Bible translation foundations – audience

Who should be the audience(s) of Bible translations?

What level of education should they have?

81 thoughts on “Bible translation foundations – audience

  1. codepoke says:

    What a fascinating question! Answers spring to mind from every direction.

    The Reformation set the bar for the spread of God’s word. Every person had a right and responsibility to private judgment, and that required intelligible scriptures. And the youngest child can profit from the child-level translations out there now.

    I can’t help but turn the question over in my mind, though. I’m a programmer and I know colleges are proving over and over again that 60% of students who enroll in computer majrors cannot complete them. In fact, papers are making big inroads asserting that a programming test given to students who’ve never seen a programming language can identify those 60% of students reliably before they ever take their first course.

    But the bible is not a book of inputs, outputs and consistency. It’s a book of stories, and being stories it speaks at countless levels and from every direction. It speaks to people of every possible strength – compassion, logic, poetry, details.

    And more than that, it contains admonitions for which each person is individually responsible. The Reformation taught us not to mediate another’s obedience. Each answers God, so each should understand the questions for themselves.

    In the end, I guess I’m going to go with the obvious answer, but it was intriguing running through a couple thoughts on the subject. Thanks!

  2. Theophrastus says:

    Well, of course, there is a market for different audiences. The best audience, in my view, is able to read moderately sophisticated literature because many parts of the Bible are sophisticated.

    I would think that the language of a median translation can safely be put at the level of popular recent literary authors such as John Barth, Robert Coover, Tom DeLillo, Richard Powers, and Thomas Pynchon.

    However, there is also an important niche for readers who have advanced training and require more technical translations (such as one now sees in academic commentaries such as the Anchor Bible, Hermeneia, and ICC).

    There is also a market for simpler translations for children, immigrants still learning English, and people who do not read literary English. However, given the complexity of many portions of the Hebrew Bible and the Epistles, translations for this group will less accurately reflect the original.

    Finally, because a translation is at best only a commentary on the original, and given the flexibility of computerized typesetting, whenever possible translations should be provided in diglots with classical language texts, as is commonly done in editions of poetry (such as Dante) or in the classics (e.g., the Loeb library). Many Bibles intended for Jewish audiences, for example, contain both Hebrew and English. The assumption here is that much of the audience has at least some level of familiarity with original languages.

  3. Donna says:

    I’d like to see a translation which reflects in English the different registers of the original. So Mark might be translated using the historical present typical of people with lover education; Luke would be written in a higher register and for more educated people etc.

    Unless it has already been done?

  4. EricW says:

    1. Who should be the audience(s) of Bible translations?

    2. What level of education should they have?

    1. The same audience(s) or type of audience(s) the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures were written for/to.

    2. The same level of education the listeners/readers/students of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures were.


  5. Ted Leaf says:

    Your question is somewhat like a teacher asking “who should be my student?” The answer of course – anyone who wants to learn.

    Readers come to blogs like this one to search for the “truth”, hoping perhaps we can “discover” the long lost autographs. Some may want to simply the Word to educate the masses; others may want to elevate the Word to keep it Holy.

    Education shouldn’t matter (i.e., for the “audience”) – what does matter is any preconceived notions one has – his “baggage”. Like reading the Scriptures themselves, one needs to have an open mind, and learn discernment.

    It is, after all, the love for the Word.

  6. J. K. Gayle says:

    Theophrastus, Kevin, and Donna,
    It really does seem the case that the translation makes all the difference in audience(s) and their education levels, doesn’t it?

    I’m not following what you’re saying. What if the Gettysburg Address were translated into common Indonesian that a fifth grade reader of the language might understand? How should the original and the new audiences possibly be the same? Or is the best English translation of the Sutta Pitaka really only for the religiously educated Buddhist readers of Sri Lanka? I see your smiley face which suggests you’re joking or being coy. But isn’t the Hebrew Bible originally for Jewish congregations? Aren’t the Greek letters in the New Testament specifically addressed to originally Greek-reading Jews or Jewish Greeks and therefore, as Richard B. Hays puts it, “somebody else’s mail”? Doesn’t translation (especially Bible translation produced so long after the original) necessarily imply new and very different audiences?

  7. Mike Sangrey says:

    J.K and Eric,

    Aren’t you both talking different things (apples and oranges). Eric is (I think) referring to the abilities of the original audience to cognitively process the text they read (or heard). J.K. (and Hays) is referring to what linguists refer to as ‘contextualization’.

    Wayne, I’d like to suggest something: a followup post which talks about ‘contextualization’. If you could phrase that question better than I could, then this post could not go down that tangent. 🙂

  8. Mike Sangrey says:

    I took a wild jab at a book by John Barth since Theophrastus suggested books by him would be exemplars of the level of a median translation.

    Here’s the first two paragraphs of the book Lost in the Funhouse:

    “One way or another, no matter which theory of our journey is correct, it’s myself I address; to whom I rehearse as to a stranger our history and condition, and will disclose my secret hope though I sink for it.

    “Is the journey my invention? Do the night, the sea, exist at all, I ask myself, apart from my experience of them? Do I myself exist, or is this a dream? Sometimes I wonder. And if I am, who am I? The Heritage I supposedly transport? But how can I be both vessel and contents? Such are the questions that beset my intervals of rest.

    I would like to see some comments by others as to whether they believe the above is a good level of English for a median translation.

  9. Theophrastus says:

    I stand by my evaluation — I think that fragment of Barth is somewhat less tricky as “I am that I am” from the Burning Bush or the dialogues in Job or God swearing on himself.

  10. Dannii Willis says:

    Theophrastus, can you explain what you mean by a “technical translation”?

    Also, why is the assumption that “much of the audience has at least some level of familiarity with original languages” valid?

  11. EricW says:

    One the one hand, I’m suggesting – partly joking, partly not – that translations should be written at the same comparable language level as that in which the original Scriptures were written – which could vary from book to book. Being part of a faith community for whom these texts are sacred Scripture is part of the process whereby those who are younger or less educated come to hear and know and understand the Scriptures at this education level at which they’re written/translated.

    On the other hand, with the command/commission to take this Gospel to, and make disciples of, all nations, it seems that the audience is now anyone or everyone, regardless of their connection to the people of God, and the education level they “should” have is perhaps more a matter of the education level they do have – that is, assuming that giving them the Scriptures to learn from on their own is seen as more important or practical than incorporating them into a faith family whereby they can be properly educated at the level of the “faith family” translation I suggest above.

  12. Theophrastus says:

    Well, I think my post speaks for itself, but to repeat myself:

    can you explain what you mean by a “technical translation”?

    By “technical translation” I mean a translation (including apparatus) one designed for specialists.

    why is the assumption that “much of the audience has at least some level of familiarity with original languages” valid?

    (1) Almost all educated Bible readers recognize at least some Biblical vocabulary — for example, the Tetragrammaton, key terms such as αγαπη, λογος etc.

    (2) As one’s religious training grows, one expects greater recognition. The publication of Bibles with original language tools such as Strong’s numbers, popular works (for those who lack formal training) as Mounce’s Greek for the Rest of Us, and the discussion of original languages in many commentaries show that there is clearly a demand for access to original languages.

    (3) Studying classical languages has long been the hallmark of liberal education. Thus, for example, even today copies of Gibbon’s history include footnotes in Latin and Greek that are untranslated into English — the expectation is that readers have the ability to handle them.

    (4) In many religious groups, e.g., Greek Orthodox groups and throughout Judaism, the “Bible” means the Bible in original languages.

    (5) As I understand it, virtually every respected Christian seminary teaches at least Greek and usually Hebrew — and yet the Bibles I usually see Protestant pastors using have no Hebrew and Greek. Here, the group of people who probably most frequently consult the Bible and who have had academic exposure to original languages find that most editions of their Bibles have no access to original languages.

    (6) Finally, even for those who no training in original languages at all, the presence of original languages is certain to raise their curiosity, and in some cases, even provide a first inductive lesson.

  13. Dannii Willis says:

    Theophrastus, you did not answer my question, you just restated what you said originally. How will it be designed for “specialists”? How will it be different from a non-technical translation? Who are these specialists? Biblical/theology specialists? Literary specialists? Anyone with post-grad education, whatever field it may be in?

    Your audience which is familiar with the original languages seems to be a very small group! What about intelligence but Biblically-illiterate people? What about the huge majority of people who haven’t ever studied the classical languages? It’s no longer the hallmark of a liberal education… at least not here in Australia. Why should we be taking lessons from the Greek Orthodox church of Judaism? I was just talking with a friend a few days ago who is Greek Orthodox and says he understands pretty much nothing in church. And what about the people those pastors are employed to teach? Their job is not to consult the Bible most but teach their congregations to.

  14. EricW says:

    I was just talking with a friend a few days ago who is Greek Orthodox and says he understands pretty much nothing in church.

    If he’s a Greek-speaker, I suspect his difficulty is because the Greek of the Divine Liturgy is not Modern Greek, but close to Koinê. And while I don’t know Modern Greek, I do know the Greek NT enough so that while I can’t read/understand a Modern Greek New Testament, I can read and understand The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as well as many of the Orthodox prayers.

  15. Theophrastus says:

    Dannii, as I understand Wayne’s intention with these threads, it is for people to express their opinions and not engage in debate — so please forgive me for not engaging in debate with you here.

    If you want to start a separate thread on the merits and demerits of diglots, I’ll be happy to join in.

  16. Dannii Willis says:

    We’re not discussing the merits of diglot translations, we’re discussing the validity of the assumption that a Bible’s audience will be familiar with the original languages, and as such it’s fine to discuss in this topic which is all about Bible translation audiences. I’d like you to explain how you feel your assumption is a valid one, and would remind you of guideline (1): support claims with evidence.

    You also stated that the “specialists” audience have a need for “technical” translations, and I asked for you to clarify what that means as I genuinely don’t know and would like to. Please, do state your opinion here, I’m not planning to debate it.

  17. Theophrastus says:

    If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas.

    — Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson of Texas.

    You (or some other readers) may be unfamiliar with the term diglot — a diglot contains text in two languages (in this case English and the original languages) on facing pages or parallel columns. It contains a translation, so it is certainly valid for discussion here.

    Ferguson’s misunderstanding is what can happen when we suppress the fact that the Bible was not written in English. You are undoubtedly aware of many cases of erroneous exegesis from readers who rely on English only.

    Of course, purists say — print the original language texts only. You seem to oppose printing the original languages. I take a compromise view — let’s print both. In the past, this was expensive (because of the complicated typesetting and editing) but with computer typesetting, it is easy and cheap.

    Who is the audience? Well, as I argue, those with religious education — and those who study the traditional liberal arts — will have taken classes in original languages. That’s a fairly important group. A step down from that, almost everyone knows a little Greek or Hebrew and can recognize some key words. A step down from that, those who use tools such as Strong’s numbers or commentaries can benefit. A step down from that, those who aspire to learn Hebrew or Greek may gain some value. A step down from that, at least those who have no Hebrew and no Greek can simply ignore it and feel no embarrassment when other see him or her reading a monolingual Bible.

    (On the other hand, if a reader gives primacy to the target language and thinks the source text is irrelevant or secondary, then I suppose he or she will be satisfied with a monolingual Bible. Those aren’t values I want to teach.)

    Many important texts — such as poetry; classics in Latin, Greek, Chinese, Sanskrit, Arabic, etc.; philosophy books; and other literature is printed in diglot editions. I don’t understand the desire to treat the Bible worse than we treat literature and philosophy.

    A diglot is certainly far less offensive than a “reverse interlinear” — and there are several of those that enjoy healthy sales.


    Technical translations are addressed to a specialist audience. They typically contain far more annotation and apparatus than a translation such as the NRSV. They often contain far more alternatives, and in many cases contain specialist vocabulary.

    Recall that for most translations, the footnotes and apparatus are an integral part of the translation — thus, the NRSV copyright holders forbid printing of a NRSV volume without inclusion of the footnotes.

  18. Mike Sangrey says:

    Theophrastus wrote: I stand by my evaluation — I think that fragment of Barth is somewhat less tricky as “I am that I am” from the Burning Bush or the dialogues in Job or God swearing on himself.

    To make a fair comparison (or contrast, as the case might be), though, you would have had to pick a text from a Bible intentionally written for a median audience and make the pick totally at random like I did.

    Also, I’m interested in what others think about Barth’s text. I didn’t expect you to budge.

    For me, expressions such as Such are the questions that beset my intervals of rest are anything but koine English. It has a foreign beauty to it. I’ll admit that. But, it’s not something I would incorporate into a well written speech I might give to a median audience.

