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Monday, December 03, 2007

No harm, no foul?

My father was a microbiologist back in the day when microbiology was more about microscopes and stains and less about biochemistry. He worked in the pharmaceutical industry for Smith, Kline, and French (now GlaxoSmithKline) and helped develop time-release dosing. In the mid-60’s there was a big shake up in the pharmaceutical business and many in management positions were fired, most for highly political reasons. While the rest of my father’s colleagues simply moved to other big companies into the jobs vacated by their friends and former classmates, my father opted out of the big company scene and went to work as the lab director for a small veterinary pharmaceutical start up, Masti-Kure, (although one didn’t call new companies start ups in those days.)

The idea behind the company was simple and brilliant. It’s founder, Dr. Jules Silver, a large animal veterinarian, had come up with a slick solution to one of the biggest problems in the dairy business, mastitis, an inflammation of the udder. If a cow gets mastitis the milk is contaminated with the bacteria that causes the inflammation and if the inflammation goes on too long, the cow will dry up. The problem is that the time to diagnose the cause of the mastitis not only costs the farmer in lost milk, but also risks losing the cow for the whole year.

Dr. Silver’s brilliant idea was to combine all the antibiotics indicated for all the common bacterial causes of mastitis into a single pharmaceutical. It contained a half a dozen drugs, from penicillin to sulfas. Your cow gets mastitis, you don’t waste time figuring out what kind of mastitis she has, you give her one, maybe two, doses of Masti-Kure, and she’s cured.

Now the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) has long been interested in insuring that antibiotics don’t make their way into the food supply, so the manufacturer has to prove that all the antibiotics were gone from the milk within a certain time. Dr. Silver had tweaked things to get the milk out time down to 24 hours. The farmers cheered and lined up in droves to buy the stuff.


But then the big pharmaceutical companies started doing something that upset the FDA. To boost their profits they started mixing pairs of pharmaceuticals for treating single human ailments, giving the combination a new name, and charging more for it as if it were a new drug. The FDA responded by saying that the manufacturers need to prove that the combination was more effective than simply the effect of one drug added to the effect of the other. This makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately for you, me, and the dairy farmers, some smarty-pants bureaucrat decided that the same rule should apply to mastitis ointments. (If you’re interested and have the patience to wade through the legalese, look at FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine Guideline No. 27. Notice that Masti-Kure is referenced in section VI. A.) He didn’t take into account that the underpinnings are entirely different. Speed is of the essence and it doesn’t matter if the penicillin is only half as effective in combination. The point is to get the bug healed before it can do any more damage.

But, no, the government forged ahead and banned Masti-Kure’s product. (Masti-Kure then promptly moved to Ireland and is doing a land office business in the EU, where they are, in general, much better about drug laws.)

What the FDA didn’t realize is that the barn door was, by then, open. Once the farmers know that the economically smart solution is to throw everything at mastitis, pharmaceutically speaking, then they will do that, even if it means mixing their own ointments. So in an overbearing attempt to ensure that Masti-Kure was not gouging the dairy farmers, the FDA has lost control of the very thing it should be most concerned about, antibiotics in the food supply. If the farmers mix their own ointments, we have no way of knowing how soon the last antibiotic is gone from the milk. We’re in the land of unintended consequences.

I’d argue that that’s exactly were we are with Bible translations. By having influential theologians afraid of tampering with God’s Word insist on translations that hew too close to the original, we are left with versions that are far less clear in English than they should be, and we’ve placed too much of the burden of the translation work on our pastors, who are, for the most part, not fully up to the task. (Rick Mansfield, himself a Greek teacher, goes public on this here.) And it’s not their job, or it shouldn’t be. Wasn’t that the message of the Reformation? Shouldn’t we all have Scriptures that we can read without having to have the clergy explain them to us?

If you know any Greek or Hebrew at all, I’ll bet it’s not uncommon in your church-going experience that you have heard a pastor get it wrong from the pulpit. I will not list the ways—not the times, but the ways—I’ve heard well-meaning and theologically solid pastors get it wrong. The list would be quite long.

We’re in the land of unintended consequences. By trying to avoid making the hard decisions about what gets left out in the triage of translation, we farm it out to our pastors who far too often get it wrong.

