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Friday, April 20, 2007

Matt. 18:10: translating biblical non sequiturs

I'm in the middle of checking translation of Matt. 18:1-20 for a tribal language. I'm looking at the back translation (from the tribal language to English) of 18:10:
Don't be against these children! I am really telling you, their angels are in heaven, they are always with my heavenly Father there.
How does that translation sound to you? Does it seem accurate? Feel free to check the translation with any resources you wish.

The translation seems accurate to me, in that it says what the underlying Greek text says. (N.B. If you are concerned that the translation makes explicit who the little ones are, something which is clear in the context, this is permissible translation, according to the principles we follow as translation consultants. And if you are concerned that the translation says nothing about the "face" of Jesus' father in heaven, we should point out that face is a Semitic figure of speech, a synecdoche, which represents all of a person. The speakers of this tribal language do not have the synecdoche of face representing a person, so the translation has the figurative meaning of the synecdoche, which is permissible translation according to the principles we consultants follow as we check. These two issues are not in focus in this blog post. Please keep reading to get to the issue which is.)

Now, think for awhile about the two sentences in this verse. Feel free to look them up in the Greek or in any English translation. Feel free to examine any amount of their context. Does anything strike you as odd about these two sentences, in any translation?

If nothing does yet, consider this: What does Jesus give as the reason why people should "not look down on one of these little ones" (NIV)?

Does that reason make sense to you, in this context? Don't answer yes until you have thought about it for awhile.

If the reason given, as we have recorded by Matthew, doesn't make sense as a reason for not looking down on the little ones, do you think Jesus intended it to make sense to his audience? And if you think he did, what do you think is a translator's responsibility, if any, to enable their audience to understand the reason why people should "not look down on one of these little ones"?

7 Comments:

At Sat Apr 21, 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At Sat Apr 21, 12:05:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Wayne,

I am sorry, I don't see the non sequitur here, to say we should not look down on children because their angels are often in the presence of the king of the universe ("my heavenly father") is like saying don't look down on the cleaner, her brother works in the CEO's private office!

BTW have you heard my new audio blog at http://bigbible.org/audio-bible/

 
At Sat Apr 21, 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Eddie Torr Leman said...

Tim commented:

I am sorry, I don't see the non sequitur here, to say we should not look down on children because their angels are often in the presence of the king of the universe ("my heavenly father") is like saying don't look down on the cleaner, her brother works in the CEO's private office!

Good for you, Tim! There is no non sequitur for you. And I hope there isn't for many, or most, other Bible readers. But I admit that it has not been easy for me to get the connection that you did. Perhaps my brain is defective, but I simply miss some of the implicit logical connections in the Bible and need a little more help to get them.

BTW, I don't believe that there is a non sequitur here, or at least that Jesus made one. There is only one if readers of translations of this verse cannot get the logical connection that you did. The reason for my post was to try to find out if others missed that logical connection as I have. This is only one of a number of places in the Bible where there is an implicit logical connection which I have missed in the past. I'm concerned that there might be other readers like myself who miss such connections. Or maybe I'm alone. There's only one way to find out and that is to ask the questions.

I'll check out your new audio Bible webpage. I sure appreciate all the work you have put into getting the CEV online for others to listen to.

 
At Sat Apr 21, 01:59:00 PM, Blogger Sylvanus said...

For an angel to have the priviledge of an audience with God regarding the affairs of a human, reflects the appreciation of both that angel and God about that human.
If an angel has the priviledge of constantly being in audience with God regarding that human, well, that priviledge must indeed be that of that human!

I think that the translation should mostly reflect, not just that one should not be against the children because the angels are with God always (are they not?), but because God's eyes are always on the children, thanks to their angel.

So, you could say:
Don't be against these children!
I am really telling you,
their angels in heaven always are with my heavenly Father there.
(emphasis on 'always')

I hope that makes sense.....

 
At Sat Apr 21, 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

To me, the greater problem with this verse is with "their angels". In our western culture we have a popular concept of guardian angels, and this verse will be understood in terms of that popular concept, whether or not that is actually Jesus' intention here. But what do you do in other cultures where there is no such concept? Or perhaps not even a word for "angel"? You certainly can't write something like "their spirits are with my heavenly Father" as that could have a very different meaning. You might consider writing something like "the spirits who guard them", but is that writing into the text too much of our not necessarily biblical western popular idea?

 
At Sat Apr 21, 02:36:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

There is another intermediate step necessary to understand this verse -- although it has become so absorbed into our culture that it takes a moment to realize it.

One needs to understand that these angels are not ordinary angels -- but guardian angels, an idea not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, but found in the Apocrypha (Tobit 5:22) and various Rabbinic writings. This is the first clear mention of guardian angels in the Protestant Bible. Guardian angels are charged with protecting or representing individuals. Without this piece of information, the verse does become unclear. I would argue that this is one of many examples that illustrate the importance of understanding cultural context when reading Scripture.

Another point to mention is that verse 18:11, omitted in the NA27 and in most recent translations, does create an issue, since despite its grammatical form, it is not logically connected to preceding verse.

 
At Sat Apr 21, 02:53:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Eddie Torr Leman said...

Guardian angels are charged with protecting or representing individuals. Without this piece of information, the verse does become unclear. I would argue that this is one of many examples that illustrate the importance of understanding cultural context when reading Scripture.

And I agree with you. I consider that that is one of the key pieces to understanding the connection between the two sentences of 18:10. The other was mentioned by Tim Bulkely, I believe, i.e. that Jesus considered children important enough to have guardian angels.

It may be that this cultural context for understanding 18:10 is best placed in a footnote, but for me, anyway, it needs to be explicitly stated somewhere for me to understand the logical connection in 18:10.

Thanks, Anonymous.

 

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