Thursday, November 27, 2008

Response to Mike regarding the flawed methodology of Dynamic Equivalence

Over at the meta of the post on Extreme Theology about The Voice perversion, a fellow by the name of Mike left a rather lengthy reply to my attack on the Dynamic Equivalence (D-E) translational methodology. In this post, I would like to interact with what he has said about the topic and defend my position on this issue. Mike said:

Fact #1: There is a difference between translation and interpretation.

Fact #2: All Dynamic Equivalence (D-E) translations distort God's Word in some way or another

Fact #3: The Voice is the logical conclusion of the D-E philosophy as worked out through the interpretative matrix of the Emergents.

Fact #4: All that the D-E proponents can say is that they disagree with the interpretation and think that it is in error, but their position commits them to arguing about conceptual error without having anything to say about translational error.

As a linguist who has studied Greek, language in general, communication theory, translation theory, semantics, and meaning, I must say that these "facts" reflect very little knowledge of what it takes to transfer the meaning of the original text into another language. I am also not any sort of postmodernist or emergent anything. I am a translator. I do not care for the voice - I think its crap, but that doesn't give anyone the excuse to think that dynamic (which is the wrong word, the correct one is "functional") translation distort scripture. Please forgive me for saying so, but that's show a complete lack of awareness of how language and meaning function.

Fact #1 is false. Any change from one language to another requires interpretation - ANY CHANGE. When you translate even a single word someone always interprets. Since we're in John, let's look at λόγος (logos). What does it mean? One might say that it means word. That's it, right? No interpretation there. Not a chance. To accurately translate the word from Greek, we must look at its usage. Let's see what the lexicon says about λόγος.

Louw & Nida suggest there are ten different senses of the word:

  1. "that which has been stated or said, with primary focus upon the content of the communication—‘word, saying, message, statement, question.’"
  2. "the act of speaking—speaking, speech.’"
  3. " the content of what is preached about Christ or about the good news—‘what is preached, gospel.’"
  4. "a relatively formal and systematic treatment of a subject—‘treatise, book, account.’"
  5. "a title for Jesus in the Gospel of John as a reference to the content of God’s revelation and as a verbal echo of the use of the verbs meaning ‘to speak’ in Genesis 1 and in many utterances of the prophets—‘Word, Message.’"
  6. "a record of assets and liabilities—‘account, credit, debit.’"
  7. "a reason, with the implication of some verbal formulation—‘reason.’"
  8. "a happening to which one may refer—‘matter, thing, event.’"
  9. "that which is thought to be true but is not necessarily so—‘appearance, to seem to be.’"
  10. "a formal declaration of charges against someone in court—‘charges, accusation, declaration of wrongdoing.’"

Now when a translator chooses one of these definitions to apply to a given instance of the word in the text, he makes an interpretive decision. "Now wait a moment," you say, "Look at definition #5." I'm not making an interpretation, the lexicon says what John means. Now that's true, if a translator follows that route and simply takes the definition that the lexicon uses, he's not making an interpretation. But someone still is. And in this case, its the the compile of the lexicon. If the translator goes that route, then he's simply allowing the authors who dug through the usage of λόγος to make the decision for them. That's still interpretation. Its just someone else's. Let's hope they got it right - for the sake of the people using your translation.

Fact #2 is false. Or I should say, its too limited. ALL translation of any kind distorts the source text. Our Greek commenter in the comment above could surely tell you that even the ESV fails to convey all the meaning of the original text - And I'd being will to say that even translations that update the New Testament into Modern Greek loose some of the original meaning. That's because language is culturally conditioned. There is not good way to translate the Greek phrase typically rendered "casting lots" into English because we don't have "lots." The closest cultural equivalent is "drawing straws." But translating such phrases that way would misrepresent the cultural activity. Or consider an example from the ESV - Psalm 1:1

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners..."

In English the phrase, "stand in the way of sinners" conveys the idea of blocking someone from going somewhere or doing something. We stand in people's way as a preventative measure. But in Hebrew, the idiom means the exact opposite. To stand in the way of someone in Hebrew means to follow along after them, doing what they do. Now you might say that someone whose been in the church will be taught that. But why should the meaning of a translation have to be explained or taught? If you have to explain the meaning after you translate, doesn't that destroy the point? Isn't the purpose of translation to convey meaning? All translations distort meaning.