  19. Theophrastus says:

    pick totally at random … koine English

    A verse chosen at random from a Protestant Bible is likely to be in Hebrew, not Greek — and the Hebrew, I would argue, is rather more sophisticated than the Greek.

  20. Gary Simmons says:

    Mike, I concur that your random Barth selection would not be appropriate for a median level audience.


    My initial opinion is that an English translation [intended for a broad audience such as the NIV] should be at written at the average reading level of someone who graduated high school. I believe this is the way you intended the question, right?

    The audience certainly should have a 12th grade understanding of grammar and literature. Since this is not the case, however, we must react to that and work with the audience where they are instead of where they should be.

    I think the proposed elements of technical translations is a tangent to this. I would not want the NIV2011 to contain a diglot or critical apparatus. As it is, most people don’t read the sparse footnotes given in the text. For broad translations, it is unnecessary to have extra pagination due to technical features. They’re intimidating, confusing, and they run up the price. (And besides, people with interlinears have the ability to impress people even though they only know enough Greek/Hebrew to misuse it (“In the beginning gods created…”). I discourage giving these tools without caveat.

    In short: the main audience to aim for is the Jane Doe who slips into church nervously at the last minute and hasn’t been to church since her parents died ten years ago. It is a mistake to idealize the target audience. Your target audience standard must be considerably lower than the standard you would hold for appointing someone as elder or deacon.

  21. Theophrastus says:

    run up the price

    Printing diglots may slightly increase costs, but price is largely determined by an oligopoly of English-language Bible publishers. Most publishers are for-profit enterprises. The largest English-language Bible publisher is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News corporation).

    Even some non-profit Bible publishers charge high royalties. This is especially true of the German Bible Society, which holds the intellectual property rights on the NA27/UBS4 — the most widely used version of Christianity’s foundational document.

    I suspect those high royalties are the true reason why diglot New Testaments are relatively rare.

  22. J. K. Gayle says:

    I think the value of a diglot also is illustrated by Mikhail Epstein’s wonderful ideas on “INTERLATION VS. TRANSLATION: STEREOTEXTUALITY.” Epstein begins to show how a diglot “doubles the benefits” for those who can read in both languages (i.e., the source and the target) together. And he asks,

    “Can an idea be adequately presented in a single language? Or do we need a minimum of two languages (as with two eyes or two ears) to convey the volume of a thought or image?”

  23. Gary Simmons says:

    I don’t doubt the value of diglots, etc. The issue is whether that should be a standard feature of the Bible that congregations have in the pew. I say no; it’s not appropriate for the target audience.

  24. Theophrastus says:

    Well, Gary, I think you will have your wish. Not only do pew Bibles today not have access to original languages, we’ve set up a situation where almost no Christians have access to original languages. Instead, Christians can content themselves with translations such as the NLT that are, at best, very dim reflections of the original language texts. Protestants can base their personal beliefs and theology on books such as that they read in translations that have only a loose connection with the original. Avid religious readers can praise the merits of the Bible while forgetting that fact that a casual stroll through the bookstore will reveal no shortage of books (even no shortage of translations) that are better written than their Bible translations.

    Unless I’m missing something, there are only two diglot editions with the NA27 (I am talking here about a true diglot, not an interlinear) in print today: a version with the RSV and a version with the NET Bible that is so obscure that it is actually impossible to buy on Amazon. (There are, if you hunt long enough, diglots with Westcott-Hort or Textus Receptus; but those are truly obscure, and they certainly aren’t the versions that Christians generally use to translate today, are they?) What does it mean when it is far easier to find a diglot edition of Dante (of which there are about a dozen in print) than a diglot edition of New Testament?

    Now, just to put this in perspective: guess how many diglot editions of the Apostolic Fathers there are? That’s right — there are two in print: the edition by Holmes and the edition by Ehrman. (If that’s not enough for you, the edition by Lightwood and the edition by Lake are both readily available used). Bonus: the Apostolic Fathers texts have more pages than the diglot New Testament. Double Bonus: the Apostolic Fathers texts are cheaper than New Testament diglots. In other words, the current state of Bible publishing has made a secondary text, such as the Apostolic Fathers, more available to readers in the original and translation; and for less money, than it does its primary text.

    (Now, maybe you might think that print books are irrelevant, because no reads Bibles anymore — they just use Bible software. But that doesn’t seem to be true — there is no shortage of interlinears being spewed out, despite their evident exegetical and pedagogical disadvantages. Rupert Murdoch’s Zondervan recently published no fewer than three new interlinears, all as print books (not software), all edited by Mounce father and Mounce son, one based on NLT/TNIV, one based on NASB/NIV, and one based on KJV/NIV.

    [Actually, William Mounce’s interlinear translation in these editions is rather interesting in a number of ways as a type of “technical translation”, but I’ll reserve that discussion for another post sometime.]

    In addition to these three interlinears, both Zondervan and Crossway have both recently published “reverse interlinears” — perhaps the only type of book that can make interlinears look good. So there is certainly a demand for original language books — not just software. Unfortunately, what we get is monstrosities like interlinears and reverse interlinears.

    So, where do we stand now? Most Christians cannot directly access their Scriptural texts, but need to rely on intermediaries to present it to them. The situation is so grim that it is actually rather difficult (and expensive) to buy translations that present the Greek and Hebrew equally with the English. (There are at least 20 Hebrew-English diglots that I am aware of, but all except one were designed primarily for Jewish readers.) New translations such as the ESV and HCSB seem to have been designed not to try to improve access, but rather to further divide the Bible reading audience among confessional lines.

    I think that we could do a much better job of teaching original languages, or using original languages, and finally, (coming back to the them of my posts) of making original languages available along with translations. And I don’t see why that is in any way a threat to Biblical translation — as J. K. wisely reports above, when a reader reads both the original and a translation, she gains greater insight to the text.

  25. EricW says:

    In addition to these three interlinears, both Zondervan and Crossway have both recently published “reverse interlinears” — perhaps the only type of book that can make interlinears look good.

    I suspect that reverse interlinears were designed with Bible software in mind, and only came out in print editions as a prelude to being the big feature they are in, e.g., Logos 4.

  26. Theophrastus says:

    No, I don’t think so — I am unaware that Zondervan’s reverse interlinear appeared electronically — and Crossway’s reverse interlinear appeared in print after the electronic version was released.

  27. Gary Simmons says:

    Let’s remember that the original audience was 95-97% illiterate. Even though the first-century hearers could speak Greek, not many people in that time period had the privilege of actual literacy. So, while they may have had access to the original language(s), they did not have literacy as we do today.

    And as far as I know, early Christianity did not make literacy of the masses a high priority. The Christian tradition, by and large, seems to prefer translating for non-Greeks rather than forcing them to learn Greek. And for illiterate Greeks, the tradition apparently is to read aloud to them rather than spending years teaching them to read aloud themselves. [Now that we have punctuation and spaces between words, this is a more accomplishable goal, I admit.]

    If we are to follow that tradition, let’s focus on making an English translation and not setting expectations that might be daunting to the average unchurched person, such as having a foreign (dead) language on the other column of every Bible page. Most people can’t tell Greek letters apart from Hebrew, anyway.

    While I would like to see literacy in the original languages become more commonplace, we cannot make it a necessity. It is counterproductive for us to undermine the value of English translations. After all, the New Testament did not mind quoting the Septuagint, itself not a perfect (or even uniform) translation. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, he did not bring up the issue of textual fidelity in the Samaritan Pentateuch about whether to worship in Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim. Instead he pointed to the real Goal (and logical direct object) of worship.

    Also, I’ve seen way too many people only half-trained in Greek/Hebrew think that with their Strong’s Concordance they actually have a voice of authority on the matter. The illusion that having an interlinear makes one an expert is already enough to cause the spread of misinformation (“In the beginning, gods created…”). Because original language access gives (the false impression of) authority, it must be given to people in a careful and responsible manner. Widespread use of diglots, I think, would not be a responsible manner and would only lead to even more errors stemming from ignorance. There’s a good thread on this right now over at Theologica. A small classroom setting is the most appropriate way since it allows constant interaction with an instructor.

    So then, in summary: I still believe that more general translations should target the average new-to-church person who, let’s hopefully assume, has the level of education of an average high school graduate (that being 8th grade grammar currently, right?). The widespread use of diglot would be altogether inappropriate for this purpose, and perhaps even counterproductive. Most people aren’t used to columned text in multiple languages. It’s just freaky to those without the privileged education we few possess. We must be sensitive to this.

    It is of great benefit for churches to sponsor or create programs to increase general literacy, and then also teaching the basics of biblical Greek and Hebrew. If I were in charge, however, I’d make the class focus on learning English grammar just as much as teaching Greek grammar/vocabulary.

  28. Theophrastus says:

    No, that’s wildly off. The literacy rate in Rome was around 20-25%, but in the patrician class (well represented in the recipients of the Pauline epistles) it was closer to 90%. Among Palestinian Jews, the literacy rate was well over 50%.

    In any case, we can tell from actually reading the actual text of the Pauline epistles, or Jesus’ parables, or most parts of Hebrew scriptures, is that they were difficult. They were not easy reading. In many places, their meaning is still obscure today (various theories, both simple and complex, exist — but it is safe to say that on many points there is no broad consensus).

    The composition of the Koine of the New Testament may not be as elegant as the Koine of Plutarch, but the actual content is much harder to understand and deal with. (In the same way, if you look at a graduate textbook in mathematics, you will find the syntax and grammar quite simple, but you hardly expect an elementary school student to understand it.)

    And, of course, neither Hebrew nor Greek are dead languages — they have both evolved from their classical forms, but they are very much living (and, indeed, contemporary students in Greece and Israel study the Biblical texts as part of the continuous development of their language — much as I recall reading Middle English Chaucer in my high school English class.) I would hardly expect anyone who had completed high school geometry to fail to be able to recognize Greek characters — and that’s quite a low threshold.

    Further, those with more education are likely to be more influential (and thus serve as teachers) to those with less education. They are also more likely to have actually read their Bible with education.

    The status quo today fails Christians miserably. When I talk to undergraduate students from strongly religious Christian backgrounds today, they often fail to understand even basic Biblical references — even after a decade of simplifying translations such as the NLT and NIV. Of course, developing translations for those with less education or less intelligence is still important, but it should never take place at the expense of better educating those who have the ability to handle the texts.

    It is evident that our society clearly does a better job of teaching students and adults about Dante than it does teaching them about the Biblical texts. This suggests to me that Bible translators have something to learn from the Dante translators.

  29. Theophrastus says:

    I do agree with you that interlinears are bad for many reasons. However, bad exegesis is just as easy to do (even easier) with English than in Greek or Hebrew. Were I to apply your standard (let’s restrict reading of the original languages until the reader can read with total comprehension) to English then almost no one would be allowed to read any Bible translation (you point out that most of the readers you want to reach don’t even know English grammar, for example.)

  30. Mike Sangrey says:


    I think Oscar Wilde has summed up your position quite well:

    The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.

    Irony, like death, is sweet, unless you don’t get it.

  31. Theophrastus says:

    Curiously, it is claimed that Oscar Wilde’s quote was referring to the reception of his Lady Windermere’s Fan. But, in the end, it seems that Wilde’s play was a great success — it has been made into a film five times, was adapted by Noel Coward into the musical theater piece After the Ball, and has been shown over and over again in theaters.

    It seems that some great works are really above the head of some members of the audience.

    For me, the voice of Bible education as it is practiced today is Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who co-sponsored a bill to require the display of the Ten Commandments in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Stephen Colbert’s interviewed Rep. Westmoreland and asked him to name the Ten Commandments — needless to say, he could not. (Can your Bible students?) So much for Biblical literacy.

  32. Mike Sangrey says:

    It seems that some great works are really above the head of some members of the audience.

    Yes. Much like Jesus’ parables–obvious to some, hidden to others…ὅτι οὕτως εὐδοκία ἐγένετο ἔμπροσθέν τοῦ πατρὸς.

  33. Theophrastus says:

    Forgive me for not joining in the insult game.

    I remember this from somewhere.

    והיו הדברים האלה אשר אנ כי מצוך היום על-לבבך ושננתם לבניך

    What is on the heart? הדברים האלה אשר אנ כי מצוך היום — not “some other words” commanded by “some other person” on “some some other day”.

    And what is the commandment? שננתם לבניך How could anyone possibly object to that?

  34. Mike Sangrey says:

    Nothing to forgive.

    The insult taken was not an insult intended. I was intending something much more.

    It is quite interesting how an audience reacts when it believes it’s being spoken down to.

