for a Literal Translation
Frank Neil Pohorlak, D.D. Litt.D.
ON ONE OCCASION the Jews brought Paul before Lucius Junius Annæus Gallio, elder brother of the philosopher Seneca and proconsul of Achaia. After the charge against Paul by the Jews, but before Paul could open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews that, if indeed it were a matter of wrong or wicked villainy, there was reason enough for him to hear the matter. But if there be questions about words and names and law, he was not minded to be a judge of these matters. And he drove them from the judgment seat (Acts 18:12-17).
If it be “questions about words,” Gallio refused to hear the charges made by the Jews against Paul. But “words” is what the matter is all about. Our Lord said that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word going out through the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Wiclif saw the relevancy of “with what words” in his succinct statement comprising the principles of the right study of the Scriptures.
Let us try to compile a modest consensus dealing with problems of translation. We may discover to our delight that the scales are not exclusively weighted on the side of the idiomatic and the paraphrastic, as some would have us believe.
The late Professor C. S. Lewis of Magdalen College, Oxford, without having the Concordant method in mind, nevertheless stated its system and the principles of establishing vocabulary and version in translation from one language into another. In his STUDIES OF WORDS he found that in taking students through Anglo-Saxon Middle English texts, he could not translate “a word in the sense in which its particular context demanded while leaving the different senses it bore in other places to be memorized... as if they were wholly different words” (Cambridge at the University Press, 1961, page 1). Rather, they were driven “to link them up and see, where possible, how they could have radiated out of a central meaning” ( ibid.)
This led them to realize how easy it would be to interpolate “senses later than those the author intended” (ibid.) Hence the dictionary may be consulted so that knowledge could be checked and supplemented, not derived, from the same. He very sensibly observes that “one understands a word much better if one has met it alive, in its native habitat” (ibid. page 2). We must read the ancient author to discern and discover what he meant by the words he used, instead of imposing the reader’s more modern opinion on the work we are studying.
If the reader does not guard against this propensity he will find that “his mind bubbles over with possible meanings. He has ready at hand un-thought-of metaphors, highly individual shades of feeling, subtle associations, ambiguities every manner of semantic gymnastics which he can attribute to his author. Hence the difficulty of ‘making sense’ out of the strange phrase will seldom for him be insuperable. Where the duller reader simply does not understand, he misunderstands—triumphantly, brilliantly. [Here the language is reminiscent of “In Broken Images” by Robert Graves, a poem which is worth reading.] But it is not enough to make sense. We want to find the sense the author intended. ‘Brilliant’ explanations of a passage often show that a clever, insufficiently informed man has found one more mare’s nest. The wise reader, far from boasting an ingenuity which will find sense in what looks like nonsense, will not accept even the most slightly strained meaning until he is quite sure that the history of the word does not permit something far simpler. The smallest semantic discomfort rouses his suspicions. He notes the key word and watches for its recurrence in other texts. Often they will explain the whole puzzle” (ibid. pages 4,5). As the skin rejects a foreign graft, so the sentence refuses a foreign word.
World War II may well have charted a different course if it had not been for a mistranslated word. One word, misinterpreted, may have changed all our lives. A Japanese word, mokusatu, has two meanings: 1) to ignore, and 2) to refrain from comment. A press release was prepared announcing the “no comment” policy. It got on the foreign wires with the “ignore” implication. The result was that the war did not end in July 1945, though the Emperor was ready and had the power to do it. The Cabinet was preparing to accede to the Potsdam ultimatum of the Allies. One word misunderstood, hence mistranslated, because it was misinterpreted. The renowned language expert, Benjamin Lee Whorf, wrote that “A change in language can transform our appreciation of the cosmos.”
John A. F. Gregg, in THE EXPOSITORY TIMES for October, 1930, had an article titled “Transliteration as Translation: A Study of Certain Features in the Influence of the Vulgate on the Authorized Version.” As Archbishop of Dublin, paying his respects to the value of the Vulgate for textual purposes, he nevertheless stated that “The Vulgate has in a very large number of cases intervened between the English Version and the original Greek.” He said that his concern in his paper was “with the rendering of words rather than of sentences,” and his thesis was that “owing to an inexact correspondence between many words appearing in the original Greek and the corresponding words in EV transliterating those used to translate them in the Vulgate, many notions are suggested to users of EV which have no place in the intentions of the original writers.” Later he stated that his purpose was “to show by a series of illustrations how the appearance in AV of a transliterated Vulgate word often leads English readers in a direction not precisely identical with that in which the Greek word would have led them.” He gives four examples of “Greek words whose Vulgate equivalent appears transliterated in AV, for example, Matt. 5:25 antidikos = adversarius = adversary; Matt. 9:14 mathêtês = discipulus = disciple; Matt. 10:3 telõnês = publicanus = publican; and Matt. 11:28 kopiaõ = laborare = labour.
