Accuracy–what is it?

Accuracy is incredibly important when it comes to Bible translation–I believe it is the most important measure of a successful translation project.

But, what does accuracy mean?

There are lots of opinions; they are varied and many overlap. So, how to even start the discussion is a discussion in and of itself. I’d like to start the discussion by asking a question about the question.

What are your underlying assumptions about the meaning of accuracy as it relates to Bible translation?

For example, let me state some of mine in order to:

  1. provide some initial content,
  2. and give some examples of what is on topic.

Here are five assumptions I make regarding the meaning of accuracy as it relates to Bible translation.   There are more; these are simply the ones I’ve thought of while composing this post.  Hopefully, these thoughts will be varied enough to stir the thinking, and yet focused enough to guide our discussion.

  1. The original documents were composed for a specific audience existing in space and time.
  2. Communication is a complex made up of objective and subjective elements.
  3. Accuracy is not absolute, but always refers to a qualitative measurement which falls within an audience determined, acceptable tolerance.
  4. The intended audience for a Bible translation constrains a definition of ‘accuracy’. For example, one type of translation helps the “reader” work with the original forms–accuracy is form oriented.  Another type stimulates cognition so as to approximate seamless communication from original author to modern audience–accuracy is meaning oriented.
  5. Generally, when a translator can influence an interpretive context, there are multiple ways of saying the same thing with a given language.

I’d love some responses from those who have been actively involved in Bible translation! Your practical insight will help our readership gain an appreciation for the underlying issues you wrestle with.

What are some of your assumptions?

27 thoughts on “Accuracy–what is it?

  1. WoundedEgo says:

    So much of conversation in general and scripture in particular is the frequent use of allusion. It is important to convey those. These are like an ancient form of hyperlink.

    Another aspect is imagery. An accurate translation conveys the image that the author was painting in the imagination.

    Another feature is the tone of voice. Is the author angry? Sad? Distressed? Cheerful? Condescending? Affectionate?

  2. Theophrastus says:

    From the OED definition of “accurate”: “Exact, precise, correct, nice; in exact conformity to a standard or to truth.”

    In other words, an accurate translation preserves all aspects of the original — preserving all forms (including euphony, word games, rhythm, etc.), all meaning(s) (in the case where a phrase or word may have multiple meanings or associations), and all tone/register/intent.

    I think that many people use the term “accurate” on this blog to refer to a translation that preserves one possible meaning of the original source text.

    Finally, I believe that an accurate translation is almost impossible without an accurate reading of the source text; but, note that almost all commentators would agree that many passages of the Bible remain obscure today.

  3. David Ker says:

    I agree with Theophrastus that many passages of the Bible are obscure. So when our many Bible publishers claim their translation is “readable and accurate” I tend to say, Hmmm.

    I have helped translate many books of the Bible into Nyungwe and it is humbling to realize how hard it is to know if you are translating accurately. Translators often have a fairly accurate idea of the meaning, but their translation does not communicate this. And even testing the translation can only give us a vague idea of whether or not people “get it.”

    Thanks, Mike. Now I’m depressed. 🙂

  4. Donna says:

    I’m involved in Bible translation in India.

    In my experience, when people say that a translation is “inaccurate” at a certain point, it usually means that the gloss of a word is not the gloss which they think should be there – usually for intertextual reasons. (Like if you translate “son of man” as anything else, the allusion to Daniel 7 is masked).

    Though intertextual accuracy is only one type of accuracy.

    Having said all that, I’m not convinced that accuracy is the best word to use.

    There is also ideational accuracy – that is, if the original text says that Jesus went to, say, Nazareth, and I translate it as Bethlehem, that is ideationally (and rather obviously) inaccurate.

    Then there is emotional accuracy – if the people I’m translating for understand the ideational meaning, and the intertextual meaning, but fail to grasp how significant this was, or how shocking something is, then that is another aspect of meaning they’re missing.

    Seems to me that the easiest form of accuracy to get “right” is intertextual accuracy, formal equivalent translations aim for this. It’s slightly more difficult to get ideational meaning right. But it’s really hard to get the emotional meaning across. Sometimes these forms of accuracy cannot all be achieved in one text and choices have to be made as to which is more important for this particular passage.

    For people groups unfamiliar with the bible (and that includes many people in the west these days), intertextual accuracy (found mostly in literal translations) is what they most perceive to be “accurate” but it’s the least important for really understanding the text (though in some passages it can be very important).