    And how do we do that? One way is to produce a translation which an audience thinks is childish, one below them as it were. Sometimes the issue here is with the audience; however, I’m going to focus on the nature of the translation itself–the content is simply weak. The other way is when the linguistic nature of the translation is beyond their grasp and they’re told there must be something wrong with them. Both ways are insulting.

    The key for any communicator, and a translator is one of these, is to know the audience. Isn’t that the first rule of quality communication?

    I completely agree there needs to be translations you’ve called ‘technical’ (I’ve called them ‘analytic’). There is a small, but important audience that needs this type of translation. And there are many that need the type of people who make up this audience. They need this audience to have access to this type of analytic translation. I know I would benefit from such translations in the hands of those skilled to use them.

    But, please, don’t be so dismissive of the vast majority of people who make up a significantly larger audience. They speak and read normal English. They don’t read Dante. Many don’t even know who Chaucer is. Shakespeare’s plays are melodious but elude them. Translations for these normal people are in no way at an alleged lowest level of translation (I’ve called this translation type ‘synthetic’). This large and important group of people can and should have an accurate translation. And there is no linguistic reason (or other, for that matter) to convey to them that an accurate translation is beyond their grasp.

    These are two different audiences. These are two different types of translations. Each type of translation is difficult to produce well and each can be linguistically accurate. Both groups are to be respected and valued for their contributions. One group is not better than the other.

  35. Theophrastus says:

    These are two different audiences. These are two different types of translations. Each type of translation is difficult to produce well…. Both groups are to be respected and valued for their contributions. One group is not better than the other.

    I agree with the quoted remarks. But I do think that those who can handle more advanced translations should have (a) have access to them; and (b) should aspire to read them.

  36. Theophrastus says:

    On of my favorite New Testament editions of the last few decades is the Oxford Precise Parallel New Testament. This was a simple octapla parallel edition with UBS4 (no textual apparatus), NIV, NRSV, NAB, NASB, Amplified, and two historic translations: KJV and Rheims (Challoner).

    How useful this is! (Except, perhaps, the Amplified edition.) It connects Greek with English and it connects translations: historic with contemporary, Greek with English, Catholic with Protestant, formal with dynamic, Alexandrian with Byzantine. Just seeing these versions against each others is incredibly useful. (I’m not fond of the Amplified Bible, but the others are all useful.)

    This is not an edition for scholars (remember, no textual apparatus); it is an edition for “regular people” who are passionate about reading the Bible in its various forms.

    Now undoubtedly, there are some people for whom this is not a useful edition, but I truly think that most college-educated Christians would benefit from it (even if they have no Greek). I do not think this is a book that offends audiences.

    Sadly, this edition — as with many Biblical resources for the passionate reader — is out of print.

  37. J. K. Gayle says:

    “These are two different audiences…. Both groups are to be respected” … I agree with the quoted remarks.

    How are you reading the Amplified Bible as not as useful as “NIV, NRSV, NAB, NASB, … and two historic translations: KJV and Rheims (Challoner)”? Are the Lockman Foundation’s claims about the Amplified Bible inaccurate?

    “It is a translation from the accepted Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts into literary English. It is based on the American Standard Version of 1901, Rudolph Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica, the Greek text of Westcott and Hort, and the 23rd edition of the Nestle Greek New Testament as well as the best Hebrew and Greek lexicons available at the time. Cognate languages, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other Greek works were also consulted. The Septuagint and other versions were compared for interpretation of textual differences. In completing the Amplified Bible, translators made a determined effort to keep, as far as possible, the familiar wording of the earlier versions, and especially the feeling of the ancient Book.”

    Doesn’t “Frances Siewert (Litt. B., B.D., M.A., Litt. D.) … with an intense dedication to the study of the Bible” show well by her amplified translation “a familiarity with the Bible, with the Hebrew and Greek languages, and with the cultural and archaeological background of Biblical times”? Hasn’t she produced a useful translation that can reach both of the audience types that you and Mike agree are important audiences, even “those who can handle more advanced translations”? The Lockman Foundation gets at the intended access to and the ability to “handle more” for the target audience(s) of the Amplified Bible: “Through amplification, the reader gains a better understanding of what the Hebrew and Greek listener instinctively understood (as a matter of course).”

    Is this really not so useful?

    והיו הדברים האלה אשר אנ כי מצוך היום על-לבבך ושננתם לבניך

    “And these words which I am commanding you this day shall be [first] in your [own] minds and hearts; [then]

    You shall whet and sharpen them so as to make them penetrate, and teach and impress them diligently upon the [minds and] hearts of your children… “

  38. Mike Sangrey says:

    I’ve struggled with the ‘Amplified Bible’. But I’ve wondered if my struggle is not so much with the fact of the lexical amplification. As a tool in the toolbox, that can be helpful. As J.K. quotes: “the reader gains a better understanding of what the Hebrew and Greek listener instinctively understood.

    However, what I think bothers me is the Amplified Bible doesn’t tell the reader (or tool user, as it were) what skills are necessary to use the book. Without this knowledge, the average person (not having a sufficiently substantial understanding of lexicology generally and lexical semantics specifically) falls into something akin to Carson’s “illegitimate totality transfer.”

    μακάριος, for example, becomes “happy, enviably fortunate, and spiritually prosperous–possessing the happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His grace, regardless of their outward conditions.” Is that word, even in that context (Mat. 5), that expansive? Imagine talking like that with a co-worker while getting that second cup of coffee in the morning. “That’s some pretty good coffee could take five minutes.

    This translation method is still word-focused translation, it amplifies original words. It doesn’t synthesize larger units into the destination language. That is not its intent. So this is not to fault its analytic use. It’s to point out that an analytical skill is required to use the tool.

    And that brings me to the second of Wayne’s questions.

    If there are two audiences (perhaps more), what skills are needed by these audiences? What expectation should the respective translations have regarding the skills of those who read them?

    I suggest that the one audience (the more analytic) is the easier for which to develop a list. But, because of the nature of natural language and communication, describing the skill set of the other audience is much more difficult. Saying, “they need to able to read,” doesn’t quite cut it. The “ability to comprehend a paragraph” comes closer; but, what is (or are) the skill(s) required to do that?

  39. J. K. Gayle says:

    Thanks Mike. Matthew’s beatitudes really are a tough read in the Amplified Bible. But I don’t think the Amplified all the time and everywhere is unduly focused on the individual, original “word.”

    The gospel of John’s opener is “In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.”

    The Greek phrase “ο λογος” is tricky, and the Amplified actually closes down its meanings to “Christ.”

    And what Jesus cries out on the cross in Mark and in Matthew is, respectively, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?–which means, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me [deserting Me and leaving Me helpless and abandoned]?” and “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?–that is, My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me [leaving Me helpless, forsaking and failing Me in My need]?”

    Here the Amplified ignores the Hebrew Aramaic speech and focuses instead on the clause as translated into written Greek.

    And Judges 12:6a is this:

    “They said to him, Then say Shibboleth; and he said, Sibboleth, for he could not pronounce it right.”

    Notice how there’s no literal or metaphorical translation of the individual Hebrew word שִׁבֹּלֶת.

    But as for tools for the reader, the punctuation with the various meaningS listed is the clear guide for the audiences of the Amplified Bible. It’s not just a “word-focused translation, [in that] it amplifies original words [only].” There is the readers’ need to “synthesize larger units” by sifting through rather unrestricted choices in many cases and places in the passages of the Amplified Bible.

    Which translations if not the Amplified Bible, in your view, do “tell the reader (or tool user, as it were) what skills are necessary to use the book”?

  40. Theophrastus says:

    The Amplified Bible is wildly inconsistent in its approach (compare Matthew to Job) and sometimes inaccurate, making it an unreliable tool. It is also insensitive to literary quality. Its multiple translations point towards a particular theological interpretation; it presents these not as alternatives but rather as combined meanings (see Isa. 7:14, for example).

    Note that the use the parenthesis and brackets is optional in many such instances, and the use of italics inherited from the ASV does not extend to Siewert’s many, many, many interpolations.

  41. J. K. Gayle says:

    Thanks, Theophrastus. You and Mike do point to problems with the Amplified.


    Elsewhere in the conservation above you say:

    “The literacy rate in Rome was around 20-25%, but in the patrician class (well represented in the recipients of the Pauline epistles) it was closer to 90%. Among Palestinian Jews, the literacy rate was well over 50%.”


    “Of course, developing translations for those with less education or less intelligence is still important, but it should never take place at the expense of better educating those who have the ability to handle the texts.”

    I like how Jorma Kaimio calls the patrician Romans “bilaterally unilingual” (in The Romans and the Greek Language).


    better education, it seems to me, is something that includes not only learning to read challenging translations of the original biblical texts but learning to read the original texts of the Bible also. (Better education, historically, has come through the example and the urging of those for whom the original languages matter. Sometimes it’s the silenced plebians in spite of the patricians who would attempt to police language:


  42. Theophrastus says:

    You have interesting theories, J.K. Since you speculate on the education of Julius Caesar, I’ll simply point out that:

    We have more diglot editions of Caesar’s Gallic War than we have of the NA27.

  43. Theophrastus says:

    I’m interested in Bibles that the Penguin Classics audience could read.

    Excellent. I’m good with that too.

    Because Penguin Classics publishes an edition of Dante — and it’s a diglot (ISBNs 0140448950, 0140448969, 0140448977). Penguin Classics publishes a Koran too — also a diglot (ISBN 0140445420). Penguin Classics publishes an edition of Vallejo — also a diglot (ISBN 0143105302). Penguin Classics publishes Neruda — also a diglot (ISBN 0142437700). Penguin Classics publishes Cid — also a diglot (ISBN 0143105655). I regularly use Penguin anthology of French poetry — also a diglot (ISBN 0140423850). Their similar anthologies of German and Spanish poetry are temporarily out of print — also diglots (ISBN 014058546X, 0140585702). Penguin publishes Racine — also a diglot (ISBN 0140445919). Penguin (not classics) publishes some great collections of German stories — also diglots (ISBNs 0140020403, 0140041192, 0140265422); and of French stories — also diglots (ISBN 0140265430, 0140023852); and of Spanish stories — also diglots (ISBN 0140265414, 0140033785, 0140025006); and of Italian stories — also diglots (ISBN 0140265406, 0140021965). I’m sure a casual search will turn up even more.

    But Penguin Classics doesn’t always publish diglots — sometimes they publish pure translations and sometimes they stick with original language texts. For example, Penguin publishes an edition of Chaucer too — and I’m happy to say it is in the original Middle English — no attempt at translation into Modern English (ISBN 014042234X). I highly recommend it.

    Best of all, Penguin Classics does publish a Bible — ISBN 0141441518. It is the New Cambridge Paragraph edition of the King James Bible (edited by Norton), and it includes the full KJV Apocrypha. True, it is not a diglot, but it is a fine translation. Perhaps BBB readers will wish to buy one for the 400th anniversary next year. And you and I are on the same wavelength here — the KJV is the level I would like to see Bible translations at too.

  44. Dannii Willis says:

    Good job at missing my point. I wasn’t actually aware that Penguin Classics publish diglots, but even though they do, that’s not what sells.

  45. Alaric says:

    I would humbly like to make a comment on this discussion. I’m 15 years old and am a christian living in the NW United States. I have decent grasp of the English language and am home-schooled. I do not understand biblical Greek or Hebrew. I would love to learn them and aspire to be a theologian some day. I do not think the majority of my contemporaries would see the need for a diglot. Neither would the majority of the adults I come in contact with, though they have college degrees ranging from Associates to Doctorates, at least as there main bible. If anything it would scare some off. What is the point of translation if no one will read the translated work? The KJV has been slipping in readership for years now because most people even have a hard time comprehending even it’s language. I would point to the examples of how the apostles fulfilled the Great Commission. First I would point out Onesimus, a slave. I doubt the man was literate, but Paul or some other Christian saw fit to preach him the gospel. Paul obviously valued him just as much in his ignorance as Luke in his knowledge. But the example I think truly applicable is that of Pentecost. Everyone there heard the apostles telling of the mighty works of God in there own tongues. I think this is the example for translation. We SHOULD have diglots and scholarly translations, but not at the expense of the preaching of the gospel to the world. The Great Commission does not say make disciples of all the learned, or even all those who aspire to learn Greek.

    “Of course, developing translations for those with less education or less intelligence is still important, but it should never take place at the expense of better educating those who have the ability to handle the texts.”

    I would have to disagree, if there was only the possibility to have one translation, I would rather it was simple enough for someone with a minimal education could understand the words themselves. As long as the educated person could still gain the knowledge necessary for salvation.

    Please forgive me if I am being ignorant in my opinion. I would love to be corrected so that I can see what is wrong with my statements. God Bless.