Fact #3 is false. The claim that The Voice is the logical conclusion of Dymanic translation simply proves that the person wrote the "fact" doesn't truly know what Dymanic translation is. And in fact, that term "dynamic" itself hasn't been used by translators since the 80's because the term caused so much misunderstanding for those who weren't professional translators. The correct term is "Functional Equivalence Translation." And this method (not philosophy) of translation is based on the work of hundreds of translations in hundreds of languages around the world. Here are the fundamental principles of Functional Equivalence translation theory:

  1. Each language possesses certain distinctive characteristics which give it a special character, e.g. word-building capacities, unique patterns of phrase order, techniques for linking clauses into sentences, markers of discourse, and special discourse types of poetry, proverbs, and song. Each language is rich in vocabulary for areas of cultural focus and the specialties of people.
  2. To communicate effectively [which, I hope everyone can agree is the goal of translation] one must respect the genius [see #1] of each language.
  3. Anything that can be said in one language can be said in another, unless the form is an essential element of the message. For the average person the potential and actual equivalence of languages is perhaps the most debated point about translation. He does not see how people who have no snow can understand a passage in the Bible that speaks about "white as snow." If the people do not know snow, how can they have a word for it? And if they do not have a word for it, then how can the Bible be translated? ... The point is that snow as an object [grammatically speaking] is not crucial to the message.
  4. To preserve the content of the message the form must be changed. This is quite apparent when we look at words λόγος "word, message, etc." No English word looks or sounds like that Greek word and has the same meaning. The form of words must be changed. It follows quite easily that the form of phrases much be changed and that the form of clause must be changed. Translators must as the question, how do native speakers of the target language express this meaning. What if a language doesn't have participles? Does it become harder to translate Paul's letters which are full of them? No, because the meanings expressed by participles are expressed by other forms - the forms must be changed.
  5. The languages of the Bible are subjct to the same limitations as any other natural languages. Greek and Hebrew are sipmly languages, like any other languages, and they are to be understood and analyzed in the same manner as other ancient tongues. They both possess extraordinarily effective means of communication, even as all languages do.
  6. The writers of the Biblical books expected to be understood (even the author of Psalm 1:1).
  7. The translator must attempt to reproduce the meaning of a passage as understood by the writer. This is true regardless of the form of the target translation. And this foundational principle of Functional translation theory make makes it impossible for a translation such as The Voice to be the logical conclusion of the D-E philosophy - regardless of who is working it out emergent or otherwise the Voice cannot be a Functional translation if it fails to convey the passage as understood by the writer.

All these points were directly taken (with commentary) from Eugene A. Nida and Charles R. Taber's The Theory and Practice of Translation (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 3-8.

Fact #4 is false I find it interesting that this claim is made when the writer show so little awareness of what Functional Equivalence translation truly. The fact is, the F-E translation process, as performed by such international translation organizations such as Wycliffe/SIL, the United Bible Society, Pioneers Bible Translators etc., have multiple error checking sessions where translations are checked and checked for translation errors for every single book of scripture. This results in probably hundreds of translation error check even for s single New Testament, much less the Old!

Get your facts straight about F-E translation before you talk about it. Go reading something written about translation from someone who studied linguistics, translation, and communication.

Before I begin my response, I will freely admit that in terms of academic qualifications and competence in the original languages, I am not as good as Mike. I am currently in the process of learning Greek and my knowledge of Hebrew is non-existent. Yet, regardless of the topic, all doctrine must be logically coherent and consistent with the rest of the doctrines of Scripture, and it is my opinion that the translational methodology called Dynamic Equivalence by itself is flawed because it undermines the doctrine of the authority and essence of Scripture, which I will hopefully show as we go along.

The first issue to deal with is Mike's insistence on using the term "Functional Equivalence" as opposed to "Dynamic Equivalence", since the methodology embraced by the D-E/F-E proponents claims to translate the funtional meaning of the original languages into the text in the receptor language. The reason why I refuse to do so is because I do not agree that such a methodology does actually fulfil its goal. Therefore, while they claim that they are translating the functional meaning of the text, I disagree that their methodology does in fact translate the functional meaning of the text. Since I disagree that their methodology can indeed achieve their goal, I would rather use their previous nomenclature of "Dynamic Equivalence" which I think is a better description of what they are actually doing.

Without further to do, let's logically analyze Mike's points, and then I will wrap up the issue with the theological aspect of the issue.

Fact #1 is false. Any change from one language to another requires interpretation - ANY CHANGE.

It seems that Mike has not realized yet the difference between lexical interpretation and conceptual interpretation. Of course, any change from one language to another requires interpretation. That is NOT the issue I was driving at. Lexical interpretation requires that each individual word or phrase is translated from one language to another and string together according to the grammer of the receptor language in a manner that parallels the structure of the source language as closely as possible. In other words, lexical interpretation tries not to change or alter any of the words/ expressions in the sentence being translated. Conceptual interpretation however tries to make theological/ philosophical sense out of the sentence and renders it in such a way that the essence of the sentence shines through. THAT is the issue, not whether any type of interpretation is required at all.

