Re: More power to the reader

From: Ronald Wong (
Date: Thu Mar 06 1997 - 08:16:06 EST

Rolf Furuli wrote:
> 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`
> renderings.
> 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
> alternatives.
> Greetings
> Rolf
> Rolf Furuli
> Ph.D candidate in Semitic languages
> University of Oslo.
Thanks for clarifying your point. The question I would have is this: Is
all bias necessarily wrong? Should we not have a bias toward truth?
Why should neutrality be the ultimate goal? These are not rhetorical
but actual questions for this novice. :)

Ronald Wong
O'Brien, FL.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:08 EDT