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Friday, January 04, 2008

the Baptist is in

The Baptist is in. But should he be?

OK, this is not another blog post reflecting on the win of Mike the Baptist in the Republican caucases in Iowa last night. Instead, I'd like us to reflect on the wording of John 1:6 in the NLT:
God sent a man, John the Baptist
There is a footnote on "the Baptist" noting that the underlying Greek "a man named John." What is gained in the NLT by adding "the Baptist". Clarity is gained. I remember as a child reading John 1 and feeling some confusion about which John was being introduced. There is no birth narrative to introduce this John, son of Zechariah, as there is at the beginning of Luke. The Greek of John's gospel does not introduce John as John the Baptist, as Mark does (1:6) or Matthew (3:1).

Recently I have been thinking that instead of debates over Bible translations being framed with claims such as "this translation is better ...", it would better to discuss the pros and cons of specific translation decisions and approaches. Let's do that here.

Clarity is gained in the NLT inclusion of "the Baptist" in John 1:16. But what are the downsides of adding "the Baptist" when it is not in the Greek text?

9 Comments:

At Fri Jan 04, 11:09:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Clarity is gained in the NLT inclusion of "the Baptist" in John 1:16. What are the downsides of adding "the Baptist" when it is not in the Greek text?

One downside, Wayne, is that clarity is gained. What if John (and /or his editors, including the Holy Spirit) didn't want us to have clarity in 1:16? What if we are to struggle over it, to muse, to dig deeper, to interpret?

But can we also talk here about that awful transliteration, "Baptist"? When John does use the Greek word for that other guy, then why not just translate it (as the NLT translators do twice in ch 13, v 26): "dip," "dipped," and "John [the dipper]")?

Thanks for the post, and for its funny timeliness in Iowa today.

 
At Fri Jan 04, 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

Wayne, good intro! I disagree that this introduces clarity, and have set out my reasons more fully on my blog

 
At Fri Jan 04, 01:11:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Kurk and Doug, I agree with you both, and your comments are what I was hoping to get in response to my post. The clarity I was referring to is referential clarity, that is, by adding "the Baptist" it is clear which John is being referred to.

But, IMO, the loss is greater than the gain. We need to start with the assumption, IMO again, that the author intended what he wrote. The author of this gospel was a master of literary rhetoric. We don't know why he chose not to be more explicit about which John he was writing about (when we might expect him to do so, to differentiate that John from "the disciple whom Jesus loved" who probably wrote the book). But we shouldn't put words in the author's mouth when he didn't want them there. Fortunately, this kind of explication is rare in the NLT.

Interestingly, it's predecessor, the Living Bible, had it in the first few verses where the Logos is identified as "Christ". That was rushing the narrative, removing the suspense from the prologue.

Thanks for both of your comments. And thanks, Doug, for positing further on it on your own blog.

 
At Fri Jan 04, 09:47:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

It's not hard to agree with these comments. If we want to add words to the gospel, then we should write our own story. I say the same to the people who modify old hymns - write your own poetry - don't mess with mine.

 
At Fri Jan 04, 11:32:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

It makes one wonder if such clarifications wouldn't be better left in the footnotes.

 
At Fri Jan 04, 11:58:00 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

I would agree that clarity is gained with "...the Baptist." In cases like this, I really like what the HCSB does in adding additional words in-between brackets [] so that readers know that the word(s) were added in addition to the original text. That would be more clear and enhance readability than just footnoting it.

 
At Sun Jan 06, 06:10:00 AM, Blogger eclexia said...

Bob, you made me smile: "Write your own poetry--don't mess with mine"!

Oh, and "John the Dipper" struck me as funny, too, J.K. I enjoy following along with these discussions (and not just for the laughs).

 
At Sun Jan 06, 06:17:00 AM, Blogger Peter said...

But can we also talk here about that awful transliteration, "Baptist"?
This comment is on that transliteraion/translation, not on the insertion of the word (so sorry if it's a digression).

Isn't this a case where the word may have gained a church-specific meaning before the canon was closed (though probably after this text was written). Further, there (presumably) wasn't a suitable (old) English word for early translators, so they invented one by transliteration (were they wrong? e.g. made the assumption that the source word should carry the church jargon meaning?). Further still, every day English now hardly uses these words, and they only have a church-jargon use. Finally, at least in the US it seems, "Baptist" has re-entered the main stream as a denominational label.

So, how does one determine whether the word to be translated is "simple" Greek or "church jargon"? Then, where the nearest available English word now has a collection of church history baggage (both in the eyes of the church reader & the unchurched), how does one determine the appropriate target word, even where th target audience is a known subset of English speakers?

I think at least apostle, disciple, episcopal (& bishop), ecclesiastical, presbyter and deacon all have similar problems - but without the move back into common English (except perhaps episcopal in the US...)

 
At Mon Jan 07, 09:20:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Peter,
Thanks for your excellent questions and examples of jargony specialty transliterations. (How about agape, amen, eschatology, hosanna, Jehovah [or Yahweh], Jesus, mammon, Paraclete, Sabbath, sanctify, soteriology, and tithe?) If our comments are a digression from Wayne's good question on "the Baptist" in NLT John 1:6, then anyone is welcome over at that more radical blog to comment on transliteration. I'm going to think about your "how do we determine a translation vs. transliteration" questions for a long time.

 

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