Re: Male Pneuma Masculinity

From: Carlton L. Winbery (
Date: Thu May 30 1996 - 11:35:26 EDT

Will Wagers wrote;
<Omit most of the post>
>Since I am very interested in writing about Greek philosophy and its
>effects on Christianism, I would welcome ideas about how to translate
>such concepts unambiguously into English. Of course, they were hardly
>unambiguous in the original Greek, and by the time of the writing of the
>New Covenant, all were hopelessly jumbled up with each other and with
>local concepts of deity.

I agree with much that Will has written and think that the words of Edward
to which he was responding are wise indeed.

The snag here is the word "unambiguously." I am reminded of some words in
the original preface of the 1611 KJV. "There be many words in the
Scriptures, which be neuer found there but once, (hauing neither brother
nor neighbour, as the Hebrewes speake) so that we cannot be holpen by
conference of places. . . . . Now in such a case, doth not a margine do
well to admonish the Reader to seeke further, and not to conclude or
dogmatize vpon this or that peremptorily?"

This comment may also be extended to other aspects of translation such as
culture and philosophy that differs from modern language groups. I don't
think from my experiences in England that they have tended to emphasize sex
in language the way we have in America in recent times. The same
translation will not in every way impact a common reader in England the way
it does in America. Or as a friend of mine in London says, "We have a
common language which separates us."

Some of what you suggest below can be dealt with in marginal notes and some
in theology (including commentaries) and philosophical books. It is a pipe
dream to think that we can ever get every thing that a writer thought 2000
years ago in another culture and another language into a translation that
can profitably be printed in one volume.

>It seems to me that leaving grammar out of it cannot be the solution:
>the original writers didn't leave grammar out of it. Likewise,
>disregarding the Greek gender when choosing the appropriate English
>pronoun may be translationally pure, but is unlikely to extract us from
>this morass, and can conceivably exacerbate the difficulties. Why not
>transliterate untranslatable nouns, and refer to all of them as "it"s ?

IMHO, this would make a translation that people who don't need it (people
trained in Greek and Hebrew) could appreciate, but few others.

>In my *hyperliteral* mode, I would argue for retaining *their* - not our -
>genders, so that the Greek differences would be more apparent. At
>least, people wouldn't try to use the translation to argue gender = sex.
>There seem to be many situations - notably those dealing with Greek
>philosophical and scientific terms - where one might translate
>faultlessly according to rule, yet end up with a product which totally
>misrepresents the original. There are many words (e.g. god, person,
>substance) which when translated properly, according to rule, are
>actually wrong and lead a reasonable person to incorrect conclusions !
>I believe it is also a mistake to translate a single Greek word into a
>variety of English words based upon context. This removes all cues
>that we are dealing with an alien (to our culture), i.e. untranslatable,
>concept. Generally, it is a serious mistake to translate ideologically
>*foreign* material into English in such a way as to make it seem normal.

One of the criticisms leveled at the KJV translators is indicated by their
words, "An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader)
that wee haue not tyed our selues to an vniformitie of phrasing, or to an
identitie of words, as some peraduenture would wish that we had done,
because they obserue, that some learned men some where, haue beene as exact
as they could that way. . . . . For is the kingdome of God become words
or syllables? why should wee be in bondage to them if we may be free, vse
one precisely when wee may vse another no lesse fit, as commodiously?"
They continued by suggesting that this is a form of word idolatry.

I think that a literal translation of pronouns from Greek to English might
well exacerbate the problem rather than help.

Carlton Winbery
Fogleman Prof. Religion
Louisiana College

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