Re: questions about Acts

From: Paul Zellmer (
Date: Fri Mar 21 1997 - 16:50:52 EST

Lynn A Kauppi wrote:
> I would appreciate discussion and comments regarding three questions
> about Luke's Greek in Acts, especially by classicists and linguists:
> 1. I believe that the verb APOPHTHEGGOMAI (Acts 2:4, 2:14, and 26:25) is
> consistently undertranslated. I have done a preliminary TLG search and
> found that the verb is generally used either to indicate the
> pronouncement of philosophical maxims or si used of oracular
> pronouncement. Is it not necessary to reflect both of these concepts when
> translating these three verses in Acts?
> 2. Does Luke's use of particles reflect classical usage? E.g., at Acts
> 14:11 the Nestle-Aland text uses TE while the Western and majority texts
> use DE. I argue in favor of retaining TE as TE consequential which better
> fits the context than DE. To me, this appears to show that Luke tended
> towards classical usage with particles. Also, is there any reason,
> besides similarity in sound, that scribes would substitute DE for TE?
> 3. Is it necessary to translate LOGOS TOU THEOU in Acts 12:24 as "word of
> God"? This seems almost a persistent use of "modern Christian jargon"
> than a good translation. In the context of Acts 12, is not "message and
> revelation of God" a better translation?
> These questions are relevant to my dissertation research.
> Thank you.
> Lynn Allan Kauppi
> PhD cand.
> New Testament
> Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago


Although I am neither a classicist nor an authoritative linguist, please
permit me to react to your questions.

As I see it, questions 1 and 3 pertain to the same area of scholastic
endeavor: the translation of the Bible which is, at the same time,
accurate and usable. What is interesting is that, in the first
question, you ask for more accuracy and, in the third, you seek more
usability (in a way).

I would agree that bold (and clear?) pronouncement, often of a prophetic
nature, appears to be the sense of APOFQEGGOMAI. But how would you
suggest these three NT passages be translated? "as the Spirit gave them
_bold pronouncement_."? "raised his voice and _boldly pronounced_ to
them."? "true and sober are the words I am _boldly pronouncing_."?
Would these translations go far enough for you, or would you desire to
see even more of the historic sense of the word be expressed? And if
the translators did this with this word, would you not expect them to do
this with every word? Here we come to one of the dilemmas of
translation: If we desire to be extremely accurate, we end up with a
work that is so bulky and cumbersome that the average reader will not
use it. Almost all versions that we have are produced so that they can
be used in public readings and private study where the audience is the
average Christian. Why are "modern day" versions so popular? Because
they are easily understood. Now, you and I know that the understanding
is something less than a perfect representation of what is found in the
original, but the fact remains that the average Christian will pass by
the more accurate translations. They do not want to constantly use a
version that is too technical. Translators have to make decisions as to
how much of the exact meaning of the word to include while not driving
away their target audience. They then depend on the pastors and
teachers to study and bring out these "deeper" things of the text.

Your third question hits upon a favorite issue of mine. Current
translation theory as promoted by the literature is leaning *so* much
toward the ease of reading that we attempt to explain every idiom and
ambiguous phrase and clause. What you are desiring to do in Acts 12:24
is not to accurately translate "the words" but to bring out "the
meaning." The problem here is that "the words" could have a variety of
meanings and you are picking a single one. I personally think that the
average reader would have no problem seeing the phrase, "the word of
God," recognizing it as an idiom, and then seeking to learn what that
idiom might mean. Some will say that "the word of God" carries zero
meaning in modern-day (and, by this, *I* am referring to late 20th
century) English, that it is completely ambiguous, and hence needs to be
explained. I maintain that it is only the idioms that carry meanings in
the target language other than the one in the original that need to be
explained. I hold that the average English speaker is quite capable of
handling imagery, even imagery that comes from another language. I do
not see anyone stumbling over this phrase and throwing the book down in
disgust, saying, "I can't understand what this is saying." So you can
perhaps see why I see your suggestion as an unnecessary move away from
accuracy. The phrase *can* mean what you are suggesting, but you only
propose one of a number of meanings.

As far as the classical usage of DE v. TE, I'm certain Carl (or Ed :^>)
or Carlton or any number of others can go into that. I would like to
point out that the observation of the nearness of sounds may be more of
a factor here than you think. We speakers of American English do not
seem to fully appreciate how much we depend on that little breath of air
after our word-initial "t's" to distinguish them from "d's". One of my
friends who happens to be a Greek-Cypriot is surnamed Titteris. He has
told several people that he would rather they pronounce this "Ditteris"
rather than "Americanizing" the "t". So, recognizing how close the two
sounds are in the Greek, and agreeing that a consequential TE would seem
to be more normal in this case than the contrastive DE, which way would
you guess that a scribal error might go? That's, of course, assuming
that this is what we have here. My guess is that a scribe would be more
likely to expect the TE and make the error towards that rather than away
from it. Of course, I am by no means certain about this. But this
would imply that the original wording could well have been DE and that
Luke was stating that the reaction of the Lycaonians was contrary to
what Paul and Barnabas expected.

Well, I have proved again the reverse of the axiom that the more one
knows, the less one says. But I thank you for bringing up a couple
three very interesting exercises in analysis.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:11 EDT