  46. Mike Sangrey says:


    Thank you for speaking up!

    Jesus spoke about the right attitude when it comes to Bible translation when he said to his leadership team, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” [NLT, Mark 9:35]

    In Greek, that’s:
    εἴ τις θέλει πρῶτος εἶναι ἔσται πάντων ἔσχατος καὶ πάντων διάκονος

    Or, if I anglicize it:

    For me, there’s two important observations that translations of this sentence don’t usually bring out:
    1. The emphasis on the word ‘everyone’ (PANTON). You can see the word is repeated in the original.
    2. The word DIAKONOS (translated ‘servant’). I’ve understood this word to carry a strong sense of ‘facilitator’. So, the key idea is not “a person who does what they are told.” The key idea is “one who enables others to do what God has called them to do.” He or she facilitates others’ actions. In a Biblical context this, of course, would be moral action.

    In God’s view, the more highly capable a person is, the larger group of people the person should enable. That’s the focus of a truly great person.

    You have that focus. Don’t loose it!!

    “If you’re someone who wants to be first, be last to everyone, be an enabler to everyone.”

    If that means enabling a little child to follow Jesus, then what higher calling is there? (see verses 36-37) I think your mom and dad have been quite successful. My wife and I homeschool our six children, though 3 have now gone on to college, one on his way this fall, and two youngsters to go. I pray they all continue to have your focus.

  47. Mike Sangrey says:

    I should have added, Alaric, that in my opinion, I think you’re right on the money. 🙂

  48. Wayne Leman says:

    Alaric, I agree with you. I don’t think the audiences for very many of the books of the Bible were very well educated or, even without a formal education, literate or having an above average vocabulary. The audiences, instead, were ordinary people. I think sometimes we get the idea that people need to be educated or erudite to read (or listen to, which was the case most of the time for the audiences of the biblical texts) to read the Bible in a special kind of high register literary English. But I believe that this is a mistaken idea based on the love so many have (including myself) for the English translations which came out of the Elizabethan English period (including that of the KJV). But this neglects the fact that English, like every other language, is always changing, and has changed significantly since 1611 and earlier. Each stage of change of English has its different registers and degrees of sophistication. I think that we need to use current English (the biblical writers, on the whole, did not write in outdated dialects of the biblical languages) of a matching register and genre to that of the particular biblical text we are translating. Some biblical passages truly are “high and lifted up” and we need to use English that makes us feel that we are in Isaiah’s sandals before the Almighty One. But most of the biblical books are written in language that is neither dumbed up nor elevated. It’s simply decent quality common language, acceptable to the ears of royalty, housewives, carpenters, fishermen, rabbis, and slaves. “Common language” is not dumbed down language. It is not street slang. It’s simply the kind of language which you used to write your comment and which I’m using to write mine, and which most others who hang out (colloquialism alert!) here use when commenting.

    Thanks for your comments. Sometimes I wonder if I’m contributing anything positive as a blogger toward helping others better understand Bible translation principles that reflect language and societal realities. I get discouraged by a lot of push-back here in blog comments against basic translation concepts that are taught by well educated and highly experienced professors and mentors and that have served me well in actual translation practice for decades. Your comments helped me feel that the effort to try to communicate these principles is worthwhile.

  49. Alaric says:

    @ Mike. Thank you, I’ don’t feel quite so silly posting that now.
    @Wayne. I’m glad I could help. 🙂

    @Theophrastus. I do not want you to take me the wrong way either. I personally use the ESV and KJV for study, I also wish that that Oxford parallel you described was still in print, I would love a copy for my study. I do not like the NLT or anything less literal in a formal equivalence sense than the NIV and TNIV, but I’m glad that the NLT, NCV, CEV, and others exist for those who need them.

    Are there any other literal versions other than the NASB which I plan on getting that any of you guys would suggest I look into?

  50. Theophrastus says:

    But most of the biblical books are written in language that is neither dumbed [down] nor elevated. It’s simply decent quality common language

    You’ve made an assertion that is flatly contradicted by the actual testimony of early readers and the text as we have it.

    The story is different for the Greek and the Hebrew.

    The Greek-speaking opponents of Christianity of the Greek New Testament viciously attacked the barbaric Greek of the Bible. One finds contemptuous allusions thought the writings of Celsus (2nd century), Porphyrius (3rd century), Hierocles (3rd century), and Julian (4th century). These writers spoke the Greek of the era far better than we did — they hardly considered the language as “decent quality.”

    We know this also from the defensive front put up by the Fathers of the Church, who generally acknowledged the differences between the New Testament and contemporary literary works. They gave theological justifications for the low language — according to them, it was chosen so that the whole world, without exception, could understand it, claiming that the Christian message is directed to all men, regardless of distinction of culture or social class. For example, see Isidore of Pelusia (Δι ο και η Γραφη την αληθειαν πεζφ ηρμηνευσεν, ινα και ιδιωται και σοφοι και παιδες και γυναικες μαθοιεν), or Jerome, who appeals to the Romans using Greek neologisms in Latin, although the difference between Latin and Greek is less than that between Hebrew and Greek. Origen, in Contra Ceslum (1.42) argued that if the apostles had used the rhetorical and dialectical devices of the Greek, they would have given the impression that Jesus founded a new school of philosophy. Jerome says that the broken language instead proves the force of persuasion comes from a superior (divine) source.

    The simplicity of the NT Greek is defended over and over again by the Church Fathers, in “die christliche Unfähigkeitstopik” — they inevitably crow about not using the elevated rhetorical language in favor of the simple language of Scripture — although when we see their actual writings, they subsequently themselves use the sophisticated figures of literary language.

    In short, we see from those from the first few centuries following the founding of Christianity, both from the opponents and the advocates, a realization that the Greek of the NT was unnatural to native speakers and far beneath the form of literary works of the day.

    In the case of the Hebrew, the story is quite different. We of course lack a broad corpus of works with which to compare the Hebrew of the Bible. Nonetheless, the internal structure of the Hebrew indicates a finely developed literary structure — making the Hebrew Bible most likely the national library of the early Hebrew speakers. Many works, such as Job, or Songs, or Psalms, are especially elevated.

    In any case, it can hardly be denied that the content of the Bible is a hard, hard read. While one can mechanically apply a certain theology to understand the epistles, it is not at all obvious that an average man on the street, bereft of any theological training, could reasonably deduce a particular theology. The works of the NT so violently contradict each other that Martin Luther, for example, felt it necessary to assign no fewer than four books (Hebrew, James, Jude, and Revelation) to a NT “apocryphal appendix”. Luther’s approach was not followed by mainstream presentations of the Christian Bible, but it is hardly straightforward for experts to resolve both James and Romans as scriptural belief, for example. This is not something that a typical reader of Scripture can expect to resolve with a casual reading. In most cases, English translations “help out” the reader by pre-interpreting particular passages in the Epistles in a way that favors the theological biases of the translators.

    Your words echo the bitter denouncement that the King James translators gave to the Rheims Bible (from the 1611 Preface: we have shunned the obscurity of the Papists, in their AZIMES, TUNIKE, RATIONAL, HOLOCAUSTS, PRAEPUCE, PASCHE, and a number of such like, whereof their late Translation is full, and that of purpose to darken the sense, that since they must needs translate the Bible, yet by the language thereof, it may be kept from being understood.) Nonetheless, it represents a disconnect from the actual Greek text.

    To summarize:

    * Non-christian contemporary readers of the NT mocked it for its poor grammar and absence of literary elegance.

    * The Church Fathers defended the NT language as appropriate for the broadest possible audience, although they themselves wrote in literary language.

    * The Hebrew Bible appears to be written in highly elevated language throughout.

    * Thus, the conclusion that either the Greek or Hebrew Bible was written in decent quality common language appears completely unjustified.

  51. Theophrastus says:

    Alaric — You’ll find a lot of similarity between the KJV, ESV, and NASB, because they are all part of the same Tyndale translation tree (as are the RSV and NRSV).

    It sounds like you are most interested in literal, conservative Christian translations. Some of my friends like reading the HCSB, which is not part of the Tyndale translation tree but which is still a conservative translation.

    As you read more, you’ll come into a range of broader translations. The REB is a nice starting point — but it is not as literal as some of the translations you are now reading, and it is a “mainline” translation. You may want to check with you pastor first.

    Happy learning!

  52. Theophrastus says:

    I should also mention the NET Bible, which has a nice set of study notes, but is still a fairly conservative translation.
    Wayne Leman was specially named for his many helpful corrections to the English of this translation. You can download it for free here — or if you look around the, you can buy a printed a copy from the Store.

  53. Mike Sangrey says:

    In short, we see from those from the first few centuries following the founding of Christianity, both from the opponents and the advocates, a realization that the Greek of the NT was unnatural to native speakers and far beneath the form of literary works of the day

    Yep. And that was exactly Wayne’s point.

    We see a difference in register between the “language of the academy” and the koine. Those in the one group, whether for or against, tended to view, and therefore voice, their assessment of the koine as a lower form of language. From their view, that makes sense. From the perspective of the audience of the NT,however, the koine is simply normal language–not street, not slang, just normal. In my opinion, it’s normal language masterfully written to the ‘normal’ (statistical use of normal) person of the day.

    Their assessment reminds me of John Locke’s introduction “Epistle to the Reader“, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding where he consciously chooses to write to a specific audience, a more average one. He appears to apologize for using a register that would be “necessary to make what [he had] to say as easy and intelligible to all sorts of readers as [he could].

  54. Theophrastus says:

    It wasn’t just that the Greek was written in a common style; the 2nd-4th century critics found it ungrammatical and full of unfamiliar neologisms and words — in that way it was not “normal.”

  55. Theophrastus says:

    And, I also think it is safe to say that it easier to follow John Locke’s argument than it is to find Paul’s argument.

    Paul’s logic is not easy to track even if we consider his letters in isolation; as we consider them with Hebrews and James, the challenge gets tougher.

  56. J. K. Gayle says:

    the 2nd-4th century critics found it ungrammatical and full of unfamiliar neologisms and words

    I admire Alaric’s 15-year-old desire for education. It’s not unlike Jesus’s young desire. So how can an educated man, say David Rosenberg, get past the allegedly bad Greek of the Jews who wrote what we know as the New Testament? I’m reading his An Educated Man: A Dual Biography of Moses and Jesus; from the get go (pages 4 and 5), Rosenberg says:

    “The most familiar facts concerning the historical Jesus are scattered among the various books of the New Testament. The same may be said for the life of Moses…. However it happened, most of the details about the early lives and education of these [two] remarkable individuals are missing…. Nevertheless, I found an inner correspondence between these primary Biblical lives hidden in plain sight.”

    Rosenberg’s book is on “the complex education that each man would have needed if the profound reports of their existence are to be believed.”

    The points I want to make, in this 21st century, are these:

    1) What Moses gained from Egypt by way of his early education allowed him to contribute, in direct ways perhaps, to the literature we have today as Torah. And what Jesus gained from Moses, likewise and furthermore, acknowledges what Hellenistic Jews did with Torah translation in Alexandria, Egypt. In addition, Jesus’s Jewish-Hellenist-Egyptian influences — from age 12 no less perhaps — encouraged the Jewish writings that were Christ-ian or/ and that led to Christianity.

    2) In the 21st century, we do well to pooh pooh “the 2nd-4th century critics” with a healthy and humble hermeneutic of suspicion. They sound like Plato (and Plato’s Socrates) and Aristotle denigrating the bad Greek of their adversaries. Yes, the sophists allegedly used Greek that was “ungrammatical” and, like women, the poets and playwrights threatened to mislead the masses with their clever “unfamiliar neologisms and words.” Similarly, we today need not let Martin Luther so easily get away with his re-formation of the canon of the Church. He like so many men establishing their power used textual criticism for his own ends. And what a text Luther leaves us with. What an anti-Semitic text! How can we so quickly forget that he urged his German colleagues not only to reduce the Greek scriptures but also to reject the Hebrew of the Hebrew scriptures? Luther says:

    “Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style… [O]nce he understands the Hebrew author… [then the German reader already] has the German words to serve the purpose[; therefore,] let him drop the Hebrew words, and express the meaning freely in the best German he knows… to make Moses so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew.”

