Re: "Semantic Domain" and Translating Synonyms (was: entropy)

From: Ron Rhoades (
Date: Wed Jun 03 1998 - 04:17:27 EDT

Edgar Foster wrote:

>Conversely, OLAM in certain contexts could be rendered "eternity" or >"eternal." Either way, there is no translational transgression.
>...the Greek words MORFE and SXHMA. The two words are synonymous, and >can be used interchangeably in certain contexts. One such context in >which they can be used as interchangeable components is Phil. 2:6ff.
>While some commentators like to emphasize the distinctions between the >two words, and some would even say that they are not synonymous--there >is good evidence in the Classics that MORFE and SXHMA are indeed >synonymous. My point is that the CONCEPT of "external appearance" is not >bound by **one word** but can be expressed by two words. Thus, Jesus >outwardly appeared as God in his pre-existence; on earth he outwardly >appeared as a servant.

>One could also make the same case for QEOTHTOS and THEIOTHS.


I for one would like to know if translators are rendering two separate
words with one English word. Even if they were perfectly synonymous
(which I firmly believe is impossible), I would like to be able to make
that determination myself. The Hebrew OLaM can certainly mean an
"indefinite time" and also "eternity" in some contexts. But who does the
translator think he is for not leaving it up to me to determine which
interpretation the context calls for? I want to know if the word is OLaM
or (aD. Given the fact that all translation is to some degree an
interpretation why make it worse by purposely blurring the original
words in translation.

If a translation presents itself as a paraphrase that kind of work is
acceptable. But if I stake my LIFE on it I want to know wherever a
different word is used no matter how insignificant the translator feels
it is. For fun I'll choose a paraphrase but for serious study I want a
literal English translation (until I can read Greek with the same

As for MORFH AND SXHMA though basically they can be termed synonyms, I
think the differences in meaning in the example you cited (Phil. 2:6-8)
are important to note: SXHMA denoting the demeanor, nature or manner and
MORFH the outward look, appearance or representation. The use of MORFH
at Mark 16:12 IMO is not interchangeable with SXHMA. Jesus had a
*different* outward appearance (MORFH) than before, but did he have a
different (SXHMA)? In other writings the MORFH always stays the same
however the SXHMA changes at will (a dog still looks like a dog however
his manners can change).

Lightfoot, Trench and Kittel all see significant differences between the
two. Differences that I feel should be retained in translation.

One could also make the same case for QEOTHTOS and THEIOTHS.

Ron Rhoades
Nevada City, CA

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:45 EDT