his powerful word

The preceding post was a comprehension exercise, checking to see what meaning we get from the Heb. 1:3 translation wording “the word of his power.” I agree with each person who mentioned that that wording sounds awkward in standard English. I don’t think that such awkward wordings should appear in Bible translations because they are not the way translation users normally speak or write. The awkwardness creates a difficulty not intended by the author of Hebrews, obscuring the intended meaning, and such obscurity is a form of inaccuracy. Inaccuracy can be created by any wording or form which prevents translation users from getting the meaning intended by an original author.

I agree, too, with those who said that “the word of his power” sounds like it is a word (or message) about his power. So what is the intended meaning of the original Greek phrase in question

τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ

It is “by his powerful word.” A number of English Bible translations get it right.

Remember that the Creator spoke the universe into existence. Obviously, it takes a powerful Creator to be able to do that. His word (or speaking) is powerful, as he is. This same Creator keeps the universe going by means of that same powerful word. What he says happens!

The Greek construction is, as others noted in the previous comments, a genitive. Genitives are often mistranslated into non-standard English forms. Far too many genitives are translated mechanically with the English preposition “of.” This is unfortunate, because such word-matching often obscures the meaning of the genitive which varies depending upon the semantic role that the genitive plays in each sentence and the context in which the genitive appears.

New Testament scholar and Greek professor, Mark Strauss, has written an important article on The Abused Genitive, a paper he presented at the 2001 annual meeting of the ETS (Evangelical Theological Society). It would do all Bible translation teams, including those translating to English, to read and digest Strauss’ paper well.

In his textbook Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, New Testament Greek scholar Dan Wallace describes the important kind of genitive which appears in Heb. 1:3 as an “attributive genitive.” It is attributive in that the genitive describes some characteristic of the noun it is modifying. On page 88 of his textbook Wallace includes Heb. 1:3 among the attributive genitives of the New Testament. English “of” is not normally used to describe the attributes of some noun. Instead, an English adjective is.

The proper way to translate τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ is not “the word of his power.” That inaccurately communicates the meaning that it is a word about his power. Instead, the proper translation is “his powerful word.” The genitive describes what kind of word the Father’s Son uses to uphold the universe. It is a powerful word, not a word of power.

If we use translation equivalents that are part of the standard syntax of a language, we can increase the accuracy of our Bible translations. Better Bibles do not use better, more natural English simply to make them easier to read, but, more importantly, to communicate God’s Word more accurately to people.

27 thoughts on “his powerful word

  1. Wayne Leman says:

    David asked:

    1. Does a similar construction occur anywhere else in the NT?

    David, I agree with Kurk that you asked great questions here (including #2). The answer to #1 is yes.

    Here are some similar attributive genitives in the NT:

    Luke 18:6 lit., “the judge of unrighteousness” does not mean a judge who adjudicates unrighteousness, but, rather, “the unrighteous judge”

    Rom. 6:6 lit., “the body of sin” does not refer to a collection of sin, but “the sinful body”

    James 2:4 lit., “judges of evil motives” does not refer to judges who discern evil motives, but, rather, “judges with evil motives”

    There are others. Exegetes try to determine by the context and common sense what kind of genitive is being used in an particular phrase. The examples above are clearly attributive genitives, I think. I personally consider the lit. “the word of his power” to be a clear example of an attributive genitive as well. “word” and “power” are not syntactic or semantic equals in this phrase. Instead, it is by means of his word that the Creator creates and sustains the universe. In addition, the author of Hebrews makes it clear that this word is powerful. Obviously, the word is produced by the Creator’s (“his”) power. But the most natural English form to express all these semantic relationships is “his powerful word”.

    Both Bob MacDonald and Dr. Dan Wallace (page 87 of his textbook) key into the fact that expressing dunamis in the genitive is more emphatic in Greek than an adjective would have been. English has a number of devices that can be used to express that emphasis that Bob and Dan correctly sense in this genitive phrase. One would be to intonationally emphasize the adjective “powerful” when writing or reading the English translation aloud: “his powerful word”. Another might be to add the intensive adverb “very”: “his very powerful word.”

