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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Value of Dictionaries

On Tuesday I’ll be turning back the first drafts of the semester-long paper project in my ethnohistory class. The biggest teaching point associated with that assignment is getting the students to evaluate their sources critically. It’s a history class — don’t ask why a linguist is teaching this class, it’s a long story — so the students have to be taught to ask the most basic question: how do they know that they can trust a source. Is the writer a witness to the events? That would make it a primary source, which is as good as we can do. But sometimes you can’t find anything from the eyewitnesses and you have to settle for the newspaper accounts. But being careful only to use primary sources or contemporary news accounts, you still have to worry about how to read past the prejudices, opinions, and worldview of the writer.

The trouble is most of the time most of us don’t have the time or the access to documents to enable us to assemble and read the primary sources for ourselves. So we look to authorities, to the folks who have read the primary sources. What they write, however, are secondary sources. Of course, secondary sources, too, have prejudices and opinions, but the problem is that their opinions are even harder to sort out from the facts than those of the primary sources. That’s because we ask of the authorities that they synthesize the primary sources into a story. Much of the time we take the stories of the secondary sources as gospel truth and don’t ask the hard questions: how does he/she know that? Can we trust that his/her story is the real story?

Wait. What does all this have to do Bible translation?

Well, when we get into arguments about what words mean, we don’t much pay attention to the difference between primary and secondary sources, and that gets us into trouble.

Let me explain.

In the case of translation, what constitutes a primary source?

Ideally, a natively bilingual speaker. But unfortunately for us, there never were any natively bilingual speakers for Roman era Koine and 21st century English.

So if we can’t get such a person, what’s the next best thing? What's the primary source in that case.

Interestingly enough, it’s the text itself. Combine the text with early translations as a way to triangulate on the original meaning and you’re well more than halfway there. (This makes dealing with ancient texts the analogue of doing oral history, not a trivial task, but most definitely do-able.)

Oh, you say, that sounds all very approximate. Can we have any confidence in such a source?

Actually, yes we can, because of one thing — language is highly redundant — the standard figure is 50%. It’s redundancy that enables children to learn language by observing how people use language in context. That same redundancy allows me to mimic what children do in learning a language when I approach a body of ancient texts. Give me a large enough corpus (a collection of texts in a single language) with a translation that simply gets me to a close approximation of what the text means, and I can, by dint of great effort, tell you what all but the rarest expressions in the corpus mean with great precision and confidence.

The NT plus Roman era writers and the Roman era papyrii constitute a big enough corpus to work with. Throw in that we have a very similar, but more archaic variety of Greek in the LXX and that there is a lot known about the older (but much different) forms of Greek from 500 BC on, and we are in a very, very good place to use this corpus as a primary source for figuring out what words and expressions in the NT mean to a high degree of accuracy. (You can find an example of me doing this in a series of earlier posts regarding the word ἐπιτιμάω.)

But wait! you say, wouldn’t it just be simpler to use the dictionary? After all, the dictionary makers did what I just described. They're the experts. They poured through the corpus and figured out what the words mean.

True, but we have to remember that their work still has the status of a secondary source. The problem for us is that almost all of that work, reading the texts and assembling examples of distinct senses, was done in 19th century.

You see, for us to use those dictionaries properly, we have to take into account the fact that even if they got the translations right for 19th century English, those translations might not be right for 21st century English.

A good word study in the original texts, carefully done trumps the dictionary every time.

ἄνθρωπος is a case in point.

There is much ink spilt in this blog about the meaning of ἄνθρωπος and its Hebrew equivalent adam (אדם), most recently relating to an unnecessary neologism, adamkind. It’s a topic that comes up over and over when one talks about accuracy in translation.

Reading the texts, one finds absolutely convincing examples which make it clear that from Homeric Greek on, ἄνθρωπος refers to humans without explicit reference to maleness. Some key examples and discussion can be found here particularly in the comments.

So why does the ESV insist on translating both adam (אדם) or ἄνθρωπος ‘man’?

Because its translators don’t recognize that English has changed.