    3) If somehow we cannot stomach postmodernism and deconstructionism (and being suspicious of the power of various interpreters), then do we need to reject outright the cleverness of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and the other Jews using Greek? Yes, I know. We don’t need to call them “Jewish” necessarily, but clever L2 writing is not restricted to the writers and translators of the Greek New Testament. Lolita, in English, has been accused of worse things than either Luther or the “2nd-4th century critics” accused the NT of; and that was before the Russian author Nabokov decided he needed to translate it into his mother tongue. Phillis Wheatley’s poems were so different from anything any Fulani speaker had ever produced (much less anything ever written by an African-language-native-speaking mere slave, a mere female, and a young one at that) that a court was convened to get to the bottom of things. We could go on and on with the wonders of the non-native writings of so many (as do researchers such as Steven G. Kellman). The Hellene of the New Testament is as marvelous as any “translingual” text ever produced. In some ways, many, it excels Aristotle’s “good Greek.” Educated men and women through the centuries, like David Rosenberg, have seen this to be the case.

  57. Mike Sangrey says:

    And what is ‘grammatical?’

    Doesn’t that question (being addressed here) for the English language apply to the original language, too?

    I think it was no one less than NT Wright who said we know more about the language and culture of the 1st century than those only a couple centuries removed from it. I wish I had the reference. I think it was the Romans in a Week series he did at Regent.

  58. Theophrastus says:

    And what is ‘grammatical?’

    Doesn’t that question (being addressed here) for the English language apply to the original language, too?

    I think it was no one less than NT Wright who said we know more about the language and culture of the 1st century than those only a couple centuries removed from it. I wish I had the reference. I think it was the Romans in a Week series he did at Regent.

    All of those are excellent points. My point was simply to say that the account of Isidore of Pelusia, who seems to hold the same view of you, was not a consensus opinion in the early centuries after the founding of Christianity.

    In other words, I think we can agree:

    (a) Koine is distinct from Attic.

    (b) Within Koine there were more literary versions (example: Plutarch) and less literary versions (example: New Testament).

    My additional points are that:

    (c) Koine uses particular forms and vocabulary (often called Semiticisms) that make it unnatural for Greek readers of the era — thus it was not exactly “the language of the common man.”

    (d) Even if it is translated into simple English, the content of the Epistles are often hard to follow and to reconcile. This makes me think that the belief that the NT Epistles — by themselves (without a teacher or written guide) are accessible to all regardless of education or background is not realistic.

    Finally, if I recall Wright’s remark correctly, he was speaking of Augustine, who was born later, wrote in Latin rather than Greek, lived in North Africa at some remove from Jerusalem and Rome (and during the disintegration of the Roman Empire), and whose background was initially pagan and then Manichean.

    I agree that we can form our own views about New Testament separate from those of contemporary observers, but an assertion that the NT was written in “decent quality common language” is not obvious and demands proof.

  59. Theophrastus says:

    J. K. — I agree that we can form our own opinions. My point is that the frequently repeated bromide that the NT was written in “common language” has not be proven — we need to prove it.

    I personally regard, Mark, for example, as a high point in Greek literature. But it is not at all obvious to me even that Mark was written in the “language of the people.” The best contemporary observers we have suggest otherwise.

  60. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne, You write: I get discouraged by a lot of push-back here in blog comments against basic translation concepts.

    What you may read as “push-back… against” might be efforts to develop basic translation concepts more. Shouldn’t we also get discouraged that Pike’s translation and language concepts are generally ignored today by Bible translators? I’m not saying that there aren’t many who still reminisce about tagmemics but that there is virtually no one in translation of the Bible that teaches the robust theory or uses it in practice. I, for one, find the conversation you start here rather important, for all of the different perspectives and ideas. Your series on “Bible translation foundations” have been just fantastic for that. You aren’t just attracting the pedantic commenters in the dialogue; but you aren’t wanting to leave out intellectuals or the variously educated either, are you? There is a good bit of listening from and by those (of us?) who might be perceived as pushing back. You do have your own opinions and your own goals for this blog, and I do hope you might be encouraged at the challenges and the diversities of insights.

    Theophrastus writes, My point is that the frequently repeated bromide that the NT was written in “common language” has not be proven — we need to prove it.

    I get that, Theophrastus. My read of Wayne’s comment was that “common” language could be sophisticated language, rich stuff. Not sure he’d differ from you on Mark’s style of Greek writing. But I do think simple labels like “common” tend to be simplistic and lend to the broad stroke painting of the NT as something rather pedestrian in a singular, monolithic sort of way. Willis Barnstone has done a wonderful job of getting to the writerly voices in much of the Greek of the NT. And David Rosenberg has done a fantastic job of making us think about the writers as people, as educated humans doing brilliant things with language. (Just yesterday, I read the Epilogue to his A Literary Bible: An Original Translation and was stunned when reading his answer to a question he was asked: “What do we have to lose by not knowing the authors [of the Bible]?” I’m not going to give it away to anyone who wants to read it, but Rosenberg is brilliant. A hint of his answer is that the authors are very distinctively different, albeit common, people (using language differently, if in common) that we lose a lot by not knowing them. What’s koine if we can’t make educated comments about it? And if persons won’t back up their opinions with proof, then I agree with you that we do well to talk about this more.

  61. Dannii Willis says:

    Theophrastus, do you know of any first century authors who have commented on the quality or grammaticality of the NT Greek? I wouldn’t consider those writing centuries later to be “contemporaries”.

  62. Mike Sangrey says:

    Referring to Deissmann and also the work by James Moulton, George Milligan writes:

    So far from the Greek of the New Testament being a language by itself, or even, as one German scholar called it, “a language of the Holy Ghost,” it’s main feature was that it was the ordinary vernacular Greek of the period, not the language of contemporary literature, which was often influenced by an attempt to imitate the great authors of classical times, but the language of everyday life, as it was spoken and written by the ordinary men and women of the day, or, as it is often described, the Koine or Common Greek, of the great Graeco-Roman world.

    That, then, is Deissmann’s general conclusion, which quickly found an enthusiastic and brilliant advocate in this country in the person of Dr. J. H. Moulton. And though the zeal of the first discoverers of the new light may have sometimes led them to go rather far in ignoring the Semitisms, on the one hand, and the literary culture of the New Testament writers, on the other, their main conclusion has found general acceptance, and we have come to realize with a definiteness unknown before that the book intended for the people was written in the people’s own tongue. Themselves sprung from the common people, the disciples of One Whom the common people heard gladly, its writers, in their turn, wrote in the common tongue to be “understanded of the people.” [emphasis mine]
    , The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, editors: Moulton and Milligan.

    If there’s a “definiteness“, then wouldn’t the burden of proof rest on the one trying to disprove what has been commonly accepted almost from its presentation nearly 100 years ago? If I understand you, Theophrastus, correctly, you disagree with Deissmann. This is certainly your perrogative. And, I might add, it is helpful to each generation to review the proof. But, it seems to me that a statement such as, “[m]y point is that the frequently repeated bromide that the NT was written in ‘common language’ has not be proven — we need to prove it.” is a bit too strong, to say the least.

  63. Theophrastus says:

    Since the gospels weren’t even completely written in the 1st century, it would certainly be quite a trick to find someone who commented on their grammar. When do you believe the Gospel of John was written?

    Mike, I did read both of Deissmann’s works Bibelstudien and Neue Bibelstudien. However, as you are undoubtedly aware, since 1895, our study of Koine has developed quite a bit. I could give you a long list of scholars who disagree with Deissman, but it seems that one voice would suffice here — we only need to look at Moulton’s posthumously published grammar!

    Since you are undoubtedly familiar with this valuable resource, just open your volume 3 (edited by Nigel Turner). You’ll find there, on page 4 (I’m using the 1963) edition the definitive statement by Turner that Biblical Greek, as a whole “is a unique language with a unity and character all its own.”

    Check it out.

    In other words, Deissmann-Moulton is so outdated that even his own editors correct him.

  64. Dannii Willis says:

    90-100AD is the common date for John. I think Celsus was the earliest of the critics you mentioned, and he still would have written maybe 80 years later, and he was probably from Egypt, and not Asia Minor which the majority of the NT was addressed to.

  65. Theophrastus says:

    OK, I’ve always learned that the fourth gospel dates from 90-110 CE.

    We cannot date Celsus since his work only survives because Origen wrote a rebuttal, but the best estimates are 161-169 CE (another estimate places it at 177-180 CE). Eusebius mentions Celsus, as I am sure you are aware.

    The pagan Celsus showed a familiarity with Jewish works, frequently quoting especially from Genesis but even from works as esoteric (today, at least) as Enoch.

    The claim that he is Egyptian is not known — the general belief I’ve seen (although without definitive proof) is that he was Roman. He had a wide knowledge of Judaism and Egyptian customs, but given the cosmopolitan nature of Rome, this would have been easy to accomplish. (In any case, to exclude Egypt from Koine is to exclude Josephus and Philo, and would be an unusual position.)

    Now, it is true that we have no immediate reaction to the gospels — Christianity was still a relatively minor sect in 100 CE, and there is little contemporary note of it. And moreover, it is not as if Celsus could order a copy of the New Testament on Amazon. He’s the best we have, and he certainly influenced Tertullian, and he was certainly influential enough that Origen felt compelled to write a rebuttal.

    Furthermore, the Christians who did comment on the literary status of the New Testament all post-date Celsus.

    However, for the sake of argument, suppose I accept all of your assumptions. Then something is very strange indeed since the New Testament, in less than a century, is considered barbaric in grammar, while other non-Biblical Koine texts were not.

  66. J. K. Gayle says:

    We could quote and form our opinions all day based on secondary sources, early and recent. But what about our perceptions with respect to the primary sources of the extant Greek texts of the NT? The question of this post is on the English translations’ audiences and their education levels. And I wonder if it helps if we’d just read some of the Greek of the NT to show how marvelously educated the original authors sound.

    Here’s some, for example:

    Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι
    ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις
    π’ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμιν ἐν υἱῷ,
    ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων,
    δι’ οὖ καὶ ἐποίσεν τοὺς αἰῶνας:
    ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης
    καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ,
    φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματα τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ,
    καθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος [ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ] τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς,
    τοσούτῳ κρείττων γενόμενος τῶν ἀγγέλων ὅσῳ διαφορώτερον παρ’ αὐτοὺς κεκληρονόμηκεν ὄνομα.
    (Hebrews 1:1-4)

    Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλ
    πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν:
    πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
    πολλὰ δ’ ὃ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
    ἀρνύμενος ἣν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
    (Odyssey 1.1-5)

    Now compare these with the barbarisms of James 1:2-5.  Here also, I’ve bolded the text to show the alliterations, the rhythms, the near rhymes, reinforcing the message, the point, of the Palestinian Yaakov to his audience of dispersed, Hellenistic Jews:

    Πᾶσαν χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε, ἀδελφοί μου,
    ὅταν πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις,
    γινώσκοντες ὅτι τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν•
    ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ ἔργον τέλειον ἐχέτω,
    ἵνα ἦτε τέλειοι καὶ ὁλόκληροι, ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι.
    Εἰ δέ τις ὑμῶν λείπεται σοφίας,
    αἰτείτω παρὰ τοῦ διδόντος θεοῦ πᾶσιν ἁπλῶς,
    καὶ οὐκ μὴ ὀνειδίζοντος, καὶ δοθήσεται αὐτῷ.

    Similarly, there’s Mark’s and Matthew’s ironic inventive Greek imperative: μετανοεῖτε. The one puts the word in the mouth of Jesus, while the other one has John the Baptist first using the word, lending it to Jesus whom he precedes but follows. It’s not just the riddling here, not only the ironies of the narrative contexts, but it’s also the Greek encoding the ironies in literary ways that is just fascinating, absolutely clever!  What “koine”!

    Likewise, there’s Paul’s co-opting of Aristotle’s λογική (not λογικός, and especially not mere λόγος) when addressing Jews and Greeks in Rome.  There’s Luke’s having Paul speak rhetorical Greek in Athens (in the NT book of Acts), as a rhetorician among the Greeks.  There’s Paul’s wordplay in the letter to Philemon, the contrasts between the different Greek “loves,” the plays on imprisonment and freedoms, on slavery and brotherhood, on the very names Philemon and Paul and Onesimus, with their Greek meaningful meanings.

