangelistic purposes. But this purpose would not be well-served by writings which required much background knowledge and familiarity with Jewish terminology to be understood. Therefore the New Testament must have been written in the ordinary and simple 'street language' of the gentiles. Otherwise, it would not serve its true purposes.


For the record: I don't agree with this argument. In other words, what I've said before doesn't flow from this unpacking.

Acts 15:21 tells me the Jewish witness was geographically extensive. So, there's an assumption within the text (and the people of the time) that a Jewish witness was required (though likely not in an absolute sense). The same is true today although it is predominantly replaced with a Christian witness (which has a significant Jewish component).

What has always bothered me about the argument that the NT is written for the Church and therefore the language must be in some way constrained to that entity is that the language used by the people in the Church is the language that the rest of the people in that language group use. It's the same language. Why insist on a linguistically strange composite of Greek and English or Hebrew and English? There appears to be an assumption that the strong Whorfian hypothesis is true. That is, that the specific language absolutely determines what can and can not be talked about. That's been shown to not be true. I think a version of the weak Whorfian hypothesis, however, is true and makes translation so confounded hard. Where these two hypotheses meet might be the genesis of our disagreement.

Also, 1 Cor. 14:24 shows that an unbeliever should be able to understand the language even though he or she hasn't mentally and systematically acquired the initiate's information (ἰδιώτης, IDIWTHS). This is especially applicable in our conversation given the fact that the entire chapter is about clarity of communication.

For me, the evangelistic capability of the Bible flows from the fact that it is true and it is clearly written (or the translation needs to be so). These two things are just as applicable to the Church as they are to the non-Church. So, trying to linguistically pit the two groups of people against each other is simply irrelevant.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 06:52:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Richard wrote: And I still stick to the harder-to-prove position ...

Alright. But at this point it looks to me like you are just clinging to a false idea that serves an ideological or theoretical purpose. You really shouldn't be building theories of Bible translation on it.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 08:16:00 AM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Mike S. wrote: What has always bothered me about the argument that the NT is written for the Church and therefore the language must be in some way constrained to that entity

Mike, That is not my argument. That is the kind of fact-free rationalistic argument that I have been criticizing in my posts. I point to the linguistic features of the text itself, its vocabulary, its rhetoric, and the assumptions implicit in its discourse. I do not rest any conclusion on some empty reasoning about what the text must have been given the audience. I draw my conclusion about the audience from the features of the text, not the other way around. But I perceive that people on the other side of this debate do employ a rationalistic method of argument that comes to conclusions about the linguistic nature of the text based upon the supposed universal audience. This is illegitimate, fact-free reasoning.

the language used by the people in the Church is the language that the rest of the people in that language group use. It's the same language.

That looks like an empty tautological statement, and it depends upon your failure to make a distinction between the Judeo-Christian subculture and the wider Greco-Roman culture. The Judeo-Christian subculture had distinctive linguistic habits and peculiarities that set it apart, linguistically, from the wider culture. As in every other social group, socialization into the Church subculture involved learning the talk.

Why insist on a linguistically strange composite of Greek and English or Hebrew and English?

Even Luke, who was a gentile, used a hebraistic style of Greek in his Gospel. I don't know of any scholar who denies this. So why do you insist upon purging from Bible translations anything that savors of "church language"? You can't justify that by any appeal to the language of the New Testament.

There appears to be an assumption that the strong Whorfian hypothesis is true.

No, I don't need the strong version of the linguistic relativity theory to establish my points. The weaker version is sufficient. You can read my essay on this subject here.

1 Cor. 14:24 can't bear the weight you are putting on it. There Paul is only contrasting the effects of "prophecy" with the effects of the utterly unintelligible "tongues" favored by the Corinthians.

trying to linguistically pit the two groups of people against each other is simply irrelevant.

And who is doing that? Do you think I "pit the two groups of people" when I merely point out that there is a difference in language between the Church subculture and the secular society? It's undeniably true that the New Testament writers used a specialized religious vocabulary. If you don't like that, your problem is with the New Testament itself.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Michael Marlowe wrote:
It's undeniably true that the New Testament writers used a specialized religious vocabulary.

I'm going to simply ignore much of what you wrote; it takes too much effort to calm your rhetoric so we can work toward an objective understanding. I suspect nearly all the readers of this blog grow weary of it. I know I certainly do.