In Liddell and Scott’s time one did not say human being, one said man. (Liddell and Scott is the standard reference dictionary for Greek.) Liddell and Scott’s entry for ἄνθρωπος begins:
ἄνθρωπος, ἡ, Att. crasis ἄνθρωπος, Ion. ὥνθρωπος, for ὁ ἄνθρ-:--
A. man, both as a generic term and of individuals, Hom. etc., opp. gods, ἀθανάτων τε θεῶν χαμαὶ ἐρχομένων τ' ἀνθρώπων Il.5.442 , etc.; πρὸς ἠοίων ἢ ἑσπερίων ἀνθρώπων the men of the east or of the west, Od.8.29; even of the dead in the Isles of the Blest, ib.4.565; κόμπος οὐ κατ' ἄνθρωπον A.Th.425 , cf. S.Aj.761.
2. Pl. uses it both with and without the Art. to denote man generically, ὁ ἄ. θείας μετέσχε μοίρας Prt.322a ; οὓτω . . εὐδαιμονέστατος γίγνεται ἄ. R.619b , al.; ὁ ἄ. the ideal man, humanity, ἀπώλεσας τὸν ἄ., οὐκ ἐπλήρωσας τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν Arr.Epict.2.9.3.
3. in pl., mankind, ἀνθρώπων . . ἀνδρῶν ἠδὲ γυναικῶν Il.9.134 ; ἐν τῷ μακρῷ . . ἀνθρώπων χρόνψ S.Ph.306 ; ἐξἀνθρώπων γίγνεσθαι depart this life, Paus.4.26.5, cf. Philostr.VA8.31.
etc.
But if you look through all of the glosses of compounds of ἄνθρωπος in Liddell and Scott, when the gloss is adjectival it is given as human, not male, as in the examples below.
ἀνθρωπο-πᾰθής , ές,
A. with human feelings, ib.182, al. Adv. –θῶς, λέγεσθαι, of the gods, Hermog. Id.2.10.
ἀνθρωπό-νοος , ον, contr. ἀνθρωπό-νους , ουν,
A. with human understanding, intelligent, πίθηκοι Ael.NA16.10 : Sup. -νούστατος Str.15.1.29.
Not surprisingly, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, the standard reference for the Koine of Christian literature, which was revised in the middle of the 20th century (1958-1979) has the more modern usage in its gloss:
ἄνθρωπος, ου, ὁ (Hom. + inscr., pap., LXX, EN., EP. Arist., Philo, Joseph., Test. 12 Patr.; loanw. in rabb.) human being, man [pg. 68].
(It probably doesn’t hurt either that this lexicon was developed starting with a translation from the German. German has a word Mensch with the primary sense meaning exactly what ἄνθρωπος in its primary sense means, namely, ‘human being’.)

It isn’t until you get down to BAGD’s sense group 2: “in special combinations and meanings” that you get
b. the context requires such mngs. as—a. man, adult male [a list of citations follows, pg. 68]
My point?

If the complementarians really understood what shaky ground textual ground they stand on, the whole debate would be different.

15 Comments:

At Mon Nov 26, 09:24:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

My point?

If the complementarians really understood what shaky ground textual ground they stand on, the whole debate would be different.


Richard, I was with you all the way on your post until your tacky concluding point. You actually wrote that ENTIRE post just to take a potshot?

THIS complementarian agreed with you every step of the way until your last sentence. The problem is you are using the label complementarian too broadly. You seem to forget that there are complementarians who DO NOT agree that every instance of ἄνθρωπος (or אדם) should be translated "man." You seem to forget that there are complementarians on the TNIV CBT. To suggest otherwise for either reality is to create a straw man, which I believe you have done here--or at least you did with your last sentence. As I said, up until then I was with you.

Generally, I avoid this subject altogether, but your post (or at least the last sentence of it) thoroughly perturbed me.

I might also suggest that you update your BAGD with the BDAG (2000). The entry on ἄνθρωπος is even more helpful down with a primary definition of "a person of either sex, w. focus on participation in the human race, a human being."

And it's rare that you see me defending the ESV, but I will do so (and for any other translation for that matter), when I see it misrepresented. I agree that there are places in the ESV where it translates ἄνθρωπος as man unnecessarily, but I don't think it insists (to use your word) on doing so in every occurrence.