Mike follows through with a look at the translated meaning of the word logos in John 1:1. Before touching on the difficult-to-translate words however, can it be agreed firstly that simple words are to be translated literally? The issue here is this: Is Mike trying to use difficult-to-translate Greek words and phrases as a case study in order to make a conceptual translation the norm, instead of making such cases an exception? The Greek word logos after all is a word utilized in Greek philosophy among others, and thus is NOT an easy word to translate. But what about relatively simple words like kai, huios or machaira?

So even if (not that it will be) some form of conceptual interpretation is required to translate the Greek word logos, that does not prove Mike's point at all. Our contention has always been that as little conceptual translation should be done at all times, and thus pointing to exceptions in order to invalidate the norm is plainly in error.

As a bilinguist myself (English and Chinese), and having learned a bit of Japanese and German before, let me just say that there is indeed a world of difference between lexical translation and conceptual translation. Just as an example using Chinese (a language very different from any of the Western languages in many ways), here is how you can translate the following phrase from the Nicene Creed:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, ...

Translated lexically:

和一主耶稣基督,上帝的独生儿子,全部星球之前而上帝所生,神之神,光之光,实在的神之实在的神,受生,非创造出来的,...

Translated conceptually:

和独一主耶稣基督,上帝的独生子,在万世之前为天父所生,出于神而为神,出于光而为光,出于真神而为真神,是受生,乃非被造,...

For those who know Chinese, the first sentence should sound strange but it is still perfectly understandable. Unfortunately, I do not know any other language good enough to do translation in such a manner so I will not attempt any example for those who cannot read Chinese; you just have to take my word for it that the first example IS indeed what is considered an essentially literal translation from the English (not Latin) which utilizes only lexical translation. Note also that the fact that the languages (English and Chinese) are very much dissimilar does not mean that lexical translation is NOT possible.

So let us look at Mike's argument regarding logos (λόγος):

Since we're in John, let's look at λόγος (logos). What does it mean? One might say that it means word. That's it, right? No interpretation there. Not a chance. To accurately translate the word from Greek, we must look at its usage. Let's see what the lexicon says about λόγος.

Louw & Nida suggest there are ten different senses of the word:

  1. "that which has been stated or said, with primary focus upon the content of the communication—‘word, saying, message, statement, question.’"
  2. "the act of speaking—speaking, speech.’"
  3. " the content of what is preached about Christ or about the good news—‘what is preached, gospel.’"
  4. "a relatively formal and systematic treatment of a subject—‘treatise, book, account.’"
  5. "a title for Jesus in the Gospel of John as a reference to the content of God’s revelation and as a verbal echo of the use of the verbs meaning ‘to speak’ in Genesis 1 and in many utterances of the prophets—‘Word, Message.’"
  6. "a record of assets and liabilities—‘account, credit, debit.’"
  7. "a reason, with the implication of some verbal formulation—‘reason.’"
  8. "a happening to which one may refer—‘matter, thing, event.’"
  9. "that which is thought to be true but is not necessarily so—‘appearance, to seem to be.’"
  10. "a formal declaration of charges against someone in court—‘charges, accusation, declaration of wrongdoing.’"

Now when a translator chooses one of these definitions to apply to a given instance of the word in the text, he makes an interpretive decision.

As I have mentioned earlier, the word logos is a difficult-to-translate word. Dr. Gordon H. Clark has written an entire book primarily focused on it especially as it is used in the first chapter of John, in the book The Johannine Logos, 2nd Ed. (Trinity Foundation, Jefferson, Maryland, USA, 1989). So pointing out that there are difficult Greek words to translate which thus require interpretation does not mean that requiring interpretation is the norm.

However, Mike's example fails to even prove an exception to the rule since the word logos is only one Greek word, and thus the interpretation needed here is restricted to lexical interpretation. Whatever the interpretation of the word logos, the translated verse in any good English translation would read: "In the beginning was the ____, and the ____ was with God, and the ____ was God". Mike's example is therefore refuted.

Fact #2 is false. Or I should say, its too limited. ALL translation of any kind distorts the source text. Our Greek commenter in the comment above could surely tell you that even the ESV fails to convey all the meaning of the original text

Mike here equivocates on the meaning of the word "distorts". "Distort" as a word implies that the translation alters the meaning in such a way that the new meaning is contary to the original meaning, not the losing of certain minute nuances and distinctions in the source langage which is a new definition of the word "distorts" Mike uses.

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, so I will raise this issue again. Upon what basis can D-E versions like the NLT remove the word "sword" (Greek machaira) found in Rom. 13:4? Doesn't this not distort the message of the verse if indeed Rom. 13:4 is suppsed to teach capital punishment and just war theory? We will re-visit this particular verse later.

There is not good way to translate the Greek phrase typically rendered "casting lots" into English because we don't have "lots."

Context! Context! Context! I remember understanding the meaning of "casting lots" when I was a young boy about 20 years or more ago without being taught what it was, and nobody I knew cast lots then. The problem is that few wants to read the passage in context first before trying to decipher and understand what any particular verse and phrase means.