    Then there’s Paul’s neologistic play on his Jewishness when writing to Hellenes and Hellene Jews in Philippa, Greece.  He says

    Βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας,
    βλέπετε τοὺς κακοὺς ἐργάτας,
    βλέπετε τὴν κατατομήν·

    Then, while talking about the Jewish male body mark, he makes the rather Aristotelian albeit wordplayful contrasts: 

    ἐν χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ,
    καὶ οὐκ ἐν σαρκὶ

    And, in this same self-effacing deconstructive context, he coins the Greek word σκύβαλα. This neologism is reminiscent of something Agamemnon cries out in Homer’s Odyssey, of something Zeus complains to his wife in Homer’s Iliad, and of something Homer’s Helen mourns about herself.  But more immediate for Paul and his audiences, likely, is the allusion to the argumentative and rather persuasively rhetorical dialectic between the Greek woman and Jesus. Mark has him saying:

    βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις

    and has her replying (outwitting Jesus no less) with native speaker Greek:

    τὰ κυνάρια ὑποκάτω τῆς τραπέζης

  67. J. K. Gayle says:

    I meant to say, too, that Paul and his Greek-reading audiences in Greece may also be reading the LXX. Perhaps they are reading Mark’s gospel, and the dialectic between Jesus and the Greek woman in which her rhetoric wins out. But we should give literary credit to another Jesus, the son of Sirach, and to his grandson, who purportedly translated the Hebrew Wisdom of Sirach into Greek. The salient lines, of course, in Greek are:

    Ἑν σείσματι κοσκίνου διαμένει κοπρία,
    οὕτως σκύβαλα ἀνθρώπου ἐν λογισμῷ αὐτοῦ.

    Notice the chiasmus but notice the word Paul uses (the one that Mark’s Jesus hints at when talking with the Greek woman):


    Again, despite what every other secondary source critic might say, I say What koine!

  68. Theophrastus says:

    I don’t dispute the use of alliteration in the NT, and as I have remarked elsewhere, I have been particularly impressed with Doug Campbell’s recent arguments connecting the literary structure with semantic meaning in his The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans 2009).

    However, a specific enumeration of examples, since there have been monograph length expositions of this, would overflow the reasonable length limits of a comment. Perhaps I could most conveniently offer to reproduce any portion of Turner’s examples; see, for example, his lengthy Appendix to volume two of Moulton’s grammar “Semiticisms in the New Testament”; alternatively his “Grammatical Insights into the New Testament.”

    I have these works in electronic form, and am happy to cut and paste as required (and there are literally hundreds of pages of examples), but I feel that I would be fighting a straw man — even you, J.K., have favorably quoted Barnstone’s opinion that the most of the NT shows indication of having been translated (presumably from Aramaic or other Semitic languages). How would Barnstone have formed that opinion without a similar analysis of Semiticisms?


    This however, raises an additional point that challenges the traditional view that the New Testament is accessible to all in the right translation. Throughout the New Testament are many frequent references to Jewish practices in the Second Temple period. Most Christians are ignorant of these (to indicate very basic examples that show up repeatedly in the NT, how many Christians know what a mikvah is, for example, or what tzitzi are)? Good study Bibles can fill in the gaps, but study notes are of course extra-Biblical.


    What does sola scriptura mean? I’ve understood it to mean that the Biblical texts provide the authority for Protestant faith; not that any man or woman off the street will necessarily be able to understand them. Thus, Luther was a Professor of Bible (and he found the Bible sufficiently obscure that he felt obligated to write volume after volume after volume of commentary). And even such a genius as Luther had difficulty reconciling the NT books; he ended up going against Nicea and suggesting that Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation were apocrypha.

    Even the populist Westminster Confession of Faith takes a middle line here, pointing out that much of Bible is inaccessible, although it says the central dogma is clear:

    All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

    Therefore — even within Evangelical Protestantism — I do not find it a restriction to assume a high level of education for those who wish to read the Bible carefully.

  69. J. K. Gayle says:

    The genius of sola scriptura isn’t just the province of Luther or lutheran reformers. And I don’t think it precludes, but rather it has to presuppose, the need and even the grand desire for “volume after volume after volume of commentary.” Everyone can read for herself or himself what Luke translates Jesus as saying:

    Ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τί γέγραπται;
    Πῶς ἀναγινώσκεις

    Barnstone reads that (and translates it into English) as:

    What is written in the law of the Torah?
    How do you read it?

    And, yes, Barnstone has a fair amount to say about the Semitic voice of Yeshua and about the Semitic Hellene of his translators (namely the writers of the gospels).

    This voice is calling another back to the Hebrew text. And yet there’s a call to subjectivity. What? How?

    That’s genius. The words never stand alone. Sola Schmola!

    So you bring up “what a mikvah is, for example, or what tzitzi are.” What! But how? How, after a Christian may come to recognize the “what,” will she or he come to “read” or “interpret”?

    This is my issue with you, or anyone in this comment thread, constantly hiding behind secondary sources. Yes, I know, we will have to be here all day, and have to read more than we can possibly paste in to the comment box, read more of the Greek, more of the koine, to come to our own conclusions.

    But this is the interpretive nature of text. Sola scripture requires human interaction, with the text(s). And interactions between us too.

    “Everyone has a definition for such terms as ‘Old Testament’ and ‘Covenant’ in their heads,” says David Rosenberg. But he laments: “Everyone has a definition for such terms as ‘Old Testament’ and ‘Covenant’ in their heads, in most cases superficial or even unconsciously patronizing.”

    And Rosenberg goes on:

    “They’re just words, but they are the kind that can block empathy. Dictionary or glossary definitions [i.e., secondary sources of meaning] often fail to suggest the reasons for misunderstanding.”

    This is helpful stuff, I think, so please humor me. Rosenberg also brings us, like Luke’s Jesus does when we read him, back to Torah:

    “‘Thou shalt not murder,’ for instance, seems simple enough, and yet, because there are exceptional contexts and interpretations of murder that always arise–in war, for one, or in self-defense–even this commandment must be interpreted and reinterpreted, in law and in cultural terms.

    ‘Commandment’ is probably not the most accurate translation of the Hebrew. In terms of covenant between two parties, human and God, these are the Creator’s ‘requirements’ of human beings.”

    Rosenberg goes on to talk a good bit more (in An Educated Man from which I’m quoting) about the Creator’s side of the covenant. But, as compelling as Rosenberg is, to me anyway, I still get to (perhaps have to) read the text for myself. And lest I think translation is lost, or the Hebrew is only lost in translation, I realize that translation is all I have, with the Hebrew I must read for myself. Can we read W. H. Auden differently when he asserts that To read is to translate? And haven’t many more said this, and don’t all of us have to figure this out for ourselves?

    I think the real troublesome thing is one that you, and Rosenberg as I’ve quoted him, allude to:

    there are many dogmatic mis-statements (some making men of straw too) about the nature of biblical Hebrew and translational Greek and what and English translation can, must, should do that (with the goal of making it “accessible to all in the right translation”) renders it “superficial or even unconsciously patronizing.”

  70. Theophrastus says:

    Ad fontes!

    I’m the first in line to back up that cry. Ad fontes was the genius of sola scriptura. A translation is merely a secondary source. Ad fontes! Apparently, ad fontes is controversial, as few here think that including original sources with translations is desirable or even useful for most people.

    However, I do not necessarily agree with you that it is necessary for me to duplicate the research done by others. It is simply enough for me to verify it. Thus, if Turner has developed a comprehensive list of semiticisms in the NT, it is not necessary for me to ignore it and form my own list. It is merely sufficient for me to verify that each of Turner’s examples are, in fact, semiticisms. Indeed, it even suffices for me to take a random sampling of Turner’s claimed semiticisms and verify those, and on that basis make an extrapolation about the reliability of Turner’s list.

    But that’s not the direction in many comments here, or in Wayne’s mandate. Wayne hypothesis a typical 2nd century reader of the NT, and wants us to approximate that reader’s experience as much as possible in the context of a 21st century English reader. I challenge that on several points:

    (a) I challenge the assumption that a 2nd century reader could easily understand the NT;

    (b) I challenge the assumption the actual 2nd century readers of the NT were random residents in the Roman Empire; rather I assert they had a high degree of familiarity with Jewish practice (and many 21st century readers do not);

    (c) I challenge the assumption we can even come close to simulating the experience of a 2nd century reader — (I think even for a fluent Koine reader the experience is hard to simulate); and

    (d) I challenge the assumption that the 2nd century reader understood the text better than we do today.

    So, I say, ad fontes — let us go back to the sources, and examine them for ourselves. I stand with Erasmus:

    Sed in primis ad fontes ipsos properandum, id est graecos et antiquo.

  71. Theophrastus says:

    Turner’s division of Semiticisms is by vocabulary, semantics, and style.

    As a brief summary (but one that only mentions a few examples, as opposed to Turner, who attempts to give a more comprehensive list) here is the entry in the AB Dictionary (vol. 5, 1996) (I apologize in advance for doing this in a rush and not properly formatting it):

    SEMITICISMS IN THE NT. A “semiticism” (or “semitism”) in the NT is an aberration of language or style which suggests influence, direct or indirect, of Aramaic or Hebrew upon the Greek. The category includes elements of diction which (1) deviate from known Greek usage so as to conform with natural Aramaic or Hebrew idiom or style, or (2) though attested in Greek are relatively more frequent in the NT, possibly because they happen to coincide with normal Aramaic or Hebrew use.


    A. Introduction
    B. Identification of Semiticisms
    1. Linguistic Criteria
    2. Dialect Models for Aramaic and Hebrew
    3. Aramaic or Hebrew?
    C. Types of NT Semiticisms
    1. Lexical
    2. Syntactic
    D. Interpretation


    A. Introduction

    The detection of semiticisms in the Greek (or Latin) texts of certain noncanonical works (e.g., 1 Enoch) led scholars to posit Aramaic or Hebrew originals for them, and in a number of cases Semitic originals were subsequently discovered. The better a Greek translation of a Semitic original, the harder it will be to detect as such: only stray traces of the Semitic prehistory may remain. Translation need not be the only explanation of semiticisms: bilingualism would give many similar effects. Both possibilities must therefore be kept in view.

    It has also been fashionable to look for another cause of NT semiticisms: imitation (conscious or unconscious) of the Greek style of the LXX. While this may have been a factor, it is of little explanatory help except where the semiticisms in question (1) reflect biblical Hebrew idioms, (2) occur with fair frequency in the LXX as we have it, and (3) are not allusions to some specific OT passage. (Septuagintisms in the gospel of Luke are discussed by Fitzmyer Luke I–IX AB, 114–18.) A subtler variant of this explanation is that the NT author involved may have sought to impart realism to his work by making his characters speak the kind of Greek which his prospective readers might recognize as “Jewish.” But that still means that the semiticisms need to be noticed as such. Such theories really relate to the manner of composition of a writer and tend to presuppose what they seek to prove. Interpretation of semiticisms should follow, not precede, their identification.

    The essential problems of the semiticisms of the NT are thus how to isolate and identify them, and how to interpret them.

    B. Identification of Semiticisms

    1. Linguistic Criteria. The Hebrew and Aramaic texts from Qumran, Masada, Murabba˓at, and Naḥal Ḥever, along with coins and inscriptions, reveal that in the first two centuries C.E. (and probably earlier also) Aramaic, Greek, and two types of Hebrew (akin to classical and Mishnaic Hebrew respectively) were in use in Palestine. The vital role of Aramaic in the language and life of Jesus and his early followers appears from the various transliterated Aramaic words and sentences attributed to him or to the early church in the NT, usually followed by a Greek translation or explanation. Examples include Talitha koum (i) (Mark 5:41), ephphatha (Mark 7:34), abba (Mark 14:36 = Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6), and eloı̄ eloı̄ (or: ēli ēli Matt) lama sabachthan (e)i (Mark 15:34, Matt 27:46 = Tg. Ps 22:1a). It is natural that Jesus should have uttered his cry of distress on the cross in his native language, and that he should have addressed the comatose daughter of Jairus in hers (Wilcox 1982:470, 476). Hebrew words also occur. Among these is hosanna (Mark 11:9, 10; Matt 21:9; John 12:13; Did. 10:6; cf. Ps 118:25), while korban (Mark 7:11) may be either. These tiny scraps of evidence give valuable clues to the type of Aramaic (and/or Hebrew) spoken by Jesus and his circle, but they do not mean that he or they spoke only Aramaic or only Hebrew.

    The linguistic data thus favor the presumption that the influence of Aramaic (and/or Hebrew) upon Greek is reflected in at least some parts of the NT. This presumption will be all the stronger where the material or traditions in question appear to have emerged from circles in which Aramaic or Hebrew was the native language.

    However, a particularly intractable problem is that of knowing just what was not grammatical in Greek. Many expressions once thought due to Aramaic or Hebrew influence have been traced in the nonliterary Greek papyri and other sources more or less contemporary with the NT. However, even if an apparent semiticism in the NT does happen to coincide with an expression attested in such Greek material, that does not mean that in its NT context the linguistic element involved is not a semiticism. In some cases the Greek of the papyri may have been affected by another local language, such as Aramaic or Coptic (Lefort 1928:152–60; DBSup 3:1353). But then some of the NT material or its basic tradition did in fact emerge from Aramaic- or Hebrew-speaking circles. However, where an apparent semiticism does turn up in the Greek papyri, it is probably wise to allow it no more than a supporting role in the argument, and then only where Semitic influence in the NT context is indicated on other grounds.