Compare the following verses from the Synoptics in the Greek and in the ESV for examples of ἄνθρωπος being translated more (dare I say it?) inclusively:

Matt 5:13, 16, 19; 6:1-2, 5, 14-16, 18; 7:9, 12; 10:36; 12:11, 35-36, 43, 45; 13:28, 52; 15:11, 18, 20; 18:7, 23; 19:3; 20:1; 21:33; 22:2, 16; 23:4-5, 7, 13, 28; Mark 7:15, 23; 8:27; 11:2; 12:14; Luke 1:25; 2:14; 6:22, 26, 31, 45; 11:24, 26; 13:4; 19:30; 21:26

That's just the Synoptics. There are plenty more examples, but I don't have the patience to find them all. The above 51(!) verses should suffice.

Now you can say that the ESV translators are inconsistent, but you can't say they insist on translating ἄνθρωπος as man.

Again, between that statement about the ESV and your remark about complementarians, I have to think you are painting with way too large of a brush and perhaps you aren't overly familiar with either.

 
At Mon Nov 26, 10:19:00 PM, Blogger mike aubrey said...

"Richard, I was with you all the way on your post until your tacky concluding point. You actually wrote that ENTIRE post just to take a potshot?"

Well, you have to admit that Grudem spends way too much time defending his theology on the basis of what the lexicons say.

 
At Mon Nov 26, 10:21:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At Mon Nov 26, 10:31:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Mike said, "Well, you have to admit that Grudem spends way too much time defending his theology on the basis of what the lexicons say."

No denying that, but if the post was about Grudem, Richard should aim at him. He shouldn't lump all complementarians into a group wanting to translate ἄνθρωπος and אדם as man because that's simply not true.

 
At Mon Nov 26, 11:11:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Rick,

First, the ESV was designed to translate anthropos inclusively, as people, except where it was doctrinally effective not to. That is, translate anthropos as a generic most of the time, and then explain that that is what you are doing. Then in three or four verses, which are specifically used to refer to church leadership, translate anthropos as "men." Then claim that your translation is the most faithful and transparent translation there is. It is more transparent than any other and they can prove it. They can also prove that it is more inclusive than many previous Bibles. Then it becomes a perfectly refined tool against the inclusion of women in those places where she is not wanted.

Look at 2 Tim. 2:2, Eph. 4:8, Gal. 1:12, 2 Peter 1:21, 1 Thess. 2:13, 1 John 5:9

The overall effect is to include women in salvation and divorce her from the word, from prophecy, from gifts of the spirit, from giving testimony and from teaching.

 
At Mon Nov 26, 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Anyway, I am not sure that Rich was taking a potshot on complementarians, more on people who depend too much on lexicons. Grudem does do word studies - its just that some people don't agree with his word studies. Sometimes evidence is very ambiguous.

I think people on all sides err in not using primary evidence. The problem is that so much of scholarship is predetermined by what one hopes to find.

I keep coming back to wondering what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Do complementarians think of women as their neighbour, and do egalitarians think of complementarians as their neighbour?

 
At Mon Nov 26, 11:23:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Oh, you've got no argument from me in that regard, Suzanne. I fully realize--and I think I said--that the ESV is not consistent in its translation of ἄνθρωπος. Nor do I doubt that there is not an agenda. But my point was that not all complementarians are of the same stripe, but Richard made it sound like they were.

And this complementarian will be teaching from the TNIV in a Southern Baptist church this Sunday, and I don't believe there's any contradiction in this regard.

Really, I don't care for much any label for this exact reason that definitions are assumed, or that anyone under a particular label will be like anyone else under that label.

 
At Mon Nov 26, 11:27:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Anyway, I am not sure that Rich was taking a potshot on complementarians, more on people who depend too much on lexicons.

Then the last sentence of his post was unnecessary.

For what it's worth, I see women as my neighbor, but I can't speak for everyone.

 
At Mon Nov 26, 11:34:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi neighbour! Long time no see.