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners..."

In English the phrase, "stand in the way of sinners" conveys the idea of blocking someone from going somewhere or doing something. We stand in people's way as a preventative measure. But in Hebrew, the idiom means the exact opposite. To stand in the way of someone in Hebrew means to follow along after them, doing what they do. Now you might say that someone whose been in the church will be taught that.

Again, Context is key! I do not particularly see why translations have to be done such that any lazy person can choose a verse at random and is supposed to be able to understand what it says without reading the context and anything else!

But why should the meaning of a translation have to be explained or taught? If you have to explain the meaning after you translate, doesn't that destroy the point? Isn't the purpose of translation to convey meaning? All translations distort meaning.

If the person refuses to learn for himself and wrestle with the text to get the answers, then that he has to be taught is his own fault. Intellectual laziness is not a virture, and I do not see why we have to ammend our translational philosophy to accomodate such lazy people! Just by the way, the ESV did not distort the meaning of the verse Ps. 1:1; it is the intellectually and spiritually lazy people who refuse to do their homework who eisegete the text.

Fact #3 is false. The claim that The Voice is the logical conclusion of Dymanic translation simply proves that the person wrote the "fact" doesn't truly know what Dymanic translation is. And in fact, that term "dynamic" itself hasn't been used by translators since the 80's because the term caused so much misunderstanding for those who weren't professional translators. The correct term is "Functional Equivalence Translation."

As I have mentioned, I refuse to call it Functional Equivalence because functionally equivalency is not truly acheived. Previously, I have raised the issue of Rom. 13:4, of which the verse reads as follows:

for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom. 13:4 — ESV)

The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong (Rom. 13:4 — NLT)

As it can be seen, the NLT omits the word "sword" in its translations, instead rendering it as the phrase "power to punish you". Now, the Greek word machaira which means sword is present in the Greek New Testament, so there is no good reason why it should be altered since there is no ambiguity over what machaira is.

Enters the D-E translational philosophy. According to their express goal, they desire to translate the verse in such a way that the verse in English should accurately and functionally represent the meaning in the receptor language. However, what if the idea of capital punishment for example is meant to be taught by Paul in Rom. 13:4? Has the D-E philosophy as practiced in the NLT succeeded in " reproduce the meaning of a passage as understood by the writer"? No, it doesn't and as such the functional equivalence is not present in the verse in translations such as the NLT.

It may be objected that capital punishment is not taught in Rom. 13:4 at all. However, that is only the objector's interpetation of Rom. 13:4, but others have interpreted the verse differently to teach capital punishment. So therefore, is this case of Rom. 13:4 a matter of one's personal theology driving one's translation? In their bid to translate so as to reproduce the meaning of a passage, doesn't the D-E philosophy give rise to the spector of the translators' views on various matters and doctrines to drive their translation, as it has apparently happened in Rom. 13:4 in the NLT? The D-E philosophy therefore facilitates placing one's theology before the text, instead of deriving one's theology from the text.

And this foundational principle of Functional translation theory make makes it impossible for a translation such as The Voice to be the logical conclusion of the D-E philosophy - regardless of who is working it out emergent or otherwise the Voice cannot be a Functional translation if it fails to convey the passage as understood by the writer.

Again, who or what determines what is the meaning as understood by the writer? The Emergents who penned this Bible certainly and truly believe that they are "reproducing the meaning of passages as understood by the writers"! Is this going to be a battle of competing authorities then? Or maybe something along the lines of "I know Greek and Hebrew better than you" type of argumentation?

Fact #4 is false I find it interesting that this claim is made when the writer show so little awareness of what Functional Equivalence translation truly.

Mike here does not seem to understand what is the difference between translation, lexical interpretation and conceptual interpretation and thus misses the entire point of fact number 4. Contrary to what he says, I do know about F-E translational philsophy, but I reject the name because it is a misleading term which does not deliver at times like the example of Rom. 13:4 seen above, and therefore I revert back to the proper description of D-E.

The fact is, the F-E translation process, as performed by such international translation organizations such as Wycliffe/SIL, the United Bible Society, Pioneers Bible Translators etc., have multiple error checking sessions where translations are checked and checked for translation errors for every single book of scripture. This results in probably hundreds of translation error check even for s single New Testament, much less the Old!

Nobody is saying that D-E translations are choke full of errors. Yet also, the appeal to committees is fallacious becuase numbers mean little when it comes to truth. It has been said that if you dislike what one scholar says, just find five scholars from the opposite camp to endorse your position or translational choice to counter the influnce of that one negative vote. In the making of such D-E versions, has there been any consultations from scholars of the essentially literal camp (not scholars who work on essentially literal translations)? Probably not! When a group of scholars who are already committed to the D-E philosophy engage in error-checking, the only thing that can be surmised is that that group of scholars share the same opinion on that one verse. Imagine if a group of Arminian/Semi-Pelagian D-E scholars come together to translate Rom. 9 for example? Instead of saying "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated", the translation would read "Jaboc I loved, but Esau I loved less"!