    Others might be able to think of other natural English syntax which would be translation equivalents of the Greek genitive phrase of Heb. 1:3, τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ. And why does it need to be natural English syntax? Because we are translating to English and English speakers have their own syntax and semantics. Translation is supposed to express what was said (and meant) is one language to another language. It’s not fully translated to another language unless we use the words, syntax, morphology, semantics, lexical combinations, and everything else that is what constitutes that language. (I know I’m preaching to the choir on this one, David, but since you play the guitar and sing so well, maybe you can put all this to music and sing along with the choir!)

  2. Nik says:

    That was very helpful. Even if I was able to extract the meaning correctly from a less-effective translation, I would still have the distraction of another possible rendering of the phrase before me. But by translating the Greek ‘His powerful word’, any misunderstandings have been eliminated through clarification, since I can only extract one meaning for the phrase.

    Sometimes while I’m reading, the lack of understanding of the definition of one word can cause the meaning of an entire paragraph to blur. Can the same effect can be caused by phrases in less-intuitive translations?

  3. Wayne Leman says:

    Nik wrote:

    That was very helpful.

    Thanks, Nik. And welcome to this blog.

    Can the same effect can be caused by phrases in less-intuitive translations?

    Yes, and it occurs often in Bible translations. Of course, *if* the original intended meaning was to be blurred or intentionally ambiguous, we should not make the translation clearer. But there is far less intentional ambiguity in the biblical texts than there is ambiguity and fuzziness in translations of those texts. One of the biggest reasons that these translation problems occur is that there is inadequate matching of the functions of the forms in the biblical texts to forms in the translation language which have the same functions. We need more Bible translators who are especially sensitive to the range of forms available to them in the grammar of their own language. And there needs to be more training of Bible translators to help them be more sensitive to the forms in the own language and what their functions are. Such sensitivity does not come automatically for most people simply by being a native speaker of a language. It takes deliberate attention to one’s own language to detect when translation wordings do not fit the forms and functions of that language.

  4. Patrick Rietveld says:

    In other words Wayne, you don’t agree that word of power is more expressive than his powerful word as Bob MacDonald stated in a comment to your previous post?

  5. David Frank says:

    My understanding of Greek is not as advanced as that of many of the people who might be reading this, but isn’t “the word of his power” a mistranslation of τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ, plain and simple? If it were translated into English as “the power of his word,” then it would make sense to me, and I might even agree with those who see this as more eloquent than “his powerful word.” But the rendering we were discussing is “the word of his power,” and not “the power of his word.” As I see it, the biggest problem is with the placement of “his.” “His” should be modifying “word” and not “power,” shouldn’t it?

    I’ve tried to make sense of “the word of his power” by using analogy with other more familiar usages. The construction here, which I think is wrong, is the frame “the (blank) of his (blank).” Note that this begins with a definite article, and as we know the definite article in Greek is not always appropriately translated into English as a definite article. Greek and English have different rules with respect to articles. But we are analyzing the English here. And this English construction we are analyzing has a pronoun “his” that falls into the general category of possessive pronouns. So consider analogous constructions like “He got that from the sister of his friend.” This is saying that his friend has a sister. Or, “They were saved by the skin of their teeth.” This is saying that their teeth have skin. Well, it is figurative language, but that is the form of the argument, the meaning of this construction. I don’t think what is meant by τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ is that the power has word. It would be more reasonable to say that the word has power.

    I do think that you have to know what something means in order to translate it. It sounds to me like those who translated τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ as “the word of his power” didn’t have a clue what this meant, so they just provided a literal translation that doesn’t mean anything. In the process, it looks like they attached the possessive pronoun to the wrong noun. As a very minimum, I would move “his” to modify “word” instead of “power,” which would result in something like “his word of power.” That sounds unnatural, so I would then want to fix it to read, “his powerful word.”

    I see that some English translations do say “his powerful word” or something very similar (TEV, CEV, NIV). Others do what I would want to do (if allowable), which is translate it as something like “the power of his word/command” (NLT). The RSV does what I consider the bare minimum, which is to move “his” to modify “word” instead of “power”: “by his word of power.”

  6. Nik says:

    Hearing that sparked a thought about the figurative nature of parables, where the imagery of metaphor is used effectively to convey knowledge, as that compares to the way of concrete facts.

