[b-greek] Re: Luke's Greek and translation

From: Alex / Ali (alexali@surf.net.au)
Date: Thu Nov 09 2000 - 07:32:22 EST

Mark Nichols asked:

>I get the impression that Luke's Greek is quite formal and precise. Should
an English translation attempt to capture this underlying form?


> Paul's epistles, it is said, were probably dictated. Once again, should an
English tranlsation attempt to capture this?

Mark, I think your question an interesting one.

My advice would be that you tease out a little more the thinking of those
who have responded already to your question. Wayne Leman is involved in the
translation of the Bible into the Cheyenne language, so he has a practical
grasp of issues involved. Just a little while ago on this list he spoke of
the use of field testing translations, and I for one would be interested to
know more of how that is done and whether it has relevance to your question.
Carl and Randall can give much insight into Luke's Greek and its

Just a few thoughts of my own regarding your query:

I'd first ask, what would your purpose be in trying to represent the style
of the Greek in an English equivalent? My own purpose in picking up the
Greek NT is not to translate it, even if only in my mind, but to understand,
so finding an English equivalence actually runs counter to my purposes.

If, however, you've decided that, yes, you specifically want a *translation*
as a product of your work with the Greek text, then there are a range of
other issues to grapple with.

How do you decide what the style of a text is? If you read Luke/Acts and
compare against the gospels, you may get a sense of Luke's style. But if you
were to read the entire NT corpus, your impression might change. As it might
again, if you were to read literary texts from the same period. If you were
to read some papyrus volumes - including the various delights of official
documents, petitions, contracts, receipts, private correspondence, and the
like - your appreciation of any individual author's style might shift yet
once more. That is, to acquire a perspective on one author's style takes a
lot of work!

How possible is it to discriminate? I happened to be reading the last
chapter of Acts yesterday evening. FFBruce notes, "Foakes Jackson calls the
conclusion 'highly artistic'. Ramsay's dictum is thus a gross exaggeration:
'No one can accept the ending of Acts as the conclusion of a rationally
conceived history.' (SPT, pp. 351f.) Very many can and do so accept it."
Clearly enough, your sense as a reader of the artistry, or lack of, will
affect your translation, if it aims to replicate style. But such differing
views even of this one passage exemplify the difficulty of being confident
of correctly catching the style.

At the level of individual words, will you try to replicate the differing
vocabularies of the different authors you translate? Can you be sure of the
connotations of various words - if I've just read a legal document in the
papyrus, am I inclined to "over-translate" the same word when I see it in
Hebrews - or would I be correct in choosing a word with legal colouration?
These questions, I think, have no easy answers.

And then, of course, how do you find an English equivalent to what is Greek,
in any case. "Luke is fond of TOU with the infinitive," Bruce notes (to
23:25). But how would you render in English so Greek a construction? I read
or heard somewhere a comment to the effect that 'the only thing in poetry
that you can't translate is the poetry'! There's truth in that, I'd agree,
and think it has application in the quest to find English translational
equivalents to our NT authors' texts.

Finally (though these ideas are neither in any particular order nor
exhaustive), what to do when you come across ambiguity in the Greek? Do you
even treat it as a stylist phenomenon at all? If, for the sake of conveying
"style" or for quite another reason (particularly, perhaps, to be honest to
an ambiguity in the text), you want to render the ambiguity in translation,
how do you achieve it? Sometimes English almost demands that we resolve
certain ambiguities in the Greek - while introducing others afresh!

These thoughts are put together late at night, and I've not attempted to go
into much detail, but I hope this may help you think through your own
interesting question. For my own part, I think the degree of difficulty of a
stylistically equivalent translation is pretty onerous, and I'd be glad
simply of an accurate translation.

Dr Alex Hopkins (Melbourne, Australia)

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