Now we go on to the theological aspect of this issue. I have mentioned in the beginning that the D-E philosophy undermines the doctrine of the authority and the essence of Scripture. How this is true is apparent especially when we look at the case of Rom. 13:4. How can the NLT version of Rom. 13:4 be trusted to teach all of God's truth when it has already narrowed the interpretative options of the text and omit the possibility of capital punishment from being considered as a legitimate interpretative option? If capital punishment is part of God's truth, then the NLT version of Rom. 13:4 has removed this aspect of God's truth from the text of Scripture. A truth removed from the all-suffucient truth of Scripture would render the text not sufficient since there is one truth missing, and therefore the essence of Scripture is undermined. It matters little actully in this discussion context whether capital punishment is truly taught but more of the D-E methodology resulting in interpretative options which may be biblical being removed. As stated, the text should drive our theology, not the other way around. D-E philosophy, sadly to say, allows Man to do the latter.

9 comments:

mike said...

Well, at the very least, that was an entertaining read...

mike said...

Out of curiosity, where does this distinction between lexicon and conceptual translation come from?

I find it to be a quite novel & unusual distinction.

PuritanReformed said...

Mike:

I encountered the concept in the chapter by Leland Ryken in the book edited by Wayne Grudem. I know you don't esteem Ryken's view on translational methodology but I find the concept itself very appropriate in understanding the difference between F-E/D-E and E-L translational methodologies. Grudem evidently approves of the concept, being the editor of the book. I am sure Grudem knows his Greek and Hebrew well.

David N said...

Daniel, great post! I was a philosophy major in college (now in Seminary), and so I encountered a LOT of postmodern talk that relates to this issue ("everything is interpretation", "mediation equals distortion", etc.). I found your thoughts very helpful.

Mike, I notice that your first comment was merely dismissive. As a mere observer of this conversation I am really interested in your response to Daniel's post, and so I would encourage to respond directly to his points (as he did for you).

This is a very important discussion! Thanks to you both for engaging in it!

mike said...

Problems with your argument in Point #1:

This distinction between Lexical and Conceptual translation is contrived and unnecessary. F-E methodology doesn't seek this so-called "theological/philosophical" sense. What F-E does do is ask the very same question about clauses, phrases, paragraphs, and even full discourses as it does with individual words:

What does this word mean in Greek? How can we express this meaning accurately in English?

What does this phrase mean in Greek? How can we express this meaning accurately in English?

What does this clause mean in Greek? How can we express this meaning accurately in English?

F-E translation says that there's meaning above the word level. Phrase structure and clause structure convey meaning in Greek that will be lost in a literal translation. Some people think that Greek is a free word order language. Its not. Its probably VSO, though since most of the time, there isn't a subject expressed, it might be safer to say VO.

But no literal translation conveys the significance of a fronted subject noun phrase in translation (or any fronted phrase, for that matter). Those translations miss those things because they think words are more important than other units of meaning.

Your example from Chinese maybe understandable. But that's not the point. If its not natural, its not a good translation. Why is it that in the court of law, when they need a translator for a witness, the translator translates in an F-E style rather than a formal one? Why is it the professional translators in the UN always use an F-E style rather than a formal one?

Because if the meaning is misunderstood, they could have a war on their hands - the blood of hundred, thousands, on their hands.

Literal translation might be enough to get by, but it can also be extremely embarrassing. Try a literal word for word translation of "I am cold" into German. It may have all the right words, but you'll have your German native speakers rolling on the ground laughing because those three words in German convey that you're sexually frigid - not exactly the same meaning, is it?

I'm also amazed that you think καί is a simple word. Functional discourse markers like καί are probably the most complicated words in a language. In terms of second language acquisition, discourse markers are the greatest challenge to master. Most second language speakers do not master them and those who do take decades.

A. Side note: Grudem does know Greek and Hebrew (unlike Ryken), unfortunately his problem is his reactionary tendency and his habit of reading too much out of the evidence or using it poorly (but that's a story for another time). He's also not a Biblical scholar - he's theologian. Unfortunately, there's a difference between those two, even though there shouldn't be. He's also not a linguist, which should be a prerequisite for doing translation. Do you let physicists perform brain surgery?

Problems with your argument in Point #2:

Mike here equivocates on the meaning of the word "distorts". "Distort" as a word implies that the translation alters the meaning in such a way that the new meaning is contary [sic] to the original meaning, not the losing of certain minute nuances and distinctions in the source langage [sic] which is a new definition of the word "distorts" Mike uses.

