Re: Literal translation/target group

From: Trevor M Peterson (
Date: Thu Oct 16 1997 - 06:27:34 EDT

On Thu, 16 Oct 1997 11:25:23 +0200 (MET DST) Rolf Furuli
<> writes:


>I believe that modern Bible readers also should have the
>of "informed consent", and to the greatest extent possible be helped
>make informed choices as to the meaning of the text. That is the
>reason why
>I defend strictly literal translations.

While I do tend to agree with you, I also have to wonder how much we
should expect of the non-linguist, English-only reader. Something I've
tended to find with strictly literal translations is that they're great
for someone who has studied Biblical languages for a while, but they can
be misleading for someone who has not.

>A Greek noun such as HADES or
>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
>or written CONTEXT but upon the common presupposition pool.
>When translating into English, one may render the words as "world of
>dead"" and "hell", but then the translators make decisions on the part
>the readers, just as the doctor formerly did. By a transliteration of
>words, they serve also in the English version as semantic signals and
>READERS must penetrate the original presupposition pool to try to find
>mind of the writer (This is the second situation of communication).
>words should be transliterated, but the readers can also be helped to
>informed choices by a uniform rendition of many important biblical

And here I do agree with your suggestion. I suppose we can never go
wrong (in terms of being too interpretive) if we stick to
transliteration, since they'll have to do some study (assuming they're
capable) just to find out what the word means at all. Also, in these
particular examples, the meaning is so specific to that culture (as
opposed to our own), that we could never stop at finding a word or two to
translate the original. There simply isn't anything within our framework
to adequately reference that of which the biblical writers were thinking.
 It would be somewhat comparable to translating a word like 'Internet'
back into koine Greek for the benefit of first century readers.

>When for instance "soul" is consistently used for YUCE/nephesh, it
>as a semantic signal just as the original word(s).
>Some words are even translated uniformely by very free translations.
>translates AGAPH as "love" in 99% of the occurrences and KOSMOS as
>"world"" in 94% of the occurrences. However, it translates SARX as
>only in 13% of the occurrences. I have looked at all occurrences of
>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
>the target group.

My question here is whether these examples might not be more misleading.
If we can assume that the English word "soul" does not have the same
semantic range as YUCE, and likewise for "love" and AGAPE, "flesh" and
SARX, how would the English reader know that this word he is reading is
not actually what he thinks of when he sees the English? It is in those
cases where the semantic ranges do not overlap that the purely English
reader will become confused and either recognize the shift and change the
meaning of the English word in his own mind or fail to recognize the
shift and get the wrong meaning for the Greek or Hebrew word.
>The problem with "the contextual fallacy" and idiomatic translation is
>all power is in the hands of the translators. If words don`t have
>without a context, THEY must find the meaning and their theology and
>have free play. Translation IS interpretation,and exegesis is seen on
>level also in strictly literal versions. The advantage of the last
>mentioned versions, however, is that the readers to a much greater
>can check the interpretation and make informed choices. My conclusion
>that words (or rather the corresponding concepts in the mind) have
>independent meaning, and that Bible translators should be stripped of
>of their power, which should be given to the readers, to the effect
>THEY can be helped "to get into the writer`s mind".

And again, I do agree in principle, but to a certain extent, I think
being too literal does not help the general reader. Things like word
order, difference in semantic range, and tense forms will convey a great
deal to the person who has already studied the language, but then again,
if he has studied it that far, why not simply read it? As for the purely
English reader (or obviously this would apply to any monolinguist), what
does it mean for him to find a word oddly placed in a sentence? What
will be the impact of a word that doesn't seem to fit its English usage?
These are very real struggles that always temper us away from literalness
of form.

Trevor Peterson
M.Div. Candidate
Capital Bible Seminary
Lanham, MD

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