“Such a list,” he goes on to say, “would contain two or three hundred such words, in the case of a very large number of which it would be found that there has been some deflection from the sense of the Latin word and thereby a widening of the distance which separates the English readers from the Greek writer” (pages 8, 9 and 11 respectively).
Thomas M. Donn in THE EXPOSITORY TIMES for April, 1950, had an article titled “The Gospel of Life.” His first paragraph strikes a telling blow. “A semantically correct English version of the Bible has been a desideratum for a long time, and if the new translation, which is being prepared, meets this need it will render a great service to the task of setting forth the true doctrines of Christ and the gospel. Here I seek to indicate briefly how incorrect renderings in the existing English versions continue to obscure and to some extent falsify these doctrines of which I select two only. Reconciliation and Forgiveness. In translating the Greek New Testament the sole consideration ought to be the exact reproduction of the meaning of the text and, where that is not possible without paraphrase, there ought to be notes giving the exact meaning or differing views as to that meaning, for the benefit of those who cannot consult the Greek text for themselves or the work of the most eminent New Testament exegetes” (page 216).
In his treatment of the two words selected by him for study he makes the following assertion. “…Reconciliation takes priority, so to speak, over forgiveness as the central doctrine of the gospel; but the religious world by reversing the order and generally ignoring the necessity of reconciliation altogether by identifying forgiveness with reconciliation has gravely falsified the gospel....Now forgiveness is not the very heart of the gospel: it is Christ—the reconciling Christ and Him crucified” (page 218). A study of the difference between reconciliation and conciliation would make this even clearer. These words are consistently translated in the CV and not confused with forgiveness.
Irving L. Jensen has written a book for those who, in a sense, desire to be students of the Word in an original and independent way. He titled his book INDEPENDENT BIBLE STUDY, with the subhead “Using the Analytical Chart and the Inductive Method” (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963). In his chapter “Introduction” we find the following:
Herewith we reproduce the translation of John 20:3-10 from the Concordant Literal New Testament, also called the Concordant Version (CV).
“Peter, then, and the other disciple came out, and they came to the tomb. Now the two raced alike, and the other disciple runs more swiftly before Peter and came first to the tomb. And, peering in, he is observing the swathings lying. Howbeit, he did not enter.
“Simon Peter also, then, is coming, following him, and he entered into the tomb and he is beholding the swathings lying, and the handkerchief which was on his head, not lying with the swathings, but folded up in one place apart. The other disciple also, then, who came first to the tomb, then entered, and he perceived and believes, for not as yet were they aware of the scripture that He must rise from among the dead. The disciples, then, came away again to their own.”
There are other delicious and delightfully subtle indications which make the CV richer than other versions which do not go to the limits of fidelity in reproducing the accuracies of the incomparable Original. “Lightface type is used for words (or parts of words) which have been added to clarify the meaning of the Greek, avoid ambiguous renderings, and make the English read more smoothly” (Instructions for Use, p.3). The verb functions, the signs and abbreviations, and other pertinent matters are discussed in the aforementioned “Instructions for Use” (pp.3-8). The “Explanatory Introduction” also should be read and reread until the force of the argument for the production of a literal version is felt, and the subtleties and strength of the original language become apparent. This sample seeks to show some of these.
As we turn to the passage quoted above, we call the attention of the reader to the three different words for “see.” Blepei, theorei, and eiden are respectively rendered as “observing” (v.5), “beholding” (v.6), and “perceived” (v.8). The ending —ei in both blepei and theorei is variously called continuous, incomplete, imperfect, durative, linear, the tense of proceedings and similar. We represent it uniformly in the sublinear of THE CONCORDANT GREEK TEXT by —ING. First, John is observing, then Peter is beholding, and finally, John perceived. It is good to have our attention called to this phenomenon in the Greek of John, yet how much better to have it in the literal of our Version.