But in the interest of making sure all readers are aware that your above statement is false, I'll quote something in reply:


So far from the Greek of the New Testament being a language by itself, or even, as one German scholar called it, "a language of the Holy Ghost," its main feature was that it was the ordinary vernacular Greek of the period, not the lanugage of contemporary literature, which was often influenced by an attempt to imitate the great authors of classical times, but the language of everday life, as it was spoken and written by the ordinary men and women of the day, or, as it is often described, the KOINH or Common Greek, of the great Graeco-Roman world.


That was written by G. Milligan in 1930. So, 75 years of scholarship testifies to the KOINH nature of the NT text.

But this can be pushed even further back.

J. B. Lightfoot in 1863 in a lecture at Cambridge:


"...if we could only recover letters that ordinary people wrote to each other without any thought of being literary, we should have the greatest possible help for the understanding of the language of the N(ew) T(estament) generally."


Shall I stop here? What about Professor Mason in 1859 who wrote in the beginning of Winer's Grammar:

"Perfectly natural and unaffected, it [the NT] is free from all tinge of vulgarity on the one hand, and from every trace of studied finery on the other. Apart from the Hebraisms--the number of which have, for the most part, been grossly exaggerated--the New Testament may be considered as exhibiting the only genuine FACSIMILE of the colloquial diction employed by UNSOPHISTICATED Grecian gentlemen of the first centruy, who spoke without pedantry--as IDIWTAI ('private persons'), and not as SPFISTAI ('adepts')." [emphasis his]


These last two quotes indicate that even before the Deismann revolution, Greek scholars were cognizant that the NT was Common Language.

Note: The above quotes are taken from "The General Introduction" to "The vocabulary of the Greek New Testament" by Moulten and Milligan. Milligan also deals with a number of words thought to have been religious. In some cases they were religious and, in fact, used by pagan religions. In other cases the words were, in fact, political and not religious. Milligan discusses PRESBUTEROS in this regard.

In summary, the fact that the NT is written in the Common Language of the people was quite strongly established almost 100 years ago and has stood the test without serious question since then.

Now, it is certainly true that an author takes a word from the common pool of language choices and modifies it by and for their own use. But, the author is constrained by the language itself. Otherwise the text wouldn't communicate. In the interests of objectivity, I must allow all the data to influence my assessment of what a word means within a given context. I can't apriori toss data simply because of an assumption on my part that a sub-culture had a specific vocabulary. That reasoning strikes me as too tightly circular to be useful.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

son of abraham said...
Richard wrote: And I still stick to the harder-to-prove position ...

Alright. But at this point it looks to me like you are just clinging to a false idea that serves an ideological or theoretical purpose. You really shouldn't be building theories of Bible translation on it.

The notion that people communicate with one another as naturally and clearly as possible is not ideological. It is the null hypothesis.

The burden of proof is on someone who claims otherwise.

You don't get to simply proclaim that the null hypothesis is false.

I've read your material and find it to be clear, well thought out, and well argued. Head and shoulders above most who oppose dynamic equivalence. But it doesn't convince me in the least. I read it and "it looks to me like you are just clinging to a false idea that serves an ideological or theoretical purpose."

 
At Wed Mar 15, 02:00:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Mike S. wrote: I'm going to simply ignore much of what you wrote; it takes too much effort to calm your rhetoric so we can work toward an objective understanding. I suspect nearly all the readers of this blog grow weary of it. I know I certainly do.

I see. You can't answer my arguments, so you're going to ignore them and call them rhetoric. I'm sure you do grow weary of being challenged in this way. But I hope you will learn something from it.

But in the interest of making sure all readers are aware that your above statement is false, I'll quote something in reply:

In answer to your cited authorities I have more. See my article here. Quotations follow.

"One cannot fully understand the New Testament books without a knowledge of the Hebrew language. For the New Testament, although it is written in Greek, is full of Hebraisms and betrays the Hebrew style of writing" —Martin Luther, Table Talk (Tischreden) Werke, WA, 1.525.