    Not to imply that the intentional ambiguity that you referred to has anything to do with biblical metaphor. What I’m getting at is…

    For example, I believe that God reveals His beauty through all of those creative lyrics that flowed through the pen of David. Which may be part of the reason why people enjoy reading the Psalms – their focus on the Lord and metaphorical charm. But, if a translator was to replace all of the figurative language with hard facts – based on their own interpretation of the meaning – the Psalms would no longer be psalms. The mosaic nature and artistry of a complex tapestry would be replaced by a logical stack of concrete blocks. And how accurate could such a concrete translation possibly be, especially if a translator was operating out of the limited abilities of the natural mind?

    but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.(1 Corinthians 2:10 NIV)

  7. Wayne Leman says:

    Patrick commented:

    In other words Wayne, you don’t agree that word of power is more expressive than his powerful word as Bob MacDonald stated in a comment to your previous post?

    Patrick, I don’t know what “expressive” means when talking about translating a Greek genitive phrase. I would think that expressiveness is a subjective evaluation, as “beautiful” is (and it is in the eye of the beholder).

    My greater concern is with things more objective, such as accuracy, whether or not we are using English grammatical forms which have the same meaning as the forms of the Greek genitive in this verse. I don’t see that this genitive can be anything other than what Dr. Wallace and a number of other Greek scholars conclude that it is, namely, an attributive genitive.

    Greek genitives have a variety of functions (meanings). By no means are they all the same. Just because there are two nouns, one marked with the genitive case, does not mean that these nouns are in apposition. In fact, I would guess that apposition is one of the least likely functions for most genitive phrases. Putting one noun in the genitive case, by definition, causes that noun to *modify* the head noun in some way. The genitival noun could be said to be subordinated to the head noun, since it has a modifying function. The job of the exegete, then, is to try to determine which of the various kinds of modifying functions any particular genitive phrase has.

    I believe that Dr. Wallace and others have correctly analyzed the genitive phrase in Heb. 1:3 to be an attributive genitive.

    Do you agree?

  8. Peter Kirk says:

    David suggested that a literal rendering of the phrase is “the word of his power”. But I would disagree. The literal rendering is “the word of the power of him”, and in Greek, with its free word order, it is ambiguous whether “of him” goes with “word” or “power”. Indeed this should probably be thought of (in a letter to Hebrews) as a Hebraic type construction in which a personal possessive at the end of a construct chain is well known to be ambiguous as to which part of the construct chain is possessed. So the meaning could well be “his word of (the) power”, which is another way of saying “his powerful word”.

  9. Nik says:

    Found a UK paper that illustrated the Greek ‘free word order’ that has been referred to. Tzanidaki took one ‘simple declarative clause’ and phrased that clause six different ways.

    http://www.langsci.ucl.ac.uk/linguistics/publications/WPL/95papers/TZANIDAK.pdf

    When it comes to New Testament Greek, are translators doing something similar? Do they list all possible ‘word orders’, then first weed out the uncommon ones? What is the next step? That is, if I’m on the right track.

  10. David Frank says:

    Peter, I had to look to see if there was some other David you were disagreeing with, because you weren’t disagreeing with me, if you understood what I was saying. I didn’t say that τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ was literally, in English, “the word of his power.” I called that a mistranslation! You were saying basically the same thing I was, only more confidently. The only reason we were discussing the phrase “the word of his power” was because Wayne cited an English Bible translation that translated Hebrews 1:3 that way. I was certainly not defending that translation.

  11. Wayne Leman says:

    Nik, even though the words in Greek sentences can appear in different orders more freely than in English sentences, there is often (perhaps usually) a reason for where the words appear. One of the main reasons is to place some kind of emphasis on one of the words. So translators don’t have to weed anything out. They just need to tune in to the reason for the word order that is in a particular sentence in a particular context, and attempt to translate that reason.

  12. Nik says:

    Thanks for your patience.

    Came across a verse in the NIV: All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace.(Isaiah 54:13)

    After studying the word order…

    example:
    “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and the peace of your sons will be great.”(Isaiah 54:13)

    The “children’s peace” possessive goes away, but the word order of the original Hebrew is respected.

    I have an issue…

    The definition of rab, translated great, expresses quantitative value(much, many, great), while one sense of shalowm, translated peace, also expresses welfare, health, prosperity. So, is there another way the second clause could be translated?

    example:
    “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and the prosperity of your sons will be great.”(Isaiah 54:13)

    Note that the preceding verse is covered with precious stones.

