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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Orthotomeo: A Response

This is not intended to extend the discussion of this word or take it up again. However, I do want to acknowledge belatedly the response from Rich and a few emails and comments which I have received.

First, I do not think that I have reached some kind of final word or conclusion about 'orthotomeo', nor was that my intent. Rick Brannan has nicely interpreted my intent when he comments on my use of online resources. I was interested in actually trying out and strengthening my skills in using online resources on a vocabulary study that was not of earth-shaking doctrinal importance.

I have been persuaded by a few kind people that this expression, 'orthotomeo' may well mean 'working one's way through the word in a straightforward manner.' It seems ambiguous to me, and entirely possible that it could mean either 'traveling through the word of truth for oneself in a straightforward and level way', or 'making the word of truth available to others in a straightforward and level manner.' There seems to be significant support for both.

In any case, I ended up with the impression that the research from all sources came together to suggest a 'making a straight and direct path'. There did not seem to be any variance between classical Greek and Septuagint sources. The Peshitta was also in agreement with this.

I was delighted to read tonight in the comment section on the preceding post, this contribution from Codepoke, that we should not dispense with 'valuable, appropriate and intentional color.' That really was my point. No need to fall into the etymological fallacy of translating 'orthotomeo' as 'rightly dividing', or 'cut in a straight line' as Darby does, but why dispense with intentional colour altogether? Why setttle for the relatively colourless 'correctly handling' when something else can be made out of it, something like 'setting a straight course through the word of truth' or 'making a straight path', although there may be better ways to construe this.

In sum, it seems to be a journey or a course - one does not necessarily reach the destination, have done with a concept, and then move on to the next, but rather, the idea is for us to stay on the straight path, without getting sidetracked into the sideroads, tripping and stumbling over uneveness.

I was fortunate to hear a sermon this Sunday on Galatians 6:14-16

    But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. ESV
Many other translations use "follow", but "walk by" seems more evocative of the Greek, which has another colourful word here, this time used 5 times in the NT, στοιχεω, to 'walk straight' or 'walk in line with'. Somehow, after having read both Timothy and Galatians in Greek, I see some correlation between ορθοτομεω and στοιχεω that might not have been so clear in English.

All this bringing about the same conclusion, that there is a central truth that we boast in, which is the cross of Christ. Do these colourful expressions draw us into the central truths, I think they do. Does this mean a literal translation is better? Not necessarily, 'rightly dividing' for ορθοτομεω sounds literal enough, but meaningless, and 'be drawn up in a row' for στοιχεω is also literal but meaningless.

There should be some sensitivity and fidelity to the original metaphors, but it seems to be an art rather than a science to arrive at the desired effect in a translation. I await enlightenment from commenters or cobloggers on this. Surely it can be turned into a science. I appreciate the continuing discussion on this topic, and see how much more there is for me to learn as I develop a greater sensitivity to language from being in dialogue with others.


At Wed May 10, 04:51:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Good comments on this topic putting it in perspective. Ambiguity is not a failure in translation when the text is ambiguous. Worse I think is to "un-rightly" cut off meaning that might be there which is something that CEV tends to do.

If I could pinpoint one thing about this word study that needled me, it is that too little prominence was given to context. Paul knit his words in v. 15 with those in v. 16 and I think the leitmotiv of the passage is "workers" rightly or in error making use of the message of the gospel.

Kudos for an excellent series.

At Wed May 10, 08:13:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I definitely referenced "workers" as being a factor for me, in my original decision to interpret this word as being about how we offer the word to others.

But, no, I didn't spend much time on context, because this was a study about lexica and tools, how we do the groundwork, and what do we bring to the table in the first instance. This is not a final and definitive study, but it just demonstrates how much background knowledge we can get off the internet before we start dialoguing about the translation of a particular verse.

At Wed May 10, 09:10:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

You're right and I think the lexical approach has this limitation. Only in looking at the wider context and the contrast of Timothy "rightly dividing" and Hymenaeus and Philetus "missing the mark" are we able to confidently exegete this text.


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