RE:More power to the reader

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Mar 06 1997 - 08:34:29 EST

Dear A K M and Greg

<I simply was to call your attention to these assertions and
<inquire whether a reader as
<sophisticated as you manifestly are really wants to suggest
<that there are "neutral" <interpretations distinct from
<"particular" translations, or that there is a workable
<distinctions between "what the text says" and
<"interpretation." A number of us, with a <certain
<familiarity with hermeneutical issues, find such assertions
<doubtful (if not <downright wrong).

I am glad that this question was brought up because I
realize I have expressed myself in a less than precise way,
giving the wrong impression of my views. Let me clarify my
position. There exists no `neutral` Bible translations, but
all are to a lesser or greater degree colored by the
theology of the translators. I heartily agree with the old
statement of Bultmann (seconded by Gadamer) that research
without presuppositions is impossible.

The translation process starts with the written word and
ends when the mind of the reader grasps the message. The
expression `neutral translation` was given with those
readers in mind who want to have a share in the translation
process, the opposite being renderings which force upon the
reader a certain viewpoint. I agree that my expression was
ill-formed; I should have qualified it and written `a more
neutral translation`.

There are, however, some `neutral renderings` but they are
few. The Greek GEENNA is a proper name, and the rendering
`hell`, while upholding tradition, is clearly biased because
of all its extra-biblical connotations. We dont substitute
proper names with other words. A transcription of the Greek
form would be `neutral` related to the reader. HADES is
probably a common name, but I think that a transcription
of it would be `neutral` while the usual renderings
represent a particular view which may be disputed.

But what about Col 1:15? As S M Baugh correctly pointed out,
the crucial point is the lexical meaning of PRWTOTOKOS.
Because there is an overwhelming evidence for `the child who
is born first` which suggests a partitive genitive, the
rendering `firstborn over all creation` , though
grammatical possible, is based upon dogma. The translator
has made a choice for the reader, and without a footnote
explaining the alternatives, the theology of the translator
is forced upon the reader. What about the rendering
`firstborn of all creation`, is it `neutral`? Based upon
the fundamental hermeneutical principles already suggested,
the answer must be no.
It may be argued that (a) The English genitive is also
ambiguous, but most persones will interpret the expression
as implying that Jesus is a part of creation. So it does not
give the reader a free choice, and (b) It excludes a
trinitarian interpretation, thus showing a clear tendency.
Against this it may be argued that (a) a similar expression
without Jesus would have been translated `firstborn of all
creation`, (b) One rendering must be choosen, and the best
choice giving the reader the greatest freedom is to render
an ambiguous G genitive by an ambiguous E genitive, and (c)
A doctrine formed after the Bible was written need not be
accounted for in translation.
In any case, the rendering `firstborn of all creation` is
substantially `more neutral` than `firstborn over all
creation.` . What we should seek, therefore, when evaluating
translations, is a scale of more or less `neutral`

In the book I am writing about the role played by theology
and bias in Bible translation I am in need of a definition
of the term `bias`, and here I will need some advise. The
traditional view is unsuitable because it entails
everything: everyone going to work with a viewpoint is
biased. I have searched the writings of Nida and others for
a definition of bias related to Bible translation, but am
disappointed. The clues point in the direction that bias is
that which does not accord with the majority view. I have
therefore used two principles of my own, primarily based on
language, one defining bias and the other situations which,
while not biased, may be criticised. I will be very happy
for comments making these principles better.

(1) Bias in Bible translation is characterized by renderings
which either are contrary to lexicon, grammar or syntax;
or which accords with these, but, which definitely remove
meaning or adds foreign semantic elements to the translated
text in order to promote ones own theology.

(2) A word, phrase or sentence of doctrinal importance,
where there are more than two translation choices, and there
are no compelling linguistic reasons to choose one before
the others, is liable to criticism if the chosen rendering
represent a particular theological view and this is not
brought to the readers attention together with the



Rolf Furuli
Ph.D candidate in Semitic languages
University of Oslo.

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