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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Which Bible Version is Superior? 2. Weaknesses of translation styles

I have just discovered the Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century blog. There are several meaty articles discussing how to translate the Bible. One that discusses the pros and cons of different translations styles in English is Which Bible Version is Superior? 2. Weaknesses of translation styles.

I've been extremely busy lately, struggling with some of the quirks of Microsoft Word to get a publication to the printer. I'm sorry I haven't been able to post to BBB recently. But I still have a topic in mind to post on when I can find the time. Now I'm checking the translation of Colossians in a tribal language. This morning, as I checked, I came to the translation of Col. 2:19 and had a question about it, so I blogged about it in a short post to the Complementarian blog on the focus of Col. 2:19. Feel free to comment on that post there or here.


At Tue Sep 09, 01:01:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Wayne, Thanks for posting even when you're busy!

At Complegalitarian, you say: "As a translation consultant, I am required to raise a flag whenever a translation says something that doesn't seem to be in the original text."

Isn't that pretty good job security, keeping you busy? Don't translations always say something that isn't in the original text? :)

But seriously, shouldn't Col. 2:19 say as much about Col. 2:9,10,11 as it does about "the relationship of the head to the body other times in the New Testament such as in Ephesians 5, and 1 Cor. 11-14"?

In other words, these metaphors in Col. seem inseparable, no?:

τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς [God's body-like-ness],
ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας [the head of each chief power and authority],
τοῦ σώματος τῆς σαρκός ἐν τῇ περιτομῇ τοῦ Χριστοῦ [the body of flesh in the circumcision of the Anointed]

Can a translation really get at all the linguistic play in the Greek? And then to jump to other contexts (Eph / I Cor) to make the translations say exactly and only what the Greek says there? Doesn't the translation always add something towards the bias of the astute translator (whether a complementarian or an egalitarian or a Jew such as Willis Barnstone who is not a Christian or an evangelical who wants all Jews to believe in Jesus the same way)?

Hope that makes sense. And I know you've got lots on your plate, so please don't feel the need to answer right away if at all.

At Tue Sep 09, 03:41:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Yes, Kurk, translations always say things differently from the original text. You got me on that one!! :-)

As for head in Col. 2:19, as a consultant, I need to focus on whether or not the Greek of that single verse is translated to English accurately. The Greek of that verse says nothing about the head of the body telling the body what to do, i.e. being the boss of the body. That is a concept introduced to that text from somewhere else, whether from one's theology or understanding of kephale in other parts of the Bible. Adding the idea about bossing the body in Col. 2:19 is going beyond what the text itself says. We in the translation business call it extraneous information.

Your point about considering all the biblical contexts and co-texts of kephale is well taken if we are doing a topical study on what kephale means to various biblical authors in different passages. It would be important to do such study if we are producing a theology of kephale. But we are not doing that when we translate a single verse.

OK, back to work.

Thanks for your comment.

At Wed Sep 10, 08:01:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Adding the idea about bossing the body in Col. 2:19 is going beyond what the text itself says. We in the translation business call it extraneous information.

Thanks Wayne. Anne Carson says something similar about what the translator has to do with such "metaphysical silence":

"We [translators] resort to cliché because it's easier than trying to make up something new."

In the case of the one sentence of Col. 2:19 and the one word κεφαλὴ ["head"], the cliché of many Bible translators is this:

"Of course, head means 'boss' who does the 'bossing'."

This is the formula that goes unquestioned, until you, Wayne, get involved! Thank God for you and other translators and translator-consultants like you.

Carson says more:

"I believe cliché is a question. We resort to cliché because
it's easier than trying to make up something new. Implicit in it is the question, Don't we already
know what we think about this? Don't we have a formula we use for this?"

She confesses:

"I was trained to strive for exactness and to believe that rigorous knowledge of the world
without any residue is possible for us."

Kenneth Pike says something similar in Stir-Change-Create:

"Simultaneity, not sheer linearity, may be the goal. By all these devices [i.e., "crucial words with multiple meanings, lexical devices, grammatical balance"] multiple experience is elicited, to be relived by the reader. Since life itself is n-dimensional, some [language]--for some people--seems astonishingly closer to life than [other language] can be. Just as the child is not the scholar, but surpasses him in learning to speak the multiple dimensions of a new language, so [some language] can mirror the n-dimensions of experience in a compact packet.... Except we become as little children, we can neither learn a new language without a bad accent--nor experience that multiple fullness of the n-dimensional experience...." (page 108).

(I've linked to more of what Carson says on "The Question of Translation" here.)


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