Blind, but now I see
Our pew Bibles are NRSV, so I had to read:
8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”
Then we come to
It is he.
I can only say It is he half seriously, and then only with the stress on the he. The correct reading in the context of this passage would have to put the stress on the is. But
It IS he.isn’t English. It sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. To get a phrasing that fits the intonation you need to say
It IS him.
If you ask the question
Isn’t that X?The affirmative answer has to be
Then we come to the next line in this conversation
No, but it is someone like him.This time the issue is not naturalness but accuracy. What is being referred to is the way he looks as opposed to, say, the way he acts. Compare the two English sentences
John is like Bill.The former means that John acts like Bill in some respect; the latter means, well, John looks like Bill. Referential accuracy is at stake here. The translation must include the verb look to be an accurate translation, so you could render
John looks like Bill.
No, but it is someone who looks like him.But looking at the Greek this seems unnecessarily wordy. There are just five words οὐχί ἀλλὰ ὅμοιος αὐτῷ ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος. There is no reason not to translate into completely natural English.
No, he just looks like him.Now we have something that is both a faithful and accurate translation and a natural English conversation.
Isn't that the man who used to sit and beg?There is nothing in the Greek to suggest that the conversation was anything other than natural sounding to the original audience. For all the myriad ways in which Roman era Palestinian culture is foreign to the 21st century English speaking world, this isn’t one of them. Don’t make it seem foreign by translating
No, he just looks like him.
Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?Now there is one more conversational piece in this passage. The formerly blind man responds
It is he.
No, but it is someone like him.
I am the man.The Greek has ἐγώ εἰμι. I don't see man in here anywhere. You could argue that man is also missing in the very first line οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ καθήμενος καὶ προσαιτῶν, and I was happy with that translation. But I’ll point out that the οὗτός ‘that[masc. sg.]’ in that context forces you to supply a noun in English. I was even tempted to say guy,
Isn't that the guy who used to sit and beg?but that makes it a more casual style than I’m ready to argue for in this case. The problem with ἐγώ εἰμι is that the NRSV translators, looking for a faithful equivalent, are trying to preserve the I am.
At this point the linguists roll their collective eyes.
You see, clauses with the verb to be, a.k.a. copular clauses, serve essentially two functions. One is to assign some property or state or identify the class or category someone/something belongs to
He is tall.The other is to specify a connection of identity between two known entities.
He is sick.
That’s a dish.
She’s a doctor.
Johnny Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow.Now there is an interesting cross-linguistic point about the syntax of to be clauses which function to specify identity. Linguists call them specificational copular clauses. Languages are of two types with respect to specificational copular clauses depending on which way the agreement goes. So English has
That’s my second cousin.
It’s me.But most of the other major European languages go the other way
Spanish : Soy yo. [lit. (it) am I]Needless to say, Greek is in this second class. So the most faithful translation of ἐγώ εἰμι is
German : Das bin ich. [lit. that am I]
It’s me.or maybe better in context here.
It IS me.Adding the man is simply misunderstanding the construction. (There’s a lot of that going around under the guise of faithful equivalent translation.)
So what would be an accurate translation of this passage?
Something that contains the conversation given above. Something close to the NIV/TNIV.
8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” (NIV/TNIV)But I would modify it slightly because I see no value in putting the middle line in indirect discourse, and the final line needs fixing as I just explained.
8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said “It is”. Others said, “No, he just looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “It is me.” (NIV/TNIV, modified)
I think DE gets a bad rap because the popular view of it is that there are no rules, no constraints, and that the translator, who is thought to have no ear for good English, has free rein to interpret the Scripture however he/she wants.
I hope that some who were blind to the value of DE will now see from this exercise that on all counts it is exactly the opposite.
As an appendix I’ll give the passage in Greek and ESV. The reader can evaluate the quality of the ESV translation of this passage as an exercise.
8 οἱ οὖν γείτονες καὶ οἱ θεωροῦντες αὐτὸν τὸ πρότερον ὅτι προσαίτης ἦν ἔλεγον οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ καθήμενος καὶ προσαιτῶν 9 ἄλλοι ἔλεγον ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ἄλλοι ἔλεγον οὐχί ἀλλὰ ὅμοιος αὐτῷ ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος ἔλεγεν ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι
8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” (ESV)