"If Greek words as used in Scripture express no higher ideas than on the lips of Pagans, then we can have only the thoughts of Pagans in the Bible. On this principle, how could the Gospel be preached to heathen? to the Hindoos, for example, if they were forbidden to attach to the words God, sin, repentance, and a holy life, no other ideas than those suggested by the corresponding terms of their own language? The Bible, so far as written in Greek, must be understood as Greek. But the “usus loquendi” of every language varies more or less in different ages, and as spoken by different tribes and nations. Every one admits that Hellenistic Greek has a usage distinguishing it from the language of the classics. The language of the Bible must explain the language of the Bible. It has a “usus loquendi” of its own." —Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner, 1873), p. 873.

"The interesting light thrown upon the vocabulary of the Septuagint by the recent publication of Egyptian Papyri has led some writers to suppose that the language of the Septuagint has nothing to distinguish it from Greek as spoken daily in the kingdom of the Ptolemies. Hence some fine scorn has been wasted on the 'myth' of a 'Biblical' Greek. 'Biblical Greek' was a term aptly applied by the late Dr. Hatch to the language of the Septuagint and New Testament conjointly. It is a serviceable word, which it would be unwise to discard. For, viewed as Greek, these two books have features in common which are shared with them by no other documents. These features arise from the strong Semitic infusion that is contained in both." —F.C. Conybeare and St. George Stock, Grammar of Septuagint Greek (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1905), p. 22.

"I can only regard it as a great exaggeration if one insists on denying the existence of a Jewish and a biblical Greek." —Eberhard Nestle, review of J.H. Moulton's Grammar in Berliner Philologische Wochenschrift, 8 Dec, 1906.

"...one has the conviction that the joy of new discovery has to some extent blurred the vision of Deissmann and Moulton to the remaining Hebraisms, which do indeed make Hebraic Greek or a peculiar dialect." —A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (New York: George H. Doran, 1914.), p. 91.

"The New Testament documents were, no doubt, written in a language intelligible to the generality of Greek-speaking people; yet to suppose that they emerged from the background of Greek thought and experience would be to misunderstand them completely. There is a strange and awkward element in the language which not only affects the meanings of words, not only disturbs the grammar and syntax, but lurks everywhere in a maze of literary allusions which no ordinary Greek man or woman could conceivably have understood or even detected. The truth is that behind these writings there lies an intractable Hebraic, Aramaic, Palestinian material. It is this foreign matter that complicates New Testament Greek ... The tension between the Jewish heritage and the Greek world vitally affects the language of the New Testament." —E.C. Hoskyns, The Riddle of the New Testament (1931), pp. 19-20.

"Carried on by the exhilaration of having found a key that unlocks many lexical and syntactical puzzles in the New Testament, Deissmann and certain other scholars went to the extreme of neglecting to take into due account two other factors immensely important for a correct interpretation of the language of the New Testament, namely, the influence of the language of the Old Testament, and the creative vitality of the Christian faith. The pendulum has now begun to swing back to a more central position. The papyri are still recognized as indispensable to the understanding of much of the vocabulary and grammar of the New Testament, but it is now perceived also that the most distinctive and the really important words in the New Testament are either borrowed from the Old Testament or are common, everyday words which the Spirit of God filled with new significance." —Bruce M. Metzger, "The Language of the New Testament," in The Interpreter's Bible vol. vii (1951), page 53.

"If you're going to apply the principle of equivalent effect, you've got to examine very carefully the style, the spirit, and the meaning of your original. And I soon came to the conclusion that people are wrong who tell you that the Greek of the Gospels is a debased language. It's different from classical Greek, but 'debased' is the wrong word. In the first place, it was the best language available to the Gospel writers, and they use it to the best possible effect. Secondly, though it was loosened in syntax and grammar, I should talk of natural development rather than debasement. But diction alone is not all that counts; and when I talk of the Gospels as "supreme works of literary art," I am thinking rather of the skill with which their very miscellaneous contents were put together: that I think is a work of consummate art. Then again we have to consider whom they were written for. I came to the conclusion very soon that they were written, not for the man in the street, whose existence I do not really believe in, but for the man in the congregation, and that we must not write down to him, that he will not thank us for writing down to him. There is good reason for thinking that the original audience of the Gospels found them just as difficult as we do; and if therefore we paraphrase or lower our standard of English in order to make things crystal clear to the so-called man in the street, we're going beyond our jobs as translators." —Emile V. Rieu, "Translating the Gospels: A Discussion Between Dr. E.V. Rieu and the Rev. J.B. Phillips." The Bible Translator 6/4 (October 1955), pp. 150-159.