  5. Donna says:

    Having said all that, I’m not sure that “accurate” is the best word to use. It presupposes an objective viewpoint by which to judge both texts (the original and the translated texts). But we all view the text with different coloured glasses and from different angles. Something which seems “accurate” to one person may not be for someone from another culture.

    I wonder if a better word to use would be “reliable”. The question to ask would be, can I rely on this text to live the life that God wants me to live. Will it lead to saving faith, will it have the same impact on me (in knowledge, feelings, and actions etc) as it did on the original readers? If the answer is yes, then the text is “reliable” even if it is not what someone judging from outside might call “accurate.”

    Aren’t we really aiming for texts which are “reliable”. If I stake my life on what I understand this text to mean (as many of us do), then my decision will be vindicated?

  6. Wayne Leman says:

    I suggest that the most important kind of accuracy is referential, that is, do users of a translation understand a wording to refer to the same thing that users of the original text did.

    Then, there are several other kinds of meaning, including those other commenters have mentioned, such as allusional (W.E.) and emotional tone (W.E., Donna), and connotational. In terms of equivalence of syntactic forms, for languages pairs (original and target) which use the same forms for the same meaning, I think it’s a good idea to match forms. Many translation language pairs, however, do not gift us with matching syntactic forms, so meaning has to take precedence, especially if importing a form or using a similar form may communicate wrong meaning. There are other form issues which I think will give us more equivalence than translators sometimes search for. For instance, I believe it is important to try to match genre and style (including unique style of a particular author) when translating. The particular ways that a language encodes genre or style will often be quite different from how the original language does. For instance, users of a translation should still sense that they are reading poetry if the translation of of biblical poetry.

  7. Iver Larsen says:

    The concept of accuracy is not just for Bible translation, but for translation in general. However, the debate and controversy about it is unique to Bible translation. It was contentious when Jerome did his translation, and I am sure it has been discussed from the beginning of Bible translation history.
    I agree with Donna that it would be more productive to scrap the word and talk about a reliable translation. The reason is that people have so many different views about it, and it is highly subjective anyway.
    If we think of accuracy in terms of communicative effect, then it is impossible to define accuracy without reference to the intended audience, and it will be relative to that audience.
    Just one example: My wife was translating a book from English to Danish. The author was Australian, and her target audience was teenage girls and young Christian women. The title of the book was “Kissed the girls and made them cry”. We could understand every word easily, but did not get a satisfactory meaning. After internet research we learned that it was an allusion to a common British nursery rhyme. The author must have assumed that her original audience would know the rhyme and get the intention. Now a title is intended to arouse interest and does not have to reveal everything. We could have translated it literally, and our audience would have been shaking their heads when reading such nonsense. It would not be an incentive to buy the book. After much thought my wife decided to call it “Kys og knuste hjerter”. This title is shorter and has 3 pairs of stressed-unstressed syllable. It also has alliteration. Literally, it means “Kisses and crushed hearts”. However, the English idiom would be “broken hearts” not “crushed hearts”. The English literal rendering also loses the rhyming. Was it an accurate translation? I don’t know. Would the author have preferred our translation for a literal one? I believe so.

  8. Theophrastus says:

    Iver —

    Not everything can be translated — and in many cases extensive background knowledge is required to interpret the translation.

    Early English translations (Tyndale, Geneva, Rheims-Douai) realized this and had extensive commentary — in many cases as a means of understanding the translation. Similarly, Martin Luther’s translation had extensive commentary (you’ll recall that he was a professor of Bible at Wittenberg — he was in the commentary-writing business!) And in Judaism, printing the Bible with commentaries reached its peak with the Rabbinic Bible — and even ordinary printed copies of the Pentateuch usually contain the Aramaic Onkelos translation and the commentary of Rashi.

    However this all changed with King James. Some of the translations in the Geneva were anti-monarchical, so King James’ commission, explicitly required that the translation be without commentary (still it has some brief translator notes.) Most Protestant Bibles since then have followed suit.

    However, this puts a difficult burden on the translator. Let’s take Wayne’s definition (although I do not agree with it): “Users of a translation understand a wording to refer to the same thing that users of the original text did.” Now this has all sorts of difficulties — for example:

    * readers of the Gospel of Matthew, for example, were expected to be intimately familiar with the Hebrew Bible, Jewish law, and second temple culture. Clearly, that is hardly true for the typical person who reads Matthew today.

