Re: Literal translation/target group

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Oct 16 1997 - 05:25:23 EDT

Don Wilkins wrote,

<As to the "presupposition pool," I shouldn't say much because I've not
followed <the thread closely. It does interest me, though, because it
sounds like you are <presupposing the possibility to get into the writer's
mind, and I am becoming <more and more convinced that this is impossible;
i.e. that we can only try to <understand what the writer has written.

Dear Don,

Two decades ago the physician had the final word as to treatment and the
patient had to accept the decision. Today we have the principle of
"informed consent". The doctor uses his or her specialized knowledge to
explain the situation and the patient decides the kind of treatment. Bible
translators had (have) the final word as to the meaning of the text, and
the readers had (have) to accept their interpretation (= the translated
text). I believe that modern Bible readers also should have the possibility
of "informed consent", and to the greatest extent possible be helped to
make informed choices as to the meaning of the text. That is the reason why
I defend strictly literal translations. I find such translations valuable,
not because of "the etymological fallacy", the belief that the "original"
meaning of a word somehow affects all its uses, but because of
COMMUNICATION, because this is the best way to help particular target
groups make informed choices.

I agree it is impossible "to get into the writer`s mind", but in relation
to this question I would like to point out that to stand out against "the
etymological fallacy the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, and we
have gotten "the contextual fallacy". That is the slogan "A word does not
have meaning without a context". Some of those following this principle
overlook the fact that in translating Greek into English there are TWO
different situations of communication and not just ONE as when translating
modern English into modern French. A Greek noun such as HADES or GEENNA
served in the original situation of communication as a semantic signal of a
concept which probably was understood quite similarly by the author and his
audience. The meaning of the two words was not dependent upon the spoken
or written CONTEXT but upon the common presupposition pool.

When translating into English, one may render the words as "world of the
dead"" and "hell", but then the translators make decisions on the part of
the readers, just as the doctor formerly did. By a transliteration of both
words, they serve also in the English version as semantic signals and the
READERS must penetrate the original presupposition pool to try to find the
mind of the writer (This is the second situation of communication). Few
words should be transliterated, but the readers can also be helped to make
informed choices by a uniform rendition of many important biblical words.
When for instance "soul" is consistently used for YUCE/nephesh, it serves
as a semantic signal just as the original word(s).

Some words are even translated uniformely by very free translations. TEV
translates AGAPH as "love" in 99% of the occurrences and KOSMOS as
"world"" in 94% of the occurrences. However, it translates SARX as "flesh"
only in 13% of the occurrences. I have looked at all occurrences of SARX,
and in none of the instances will it cause confusion and use "flesh" as a
uniform semantic signal. But of course - that depends on the interests of
the target group.

The problem with "the contextual fallacy" and idiomatic translation is that
all power is in the hands of the translators. If words don`t have meaning
without a context, THEY must find the meaning and their theology and bias
have free play. Translation IS interpretation,and exegesis is seen on every
level also in strictly literal versions. The advantage of the last
mentioned versions, however, is that the readers to a much greater extent
can check the interpretation and make informed choices. My conclusion is
that words (or rather the corresponding concepts in the mind) have
independent meaning, and that Bible translators should be stripped of some
of their power, which should be given to the readers, to the effect that
THEY can be helped "to get into the writer`s mind".


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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