A most helpful book on this resurrection section of the Scriptures is that by the Rev. C. C. Dobson, M.A., THE EMPTY TOMB AND THE RISEN LORD. Its discussion of the tomb, its form and construction, and the illustrations, make very vivid the accurate account given us by the writers of the four accounts. The eager reader can compare the discussion of renderings in the book with their treatment in the literal CV.
An attempt to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular of ephemeral jargon is seen in GOD IS FOR REAL, MAN by Carl F. Burke. The reviewer, Gordon D. Negen, writes that “the author saw that the traditional forms, imagery, and language which at best work well enough with middle-class suburban youth have little meaning for the inner-city juvenile delinquent. He listened to the kids talk and used their terminology and thought patterns to record the scriptural ideas set forth in this interesting, readable book.”
The reviewer goes on to state that “Burke is to be commended for his attempt to be relevant. He is certainly far ahead of many of us who use such concepts as sheep, vineyards, and publicans, as well as terms such as thee, thou, pottage, and licentiousness, and do not even realize that we are failing to communicate.
“But Burke is facing an almost impossible task. Whenever ‘hep talk’ is taken out of its natural context, it has a tendency to be phony; when it is put into print, it is even phonier; and when done by an ‘outsider’ regardless of how hard he tries to be inside, it borders on the ludicrous. All of this is complicated by the fact that the street language changes almost daily. Therefore, by the time a book is written, edited, published, and placed on the market, almost all of the language used in it is old-fashioned, making it an object of scorn to the young person who manages to keep up day by day” (ETERNITY, January 1967, page 41).
To be literal or not to be—that IS the question. The dialogue runs something like this: If you are too literal you are not idiomatic enough; if you are too idiomatic you are not literal enough; if you make a synthesis of both you have a hybrid hard to read. Unable to devise a transfer mechanism for the communication-event from the communicator to the communicatee, one faces a vast gulf between decoder and encoder.
There are those who insist on literal when possible. Others are equally insistent on idiomatic regardless. Yet still others demand a combination of the two, a sort of controlled idiomatic-literal, in the same version. This may be done with an interlinear that is more literal than idiom allows. Thus when idiom demands departures, the departure from the literal can be compared and controlled. But the literal sublinear is not a translation or a version. It is a tool which is not master, but is mastered by the translator.
Those who highly value knowing exactly and precisely what Scripture says are beginning to be vocal and are slowly becoming a sizable minority. For example, Stephen W. Paine has a book BEGINNING GREEK, A Functional Approach. He levels with his students by telling them that “the translation for use with the daily reading passages follows very closely the word order and primary meaning of the Greek text in order that the student may most easily see its connection therewith. Thus the translation is said to be quite ‘literal,’ and might at first thought be judged ‘awkward’ by comparison with a smooth English style.
“But this is how the ancients actually thought and spoke, and the reading of a foreign language is at its best when the mind of the reader follows most closely the thought patterns of the writer, so that he no longer keeps trying to fit the language into his own mold but follows with appreciation the mold of the languages. He then ceases to ‘translate’ and becomes a ‘reader,’ actually thinking the thoughts of the writer in the medium of the writer’s own language” (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961, page 232).
With such teachers turning out such students the future will be brighter than the past for the reader who ardently desires to know in his own tongue exactly what God says in His inspired Original. To this end the tools are being made available by the Concordant Publishing Concern and its staff as soon as is possible and practicable. Toward this goal we solicit your love and prayers and patience and support.
A book which should be better known for its valuable insights into Ephesians and its version in parallelism structure is George S. Hitchcock’s THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS. In it he says it is “fairer to English readers to present the Greek in an English form as similar [to Greek] as possible.”
Here is his thought in context: “There is another matter, which I approach with less confidence of approval, as I undertook it with less readiness of will. In rendering St. Paul’s sentences, I held it fairer to English readers to present the Greek in an English form as similar as possible. Consequently, it often appears broken, sometimes uncouth, and occasionally obscure. It would, of course, have been possible to polish the translation, as Alexandrian grammarians polished the Greek text. But the result would have had as little connection with St. Paul, as Pope’s Iliad with Homer” (London: Burns and Oates, Ltd., 1913, page 46).