Is it really safer to translate essentially transparently? Is there no harm, no foul?

13 Comments:

At Mon Dec 03, 04:00:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Once again...very good.

Resting on the foundation of your point, I've often thought about the lack of accountability when the individual must make the translation decisions, albeit in their head, as they seek to understand a poorly translated English text. I'm referring to the effort to "re-translate" in to communicative text what the translation says. How do they know they get it right? What really holds these people accountable? How often have I heard, "Well, for me it means..."

Also, I've often heard an objection against a well Englished translation that goes something like: "it removes accountability since the reader has no way of knowing what the original said and they're at the mercy of the translator's bias."

The fact is that sound exegesis, one that allows the discourse level meaning to have its sway, even one done by an exegete who only can work with the English, will provide the proper level of accountability. If the text doesn't flow and cohere, then it's either badly written (the Bible isn't, though many translations are) or it's inaccurate.

I know that's asking a lot. How could we ever possibly get to accurate, communicative translations coupled with discourse level exegesis? There's a lot of training (and unlearning) that must take place. But, having people understand their Bibles would certainly be a big win in so very many different ways.

 
At Mon Dec 03, 04:13:00 PM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Well that sinks the TNIV then if only because of all the singulars to plurals plus of course the 'throw the baby out with the bath water' approach to gender language.
I realise I will blown out of the water for daring to say so, but it had to said.

 
At Mon Dec 03, 05:04:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Glennsp wrote: Well that sinks the TNIV then if only because of all the singulars to plurals

Let me ask, then, about the other way around: all the plurals to singulars in many translations?

See Phil. 1:6 is my favorite. Though, Luke 22:31 is a close second.

 
At Mon Dec 03, 05:16:00 PM, Blogger mike aubrey said...

Glenn,

Do you realize that even the Biblical authors often switched from singular to plural without any change in meaning of the discourse??

Nobody says the TNIV is perfect, but no translation is.

If you're going to be critical of every minor "problem" - and yes, it is more minor than most people realize - then the only solution is to teach everyone Greek and Hebrew. I don't think everyone wants to.

 
At Mon Dec 03, 06:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Matt.23:24 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Luke 11:39
And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.

Talk about changing pronouns - this isn't gender language but it does leave one wondering what Jesus really said.

And I have always wondered if the following two verses come from the same conversation Jesus had, or two different ones.

4For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. Matt. 23:4

And he said, "Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Luke 11:46

Are these two distinct statement?

 
At Mon Dec 03, 11:30:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Glenn,

Accuracy in translation is not necessarily just about things like singular and plural. Is it inaccurate to translate the German word Brille, which is singular, as the English word glasses, which is plural?

No.

Accuracy is about whether the reference is the same. If one gets focused too much on the details of morphology, one will miss the bigger picture of reference. We say green with envy, the Germans say schwarz vor Neid (lit. 'black from envy'). Is that a bad translation because the wording doesn't match?

No.

This is what dynamic equivalence is about -- using whatever wording is necessary to get as near to the same reference as possible.

There's a misunderstanding about dynamic equivalence that it is vague and arbitrary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Referential precision is at the heart of dynamic equivalence. That's why no translators between living languages use formal equivalence. They'd be fired in a day if they tried. They're held accountable for conveying the precise reference.

I just happen to think that Bible translation should be held to the industry standard.

 
At Tue Dec 04, 04:39:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Rich says:

This is what dynamic equivalence is about -- using whatever wording is necessary to get as near to the same reference as possible.
. . . Referential precision is at the heart of dynamic equivalence. That's why no translators between living languages use formal equivalence
. . . I just happen to think that Bible translation should be held to the industry standard.


Industry standard? Absolutely. But what is that when considering bilingual poetry, for example?

Take Ruth Behar's Everything I Kept: Poems in Prose / Todo lo que guardé: Poemas en prosa. Are her "translations" after dynamic equivalence in the English? Or in the Spanish?