"One word of caution is perhaps necessary. The pendulum has swung rather too far in the direction of equating Biblical with 'secular' Greek; and we must not allow these fascinating discoveries to blind us to the fact that Biblical Greek still does retain certain peculiarities, due in part to Semitic influence (which must be far stronger in the New Testament than in the equivalent bulk of colloquial or literary 'secular' Greek, even allowing for the permeation of society by Jewish settlements), and in part to the moulding influence of the Christian experience, which did in some measure create an idiom and a vocabulary of its own." —C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959; page 3.

"Obviously [the Greek of the New Testament] it is not classical. What is it? Around the seventeenth century there were those who believed that it was a special language created by the Holy Spirit, but — especially in the late nineteenth century — this view lost favour when a great many letters, business documents and other writings were discovered, preserved in papyrus in the dry climate of the Egyptian desert. The language of these papyri was much the same as that found in the New Testament. Scholars therefore turned to them to find out the meaning of words, grammar and syntax in the Hellenistic period, and in the light of this knowledge to interpret the New Testament. On the other hand, it has proved impossible to pass directly from the papyri to New Testament exegesis, for two reasons. (1) The New Testament writers were saturated in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, and much of their language bears Septuagintal overtones. Some New Testament terms can be understood much better in relation to the Septuagint than in relation to sales contracts. (2) Some of the gospels, and to a certain measure some of the epistles, come from or through men who were bilingual and seem to have thought in two languages at once. One language was Greek; the other was Aramaic or Hebrew. Even though none of the New Testament books was written in Aramaic, the authors of some of them thought in Aramaic, at least at times. And behind the sayings of Jesus in their Greek versions lies a chain of transmission which began in a Semitic language. Obviously this chain cannot be reproduced in a translation. But it has to be taken into account ... Sometimes it is suggested that these older translations [the King James Version and the Book of Common Prayer], hallowed by usage, are the most satisfactory because their archaic language conveys overtones of the antiquity which is actually a feature of the Bible ... There is, of course, something to it. The New Testament writers themselves did not hesitate to make free use of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, written in a Greek at times very strange and, in their time, a century or so old. In addition, at least some of the New Testament writings were intended for liturgical use, and liturgical language emphasizes the continuity of Christianity by preserving archaic expressions — which are sometimes, though not often, incomprehensible to later generations. Some of the New Testament writings, then, are archaizing in flavour and a purely ‘modern’ translation does not translate. —Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (London: Cox & Wyman, 1963).

"The event of our study, as I see it, has been disenchantment with Bishop Lightfoot's guess that 'if we could only recover letters that ordinary people wrote to each other without any thought of being literary, we should have the greatest possible help for the understanding of the language of the New Testament.' It happens that a towering mass of papyrus material of that very kind was recovered and yet I have been at pains to show how little of it has helped in understanding the weighty Christian words which first appeared in the New Testament and early Fathers, or were applied by these believers in a way different from that in which ordinary people exploited them. Always 'the greatest possible help' came to me, I confess, not by closely examining the papyrus, which I have done, but from the immediate context and from the Greek Scriptures first of all. After examining the secular use of the following words, I will show repeatedly that it is seldom the same as the Christian use, and that we must always go elsewhere for a more assured and devotional understanding. God may not after all have communicated 'absolutely in the language of the people, as we might surely have expected He would' [J.H. Moulton, Grammar, vol. 1, p.5], when the New Testament was written. From a liberal Protestant point of view we might well have expected it and yearned for it, but my own enquiries in the sphere of syntax, style, and now in vocabulary, have pleaded for caution. God seems not to have used the contemporary vernacular speech without revolutionizing it, whether in style (or lack of it), whether in sentence construction, or whether in vocabulary. The early Christians had their own form of speech, and I account it to be as 'sacred' in vocabulary as I found it in syntax and style ... My own strong feeling is echoed in the words of the late Biblical scholar, Dr. C.H. Dodd, that 'it is rarely safe to ignore the LXX in attempting to determine the meaning of Pauline language.' [Journal of Theological Studies NS 5, 1954, p. 248]. Only I think it is true of other New Testament writers besides St. Paul. The contemporary secular Greek does help us to a limited extent. It throws light on the meaning of such words as 'milk' and such trivia as the height of a man's stature. It brings in a wealth of ideas from accountancy, wills, receipts, deposits, and beggars' collecting-bags. However, if we would get to the heart of the Christian message we need more than the help of secular Greek. The great Christian words which concern salvation and Christian living were not produced in a secular environment. They are rooted in the Greek Old Testament, so that Septuagintal study is likely to forward Christian exegesis. Greek-speaking Jews, even before the advent of the Saviour, had worked wonders with the Greek language. The Greek of their Scriptures is very different from the uncultivated dialect of the market-place which you read in the secular papyri and which literary men scorn. Grecian Jews had imbibed their linguistic tradition in several ways — from religious experience, from the bilingual circumstances of their environment, and especially from devotion to their Scriptures and almost daily attendance at the synagogue liturgy. Christians being mostly Jews at the beginning, inherited this metabolized language, only to transform it still more remarkably" —Nigel Turner, Christian Words (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1980), pp. xi-xiii.

