RE: thinking Greek

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri May 19 2000 - 22:38:42 EDT

At 11:02 AM -0700 5/19/00, Hultberg, Alan 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.
>Wieland Willker replied
>>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
>To which Carl Conrad replied:
>>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. . . .
>> 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 <etc.>
>Thus spoke yours truly:
>I have my exegesis students make a preliminary (read "wooden") translation of
>the passage as a first step in exegesis (actually, after establishing the
>text), but they also have to make a concluding paraphrastic translation that
>incorporates the results of their exegetical study, disambiguating ambiguous
>lexical, grammatical, syntactical, and higher order semantic features of the
>greek text with more fully formulated phrases (or extra explanatory
>clauses/sentences). For example, Phil'p 2:1 might read:
>"Therefore, in light of the fact that I have asked you to live lives worthy of
>the gospel, I have a request. If it is true that Christians are united by a
>common experience of God's love in Christ, and by a common participation in
>his Spirit; and if it is true that this should require of us mutual concern
>and affection; then make the joy that I have in you, especially at your
>partnership with me in getting out the gospel, . . ."
>My students need the preliminary translation to begin the process of
>questioning required of exegesis; they need the final translation to summarize
>the results of the process (though they do so in some other ways as well).

I'm not sure that this is really inconsistent with what I said above,
because it seems to me to grant that the initial translation is NOT the
end-result of exegesis. After all, I wrote:

>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.

You're not doing that or asking your students to do that. I rather suspect
that a diagram of the passage might be as useful as such a "wooden
translation" as a framework from which to develop an exegesis. What you
really need at the outset is a syntactic analysis indicating how elements
relate to each other within the sentence and in the larger context--and of
course, syntax, isn't everything. As I said there has to be an assumption
that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; perhaps that's what's
indicated by that version of Phil 2:1-2 which is more a paraphrase than a

Actually I've followed a somewhat similar process in the 'explications de
texte' that I have asked of advanced courses in Greek and Latin: a
'woodenly-literal' version the purpose of which is to demonstrate that the
structure of the original is understood (and I urge them to attempt to
retain word-order as far as possible); then an analysis of the text in
question in as many ways as the text permits analysis, and finally a target
version that attempts to convey all the elements discerned in the process
in the best English the student can muster. But there's a pretty clear
understanding that the final target version will be only partially
successful--and that is all the more the case if the original is a real
piece of literary craftsmanship. I really do believe the old Italian
proverb, 'traduttori traditori,' which can itself only be conveyed in a
roundabout way: "translation is a betrayal (of the original)."


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

B-Greek home page:
You are currently subscribed to b-greek as: []
To unsubscribe, forward this message to
To subscribe, send a message to

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:36:26 EDT