    Next, the fact that Biblical Hebrew was in use in the NT period means that apparent “septuagintisms” must be examined carefully, for they may indeed be genuine cases of Hebrew influence after all. The use of the term “Heaven” in Luke 15:18, 21 as a substitute for the Divine Name can hardly be a septuagintism, while the language of Luke 1–2 has striking links with that of 4Q246 and related texts (Fitzmyer 1979:93). Expressions like kai egeneto (= Hebrew wyhy) and en tō with the infinitive are very frequent in the LXX; although basically Hebraisms, they may, in the NT, be septuagintisms. Whether, say, in Luke or Acts, they are due to the author’s choice or were taken over ready made from earlier material is an open question. These doubts mean that such expressions should not be used as evidence of direct Semitic influence.

    A serious problem is what in fact constitutes a septuagintism. Thus, appeal is sometimes made here to expressions of a Semitic type which appear only a few times in the LXX. Such cases may indeed be allusions to the OT, but if not, their very rarity makes it highly questionable whether they could have been used by an author to give a work a “biblical” atmosphere. If they are not due to reflection of underlying Semitic tradition or material, they may possibly have crept into the author’s style or text from liturgical or other ecclesiastical sources (Wilcox 1965:65–86).

    A suspected semiticism must of course be shown to be grammatical in Aramaic or Hebrew. But criteria must be established to determine (1) what kind of Aramaic or Hebrew is the source of the semiticism, and (b) how these languages can be distinguished from one another beneath the present Greek mask.

    2. Dialect Models for Aramaic and Hebrew. Texts from which comparative data should be drawn ought ideally to meet certain conditions, namely:

    1. They should be as close as possible to the NT in date and place (Fitzmyer and Harrington 1978:420)
    2. They should be extensive enough to give statistically reassuring samples of the language
    3. They should embody literary forms akin to those in the NT
    4. They should be free compositions, not translations
    5. They should reflect spoken forms of the language.

    The material from Qumran, Masada, Murabba˓at, Naḥal Ḥever, and the contemporary epigraphic data may meet conditions (1), (2), and (4), and the apocalyptic texts may also help with cases like Mark 13 and Revelation. The Palestinian Targums, and parts of Talmud Yerushalmi and the Midrashic literature, satisfy (2), (3), (4), and (5), but not (1). An examination of the linguistic affinities of the transliterated Aramaic words in the NT shows coherence with the 1st and 2d century C.E. Aramaic texts, and also a suprisingly high correlation with the language of the Palestinian Targums. Indeed, a check of the Aramaisms claimed by Matthew Black (1967) for the Gospels and Acts showed that in the majority of cases where the early texts could be used, their evidence supported the arguments he had built on Targumic Aramaic (Wilcox 1985:101; ANRW 2/25/2:988–1007).

    3. Aramaic or Hebrew? Two main problems arise here. First, where Mishnaic Hebrew differs from biblical Hebrew, it is often very close to Aramaic, especially in syntax but also in vocabulary. Examples of this include: (1) absence of the “consecutive” verbal construction; (2) use of the participle to express the present (far commoner in Aramaic and Mishnaic Hebrew than in biblical Hebrew); (3) the periphrastic tenses, use of the verb “to be” with a participle to form frequentative and iterative meanings; (4) use of 3d person plural of a finite verb or plural of a participle to indicate an indefinite subject (that is, “they” do x = “one” does x); (5) the relative particle š- or Aramaic d-, dy, to introduce circumstantial, causal, and (with prepositions) temporal clauses; (6) the ethic dative with l-; (7) the “proleptic pronoun”:use of a personal pronoun either in the nominative or, with a preposition, in the oblique cases to anticipate a following noun (ANRW 2/25/2:993). Second, there is now known to be a real possibility that biblical-type Hebrew may be involved. How are the two types of Hebrew to be distinguished? Aramaic can at times be distinguished from Hebrew (of either sort) through the presence of cognates in vocabulary: e.g., ˓bd in Hebrew is “to serve,” in Aramaic “to do, make.” But this raises the problem of supposed “mistranslations” as signs of semiticism. Of course, such “mistranslations” may in fact be due to bilingualism rather than to actual translation.

    C. Types of NT Semiticisms

    Apart from transliterated Aramaic and Hebrew, the following is a list of the more convincing examples of semiticisms in the NT.

    1. Lexical.

    alla = ei mē or ean mē, “except.” This use of alla has been traced in the Greek papyri (MM, 22), but in Mark 4:22, a saying of Jesus, may it not reflect an underlying ˒l˒ (Wellhausen 1911:16–17)? Now ˒l˒ “except” does not seem to be attested in early Palestinian sources, but it is common in Targumic Aramaic, Samaritan Aramaic, Christian Palestinian Aramaic and in Mishnaic Hebrew. Semitic influence seems probable, but whether Hebrew or Aramaic is an open question.

    anastēthi epi tous podas sou, “stand up upon your feet” (Acts 14:10). 4 Kgdms 13:21 is the only case of this in the LXX and Acts 14:10 does not seem to allude to that passage. The Aramaic idiom occurs in a number of mss of the Palestinian Targums to Gen 38:26 (or 38:25, Tg. Neof.), as A. J. Wensinck saw (unpublished note). The Hebrew form (with ˓md, not qwm) is found in 1QS 6:13 = “to stand up,” as also in Sipra (Emor, 14:3).

    ginos̄kein eis, “to be aware of.” Luke 19:44 (D itd) has the strange form ouk egnōs eis kairon episkopēs sou, “you did not know (of) the time of your visitation,” where the usual text reads ton, not eis. Black (1967:115–16) looked to Aramaism; but the idiom he examined (yd˓ b-) occurs not only in 1QH frag. 1:3, 3:4, and 10:3 (?), but also in Mishnaic Hebrew with the meaning “to realize, know of, be aware of” (m. B.Qam. 10:8 “if its owners knew neither of its theft [bgnybtw] nor of its return [bḥzyrtw]”). It may thus be a Hebraism. The passage is in material peculiar to Luke.

    eklegesthai en, “to choose from among.” This construction in Acts 15:7 may reflect Aramaic bḥr b- (Torrey 1916:7, 22). The Greek construction does occur in the LXX some 11 times, but the idiomatic translation (without en) predominates by far. The Hebrew idiom occurs at Qumran (1QS 4:22, 10:12, etc.) and in Mishnaic Hebrew. The Greek may be explained as either an Aramaism or a Hebraism.

    einai/prostithenai epi to auto. The Qumran texts provide several examples of the Hebrew expressions lhywt lyḥd “to be in the fellowship” (1QS 5:2, 6:23, 8:12), and lhwsyp lyḥd “to join the fellowship” (1QS 5:7, 8:19, CD 13:11, 16:14). This may well explain the difficult words of Acts 2:47, giving the meaning “the Lord was daily bringing into membership of the fellowship” (Wilcox 1965:93–100).

    heuresthēnai eis, “to be found at.” Wensinck saw this expression in Acts 8:40 as an Aramaism; cf. y. Ma˓as. Š. 5:2, Pal. Tg. Gen 28:1 (MS Paris BN hebr. 110):w˒skḥ bḥrn (unpublished note; see Wilcox 1965:100). Both passages (interestingly) narrate a miraculous event.

    heuriskein, “to be able.” The use of Aramaic ˒skḥ, “to find” in the sense “to be able,” was noted by Wensinck (see Black 1967:134) as a possible Semitic idiom behind the alternate replacement of the Greek verbs dynasthai and ischyein/katischyein with heuriskein in Codex Bezae (cf. Wellhausen 1911:17). Wensinck cited the Targumic Tosefta to Gen 4:7. Aram ˒skḥ also occurs in the meaning “to be able” in 1QapGen 21:13 (the ordinary meaning “to find” being attested in 1QapGen 21:19; Fitzmyer and Harrington 1978:423). Wellhausen and Wensinck are supported by Qumran Aramaic, and the Targumic data shown to be of greater value than sometimes held.

    idou before expressions of time and number. The Greek evidence for this construction is somewhat late (papyri of the 4th–5th century C.E.), and there does not seem to be any Aramaic support for it. Connolly thought its use in Luke 13:16 due to Syriac influence (1936:378–81). The Mishnaic Hebrew use of hry “lo” before totals of numbers and times (especially, months, years, etc.) may be relevant: see m. B. Bat. 3:1, m. Sanh. 1:6.

    polis, “province.” Torrey’s solution of the problem of Luke 1:39, where eis polin Iouda, “to the city of Judah,” would make better sense as “to the province of Judah,” hinged upon the double meaning possible for Hebrew mdynh (or Aramaic mdyn˒) (1912:290–91). The Aramaic case is now supported by documentary material from the NT period, for example, 1QapGen 20:28, 22:4, 5, where the word means “province,” and Meg. Ta˓an. 12, where it probably means “city” (ANRW 2/25/2:1014). Interpretation of the passage as a semiticism is opposed by Fitzmyer (Luke I–IX AB, 363).

    2. Syntactic.

    a. Verbal.

    (1) Participle as Simple Indicative. In Aramaic and later Hebrew (especially Mishnaic) the participle frequently acts as a finite verb, especially in the present tense. 4QAmramb frag. 1:10 reads: “Lo, two were (lit: are) passing judgment (Aram d˒nyn) on me and saying (Aram ˒mryn).” NT examples include Acts 10:19, idou andres (duo) zētountes se “lo, (two) men are looking for you,” 14:3 (D), Rev 1:16; 6:5 (Wilcox 1965:122–23; ANRW 2/25/2:1016). The idiom does occur in the papyri occasionally, but in the NT it may be a semiticism; whether it calques Aramaic or Hebrew is not clear.

    (2) Periphrastic Tenses. The use of the participle with the verb “to be” to represent a continuous aspect (especially the imperfect) is known in Greek, though the construction is not a major feature of Hellenistic Greek. It is found in Hebrew, but is quite usual in Aramaic, Syriac, and Mishnaic Hebrew, and is common in the texts from the NT period from the land of Israel. NT examples include Rev 1:18 “and lo! I am alive (zōn eimi) for evermore” (Beyer 1961:199).

    (3) Impersonal 3d Person Plural. The 3d person plural active of a finite verb may be used in Hebrew and Aramaic to represent an indefinite subject or the passive voice. Wellhausen noted the impersonal plural as a NT semiticism (1911:18). Examples include: Mark 15:27: “and with him they crucify two robbers”; Acts 3:2: hon etithoun “whom they used to put” = “who used to be put”; Acts 19:19; and Rev 16:15: “lest he go naked and they see his shame” (i.e., “lest … his shame be seen”).

    (4) Redundant Auxiliaries. Aramaic and Syriac at times use certain verbs, for example, qwm (“to stand”), nsb (“to take”), ˓ny (“to answer”) and sr˒ (“to begin”), as auxiliaries. These verbs introduce the action of the main verb, or, in the case of qwm, add an existential predicate. The great difficulty in identifying this construction in the NT is determining whether any given instance is truly pleonastic (Black 1967:125–26).

    b. Substantival.

    (1) Pronouns.

    (a) The Resumptive Pronoun. The use of a resumptive pronoun after a relative particle is very common in Aramaic and Hebrew (on the phenomenon in biblical Hebrew, Gross 1987; as a syntactic feature of Semitic languages, Khan 1984, 1988). Similar use of pronouns in the Greek of the NT may indicate the influence of Aramaic or Hebrew. The following may be cited as examples: Rev 3:8, “an opened door, which no-one can close it (Gk autēn)”; 7:22, “to the four angels, to whom it was given to them (Gk autois).”

    (b) The Ethic Dative. In Aramaic and Syriac (but also in Hebrew) the preposition l- (“to, for”) with pronominal suffixes is often used with the verb superfluously as an “ethic dative.” The use may be documented from 1QapGen 21:19 (wtbt w˒tyt ly lbyty bšlm, “and then I returned and came [for myself] to my house in peace”); it also occurs in the Palestinian Targums. Arnold Meyer (1896:124) and Black (1967:104) detected it in John 20:10, where apēlthon … pros autous hoi mathētai might represent an Aramaic ˒zlw lhwn tlmydyy, “the disciples went (them) away.” See also Acts 14:2(D) (Wilcox 1965:132), Luke 10:11 (Joüon 1928:353).

