Re: Translator's New Testament

From: John M. Tait (
Date: Fri Nov 27 1998 - 18:57:39 EST

Ward wrote:
>>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?

I would imagine that the translators have their own reasons for adopting
this approach, which is not likely to be influenced by what we think!
However, I may drop the BFBS an e-mail pointing out that I find it a bit
Carl wrote:

>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.

Yes - there is obviously a difference of approach as well as interpretation
between Ward and myself with regard to this passage - for one thing I am
only trying to establish the reason for the use of SARX in this particular
context, and for another I don't see any problem with my interpretation in
relation to other related passages - again, rather the opposite. However,
as this is obviously beyond the scope of this list, I'll carry on the
conversation in private.

The actual question of whether Paul is using SARX here as a direct contrast
to SWMA is, however, surely relevant to the semantics of the Pauline use of
both words, irrespective (and this is where Ward's approach differs from
mine) of other passages which use the same phrase, and therefore relevant
to translation questions.

> 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.

Yes - I'm certainly not arguing for a word-to-word translation, which not
only murders the target language (witness the execrable Scots produced by
some writers who are obviously thinking in English) but misrepresents the
source language as well. I don't, for example, consider that the TNT
translation of hOI DUO EIS SARKA MIAN as "the two shall become one" is a
bad translation of itself. The question is whether it serves the
specialized intention of the TNT.

A related question: how far is it justified to explain usage in a passage
by showing, or suggesting, how it would have been phrased had the meaning
been something else? I considered Carl's illustration of the indirect
speech problem by giving an example of the ME EINAI rather than EGO EIMI
construction to be obvious once it was pointed out (this is where those of
us who have never had to write Greek - or, in my case, not since school -
can benefit from the knowledge of experts.) But I don't accept Ward's
argument that if Paul had not meant to contrast SARX and SWMA he would
simply have used SARX in both cases. This seems to me to depend on the
argument that Paul was aware of the contrast which Ward sees, and would
have taken steps to circumvent this had he wanted to make it
non-contrastive; whereas I consider that there is no contrast there in the
first place, and that it would not have seemed necessary - indeed, would
not have occurred - to Paul to circumvent something which does not exist!

It seems to me that there is a crucial difference here between arguments of
this type which relate to syntax (eg: ME EINAI) and those which relate to
semantics (eg: SARX/SWMA). But perhaps someone can shoot this down in - um,
I was going to say "flames", but perhaps not...

Sorry to refer to everyone in the third person, but it prevents confusion.

John M. Tait.

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