He is a writer of some style and unusual insight into Paul’s heart and thought. Many of his sentences are the result of much thought and great love for Paul, who is called in his “Preface” to his commentary on Ephesians, the one who wrote a letter which can be described as “…written without controversy by the prince of controversialists“” (ibid. page 5).
Hitchcock, Doctor of Sacred Scriptures, Rome, calls it “this inexhaustible letter. St. Chrysostom stood in awe before its overflow of lofty thoughts. Erasmus recognized its Pauline fervour, depth, spirit and feeling. And Coleridge, in his TABLE TALK, confessed it one of the divinest compositions of man. Yet, even were it true of Plato’s works, that they were written for ten men in each generation, no such statement could be made for this encyclical, for we, lesser men, fretted or despondent, learn endurance and courage from this brief letter, at once the product of an hour and the fruit of a life....” (ibid. page 12). What a felicitous phrase, the last thirteen words! What a multum in parvo!
And what a change in attitude is the translation of Paul’s letter in Hitchcock’s book from the opinion voiced by Pope Leo XII in his 1824 Encyclical. Two encyclicals, Paul’s and Leo’s, and the words of the latter are as follows: “You are aware, venerable brothers, that a certain Bible Society is impudently spreading throughout the world, which is endeavouring to translate, or rather to pervert, the Scriptures in the vernacular of all nations. It is to be feared that by false interpretation, the Gospel of Christ will become the gospel of men, or still worse, the gospel of the devil.”
Again let us listen to F. W. Farrar who, in his TEXTS EXPLAINED, or Helps to Understand the New Testament, opts for the “exact rendering” (page v), for “accurate rendering of the original” (page vi), for he says that making differences arbitrarily so as to avoid monotony of the same English word for the same Greek word is unfortunate, since “monotony is force” (page 208, quoting Lightfoot). He inveighs against the “neglect of distinctions…many different words to render the same Greek words they [the 1611 version translators] sometimes (unfortunately) used the same word for different Greek words” ( ibid. page xiii ). He maintains that “exact meaning…accurate rendering of the original” alone is sufficient to guarantee the transfer of the truth to the one seeking the One Who is the Truth by means of His Word, which is truth (John 17:17).
The compiler of the CV and his staff subscribe to these statements. They are bending every effort to give to the serious and sedulous student God’s Scriptures as literally as idiom permits. Taste the CV and see if its exactitude is not more beautiful than man’s inexactitude. For this latter attitude we need a word like logocide, the wanton and senseless murder of His words by careless and apostate scholars. There are no trifles where truth is concerned, and our Version is designed to make sure that the powers of darkness do not deceive us. Hence we cleave to the literal of the Greek as far as English idiom allows.
Please sit down with the CONCORDANT LITERAL NEW TESTAMENT and, if you can read Greek, with Frederick Field‘’s NOTES ON THE TRANSLATION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1899 ). Compare what he says should be done with what we have already done. See how, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the CV agrees with the suggested changes in either reading or in rendering.
Try the same with Francis Trench and his BRIEF NOTES ON THE GREEK OF THE NEW TESTAMENT (London and Cambridge: Macmillan and Co., 1864). Here no competence in Greek is necessary. Compare with the CV to your pleasure and profit as you see how accurate and reliable your Version was translated for just such students as yourself.
Get hold of A TRANSLATOR’S HANDBOOK ON THE GOSPEL OF MARK by Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida (Published for the United Bibles Societies, by E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1961 ). Compare its suggestions and improvements with your CV and be amazed at how much is supplied to you in your Version which these scholars say you should possess. Dr. Bratcher is the translator of the immensely popular GOOD NEWS FOR MODERN MAN, The New Testament in Today’s English Version (New York: American Bible Society, 1966). If these prove to be too technical for you, try Alex. Roberts’s COMPANION TO THE REVISED VERSION OF THE ENGLISH NEW TESTAMENT, 3rd ed. (London, Paris & New York: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., n.d.).
Or you might find helpful Frank Ballard‘’s REALITY IN BIBLE READING,—The Gain to Christian Faith from Critical Accuracy in the Ordinary Public or Private Reading of the English Bible with more than Four Hundred Examples (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1924).
Let Thomas Hobbes close out this portion of our study. “Seeing that truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise truth had need to remember what every name he useth stands for, and to place it accordingly, or else he will find himself entangled in words as a bird in lime twigs—the more he struggles the more belimed” (LEVIATHAN, 1651).
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