What we have here is a failure to communicate (or borrow a line from a classic movie). I'm going to assume that you didn't intend to misread me, though I would have appreciated being given the benefit of the doubt that I'm not making up new meanings for "distort."

Definitions of "distort":
1 pull or twist out of shape.
2 give a misleading account or impression of.
3 change the form of (an electrical signal or sound wave) during transmission or amplification.
Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition

You have assumed that I was using definition #2, or at least that's what it appears to look like.

But I wasn't. I was using number one, which is completely true of translation. All translation changes the shape of a the source text. Its inevitable. φαίνεται ἑλλήνη αὕτη and English looks like this. That's all I was saying. But it also is true with meaning as well. Both formal translations and functional translations change the meaning of the text. That's because languages encode culture in their semantics. The honor systems in Korean and Japanese (Chinese? I don't know, you could tell me though) do not accurately translate in to English through literal translation.

Colors - Russian does not differentiate between red, purple (or was it pink?) like English does, but they divide the English blue in half! Literal translation will not convey the whole meaning.

Passive voice - In Greek and Hebrew the passive voice is regularly used out of reverence for God - that is by using the passive voice, the Biblical authors could avoid using God's name directly and thus showing Him honor. But the passive voice is also used in a number of South East Asian languages to convey unfortunate events. Surely the mystery of the Gospel made known to Paul in Ephesians 3 is not an unfortunate event! A literal translation of the passive in Malay or Vietnamese would make for an interesting read.

Direct and Indirect speach - The president of Wycliffe Bible Translators used to tell the true story of a man who when to Africa to preach the gospel. He spent some time learning the language and when out to preach. He went out and proclaimed, "Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.'"

And his audience said, "Okay, then we will worship you."

The man said, "Wait, no! JESUS said it!"

And again they answered, "If Jesus said, it then we will worship you."

What the man didn't realize is that in that particular language, *indirect speech* was preferred and expected for conveying information that is believed to be true by the speaker. Literal translation caused a lot of problems there. He needed Functional.

A translator in what was formerly Zaire (now war torn Congo) while drafting the translation of a Bantu language, proposed to the native speakers working with him a translation that simply said, "Don't steal from widows." They all laughed at him. He thought that he has simply gotten the tone wrong, so he tried to correct it, repeating himself. Now basic word order in the language is SVO, but what the translator didn't realize was that the post-verbal position was also the pragmatically focused position. While his translation was formally, word for word correct, what he was actually conveying was, "Don't steal from widows (but anyone else is fair game.)" Its a good thing the native speakers laughed at him so that his literal, word for word translation didn't make it into the final translation.

All translation distorts - you have to make changes if you want to be accurately understood.

Problems with Point #3:

While you do make good points about debate in exegesis, I don't believe your example from the NLT is a good one. For one, leaving out the word sword doesn't negate the possibility of reading this verse as implying that capital punishment is valid. I thought the context made that clear...? Context, Context, Context, right?

And your point (with regard to the Voice) about debates over meaning was safer when you were talking about the NLT than the voice. One doesn't need to know Greek to recognize the problems with the translation - our friend at extreme theology demonstrated that by putting it beside the ESV, but you could have put it beside the NASB, NRSV, ASV, RSV, KJV, NKJV, NIV, TNIV, NLT, CEV, or GNB and still recognize how much was added to the text.

And the places where the more mainline evangelical translations such as the ESV and NIV disagree to a large degree are important as well. They make it clear where there is significant disputes in the meaning. Or do you want to hide those difficult issues from those who do not know Greek and cannot access technical commentaries and the original text?

Problems with Point #4:

You say that I'm wrong and that you do know about F-E theory and method. Then tell me. What books have you read on the subject? Have you read Nida and Taber's The Theory and Practice of Translation Have you read Language Structure and Translation Have you read Ernst-August Gutt's Relevance Theory: A Guide to Successful Communication in Translation (which by the way, takes us beyond both Functional and Formal translation).

What books or articles on F-E translation have you read?

PuritanReformed said...

David N:

you are very welcome.

PuritanReformed said...

Mike:

thanks for your response. Let's interact with the issue point by point.

Point 1:

I will certainly dispute your assertion that the difference between lexical and conceptual interpretation is unnecessary, as we shall see.

You wrote these questions with regards to F-E/D-E:

>What does this word mean in Greek? How can we express this meaning accurately in English?
>
>What does this phrase mean in Greek? How can we express this meaning accurately in English?
>
>What does this clause mean in Greek? How can we express this meaning accurately in English?

