RE: Translation: Glossing, Domains, Arguments

From: Hultberg, Alan (
Date: Mon May 22 2000 - 12:37:35 EDT


>From: clayton stirling bartholomew on Sat, May 20, 2000 6:32 PM
>Subject: Re: Translation: Glossing, Domains, Arguments
>To: Biblical Greek
>on 05/20/00 5:25 PM, Hultberg, Alan wrote:
>> Still, unless all you plan to do is read the text to yourself, or
>> converse with fluent speakers of the original language, you need in some
>> to translate the ideas of the text to a non-Greek speaking audience. You
>> begin with a translation as formal or functional as you like, but begin
>> translating you must.
>I think we are talking past one another here.
>If you teach a first year Greek student that translating into English is
>what studying the NT in Greek is all about you have crippled that student
>for life. They will still be doing translation 25 years later and think that
>they are working with the Greek text which is really an illusion. What we
>are talking about is breaking through that illusion. We want to dispel the
>illusion once and for all that building your own personal inter-linear
>translation is the same as reading and understanding NT Greek. It is not the
>same thing at all. Once you can read NT greek you should stop doing this.
>But people do not stop doing it. People who have been reading NT Greek twice
>as long as I have are still doing it.
>At some point along the way when the question is asked:
>"How should this be rendered into English?"
>someone needs to answer:
>"Wrong Question!"
>We have a number of quite adequate English translations of the bible
>available. We don't need to have it translated again by everyone who took
>three years of Greek in Seminary. A pastor who gets up in the pulpit on
>Sunday and says "this ought to be translated so and so" is putting his NT
>Greek study to poor use. That in my humble opinion is not the reason we read
>the NT in Greek.


Thanks for your response, and I think that, after this, I've pretty well run
out of interest on this topic! :-)

 Anyhow, you're correct in saying that we are talking at cross purposes. Your
original cocktail, if I recall, was to deny the propriety of Gordon Fee's
advocacy of translating the text as a first step in exegesis, and I totally
disagree with you here. There is a reason for translating as formally as
possible as a *first* step in exegesis, and that reason is to observe
precisely the lexical, grammatical, and syntactical phenomena of the text (and
insofar as writing your thoughts down is always recommended when doing
research, as opposed simply to keeping everything straight in your mind,
producing a written translation or some other record of the phenomena is
better than merely reading the text). The purpose of an initial translation
in exegesis is NOT to, in your words, "teach a first year Greek student that
translating into English is what studying the NT in Greek is all about" nor to
teach "that building your own personal inter-linear translation is the same as
reading and understanding NT Greek." I doubt very much that Dr. Fee would
disagree with me.

Regarding English versions: I read the Greek text to myself in Greek (though
far from the fluency of the writers!), but I am not doing exegesis. I read
the English translations with infinitely more fluency, but I am not doing
exegesis; in fact, at this second level, I am reading someone else's exegesis.
 The reason I teach my students Greek (however inadequately in 2 1/2 years),
is so that they will be able themselves to exegete the Greek text and then
fairly represent it to others in a sermon or Bible study or other form of
commentary. I want them to grapple with the text themselves first and
foremost, though in the process they can grapple with other folks's grapplings
(in the form of commentaries and English versions). In fact, why advocate
only using English versions for sermon preparation, why not rather English
commentaries? Those guys certainly know how to do exegesis better than my
students do in their own initial work (I've only heard THAT about a million
times!), and they certainly explicate the text better than an English
translation does. Heck, why learn any Greek at all? (You're well aware that
that question has been bantered about several times on b-Greek.)

Re: learning Greek, which is what I think your real beef is about. I couldn't
agree with you more that it is impossible to gain an adequate fluency in the
language without reading, reading, reading. You are certainly correct that if
all we do is allow our students to believe that deciphering the Greek text
word for word is adequate to our purposes, we do them a grave disservice. I
would say that a student is not prepared to begin exegesis/exposition of the
text until they can read the text fairly well without helps, and I work toward
that with my own students. Unfortunately, we only have 1 1/2 years to move
them from no knowledge of the language to a knowledge adequate to exegesis.
This means that, though I can spend a semester on pure reading and inductive
study of syntax and higher level discourse semantics after their first year of
Greek, I have to continue to develop fluency by pure reading at the same time
I am introducing and solidifying exegetical method in their final year of
Greek studies. I thus have a private reading component in my exegesis courses
and urge my students to continue this reading program for the rest of their
lives in order to continue to develop fluency.

Yikes! That's a ton of final comments.

Anyhow, thanks for the stimulating two-alarmer!


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