καὶ ἠνεῴχθησαν αὐτῶν οἱ ὀφθαλμοί
Obviously, not just anyone can translate this to English. The letters are different from those in the English alphabet. And we don’t know what the words mean. So, we need to find a native speaker of Koine Greek (none are still living) or someone who has studied Greek well enough to be able to able to translate not just individual words, but also knows how the words relate to each other syntactically and lexically. Our Greek scholar must also know the Greek lexicon well enough that they will know the semantic ranges of each word and any possible figurative meanings.
Speaking of native speakers, we need to find someone who is a native speaker of English so they can translate what the Greek scholar says the Greek means. Not just any native speaker of English can do translation. Greek scholars who speak English are not necessarily equipped to be English translators. It needs to be someone who has a good intuitive sense of English syntax and lexical relationships, and good English composition, so that the English translation will be expressed in a way that other English speakers can understand and will sound like native English to them. Or it can be a native English speaker who has formally studied to be a translator, trained to explicitly recognize and express English syntax and lexical relationships that they already know intuitively as a native speaker of English.
OK, we’ve found a Greek scholar who we hope has close to a native speaker’s ability to understand the Greek of Matt. 9:30a. Let’s see how they gloss the Greek words so we can begin to understand the Greek:
καὶ ἠνεῴχθησαν αὐτῶν οἱ ὀφθαλμοί
and they were opened of them the eyes
Well, that’s a start. But we don’t know how the words relate to each other syntactically. We have to find out from our Greek scholar. The English translator needs to ask them some questions. Let’s listen in on their translation session:
translator: Who or what was opened, the blind men in the preceding context or something else?
scholar: Here it is eyes that were opened.
translator: Thanks, my eyes have difficulty opening every morning when I get out of bed.
scholar: Well, that’s what the Greek says, that their eyes were opened.
translator: OK, now what does it mean that the eyes were opened “of them”? In English we don’t have an expression that something was opened “of” someone?
scholar: Well, “of them” in Greek simply means that the eyes belong to them, that is, those blind men we read about earlier in this passage.
translator: Oh, now I understand. In English we use the word “their” to indicate that something belongs to them. So let me try to make a rough draft of the Greek meanings you’ve explained to me: “And they were opened their eyes.”
scholar: Yes, that’s what the Greek says.
translator: Hmm, my rough draft still doesn’t sound like natural English to me. The English words do not seem to be in the right order. Let me try a second draft: “And their eyes they were opened.” OK, yes, that sounds better with the words in that order. But I think that “they” isn’t needed in English.
scholar: Oh? But it’s there in Greek as part of the verb.
translator: OK, but maybe I can keep that “they” idea in English without actually saying it. Let me try a third draft: “And their eyes were opened.” Yes, that sounds like good English to me. Thanks, Dr. Scholar.
scholar: You’re welcome. Are we done now? It sounds to me that you have said in English what the Greek says.
translator: We might be done. But before we wrap this up and call it a day, I was taught in my translation training classes always to check to see if any words or phrases are used figuratively, that is, not literally. I know that we can say my third draft English sentence with a non-literal meaning in English. So I need to check to see if the English non-literal meaning has the same meaning as the Greek that said “their eyes were opened.”
scholar: OK, what can be the figurative meaning in English when someone says that their eyes were opened?
translator: In English that can mean that they understood something, they grasped its meaning.
scholar: Oh. Well, I’m sure glad you told me that because that isn’t at all what the Greek means. The Greek literally refers to their eyes being opened physically. It can have that meaning, for instance, if someone comes along and opens the eyes of a dead person or someone who is sleeping. But the Greek also has a non-literal meaning for eyes being opened, that means that a person can see, visually.
translator: Wow! Both Greek and English have figurative meanings for the same literal words having to do with eyes opening, but the figurative meanings are completely different between Greek and English. It’s sure good that we got this figured out together.
scholar: You’re right. Sometimes I think I know Greek better than English now. I grew up speaking English, but my English has gotten a little rusty since I’ve been here at the university.
translator: OK, well, let’s try to nail this down, figuratively, of course! Which meaning does the Greek here have, literal physical opening of the eyes, or the non-literal meaning of being able to see.
scholar: Oh, it’s very clear in this context that it’s not talking about literal opening of eyes, but, rather, of being able to see.
translator: Thank you very much. I would have had an inaccurate translation if we hadn’t checked for figurative meanings in each of the languages we know best. In English we would never say that someone’s eyes were opened to express the idea that they could see.
scholar: That sounds good to me.
translator: OK, let me try a fourth draft translation: “And they saw.” How does that strike you, figuratively speaking, of course?
scholar: Well, it sounds right to me. I have not studied English as carefully as you have. Sometimes I forget English figurative meanings. And people tell me that I don’t speak or write English like a native speaker anymore since I’ve been studying Greek for so many years here at our university. But I know that this Greek sentence is talking about seeing. It’s sure good that we worked on this together.
translator: Right, I’m on the same page with you on that one, figuratively speaking, of course. And I sure wish I understood Greek as you do. It takes a team, doesn’t it? Thanks a million for helping me understand not only what the Greek says, but also what it means. I never could have translated that Greek sentence accurately to English without your help.
scholar: You’re welcome. Maybe we can work together another time. Bye.
UPDATE (Dec. 1): (This dialogue, of course, is only part of the translation process, dealing with what is called referential meaning, that is, what did the original text refer to, what specific action? Read Comments to this post for important reminders that there are other layers of meaning which also need to be included somehow, somewhere, in a translation.)
OK, dear blog reader, now it’s your turn. In Comments to this post, please name and quote any English Bible versions which accurately translate the Greek of Matt. 9:30a, as we have discovered its meaning in this translation session.