The problem we have is when we come to the level of phrases and clauses. While it is true that "Phrase structure and clause structure convey meaning in Greek", yet the question is not about whether they convey meaning, but whether we should attempt to translate that meaning explicitly rather than to leave it implicitly within the sentence structure in the receptor language. More importantly, there is also the issue of the individual words within a particular phrase or clause actually teaching something else which translators may miss due to theological bias. I have brought up the issue of the word μαχαιρα in Rom. 13:4 precisely to show how the conceptual interpretation of a phrase ου γαρ εικη την μαχαιραν ψορει (lit. not for/because without cause the sword he wears) would create a scenario whereby a possible interpretation is lost in order for the phrase to be rendered 'more understandable' in the NLT.

>Those translations miss those things because they think words are more important than other units of meaning

The question to ask is: Is there a loss of nuance if such units of meaning is lost, or an alteration of meaning?

>Why is it that in the court of law, when they need a translator for a witness, the translator translates in an F-E style rather than a formal one? Why is it the professional translators in the UN always use an F-E style rather than a formal one?

In a court of law, UN, or any instances whereby language translation is needed, the important thing is for the meaning of the sentence to be conveyed. However, when it comes to the Word of God, are you sure you know all of the teachings of the Word of God in order to translate exhaustively the teachings of Scripture into another language? If you don't, then isn't it rather presumptious to use an F-E/D-E translational methodology, especially since the NLT's translation of Rom. 13:4 has already given us a case study whereby the meaning may not be translated well? After all, if we truly believe in Verbal Plenary Inspiration, then all the words of Scripture convey truth, and unless you can translate all the truth from the source language into the receptor language, isn't it better to leave the concept as obscure or clear as it is in the original language?

>Try a literal word for word translation of "I am cold" into German

First of all, English is a rather mixed language, and the "am" here can mean many different things. In this case, the "am" refers to the state of the person's physical feeling. So how about "Ich fühle kalt" being a Essentially literal (E-L) translation, with "Ich glaube kälte" being a more conceptual translation? [I'm assuming you are referring the person's response to the cold weather?] Such would still be lexical translation at the level of the word "am".

>I'm also amazed that you think καί is a simple word. Functional discourse markers like καί are probably the most complicated words in a language.

OK, I was thinking more of the main usage of the word και.


Point 2:

>though I would have appreciated being given the benefit of the doubt that I'm not making up new meanings for "distort."

OK, point taken. Let's see your definition.

>Definitions of "distort":
1 pull or twist out of shape.
>I was using number one, which is completely true of translation.

I don't see the need to define the word "distortion" to refer to any change no matter how minor it is. Most people understand "distort" to refer to a change which not only changes the shape or form, but do so significantly. After all, will you call an increase of 0.1% in the lengths of a square as a distortion, as opposed to stretching it 30% along one of the axis such that a rectangle is created?

So although there would be changes, the question should be whether it is significant. If it isn't, it is misleading to call it "distortion" IMO.

>That's because languages encode culture in their semantics

I agree. I can't speak for many languages, but both Chinese and especially Japanese have differing words (or rather characters) with the same meaning depending on the formality/informality of the situation or whether the address is to superiors, peers or inferiors. But I don't see how that would cause a problem with E-L philosophy. The E-L translator would find more than a few Chinese or Japanese words/phrases to choose from to convey the word he is translating. All of these choices are legitimate in the E-L system, so he is free to choose from among them based upon the context of the word.

>Passive voice - In Greek and Hebrew the passive voice is regularly used out of reverence for God - that is by using the passive voice, the Biblical authors could avoid using God's name directly and thus showing Him honor. But the passive voice is also used in a number of South East Asian languages to convey unfortunate events. Surely the mystery of the Gospel made known to Paul in Ephesians 3 is not an unfortunate event! A literal translation of the passive in Malay or Vietnamese would make for an interesting read.

I would have to ask my friends who know Malay on this, but whoever said that in E-L philosophy, we must always preserve the passive voice?

>What the man didn't realize is that in that particular language, *indirect speech* was preferred and expected for conveying information that is believed to be true by the speaker. Literal translation caused a lot of problems there. He needed Functional

F-E/D-E does not have a advantage on the issue of direct/indirect speech. Whoever said that E-L requires keeping direct/indirect speech as such? Rather, is it not the words and to a certain extent the tenses that are important?

>A translator in what was formerly Zaire (now war torn Congo) while drafting the translation of a Bantu language, proposed to the native speakers working with him a translation that simply said, "Don't steal from widows." They all laughed at him. He thought that he has simply gotten the tone wrong, so he tried to correct it, repeating himself. Now basic word order in the language is SVO, but what the translator didn't realize was that the post-verbal position was also the pragmatically focused position. While his translation was formally, word for word correct, what he was actually conveying was, "Don't steal from widows (but anyone else is fair game.)" Its a good thing the native speakers laughed at him so that his literal, word for word translation didn't make it into the final translation.

