Re: thinking Greek

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu May 18 2000 - 07:19:30 EDT

At 11:22 AM +0200 5/18/00, Wieland Willker wrote:
>Clayton Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
>A year or two ago when I picked up the second edition of Gordon Fee's blue
>book on NT Exegesis, I winced when he suggested that one of the first things
>you should do is make an English translation. Once you have made an English
>translation you have essentially cut yourself off from the text.
>I fnd this an interesting thought! But what does this mean in practice? Say
>you have to work on a certain pericope. Do you think it might be a good idea
>to learn it by heart in Greek and then walking up and down SUMBALLWN TA

or Homer might have phrased it: SU D'ENI FRESI BALLEO SHiSI. I think rather
that hO FILOS hHMWN hO AINIGMATWDHS here is offering us, like Apollo at
Delphi, a morsel that is paradoxical: it is true that the content of the
text, particularly insofar as that text is central to what the lore of its
larger context is communicating, is formulated fundamentally in the Greek
and needs to be understood as fully as possible in terms of ALL the ways
that Greek can and does communicate an intended (including
divinely-intended, I dare say) sense; if the egexete works in the manner of
the least-common-denominator sort of schoolchild who consults a dictionary
to find the first target-language equivalent of an unrecognized Greek word
and thinks that his exegesis is complete when he has reproduced the Greek
text in the target language in phrasing that reflects the
least-common-denominator aspects of the Greek text, then he/she's not
really an exegete at all but rather a converter of currency with a rather
crude sense of the CURRENT 'cash value' of the CURRENCY. But the exegete
assumes that the sense of the text is something more than the sum of its
parts, that it conveys its sense not word for word or even phrase for
phrase but hOLWS, with breadth and depth and inner (spirit-guided, I dare
say) vision. That is what makes authentic translation, translation carried
on for the sake of bringing God's word to those who cannot understand
Greek, such an awesome and complex responsibility and mission. There is a
place for translation in exegesis, but it comes at the end, not at the
beginning of the process, and this 'translation' is not a matter simply of
reformulating the phrasing in a target language but pulling off that
magical trick which pious Greeks, who used the verb KAQERMHNEUW for
translation, attributed to the grace of the god Hermes--as Egyptians to the
god Thoth and believing Jews and Christians to the Holy Spirit--the god who
helps the ultimate recipient of the lore grasp what was asserted by its
original transmitter.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243 OR

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