  13. David Ker says:

    I’ve enjoyed following this thread although I haven’t been able to contribute anything. Some of the questions I have been asking are:

    1. Does a similar construction occur anywhere else in the NT?
    2. What exactly does RHEMA mean? Louw & Nida say, “Any difference of meaning between LOGOS and RHEMA would be only a matter of stylistic usage.” But we don’t believe that now, do we?

  14. J. K. Gayle says:

    David,
    What great questions! And do the early editors and writers of this letter to Hebrews intend the the “construction” similar to, say, Aristophanes’s famous constructs? Plato (the traditionalist in “The Apology”) draws attention to the playwright’s put-down of Socrates in “The Clouds.” This play turns on the teaching tradition of Socrates the way “Hebrews” turns on the tradition of the Jews before Jesus Christ. In one little speech by the unruly horse-obsessed student Pheidippides, there seems to be a “difference of meaning between LOGOS and RHEMA” around DUNAMIS. (In the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the words packed huge and different concepts. See Edward Schiappa’s Protagoras and Logos: A Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric). Anyway, here’s a little speech of Pheidippides, as if studying under Socrates, that was so disturbing to Plato – W.J. Hickie translating. Note the contrasts, how LOGOS is the huge thing (i.e., the construct of reality, for logic); how DUNAMIS is ability in general; how RHEMA is a spoken word. These are immensely important (to the Greek philosophers and logicians) if the playwright mocks them:

    How pleasant it is to be acquainted with new and clever things, and to be able [DUNAMIS δύνασθαι] to despise the established laws! For I, when I applied my mind to horsemanship alone, used not to be able to utter three words [RHEMA ῥήμαθ’] before I made a mistake; but now, since he himself has made me cease from these pursuits, and I am acquainted with subtle thoughts, and arguments [LOGOS λόγοις], and speculations, I think I shall demonstrate that it is just to chastise one’s father.

  15. Peter Kirk says:

    Nik, you are wrong about the Hebrew word order, and NIV is correct, because the adjective translated “great” is at the beginning of the sentence. If you really want to follow the Hebrew word order slavishly, then you can have “and great the peace of the sons of you”. This sentence actually makes some sense in English, but in many cases a slavishly word for word translation does not. What you really need to look for is the best way of translating the meaning of the original, not of reproducing its form. In this case NIV has done a good job of the former.

  16. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne,
    Luke constructs the meanings a different way (in 24:19), when he’s translating into Greek the speech of the two talking to Jesus about Jesus. The prepositional phrase with “power” as the modified head noun and the different word “word” as the other noun (no genitive needed).

    ἀνὴρ προφήτης δυνατὸς ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ λόγῳ

    a prophet, powerful in word and deed (TNIV, NIV)

    a prophet, mighty in what he said and did (ISV)

    a powerful prophet in what he did and said (God’s Word)

    a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word (Message)

    a Prophet powerful in action and speech (HCSB)

    a man – a prophet strong in what he did and what he said (J.B. Phillips)

    a Prophet. Everything he said and did was powerful… (Nyland, Source NT)

    a man – a foreteller, an expert, – in what he worked and what he stated (J.K. Gayle)

    Which of these is “natural English syntax” and/or natural English lexicon?

    (My translation is trying to get at the Greek in the context of the Greek debates about rhetoric and logic — Luke uses chiasmus here, which I’m also playfully trying to replicate. And if the English is natural in the translating, then all the better).

  17. Wayne Leman says:

    Which of these is “natural English syntax” and/or natural English lexicon?

    Nyland

    The following English versions also use natural English syntax:

    He was a prophet who did powerful miracles (NLT)

    a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet (NET)

    By what he did and said he showed that he was a powerful prophet (CEV)

    He was a prophet who said and did many powerful things (NCV)

  18. Nik says:

    Peter, thanks, I appreciate learning that. And appreciate this cool blog.

    Just now noticed the NLT translation for Isaiah 53:13, I will teach all your citizens, and their prosperity will be great. What is so cool about Scripture now, the love of God is so all-encompassing that, based on Isaiah 53:13, I am understanding, based on Bible prophesy, that both peace and prosperity will be great, since both facets will be seen in the kingdom of God. How great will that peace be, and how awesome will that prosperity be?

    Some joy is bubbling up about that. Because I’m thinking, when someone greets you with shalom, they’re not just saying something like peace be with you, aren’t they also saying implicitly, may you prosper? May we all prosper by the grace of God.

