re: Romans 1:17

From: Will Wagers (
Date: Sun Feb 11 1996 - 19:34:47 EST

Kenneth Litwak writes:

>>It seems as though we must do exegesis BEFORE we can translate
>>when it comes to many prepositions, which I am very uncomfortable with, since
>>I assume that Paul's original hearers/readers just "heard" EK and EIS and knew
>>what they most probably meant. How can we go about deriving a translation
>>without having to do exegesis firsxt? To use a very different passage,
>>1 Cor 11:10, the understanding of EPI THS KEFALHS depends exegesis. You
>>have to
>>decide what Paul is saying before you can translate (or in case of
>>virtually all modern translation, maul) this phrase. If anyone has
>>suggestions for how to
>>get around this type of problem, I'd like to hear them.

I am not qualified to argue my opinion, but, the problem is that the minds
which were physically conditioned to those times are gone and cannot be
reconstructed, thus we substitute an exegetic context, an artificial "mind",
a paradigm through which to interpret between their mindset and our own.
Consequently, for me, the greatest asset for translation is a sympathetic mind,
one which reverberates naturally to the same "chords" as the ancient
ones (possibly making one a living anachronism). Once one has translated
enough, one's exegesis becomes embodied in the very structure of the mind,
and, - right or wrong - one is stuck with it. The greater comfort one feels
with greater experience is misleading in that one is merely internalizing the
exegetic process, thus experiencing less tension as the exegesis becomes
more automatic, rather than more accurate or true. (Remember the old joke
with the punchline: "Oh, Will looks terrible! Yeah, but doesn't his suit look

All our brave, intelligent attempts to verify our interpretations by various
means are, in fact, useless in approximating ancient thought because of the
way the mind is created from the interaction of brain and environment. There
is no workaround for the problem, because there is no objective standard
by which to evaluate one's interpretations (translations). And, no matter
what we do, we are manipulating symbols rather than experiencing them.

A biological corollary of all this is that humans were not intended to live by
standards from thousands of years ago unless the environment remains
unchanged. The ancient texts represent specific cultural adaptations to an
ancient reality. This reality having passed, it is maladaptive to try to live by
them. Think of the sea turtles, who in trying to reach the beach where they
were born to lay their own eggs, now must travel thousands of miles through
increasingly dangerous waters to what was originally a safe and convenient

So, the bad news is that one can never know what they truly meant: the
good news is that with sufficient practice, one ceases to realize this. (This
is why experienced translators can be so amused by the struggles of
the inexperienced.)



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