"there is still not a sufficient number and variety of sources to establish conclusively by means of the documents that the Greek of the New Testament is more or less the vernacular of the Hellenistic period or that it is not ... It seems clear that Deissmann's original thesis must be modified in the direction of influence from the Septuagint and other Semitic influences, but this is no reason to rank New Testament Greek as something unique and unrelated to the total history of the language." —Edgar V. McKnight, "Is the New Testament Written in 'Holy Ghost' Greek?" The Bible Translator, 16 (1965), pages 92, 93.

"It seems necessary therefore at the outset to put in a plea for caution, lest an exaggerated view should be taken of the extent to which our new lights alter our conceptions of the NT language and its interpretation. We have been showing that the NT writers used the language of their time. But that does not mean that they had not in a very real sense a language of their own." —J.H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. 1, Prolegomena, 3d ed., (Edinburgh: Clark, 1906; reprint, 1949), p. 19.

"It seems that the initial excitement over the papyri parallels to the NT was perhaps overstated. That is to say, as helpful as the papyri have been for our understanding of NT vocabulary stock, we have not found perfect syntactical parallels in the papyri." —Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 23.

"Biblical Greek is a unique language with a unity and character of its own ... There is a family likeness among these Biblical works, setting them apart from the papyri and from contemporary literary Greek ... We now have to concede that not only is the subject-matter of the Scriptures unique but so also is the language in which they came to be written or translated. This much is plain for all who can see ..." —Nigel Turner, Syntax (Vol. III of A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1963), pp. 1-9.

"In spite of the exaggerations of earlier scholars ... it is becoming generally recognized today that there is really something unique about the language of the New Testament, and especially of the Synoptic Gospels — something not to be explained wholly by the parallels found in the Egyptian papyri." —Frederick C. Grant, The Earliest Gospel (New York: Abingdon Press, 1943).

"Adolf Deissmann's famous dictum that early Christian works were written in popular, colloquial Greek must now be modified to recognize that these writings are written in the professional prose of the day. Early Christian letters are similar to official and philosophical letters, and the gospels are similar to other Greco-Roman biographical literature." —James R. Adair, Jr., online review of Books and Readers in the Early Church by Harry Gamble, accessed on Sep 1, 2002.

"labeling NT Greek as 'colloquial' seems problematic nowadays. The diglossic or polyglossic situation that prevailed in the Greek-speaking world involved more linguistic varieties than 'colloquial' and 'literary,' and no variety of written Greek would be identical with spoken Greek. Even the concept of 'NT Greek' becomes problematic, since the differences between the individual writings of the NT are so conspicuous, and, in spite of all parallels that have been detected, there are certain linguistic features that are attested only in Jewish and Christian texts." — Jerker Blomqvist, Lund University, online review of Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, published in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2001.