  19. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne,
    Of the translations given here, only CEV, God’s Word, Message, and mine replicate the chiasmus in Luke. Natural English syntax certainly uses chiasmus. Why not translate it from Greek to natural English?

    ἀνὴρ
    (A) προφήτης (B) δυνατὸς
    (b) ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ (a) λόγῳ

    a man
    (A) a prophet, (B) a power-worker
    (b) in things done and (a) said

    A similar crisscross parallel structure is in Hebrews 1:3. But you have to read a larger section than what you gave in your post above to see it.

    In fact, Hebrews 1 begins with powerful wordplay, a kind of self-conscious, self-reflective rhetoric, in speaking about how God has spoken (in many ways, in many times, many ages ago) now more in his power in his statement in his son.

    To ignore the chiasmus (and the other elegant rhetorical devices) in the Greek is to lose its power in natural English. But, I’d say, English naturally can be just as playful and powerful because of the wordplay. No?

  20. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk, I’m going to reply in reverse order to that found in your latest comment.

    To ignore the chiasmus (and the other elegant rhetorical devices) in the Greek is to lose its power in natural English.

    Absolutely. That is why I emphasize that we need to pay careful attention to all aspects of the source text, syntax, lexicon, literary forms, etc. The “power” found in original literary forms should be retained in the target language, of course, using the natural translation equivalents within the target language.

    But, I’d say, English naturally can be just as playful and powerful because of the wordplay. No?

    For sure.

    Natural English syntax certainly uses chiasmus.

    I don’t know whether or not English does. We would need to discover the answer through research.

    Why not translate it from Greek to natural English?

    The rhetorical meanings of original rhetorical forms should be retained in translation, if there are natural translation equivalents for those rhetorical meanings in the target language.

  21. JKGayle says:

    Wayne,
    You say of natural English syntax using chiasmus: “I don’t know whether or not English does. We would need to discover the answer through research.”

    If the research won’t startle us too much, perhaps we should just start the research 🙂

    “Some people use ‘change’ to promote their careers; other people use their careers to promote change.”
    –Sarah Palin

    “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
    “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”
    — JFK

    “Those gallant men will remain often in my thoughts and in my prayers always.”
    — Douglas MacArthur

    “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.”
    “Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.” (Declaration of Independence)
    –Thomas Jefferson

    “My job is not to represent Washington to you, but to represent you to Washington.”
    — Barack Obama

    “I am stuck on Band-Aid, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.”
    — a jingle

    “Transformation-based Interpretation of Implicit Parallel Structures: Reconstructing the meaning of vice versa and similar linguistic operators”
    by linguists, Helmut Horacek and Magdalena Wolska, Proceedings of the 2006 COLING/ACL.

    “The Rhetoric and Translation of English Advertisement”
    by Xiang Xu, International Journal of Business and Management November, 2008

    “The Linguistic Features of English Advertisements”
    http://www.cqvip.com/qk/83441x/2003003/8415467.html

    http://rogersreference.com/rrfavorite_chiastic_quotes.htm

    http://www.drmardy.com/chiasmus/masters.shtml

    aka http://www.chiasmus.com/

  22. Wayne Leman says:

    Thanks, Kurk. Nice exx. of intrasentential chiasmus in English. Does English also have chiasmus suprasententially, as sometimes appears in N.T. Greek, as a rhetorical device to outline several verses?

  23. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne,
    You ask: “Does English also have chiasmus suprasententially, as sometimes appears in N.T. Greek, as a rhetorical device to outline several verses?”

    Maybe secondary research has to suffice for a blog comment. One of my linguistic profs, Robert E. Longacre, spoke of chiasmus in English language narratives; and he offers a few “paragraph” length examples of chiasms (in English) in his The Grammar of Discourse. Mardy Grothe’s Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You: Chiasmus and a World of Quotations That Say What They Mean and Mean What They Say may give some examples of suprasentential chiasma. Maria Antonietta Struzziero finds “Chiastic Trajectories of the Discourses of Love in Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping“; Stuzziero says that Winterson’s book forms “a chiastic pattern… textualized in the two narratives at the heart of the novel, that are built around the crucial opposition light/ darkness epitomized by the symbolic lighthouse and signified by the names of the two protagonists.” Lawrence Howe argues in Mark Twain and the Novel two books (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi) are each written respectively as a chiasmus. And, in his newly published research (Chiastic Designs in English Literature from Sidney to Shakespeare), William E. Engel suggests that English writers have been using chiasmata for some time to construct whole works. If the examples are true chiasma, then I think the next case to be made is that their structures are rhetorical, and are important to retain in translation.