I do not know that language, but is it possible that the lexical word correspondence for that language is at fault instead? i.e. Could it be the case that the words "Do not" can be translated in the native language in at least two different ways:

1) "Do not" (but not applicable to anyone else)
2) "Do not" (absolute prohibition)
?

If that is so, the error would be an unfamiliarity with the receptor language, not support for the D-E/F-E philosophy.

Point 3:

>For one, leaving out the word sword doesn't negate the possibility of reading this verse as implying that capital punishment is valid. I thought the context made that clear...?

Really?


>but you could have put it beside the NASB, NRSV, ASV, RSV, KJV, NKJV, NIV, TNIV, NLT, CEV, or GNB and still recognize how much was added to the text.

I agree, but that's because we come with an orthodox Christian theology and presuppositions. Try removing your Christian theology and presuppositions and the most you can say is that this text (The Voice) seems to be so much different from most other translations. If you then agree with the Emergent theology, then isn't the Voice a good "translation"?

I do notice you did not mention the Message though. Putting the Message alongside the Voice would be such a blast.

>Or do you want to hide those difficult issues from those who do not know Greek and cannot access technical commentaries and the original text?

Huh?? What did you think I was advocating? Throwing away commentaries and the original text?

Point 4:

I said "I do know about F-E translational philsophy", and that was in response to this phrase of yours:

>And in fact, that term "dynamic" itself hasn't been used by translators since the 80's because the term caused so much misunderstanding for those who weren't professional translators. The correct term is "Functional Equivalence Translation."

In other words, I read this as stating that you think that I do not know the correct terminology is Functional Equivalence (F-E) instead of the older term Dynamic Equivalence (D-E). It is in this context that I state that I DO know about it [being called F-E), and the principles it claims to uphold.

So I was not at all stating that I have read much into the area of linguistics, and that was not my intent. My intent was more on this focused loci of Bible translational methodology in its historical development.

David N said...

"However, when it comes to the Word of God, are you sure you know all of the teachings of the Word of God in order to translate exhaustively the teachings of Scripture into another language? If you don't, then isn't it rather presumptuous to use an F-E/D-E translational methodology..."

This was a very helpful point for me. In the past I didn't see much of a problem with the D-E (F-E) philosophy. But then I realized that when a translator chooses an appropriate phrase to convey the meaning of a whole sentence, he is making a theological choice more than a linguistic one. This is why I would not be too quick to dismiss the distinction between lexical and conceptual interpretation.

Mike, I would consider Daniel's point about the lack of the word "sword" in the NLT more carefully. "Punish" can mean many things, and does not have to include execution. As Daniel pointed out, the only way to get capital punishment out of that verse in the NLT would be to import certain presuppositions. But the word "sword" strongly suggests some form of capital punishment (since the use of the sword implies killing, but wouldn't make much sense if talking about incarceration or rehabilitation), and thus an argument can be made based on the text alone (which is what Christians should be doing as much as possible).

Perhaps a different way of looking at things would be this: An F-E translation is perfectly fine, so long as people are aware of its general "theological bent." If your pastor reads from Romans 9 in the NIV and then tells you that this translation has a slight Calvinist bent that you should be aware of (in other words, full-blown unconditional election might not be as apparent in some other English versions), that's fine.

IMHO, if you are an English-speaker who wants to really wrestle with the tough biblical-theological questions, you need to learn Greek and Hebrew anyway. You can't simply be dependent on an E-L English translation.

Just the two cents of a philosopher (and aspiring theologian) who's very interested in language!

Thanks again to both of you.

PuritanReformed said...

David N:

>An F-E translation is perfectly fine, so long as people are aware of its general "theological bent."

I agree. I do not necessarily think F-E/D-E translations are bad to the extent that they should not be used. But for even a semi-serious study of the Word (ie Small group Bible study), they just will not suffice. Sorry to hammer on the same verse, but imagine what would happen if the topic of discussion was capital punishment and some members were to use their NLT for such a study?Or how about the relation of Israel in God's plan now if one of the verses used in that study is Gal. 6:16, of which the phrase "Israel of God" is not found in the NLT translation?

>IMHO, if you are an English-speaker who wants to really wrestle with the tough biblical-theological questions, you need to learn Greek and Hebrew anyway. You can't simply be dependent on an E-L English translation.

I agree. But in a sermon, the preacher should not have to go through the Greek and Hebrew as if the entire sermon was a lecture on interpreting the Greek/Hebrew tenses and voices in the verse. E-L translations thus fill that niche of facilitating the majority of God's people in knowing the Word of God reasonably well without having to go through theological training in order to 'truly understand God's Word'. After all, theological training with proficiency in the original languages is scarce, expensive and beset with many difficulties (ie persecution) in the Developing World. E-L translations thus would help as a good translation which can be used in training pastors by itself in areas where seminaries are hard to come by, and opportunities to study there extremely rare.