"Biblical Greek is a peculiar language, the language of a peculiar people." — Matthew Black, "The Biblical Languages," in The Cambridge History of the Bible (vol. 1, ed. P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans, Cambridge, 1970), p. 11.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 02:39:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Michael wrote: "The Judeo-Christian subculture had distinctive linguistic habits and peculiarities that set it apart, linguistically, from the wider culture. As in every other social group, socialization into the Church subculture involved learning the talk." Well, I accept that this may have been true of the Jewish subculture in the New Testament period. But can we really talk about a Christian or Church subculture during the period when the New Testament was being written? It takes years for subcultures to develop, and years for newcomers to be fully socialised into those subcultures. The New Testament was mostly written to churches which were relatively newly founded and of which many members were even newer believers. Even if there was a subculture to which these people could have been socialised, there was not time for them to be so socialised. Now maybe the churches which received the Epistles were in some ways starting to use an awkward mixture of distinctively Jewish and distinctively Gentile forms of language. But it is simply impossible that their language, and the language used in letters written to them, would have diverged enough from that of the culture around them for there to be any significant communication barrier. Anyway, comparison with secular literature and letters of the period demonstrates that it had not.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Michael, thank you for your long list of authorities who you claim as support for your statement "It's undeniably true that the New Testament writers used a specialized religious vocabulary." I have not read them all, but I have scanned all of those written since about 1950 and so representing anything like modern scholarship. It seems to me that the only more recent author to give real support to your statement is Nigel Turner, whose scholarship is generally regarded today as questionable and already outdated by the time it was published. The other authors simply caution against taking the extreme opposite position.

Now I would accept that there is occasional use in the NT of specialised religious terminology, and of unusual phraseology taken from LXX. But that does not imply that the whole language and style of the NT is controlled by this kind of specialness. Generally when experts in a particular field discuss their field in an informal setting, they use informal language into which they drop the occasional technical term or phrase. Indeed that is what I tend to do in these comments. And this is the kind of picture I see in the language of the NT, at least to speak in very general terms of a very diverse corpus.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 05:50:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

In response to Michael Marlowe:

I've just read the article you've pointed me to. My reaction? You continue to misunderstand what I'm saying. How do I know that to be true? I agree with the vast majority of the article you've written. I've thought the same things for a number of years. I've taught it; I've preached it. I think there are some things that need to be more carefully nuanced, it appears to me you're arguing much too strongly for an incremental position, but, overall, it's well done.

So, let me state again, somewhat differently than I have so far, what I believe: The Bible writings are charaterised by a deep desire to communicate the truth to people who need it (you can understand that as those only within the church if you like, but please understand that I believe the language within the church and outside the church to be essentially the same). I'm still not sure where you are on this--what effort did it take for an uninitiated person to understand the language?

Please understand what I'm asking here. I am not asking what effort it took to understand the concepts. That's a very higly related issue, I'll grant you that. But there's a difference. I know there is a difference because I've taught highly technical information to people spanning a broad intellectual spectrum. The language was the same across the spectrum, the means of getting the concepts across were different.

 
At Wed Mar 15, 09:17:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Mike,

Thanks for your conciliatory message.

It would have been a better discussion if we had used more illustrations of our points, so that I could see just how far you were inclined to push your ideas about the text, and you could see how far I was going in my direction.

If you can agree with the vast majority of my article, that means something to me.

In any case, it's always best to focus on specific examples, and we haven't done much of that. I think Peter and I achieved a lot more clarity about our views regarding the "singular they" issue in English after we began to discuss all the examples in detail. So in the future I'll remember this lesson.

You asked for my opinion about "what effort did it take for an uninitiated person to understand the language." I think perhaps "effort" is not the right word for the normal process of linguistic socialization. People just begin to pick things up, like meaning of the phrase "the glory (doxa) of God." But it is a learning process that might have taken a year for some, depending upon their degree of immersion in the Church culture. I think a large percentage of the first-generation gentile Christians were probably "God-fearers" who were familiar with Judaism, and had attended the synagogue, and these would have needed very little introduction to the linguistic habits of the Church.

Perhaps a few people would never fully understand some of the idioms. I know a woman in her mid-40's who has used the King James Version all her life, in a church where people always pray aloud with "thee's and thou's," who still does not know that "thee" is singular and "you" is plural. She made a little plaque for her kitchen wall that says, "I have called thee friends" (from John's gospel). Some people never catch on to some of the meanings of little differences of the language they read in their Bibles and hear in Church.

The point is, I suppose there was a difference between people in this area, but probably most had a good grasp of important terminology within a year.

 

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