Re: Translator's New Testament

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Nov 26 1998 - 08:09:19 EST

At 9:35 PM -0600 11/25/98, Ward Powers wrote:
>At 23:30 98/11/25 +0000, John M. Tait wrote:
>>Ward Powers wrote:
>>>I agree entirely. It is a VERY bad choice to translate SARX here by "body",
>>>just like that, and thus pre-empt possible interpretations.
>>>Another place where some translations do this (render SARX by "body") is in
>>>the next chapter of 1 Corinthians, in 6:16.
>>The TNT translates "the two shall become one." Again, this would be
>>understandable in a translation intended for ordinary reading, but as a
>>basis for further translation it seems inadequate.
[immense block snipped]
>Yes - here again I wholeheartedly agree with you. Whether or not one sees
>Paul's use of SWMA and SARX as being in contrast (in the way I have
>indicated above), the fact is that Paul DOES USE these two different words
>here. It is poor for ANY translation to obscure this point, and absolutely
>reprehensible in the Translator's New Testament, the purpose of which is to
>provide a reliable text which can be used as the basis for retranslation
>into other languages.
>How could we draw this to their attention?

What started out as a question of translation philosophy has sprouted into
a fulsome exegetical disquisition ranging over interpretation not strictly
of the text in question but the whole range of usage of SWMA and SARX in
different authors throughout the Biblical text as a whole, involving, I
think, some hermeneutical assumptions that are not necessarily shared by
all list-members. At the end of Ward's post, however, he returns at last to
translation philosophy, about which we've had several exchanges in the past
week. The issue that arises from this in my own mind is: how what is
genuinely ambiguous--open to alternative interpretations--in the Greek text
can be conveyed in translation without a translator opting for one or
another of the alternatives, a practice which can only mislead a reader who
depends upon the translation for understanding what the Biblical text
actually says. I am well aware that a hermeneutic assumption held by many
is that an ambiguity may be resolved by careful collation of Biblical texts
concerned with the same issue--but that assumption is by no means
universally shared, and even among those who do share it, it seems to me
that (a) even among those who do share it, there may well be disagreement
about HOW the ambiguity is resolved by such collation, and that (b) the
conscientious reader should be allowed to perform such collation and reach
his/her own resolution of the ambiguity. For these reasons the ambiguity
ought NOT to be distorted in translation; I think that's what Ward is
saying, and I would agree. But this brings us back again to an old
question: how SHOULD these words SWMA and SARX be conveyed in English--or
any other language--and is it appropriate even to represent them
consistently everywhere in a version by the same English/other
"equivalent"? I'm inclined to think that using "body" and "flesh" to convey
the Greek words consistently can itself be misleading. In Rom 12:1, for
instance (and these questions can only be dealt with meaningfully, I think,
in reference to specific texts) PARAKALW OUN hUMAS ... PARASTHSAI TA SWMATA
hUMWN QUSIAN ZWSAN ..., SWMATA does not, I think, mean "bodies" but
"selves"--a sense in which SWMA was already used in Attic Greek. Probably
"bodies" is not subject to gross misunderstanding here, so perhaps the
problem of translation is less serious. More serious, I think, is the
problem of translation of YUCH in John 12:25, hO FILWN THN YUCHN AUTOU
AIWONION FULAXEI AUTHN. Here YUCH might be translated "life" but needs
somehow to be differentiated from ZWH, which does indeed seem to have a
very distinctive Johannine sense. Certainly one may not translate YUCH in
this verse as "soul," surely? Personally I think it means "self"--exactly
what SWMA means in Rom 12:1--a person's integral selfhood.

Any reactions to this? Again, I would urge focus upon concrete examples
rather than abstract principles by themselves.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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