Same questions for Huynh Sanh Thong's English translations of Truyen Kieu by Nguyen Du. In 1973, Huynh Sanh Thong inverted the Vietnamese syntax in the English. Then a decade later, he translates again (as The Tale of Kieu: A Bilingual Edition of Truyen Kieu) but this time, he reworks it to make it closer to the original (i.e., the Vietnamese), adds the Vietnamese with his English on facing pages, and adds a heavy dose of footnotes on the English. I think (and you might say) that Huynh Sanh Thong has moved away from Dynamic Equivalence, and more toward Formal Equivalence. His concern, of course, is to help his publisher (Yale UP) sell more books for royalties. But given the pittance on that, I think that he thinks he's actually producing a better translation. And I think so too, with respect to his inclusion of the Vietnamese with the English.

But that gets to something else altogether: interlation (vs. translation). So, even though Gorgias's Greek is dead, look how the folks at The Little Sailing (aka Μικρός Απόπλους) keep his Praise of Helen alive by putting their modern Greek side by side with the ancient. Don't you just love their translation of Gorgias's playful last-word punchline? Is this Dynamic Equivalence or Formal Equivalence or just plain fun?!

Suzanne says:

Talk about changing pronouns - this isn't gender language but it does leave one wondering what Jesus really said.

And I have always wondered if the following two verses come from the same conversation Jesus had, or two different ones.


I have always wondered the same thing, especially when gender, race, and class are issues. Look at what Jesus says and refuses and hears and responds, when talking to the desperate woman, a gentile and poor, in Mark 7 and Matthew 15.

For me, Mikhail Epstein helps a lot. He writes of interlation and stereotexting, and gives the following example:

Stereo effects may be intended by an author or produced in the reading experience--for example, if we take Vladimir Nabokov's autobiography as a stereo text in two languages and three consecutive versions: Conclusive Evidence (1951), Drugie berega (Other Shores) (1954), and Speak, Memory (1967). Nabokov himself empasized that these versions relate not merely as a translation, but as a metamorphosis . "This re-Englishing of a Russian re-vision of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place, proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphosis, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before."

I think Jesus speaking Greek to a woman, or possibly speaking Hebrew Aramaic to her, and then Mark and Matthew having to translate that to readers (in Greek) is just as fascinating. We get what Jesus says, and we get it best in stereo.

The same thing happens in Judges 12. Readers of Hebrew only, get the pun. But most English translators do the "Dynamic equivalence" thing by refusing to translate and by, rather, transliterating so that the sounds, and NOT the meanings, come across. Of course, the two LXX versions of Judges 12:6 alternately (a) give a Dynamic Equivalent gloss of the Functionally Equivalent Hebrew meaning of שיבולת into Greek and (b) just give the Functional Equivalent.

So which is "better"? The English thing of bringing across the Shibboleth Siboletth sounds (which the Vulgate does too)? The LXX A thing of noting this is a "password"? or the LXX B thing of noting the meaning of something like "ear of corn"?

The best, of course, is having the Hebrew side-by-side with the English or with the Latin or with the Greek(s). My guess is the Ephraimites would have preferred to hear the Hebrew side by side with their impossible version. But the point is the Hebrews could hear both (not as equivalents, dynamic or functional); so why should we have to be like the goyim?

 
At Tue Dec 04, 04:44:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

oops! Here's the Greek to Greek translation of Gorgias.

 
At Tue Dec 04, 11:11:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I's like to go back to the original post. Richard said, "and we’ve placed too much of the burden of the translation work on our pastors, who are, for the most part, not fully up to the task ... And it’s not their job, or it shouldn’t be. Wasn’t that the message of the Reformation? Shouldn’t we all have Scriptures that we can read without having to have the clergy explain them to us?"

Yes, one of the messages of the Reformation was that the Scripture should be in the language of the people without having to have it explained to them. I agree with that thought, but I also know, from teaching adults for two decades now, that a certain amount of teaching often has to take place regardless.

I, for one--especially after at least attempting to teach Greek to ministry students--want more than ever for pastors to maintain their biblical languages. It IS a burden I want to put on them because they are the primary theologians for their congregations. And I want the primary theologian to be well-versed with the biblical languages. I certainly understand HOW languages begin to slip (my own grasp of Hebrew has started to slip, but not irrecoverably I assume). Nevertheless, this is why I support products such as A Reader's Greek New Testament and ANYTHING that will help a pastor or church leader stay in the biblical languages and maintain their level of proficiency.