    * we can debate the dates of the composition of the Bible, but it seems that the Bible was written over a period of a millenium, at least. The Bible meant something different to the readers of the Torah when it was composed than when the Prophets wrote about the Torah — we can read that directly in the Biblical text! And, of course, when we read the New Testament, it interprets in the Hebrew Bible in a radically different way. So, when we say “users of a translation understand a wording to refer to the same thing that users of the original text did” my question is which users of the original text? The ones who wrote it down first? The ones who redacted it (perhaps much later?) The ones who used text-critical methods to “reconstruct it” in the late twentieth century? The ones who canonized it? The ones who lived 1000 BCE? The ones who lived 100 CE? The authors of the Talmud? The Greek Church Fathers? The scholars who lived during the Reformation? The ones who live today? (because, of course, in the Jewish and Christian Orthodox communities, many still use the original text!)

    * even if we address those problems, we still have the difficulties of the completely different world view of ancient people versus today. For example, the symbolism in the Apocalypse of John is obviously very different than symbolism today.

    * and we are missing texts referred to in the Bible (Book of Jasher [Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18]; Book of the Acts of Solomon [1 Kings 11:41]; Book of Nathan the Prophet [1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29]; Book of Gad the Seer [1 Chronicles 29:29]; Book of Shemaiah the Prophet [2 Chronicles 12:15]; Visions of Ido the Seer [2 Chronicles 12:15, 2 Chronicles 9:29, 2 Chronicles 13:22]; Prophecy of Ahijah [2 Chronicles 9:29]; Book of Jehu [2 Chronicles 20:34]; Acts of Manasseh [2 Chronicles 33:18-19]; Prior Epistle of Paul to the corinthians [1 Corinthians 5:9]; Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans [Colossians 4:16]; Book of the Prophecies of Enoch [Jude 1:14]). Without these texts, it is often difficult to figure out what the mindset of the “reader of the original texts” was.

    * and the point I raised before — that in many places (particularly in the Hebrew Bible, but also in the New Testament) the Biblical text is simply obscure.

    For all these reasons, I think that any translation that follows the model of the KJV of attempting to convey the meaning without extensive annotations necessarily includes a great deal of interpretation. (And that is one reason why we have, in English today Jewish Bible translations, Evangelical Bible translations, Mainline Bible translations, Southern Baptist Bible translations, Reformed Bible translations, conservative Catholic translations, liberal Catholic translations, Christian Orthodox Bibles, and even Bibles translations for non-believers.)

  9. Iver Larsen says:

    Theophrastus,

    I agree with you. The reason I chose a non-biblical example was that I wanted to focus on general translation principles. We did not put any explanatory footnotes in that book. However, we included many footnotes in our Bible translation – plus book introductions, and I would not recommend a bible translation without rather extensive notes. At a recent Bible translation conference I discussed 10 different types of notes that we used in our Bible translation into Danish. Any translation involves a considerable amount of interpretation.

  10. David Ker says:

    This has me thinking about the Nyungwe translation of Mark 13:15, “Omwe ali pacigota, abuluke athawiretu. Aleke kupita mnyumba kuti akatenge cinthu.”

    “He who is on top of the cigota, should get down and flee immediately. Let him not go into his house to take anything.”

    * cigota is a platform on tall poles where maize and other food is put to dry.

    Is that an accurate translation?

    Since houses in this part of the world have pointed roofs made from thatch, it would seem strange for someone to be up on the roof unless they were maybe fixing it.

    This also was confusing at Mark 2:4. How did those friends part the thatch and lower their friend? And why?

    The woman anointing Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair. How did that work exactly? Was she crawling around under the table? Was she rubbing her head on his feet?

    There’s so much background information necessary to passages like these. You need pictures and footnotes and the Jesus Film and all sorts of preaching and teaching to make any kind of sense of it all.

    Our translation is far from “accurate.” I take consolation in the fact that when Luke told the story he contextualized roofing and talked about Roman roof tiles (κεραμων) a material probably not used in Palestine. (Luke 5:19)

  11. Iver Larsen says:

    Mike,
    You mentioned 5 assumptions which I share. The only one I have a bit of a problem with is 4a. Is a translation “accurate” if it helps the reader work with the original form? You do imply that this does not apply to translation in general, but only to Bible translation.
    I am used to reading books translated from English. Sometimes the translator did a poor job, and I have to back translate into English to understand it. In my view that is a poor translation. I am tempted to say the same for a form-based Bible translation. If it forces you to go to the original form to understand it, is it a good translation? I think people who want to see the original, should go to the original text in the original languages.