    When novelist Alan Lightman came to my campus some time back, he talked of science writers writing to “name” and of novelists, in contrast, writing to get readers to “believe.” He said, “scientists use their heads; artists use their hearts and stomachs.” He’s quite accomplished, you know, as both a scientist writer and as a novelist. Our students in the physics department still reads his astrophysics textbooks. And his novel Einstein’s Dreams, for instance, has been translated into 30 different languages. So I asked him whether he wanted the translators of his novels to be scientists using their heads (i.e., to get precise the science of language and meaning transference) or artists using their stomachs and hearts (i.e., to go after their readers’ belief). I think Einstein’s Dreams is structured chiastically, so I couldn’t wait to hear his answer. And he did not disappoint; his answer was brilliant: “I want the translators of my novels to be both scientists and artists.” And I’m guessing he wants the Chinese translator, then, to retain rather believably the chiasmus.

  24. Mike Sangrey says:

    Wayne wrote (and Kurk responded to): Does English also have chiasmus suprasententially, as sometimes appears in N.T. Greek, as a rhetorical device to outline several verses?

    While I think there are English occurrences, I think the two languages fundamentally differ in how they use chiasmus.

    English seems to use it as a stylistic device. Greek (and Hebrew, though I don’t know Hebrew) appear to me to use it for conceptual reinforcement. As I see it, Greek chiasmus is a lot more like how English uses space and punctuation in order to construct a form so as to trigger intended meaning. Greek/Hebrew can paragraph a concept via chiasm. English uses space and punctuation to accomplish the same thing.

    Chiasm in Greek/Hebrew carries semantic content (science). In English it’s artistic. In Greek/Hebrew, the author expects the reader to match up semantics between the A and A’ in an A–B–A’ construction. I don’t see that as the case in English. In the NT, there are cases where ambiguity in the A or the A’ part is easily resolved by the observation of chiasm. That is, the meaning in the “other” part clarifies.

    Interestingly, in art (ie paintings) an artist will use various devices to focus the attention on something in the painting. The intent is to develop an impression. The painter will mute the colors in the background, put the main “point” in the center, make prominent objects larger and more expressive. Chiasm does that in Greek/Hebrew. It doesn’t really do that in English. In English, it’s color; it’s impression in Greek. 🙂 In a painting, the artistic devices form the content part. Chiasm does the same thing in Greek/Hebrew writing.

    However, after saying that, I also tend to believe that in English, chiastically constructed paragraphs and even whole discourses tend to communicate better.

    For example, “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, Tell ’em, Tell ’em what you told them.” That’s chiastic.

  25. J. K. Gayle says:

    Mike, you “think the two languages fundamentally differ in how they use chiasmus… The painter will mute the colors in the background, put the main ‘point’ in the center, make prominent objects larger and more expressive. Chiasm does that in Greek/Hebrew. It doesn’t really do that in English.”

    You are painting with a rather big brush, aren’t you? Have you read of certain Chinese writers’ protests of the over-generalizations of “Chinese thought patterns” by contrastive rhetoricians in the West? Is anyone surprised by my statement (made to ESL teachers using “contrastive rhetoric” in the US university) that the best academic English writers still employ “circular progression of argument” (i.e., “Asian rhetoric”) when writing home for money or when writing a love letter or when writing a grant? Would you say that writers of Hebrew write Hebrew chiasms differently, if many choose not to use a chiasmus ever at all? Can Paul use a chiasmus in some of his Greek letters and decide it’s not as effect in others? Are any of Paul’s chiasms at all like Plato’s? And why is Plato’s Greek so unlike Gorgias’? Can translators of English not use chiasmus the way Paul does in Greek or Moses does in Hebrew? Have you really teased out the difference between Greek and Hebrew chiasms? Can the two languages be so structurally inter-changable in your mind because you find them both in the bible, or both dead? Would a UN interpreter (natively bilingual) have to forgo or represent differently the chiasmus in, say, the modern Greek of ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, when giving a simultaneous translation of Vassilakis’ speech in English? Can’t Greek writers today translate Jefferson’s American Declaration of Independence? And how much of Jefferson’s English (chiasms and all) was a translation of some of the ancients’ Greek?

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