I would highly recommend a reading of the first chapter of A Minister and His Greek New Testament by the patron saint of Greek study, A. T. Robertson. Written over 80 years ago, his main points are still quite relevant.

The first chapter may be read here: http://faculty.bbc.edu/rdecker/roberts1.htm

 
At Tue Dec 04, 05:56:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Rick Mansfield said:
I, for one--especially after at least attempting to teach Greek to ministry students--want more than ever for pastors to maintain their biblical languages. It IS a burden I want to put on them because they are the primary theologians for their congregations. And I want the primary theologian to be well-versed with the biblical languages. ... this is why I support products such as A Reader's Greek New Testament and ANYTHING that will help a pastor or church leader stay in the biblical languages and maintain their level of proficiency.

Part of my concern is that it isn't just the knowledge of Greek (or Hebrew) that generates pastors' misreadings, it's also serious misunderstandings about how to do the philology, like believing that derivational morphology is as semantically transparent as inflectional morphology is, or failing to recognize the difference between classical usage, LXX usage, and Roman era Koine usage.

I have the privilege of having colleagues with 20,000 word Greek vocabularies, who can pick up a stela fragment fresh out of the earth on an archeological dig and read it at sight without reference to a dictionary. (Actually, they prepare the grad students to do so, and that's the standard here.)

When you talk to such people regularly you get a whole different view of the philology. Sure, we can't expect preachers with theology, teaching, and running a church as their primary concerns to have that level of mastery, but it isn't too much to ask that they have better tools for doing the exegesis. For my money that's where the seminaries have fallen down. What little philology is there, is basically 19th century.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in 40 years as a Christian I have yet to meet a pastor who understands what it means to read a text in a philologically sophisticated way, with one class of exceptions. Those exceptions are all missionaries who have had to learn to preach and use Scripture in a language that is not their native language. And even then their philology is from the "school of hard knocks".

This philology is what should be taught in exegesis classes. But I see no evidence of that level of sophistication -- one that should be required as a mere baseline for many of the theological debates that now spill over into blogs about translation quality.

 
At Wed Dec 05, 10:46:00 AM, Blogger Justa Berean said...

I'm trying to find an answer to the following question. Sorry this isn't on topic.

There is a circulating claim of historical evidence of Iounias the bishop outside of Jerusalem during the apostolic era. Does anyone know of this? Is this information on a website, and in any books documenting it? I'd like to see what info there is on it.

While so many scholars have claimed no evidence of any male having the name of Iounias... not one bit of evidence ... where and when did this info turn up? Is this person real. And if so, what evidence is there that it is a man. Just because he/she was a Bishop is circular reasoning. Fact is that there have been female elders in history.

Thus we have no indication anywhere that Iounia(s) is a male name. Yet, we have a Iounia(s) Bishop that supposedly is male because of the position of Bishop.

If anyone has any documented info they can point me to I would be most grateful if they would email it to me at oopsmartin at yahoo dot com.

Thank you and sorry to butt in on a good discussion.

 
At Wed Dec 05, 12:35:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Justa (a nice female name, by the way, or should it really be Justas? ;-) ), I suppose you are referring to what Piper and Grudem are supposed to have found in Epiphanius. Apparently he wrote "Iounias, of whom Paul makes mention, became bishop of Apameia of Syria", with a masculine pronoun suggesting that this was a male Iounias, not a female Iounia. The problem is that Epiphanius is known to be an unreliable author, and he also thought, or wrote, that Priscilla was a man. For a thorough rebuttal of Piper and Grudem's idea, see here, section II.2.

 
At Wed Dec 05, 11:22:00 PM, Blogger Justa Berean said...

Thanks Peter. :)

Yes, technically it should be Justas. But I was trying to say "just a Berean". Perhaps, next time I'll try Justice Berean. LOL

Thanks for the answer. It was just what I was looking for. I remember reading that also in Discovering Biblical Equality, I think. I couldn't reckon how Grudem could come up with an early church father that named a Junias that no one else was paying any attention to.

 

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