  12. Mike Sangrey says:

    Iver,

    I believe ‘accuracy’ is separate from ‘clarity’ and ‘naturalness’. In practice, it is very difficult to separate these three metrics. By way of example and in order to focus on accuracy, let me talk about the back translation.

    As you are very much aware (and I’m writing to a broader audience), translation consultants utilize a ‘back translation’ in order to verify the accuracy of the translation. This back translation exposes the form of the original translation (not the original text, but the translation). If we were to assess this back translation in terms of ‘naturalness’ it would fail miserably. But, that’s not its intent. The audience is not expecting naturalness in a back translation. They are after the ‘accuracy’, and the back translation utilizes cross-linguistic forms in order to make the exegetico-translation choices obvious.

    I think there is a place for translations that work this way, though these translations are not ‘back’, they are ‘forward’. I might call them ‘forward translations’ since they attempt to bring the original forward. They use various transparency mechanisms to do this, and these provide the “reader” some level of accessibility to the foreign forms. [I believe Theophrastus thinks this is the only type of translation that can be called ‘accurate’. I believe there are two types.]

    However, what is often not recognized, and never mentioned, is these “forward” translations require the so-called “reader” to have and use a set of skills quite a bit beyond just reading comprehension skills. They require the reader to “span the linguistic gap” which exists between the two languages. The “reader” has to walk down two paths on each side of the linguistic chasm which separates the two languages. These skills are much like the skills needed by a translation consultant when he or she uses a back translation. Translation consultants have rather extensive training and experience in order to gain these skills. Normal people do not naturally have this expertise.

    Green’s Literal Translation clearly falls into this category. And I believe the ASV and NASB can also be placed here. As one moves from Greens to ASV to NASB and on, the translations drift from the ability to support an audience expecting to use the skills required by such a translation. So, it becomes difficult to determine where to place these middle-of-the-road translations. Are they a “forward translation” and thereby support analysis? Or are they the type of translation which simply require comprehension skills? In my opinion, too many translations today try to span this gap and therefore do neither well. And I think this is one main factor that is producing the growing Bible illiteracy–you can’t read ’em, and you can’t study ’em (but, that’s another topic).

  13. Rich Rhodes says:

    I think that using a term like accuracy makes sense for measuring translations.

    There is plenty of translation done between languages with accomplished (sometimes native) bilinguals. We can learn a lot from what they do. In real communication situations, allusion always goes in favor of referential accuracy, without hesitation.

    When people are certified as translators, the same holds. Referential accuracy trumps allusion every time. (Check out the ATA American Translators Association some time.)

    If there’s anything to be learned about accuracy in translation from the translation industry, it’s that allusion is at the bottom of the heap. The things you’d better get right are: 1) reference and 2) style (If it’s colloquial, the translation had better be colloquial, if it’s formal, the translation had better be formal.)

    But, you say, that’s work-a-day stuff — contracts, laws, diplomacy, what about literary translation?

    Most of what makes literature literature is not in the eloquence of the language. If the details of the wording were necessary to make it literature, literary translation would be impossible. Literature is literature because the content is good (great stories, great characters, great insight). The great turn of phrase is just icing on the cake.

    There are literary translators, like Alter, who will say that translation SHOULD be impossible, and that it’s a scandal that it works at all.

    And finally, I will continue to maintain that, for the NT at least, it’s mostly NOT literature anyway. And it’s mostly not hard to figure out what it means — at least in the first order of meaning. We all bite on the it’s-hard-to-understand assertion because we’re already thinking theologically. What did Jesus mean when he told the parable of the bride’s maids? The parable itself is absolutely straightforward. Not hard translation. We get hung up in Paul because we bring our theology into play too soon. The order is:

    1) read the Greek (with the understanding of Roman era Greek of which there is an enormous corpus now.)

    2) work out the meaning the local context (both linguistic and Levantine/Anatolian)

    3) when the meaning is known, THEN and only then do you worry about the theological implications.

    There is much too much in the way of theological feedback in our Bible translation process.

  14. Theophrastus says:

    And it’s mostly not hard to figure out what it means — at least in the first order of meaning.

    OK, I’ll bite — what is the accurate “first-order of meaning” translation of Romans 4:1 (which is not even in grammatical Greek!) I know what the translations say it is — but do you feel that this verse is unambiguous (in the grammatical — not theological — sense)? Do the translations capture all of the senses of the Greek?