 
At Mon Nov 26, 11:35:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Yes, the potshot at the end was just that. Maybe I should have been clear that it’s primarily Grudem I’m being critical of. Sorry if I tarred you with his brush.

But that is hardly the reason for writing the piece. It just provided a target of opportunity.

I’m actually laying the groundwork for future pieces probing just how much we read (and therefore translate) the text through theological lenses rather than approaching it neutrally. Selectively translating adam and ἄνθρωπος as man in crucial passages (as in the creation story) stands as an example.

 
At Tue Nov 27, 01:21:00 AM, Blogger DaveW said...

Rick,

Over on the European side of the Atlantic complementarianism is generally an unfamiliar beast (and in my tradition, understanding and opinion an unwelcome one).

So my exposure to complementarianism comes from

a) totally hyped support of it, ignoring proper translation, culture etc (I mean the likes of Driscoll and Grudem)

b) from needing to offer pastoral support to women who have been abused by husbands on a male headship trip.

In your comments here and in your review of the TNIV I detect a rather more reasoned stance supporting complementarianism. Do you have any places where I can read about your understanding of what it is and why it is important to believe it.

Note that while I am absolutely dead set against complementarianism I am also interested in being fair and making sure that my understanding of what I frequently criticise is fair.

 
At Tue Nov 27, 03:34:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Rich says:

I’m actually laying the groundwork for future pieces probing just how much we read (and therefore translate) the text through theological lenses rather than approaching it neutrally.

We students and scholars of "rhetoric" have the same problem. There are lenses and camps and labels with which we approach our reading and translating.

When it comes to primary and original and fragmented-extant sources (texts of say Plato, who coins rhetoric, and Aristotle, who attempts to refine the term), what's fun and funny is that there are no dictionaries. I blogged on that very briefly here.

But "approaching it neutrally" is a bit of an ideal. Plato and Aristotle assumed that that could be done, that they were most neutral. And yet they threw around labels such as sophists and poets and barbarians.

Note how R. Mansfield goes along with all else you say. You do write very clearly here on "the value of dictionaries" and on the meaning of various inclusive, shall we call them "egalitarian"?, words in context.

Rick, I don't think Suzanne would accuse you of not considering a woman your neighbor anymore than she would accuse herself of not considering a complementarian hers. I do think it's good but dicey to wear our labels, whether complementarian or egalitarian, Southern Baptist or something else, linguist or rhetorician or feminist, as if these must define us.

I'd say the value of our conversations (commenting on blogging) is that we can define (toward neutrality) and refine (in context!!) our terms and labels (with consequence).

 
At Tue Nov 27, 09:09:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At Tue Nov 27, 09:32:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Rich,
I meant to mention another thing I really liked in your post:

In the case of translation, what constitutes a primary source?

Ideally, a natively bilingual speaker. But unfortunately for us, there never were any natively bilingual speakers for Roman era Koine and 21st century English.


You get us to the right place thinking about:

the text itself. Combine the text with early translations as a way to triangulate on the original meaning and you’re well more than halfway there. (This makes dealing with ancient texts the analogue of doing oral history, not a trivial task, but most definitely do-able.)

Early translations do help to triangulate the original meaning, namely the limits and ranges of meaning. Without the limits, we gag and choke on the overwhelming possibilities (for anything goes). Without the ranges, we suffocate (for we usually see only our pet perspectives, the ones that prop up our own positions, our theologies and theories).

Suzanne,
I meant to say thanks to you for the link to my post showing the bilingualism (Hebrew and Hellene) of first century readers of the 23rd Psalm. Thanks.

 
At Tue Nov 27, 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Kurk,

The question you raise about neutrality is a very real one.

I've learned that a lot of being truly sensitive to God's leading is being able to identify our personal agenda(s). We don't have to get beyond them; we just have to recognize them enough to be aware when it is our agendas that are pushing us, rather than God.

Similarly, I'd argue that we have to be sufficiently self-aware theologically that we can see where our interpretive choices might be influenced by our theology.

Neutrality per se is not realistic. Self-awareness is, and too many in debates over translational accuracy are painfully lacking in self-awareness.

 

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