    (2) Adjectives. Aramaic and Hebrew typically use the positive (plus the preposition min) for the comparative and the superlative. In the NT, compare Matt 22:36, “Which is the great (i.e., the greatest) commandment …?”; John 1:15 (cf. 1:10), “He who comes after me is ranked ahead of me, because he was prior (lit. “first”) to me.”

    Another variant of the matter may be the expression of the superlative by the positive followed by en (= Aramaic or Hebrew b-):Luke 1:42, “Blessed art thou among women (en gynaixin)” = “Most blessed are thou of women” (cf. Cant 6:1, hyph bnšym “most beautiful of [lit.: among] women”).

    (3) Numerals. In Mur 19 recto 1:10, the Aramaic idiom lrb˓yn “fourfold” occurs. There may be an interesting resemblance here with Mark 4:8, en hekaton, “one hundredfold,” if the Aramaic preposition l- can be translated by Greek en. The form eis hekaton, found for example in Codex Sinaiticus and some other mss at this point, corresponds even better. However, if the Greek text of Mark be read with hen, “one,” we must allow with Metzger that another Aramaic idiom for “x-fold” employing the noun ḥd, “one” (e.g., ḥd šb˓a, “sevenfold” [cf. Dan 3:20]), may underlie the Greek of Mark 4:8 (Metzger 1975:83).

    (4) Indefinite Article. Use of Greek heis, mia, hen, “one,” to represent an indefinite article in certain NT passages may reflect the corresponding Aramaic idiom attested, for example, in 4QTLevi ara 2:18, wml˒k ḥd, “and an angel”; Lam R. 1:51, ˓br ˓lwy ḥd ˓rby, “an Arab passed by him.” NT cases may be found in Rev 8:13, “and I heard an eagle (Gk henos aetou) flying in mid-heaven,” and 19:17, “and I saw an angel (hena aggelon).” Moulton and Milligan (MM, 187) argue that such a use is found in the papyri, but it seems more likely here in the NT to be due to semiticism.

    c. Sentential.

    (1) Subordination. Subordinate clauses introduced by the Aramaic particle d-, dy, or the Hebrew particle š- may be ambiguous sometimes, due to the range of meanings which these particles possess, which include:

    (a) relative particle = “who” “which”
    (b) conjunction introducing a statement of fact = “that” = Gk hoti
    (c) conjunction = “in order that” = Gk hina
    (d) marker introducing direct speech = Gk hoti
    (e) “for” “because”
    (f) possibly also “so that” = Greek hōste (Black 1967:70)

    In addition, the Aramaic particle is used to express possession indirectly in a form which partly replaces the construct state.
    Black noted an interesting example of possible confusion of meanings for d-, dy, in Mark 8:24, “I see the people, hoti hōs dendra peripatountas: because I see them as trees walking.” Codex Bezae and some other mss omit hoti and horō (“I see,” second use), reading simply “like trees, walking.” W. C. Allen (Mark ICC, 330) saw an original Aramaic d- here, read as hoti (“that”) instead of hous (“whom”):“whom I see like trees walking” (Black 1967:53–54).

    (2) Conditional Clauses. Beyer (1961:271–78) documents complex Aramaic sentences in which the logical relationship “if … then” is expressed by simple coordination of two clauses with the conjunction w, “and.” NT examples include Matt 11:17, “We piped for you and you did not dance, we wailed for you and you did not lament”; the implicit logical structure might be paraphrased, “If we pipe for you, you do not dance, if we wail for you, you do not lament” (Beyer 1961:280; see also John 7:4, 21; 9:30). The fact that Matt 11:17 is a saying of Jesus and in synonymous parallelism heightens the chance of its having been influenced by Aramaic (or Hebrew).

    (3) Indefiniteness. Aramaic and Hebrew use k (w)l to express indefinite countable quantities (“all”) or nonspecific selection from definite sets (“any”). The construction occurs especially in generalizing statements. Thus an Aramaic writ of divorce dated to 111 C.E. (Mur 19 ar recto 1:5–7) reads: “you are authorized on your part to go and become a wife of any/whatever (kwl) Jewish man that you wish.” Matt 19:3 [RSV] has: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” The Greek kata pasan aitian means literally “for every cause,” suggesting a semiticism.

    (4) Negation. The negation of statements involving indefiniteness is sometimes accomplished in NT Greek by use of the negative particles ou or mē with the pronoun pas in the order ou/mē … pas or pas … ou/mē. Turner (1963:196–97) notes that extrabiblical examples of this construction are rare. It occurs in both Aramaic and Hebrew, thus: 1QapGen 11:17, “you may not eat blood at all” (kwl dm l˒ t˒klwn); 20:6, etc. See Matt 24:22; Mark 13:30; Luke 1:37; Acts 10:14; Rev 9:4; 18:22; 21:27; 22:3 (LXX Zech 14:11).

    (5) Focus. A constituent noun phrase or clause may be moved so that it precedes the verb, and its expected position in the sentence may be occupied by a copy pronoun. This syntax, traditionally called casus pendens, is frequent in biblical Hebrew (Gross 1987) and in Semitic languages generally (see Khan 1988). Sentences in the Greek NT exhibiting focus construction may be semiticisms. Matt 5:40 (D) is a clear case: “He who wishes to sue you and take your tunic, leave to him (autō) your mantle.”

    Generalizing statements (see (3) above) may employ focus construction, copying an initial relative clause with a pronoun. Thus, John 6:39: “everything (pan) which he has given me, I have not lost any of it (ex autou), and I shall raise it (auto) up on the last day.”

    D. Interpretation

    Evaluation of the semiticisms in the NT, like much ancient historical and linguistic work, is very dependent on circumstantial evidence. The case for any given example will be strengthened if (1) it occurs in close contiguity with other suspected semiticisms, (2) its context is properly Jewish, and (3) its wider context also reflects knowledge of Jewish exegetical traditions. It may lead to a source theory, but must not presuppose one. Torrey’s argument was tied to a documentary theory, which laid it open to needless question. The complex linguistic situation of the land of Israel in NT times requires other possible explanations, such as bilingualism, to be kept in view. Further, after form-criticism and redaction-criticism, not to mention common sense, a multiplicity of routes may have been taken by any piece of material which ended up in the text of the NT, and correspondingly, perhaps more than one different linguistic medium may have affected its transmission. Indeed, the very complexity of the apparent linguistic affinities of NT semiticisms coheres well with what is known from the contemporary Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek texts, and warns against easy solutions. Every case must be judged on its merits and against its contexts, immediate and wider alike.


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  72. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo wrote:

    Dannii, as I understand Wayne’s intention with these threads, it is for people to express their opinions and not engage in debate

    That’s correct. In this series I’m interested in us discovering what the range of ideas are on basic translation issues. It is helpful for me to find out that not everyone shares my basic assumptions about Bible translation.

    I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to debate the issues here, only that that’s not the purpose of this particular series. I think it’s fine for someone to respond to someone else in this series that they come to a different conclusion on some point.

    Just saying … (I’ve seen that phrase used quite a lot lately and am trying to learn what it means and how to use it!)

  73. Gary Simmons says:

    “Just saying” apparently carries no meaning, but has the intended pragmatic effect of reducing tension.

    I still hold that the target demographic for general translations (as opposed to specific study Bibles or special arrangements like footnotes, diglot editions, etc.) is the average, say, twenty-five year-old that hasn’t been to church since running away from home at 18. That’s also when s/he dropped out of school. So, the literacy level of about 8th-10th grade.

    It was good to see Alaric justify my suspicions above about diglots being counterproductive as a feature in general translations.

  74. J. K. Gayle says:

    It has also been fashionable to look for another cause of NT semiticisms: imitation (conscious or unconscious) of the Greek style of the LXX. While this may have been a factor, it is of little explanatory help except where the semiticisms in question (1) reflect biblical Hebrew idioms, (2) occur with fair frequency in the LXX as we have it, and (3) are not allusions to some specific OT passage…. The complex linguistic situation of the land of Israel in NT times requires other possible explanations, such as bilingualism, to be kept in view…. Indeed, the very complexity of the apparent linguistic affinities of NT semiticisms coheres well with what is known from the contemporary Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek texts, and warns against easy solutions.

    Thanks for taking time and being quite thorough here. There is something missing in your comment that your friend Naomi Seidman brilliantly reports:

    How the “Talmud does present an extraordinary Jewish counternarrative to the [Christian] patristic Septuagint legends” and how that Jewish counter-interpretation is that “the Septuagint, as an imperfect translation, is also a perfect mistranslation.”

    It’s worth repeating:

    “In this regard, the talmudic rewriting of the patristic Septuagint legend is a trickster text: the [Jewish] translator is a trickster, who in folklore ‘represents the weak, whose wit can at times achieve ambiguous victories against the powers of the strong.’ Not only does the Talmud present the composition of the Septuagint as an elaborate Jewish trick, it also describes the passages in the Hebrew Bible itself as a ‘hidden transcript,’ the private discourse of a minority culture.”

    And, whereas “The [Church] Fathers imagine the Jewish translators as passive channels of God’s message to the world; in the [contrastive] talmudic account God works to keep certain things between the Jews and himself [i.e., away from the world, especially the Greek and the Egyptian worlds], not only sanctioning Jewish conspiracy but taking the role of conspirator-in-chief.”

    I’m bringing up Seidman’s alternative here with respect to the LXX to suggest that “Semiticism” might apply not only to “Turner’s division… by vocabulary, semantics, and style” (that is, to features that may be identified in the linguistic structures) but also to rhetorics. By rhetorics, I mean things such as what Seidman calls the “simultaneous strategies” of “submission and subversion.” And Seidman extends these concepts, this sort of Jewish rhetoric, to holocaust writers forced to using non-Semitic languages to render their experiences in textual narratives and to Isaac Bashevis Singer submitting to popular audiences by translating his Yiddish into English in very subversive, ostensibly non-Semitic ways.

    In Wayne’s post on audience, what Seidman quotes Irving Saposnik as saying about Singer’s translational practice bears repeating:

    “Singer often read his American audience better than they read him, and he often proceeded to give them what they wanted [in American English translation], all the time concealing both his literary and literal Yiddish originals. With both Yiddish originals effectively concealed, the selling of Singer began. Sharp edges were smoothed [by the translation], ethnic quirks turned into old world charm, shtetl superstitions passed for venerable wisdom, and Bashevis crossed from the mundane obscurity of a Yiddish writer to being the darling of the literary world.”

    What if the Greek of the NT were also full Semiticisms that mainly consist of rhetorics? Of riddles (in the case of Yeshua’s and Paul’s teachings), of silences (in the case of the authorship of the book of Hebrews and the obscured meanings of certain neologisms and phrases and turns of phrases), of obscurities (as with the NT prophetic revelations, parables, hyperbole), of intentional ambiguities (submission to Greek and Roman imperial style of language, with great subversions)?

    Just sayin’ — “A phrase used to indicate that we are not about to justify what we just said with facts. When used excessively, especially in online situations, can lead to much aggravation, with the end result being a head slap to the party or parties overusing this phrase.”

    Just saying — a phrase used to indicate that we refuse to defend a claim we’ve made—in other words, that we refuse to offer reasons that what we’ve said is true.”

    source: Urban Dictionary

  75. Dannii says:

    Theophrastus, I should say that I am thankful for your summary of the NT Semiticisms here.

  76. Larry says:

    I have read with great interest most of the comments and was most impressed by one of the lesser educated and younger posters (Alaric) and her comments. The Bible was not written to the educated although they also are a target. Just think about it, if education and complete understanding is necessary to become a Christian then there won’t be many! There is nothing wrong whatsoever with ‘study to show thyself approved’. But the Bible in its original form (KJV) is not ‘a hard, hard read’ as some have suggested. Remember that God promised the assistance of the great educator “the Holy Spirit” in understanding and in knowing what to say when necessary. I do not have nearly the education and understanding of languages as most of you guys. In fact you guys are so far above my level it is ridiculous. With that having been said, I would debate any one of you at any time on the Bible and it’s meaning on anything significant in the Christian faith. In some ways these newer versions are so confusing it is unbelievable. Even the so-called educated scholors can’t agree. In the end, I see one great evaluator of their work: is the writing copyrighted and trademarked? To copyright and trademark a work it has to be significantly different from the others or else you can’t get a copyright. I suggest that change becomes a motivating factor and question the work of such translations no matter how many or how educated the writers were. Just think how many English speaking people depended upon, were converted by, and lived by the Authorized King James Bible for almost 400 years. I suggest to you that the Word of God is there and it is available to most anyone that is interested. This other stuff is just ‘selling books’ and some of them are very good at it. Sorry to be so blunt and I do appreciate the effort you guys go to when you post these deep evaluations. Larry

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