  15. Iver Larsen says:

    Hi, Rich,

    When I teach translation principles to upcoming Bible translators, I still use the 3 criteria accuracy, natural and clarity, plus the fourth one that often conflicts with all three, namely acceptability.
    However, if we cannot agree on what accuracy is, it is not a good yardstick to use to measure translations.
    Other terms have been suggested, like “interpretive resemblance”, but it is tied to a particular theory.
    I prefer a pragmatic definition, something like: “Does this translation allow the new audience to get the meaning that the original author would have wanted them to understand.”
    That is not measurable, and it depends on what they already know and on what the translator cannot know for sure, but in terms of the Bible what cannot be quantified or measured is often immesurably important.
    On your three points, I would say that they are fine in theory, but do not work in practice. You cannot work out the meaning of a text – ignoring for now textual uncertainties – without making a lot of assumptions about what the writer assumes you know already, and that background knowledge includes theological assumptions. I would rather say that the more you know the Bible, the closer you are to getting the intended meaning.

  16. Rich Rhodes says:

    @Theo – OK, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Standard grammars hold that there is no accusative of topic (in this case, Abraham). Pish tosh. They need to do their homework. There’s a very similar case in Epicletus (Discourses 3.7 ti eroumen tois anthropois ten sarka) where sarx as topic is in the accusative. The editors broke it into two sentences, thinking, presumably, that that’s the way to account for the “missing” pros or some such, but then they proceed to translate it in a topic-like fashion. Accusative of topic may be rare, but it’s definitely there. Just do the legwork and figure it out. (And remember that the punctuation is not in the manuscripts.)

    So “What should we say about Abraham, our human ancestor?”

  17. Rich Rhodes says:

    @Iver – Yes, translation is not a science, it requires remarkable creativity. But look at what certified translators do when there are real consequences (legal proceedings, diplomatic translation, business translation, among others) and you’ll see what I mean. No literalism. Period. Allusion is out the window. They figure out what the reading is for what is said or written. They say (or write) that in the target language with as close an approximation to the style as possible. (Talk to simultaneous translators and they’ll say the hardest thing is not to “correct” the people they translate for.)

    Accuracy is not hard to evaluate. Take a certification test sometime. (About 80% fail the ATA certification.) The real problem is that we waffle about what the primary reading of Scripture is because there is so much theological feedback, and because the Church has abdicated its responsibility to be at the forefront of research in Greek and in linguistics. This is not just theory.

    (BTW, my Danish colleague, who has lived in an English speaking context long enough to know many nursery rhymes and the like, likes your solution to the title problem, although she thinks Kys og knuste hjerter is likely to speak more to an audience of 30-something women than teenage girls.)

  18. jkgayle says:

    Abraham, our human ancestor

    Rich,
    With his contrasts between ὁ θεὸς and πᾶς ἄνθρωπος (in Rm 3:4 & 5 – and in Rm 3:30 & 28, where the diff is justice/righteousness – and then again in 4:6), why wouldn’t Paul call Abraham an ανθρωπος there in Rm 4:1? Is it really more accurate to emphasize his “humanity” in English at 4:1? Isn’t Paul drawing attention to the σάρξ of this man Abraham, a Jew, one circumcised, according to flesh? (The κατὰ σάρκα of Aristotle is always precisely focused on bodies, but both human and animal, non-human. See History of Animals and Problems. The contexts limit the kind of metaphorical translating seen in the International Standard Version’s “Abraham, our human ancestor.”)

  19. Mike Sangrey says:

    Rich wrote: Talk to simultaneous translators and they’ll say the hardest thing is not to “correct” the people they translate for.

    As an interesting corollary:

    I spent a little bit of time on the ATA site and one of their marketing points is that purchasers of translation services will sometimes hold off publication of the source language document. They do this because they have found that the translation process will bring to the surface some parts of a text that could be better stated another way.

    This is not to say the original was necessarily incomprehensible. It’s more like a final editing step to achieve better textual cohesion.

    I’ve often thought that good translation would promote more accurate exegesis.

  20. Mike Sangrey says:

    I think Kurk makes a good point.

    The way I would come at this is by way of lexical cohesion and paragraph structure. That is, we need obtain accuracy linguistically, not theologically. I’m thinking of how the use of a specific word prepares the mind to “latch on to” a specific sense of another word in a slightly later phrase. Specific word choices can also move an audience a certain direction as in “framing“.

