Re: literal not = interpretive

Date: Fri Jun 06 1997 - 16:37:36 EDT

Although this discussion of translation and interpretation is probably a
little off topic on this mailing list, I figured I'd throw in a comment

In a message dated 97-06-06 14:48:40 EDT, (Andrew
Kulikovsky) writes:

> Translation is expressing the intended message of a given speaker or
> writer in a different language to the one in which the message was
> originally expressed.
> Interpretation is determining what the intended message actually is
> along with its meaning and significance.
> Obviously there is going to be some overlap between interpretation and
> translation since you need to understand the intended message in order
> to translate it correctly.

Throughout this discussion, we are calling upon certain presuppositions as
well as our definitions. I begin (laying my cards on the table) from the
presupposition that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but what do I mean
by that presupposition? Do I mean that the message is inspired? Or that the
words AND the message are inspired? I mean the latter. God chose to give
His message in certain words; that is, He chose to so work with the writers
of Scripture and their own personalities (I do not subscribe to a dictation
theory of inspiration) that the *words* they chose communicated the *meaning*
and *message* He intended.

Our views of translation are affected by these presuppositions.
 Translation--at least on my presuppositions--is not simply a matter of
getting the "meaning" across, as if the meaning can be divorced from the
words which bear it and from the sentences and the forms of those sentences.
 I request that a translation honor not only what it perceives to be the
meaning of a passage, but also--as much as is possible--the words and the

For instance, Paul is quite capable of writing short sentences. But Paul
often bursts into extremely lengthy sentences. Why? Presumably the lengthy
sentence captures some aspect of the meaning of what he is saying. Paul's
lengthy run-on sentences, his complicated grammar, his anacoluthonoi (the
correct plural?), his parentheses--all of these things are designed for a
certain effect. Some translations--notably, the NIV--break Paul's long
sentences into much shorter ones, supplying verbs and subjects as needed.
 But in so doing, do they not lose some of the force and power of the
original sentence?

Another example: It is common to hear that certain tribes have no idea what
"snow" is or what "sheep" are, and therefore translators say that they must
choose other words for their versions of Scripture. Instead of sheep being
eaten for the passover--to choose just one shocking example--their
translation informs the people of this tribe that Israel sacrificed and ate
pigs! Doesn't that communicate the same "meaning?" the translator will ask.
 Um ... no!

There's another aspect to this. Often in Scripture--as in any other ancient
text--the *words* can be translated, but they are ambiguous. A "pot of gold"
could be a pot full of gold or a put made of gold. Which is it? A theory of
translation based on "communicating the *meaning*" might make the decision
and translate "pot made of gold." But ... I'd rather make that decision
myself as the reader! The translator could have left the simple genitive as
"pot of gold" and left the reader to solve the interpretation problem
himself! Instead, that act of interpretation has been done--and the average
reader has no idea that the text *could* be read as "pot full of gold."

Granted, all translations involve interpretation to some degree. But there
are indeed degrees of interpretive tendency. It's one thing to choose to
translate "pot" instead of, say, "bucket." It's something else to make the
decision--which the words and their syntax leave open--that "pot of gold"
means "pot made of gold." It's also one thing to try as much as possible to
leave interpretive possibilities open for the reader solve. It's something
else to try to make the text as readible and clear as possible by solving as
many ambiguities as possible.

After all, the Bible, like any other book but perhaps more so, requires work
to read and to understand. Understanding the Bible is not a simple matter of
finding the right translation.

In this connection, I recommend _The Future of the Bible_ by Jakob van
Bruggen, the noted Dutch New Testament scholar and commentator. (If you
read Dutch, you must check out van Bruggen's commentaries on the synoptics
and on 1 Cor. 7 and 11. He often takes unique and interesting and
controversial directions based on his close attention to the text.)


John Barach

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