    I think the exegesis of Rom. 4:1 needs to consider the cohesion between σάρξ (“flesh”) and περιτομὴν (“circumcision”).

    It appears to me that Rom. 4:2-8 form a chiasm, though I’ve spent very little time thinking about it. 4:1 would then be introductory (primes the pump, as it were), 4:2 starts the chiasm, 4:4 is central, and 4:9 (the start of the next paragraph) would march the development along via the next paragraph level topic. I point this out, if indeed this is the structure (ie. form), because there would then naturally be a cohesive tie between 4:1 and 4:9.

    Perhaps, “What should we say about Abraham, who physically is our ancestor?”

  21. Mike Sangrey says:

    The main question I’ve asked is about assumptions. So, with my previous comment I’d like to mention three more of my assumptions.

    Determining the paragraph boundaries is vital for determining the meaning of the paragraph. That is, paragraph level meaning follows (or is determined by) paragraph level form. Sadly, many commentaries (especially the historic ones and even more especially the original language oriented ones) do not develop the meaning of the text paragraph by paragraph.

    And, determining the meaning of the paragraph is vital to determining the meaning of specific clauses/sentences within that paragraph. That is, there is a priority to the meaning of the paragraph over the meaning of the sentences and clauses. In this regard, see next.

    My epistemology places a high priority on coherence when determining meaning.

  22. Theophrastus says:

    Excellent — this is what I suspected would happen — even among you highly talented Greek readers, there is back-and-forth over the plain meaning meaning. In fact, the argument is quite heated among commentators; see for examples Hays’ 1985 Novum Testamentum article: ” ‘Have We Found Abraham to Be Our Forefather According to the Flesh?’ A Reconsideration of Rom 4:1″.

    Rich, I assume you meant to refer to Epictetus (not Epicletus); I wonder if you knew that reference from your own reading or if you consulted a commentary (I consulted a commentary myself). But in any case, your reading raises a question: if Romans were non-literary and just a simple letter intended for a broad audience, why would Paul be using such an esoteric grammatical form?

    My point here is that there is room for reasonable and educated people to disagree which argues against the thesis that New Testament translation is a straightforward process.

    Admittedly, this verse is particularly difficult, but it is hardly the only difficult verse in the New Testament, and the number of difficult verses increases dramatically in the Hebrew Bible.

  23. Mike Sangrey says:

    Theophrastus wrote:Excellent — this is what I suspected would happen — even among you highly talented Greek readers, there is back-and-forth over the plain meaning.

    But the difference between the choices presented so far, even with a verse (actually only a small phrase) that is particularly difficult, is relatively small. In fact, very small.

    And even more to the point, all of the suggestions are arguably quite close to the original meaning.

    In fact, before I posted my comment, I wondered if I was offering enough of a distinction to warrant a comment. I talked myself into it because I think the point of lexical cohesion is important. But, even still, if I preached on this text, it would be easy to use either Rich’s suggestion or my own. I could fairly easily make the connection I suggested.

    Also, I’ll try to edit your comment, Theophrastus. The link isn’t quite right. Hays, by the way, appears to argue using cohesion evidence, too. Good for him!

  24. Rich Rhodes says:

    @Theo – Right, I mistyped when I expanded the abbreviated reference from the concordance on Perseus. What I did was to go back to the (now very convenient) corpus to check usage details, which is what I argue we should always be doing. (No, I did not simply dredge it up from my memory.)

    One of the (relatively) recent results in linguistics is the discovery that, in addition to a smallish number (few dozen) generalized constructions, there are lots of little highly specialized constructions, many lexically specific (like What’s X doing Y, or here Ti eroumen X [acc];). This is contrary to the assumptions about language underlying the way exegesis has been done for over a century. I don’t trust commentaries at all.

    Incidentally, such specialized constructions are not esoteric from the point of view of a fluent speaker. There was a lot of bilingualism in Rome. There is no reason to think that Paul was dumbing down for the Romans.

    My argument is not that translating the NT is completely straightforward, but that we have made it more complicated than needs to be, and that a lot of that has to do with overestimating the complexity and potential ambiguity of the first order readings.

    Another result of cognitive linguistics is the discovery that not only are related meanings activated by mention, but also potential ambiguities are suppressed. (This is the trouble I have with the kind of word play that so delights Kurk.)

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