salted speech

Yesterday I posted Col. 4:6 from the GNT (TEV) as my Facebook status:

“Your speech should always be pleasant and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.”

One of my Facebook friends thought that the translation of “interesting” could be improved. He translates the original Greek idiom here as “in good taste.” That really is quite good.

More formally equivalent English versions translate the Greek idiom literally:

as though seasoned with salt (NASB)

seasoned with salt (KJV, NIV, NRSV, NET, HCSB, ESV)

These accurately translate the lexical form of the Greek, but they do not accurately communicate to the English reader what the Greek form meant.

When food is seasoned with salt, it tastes better. Speech that “tastes” better is more pleasant to listen to than speech which does not. English lacks the Greek idiom for seasoning speech with salt, so there are several translations which try to convey the figurative meaning of the Greek idiom to English which is not an idiom:

never insipid (REB)

attractive (NLT)

interesting (GNT, NCV)

hold their interest (CEV)

well thought out (GW)

Each of these wordings accurately conveys the meaning of the Greek idiom but they leave us a little “flat” (!) in terms of literary taste. My friend’s translation that our speech is to be “in good taste” is not flat. It uses an English idiom. Furthermore, the English idiom is literally about taste just as was the original Greek idiom. I find that a tasty morsel!

40 thoughts on “salted speech

  1. John Hobbins says:

    Hi Wayne,

    The example is instructive. However, I am inclined to take the Greek behind the various translations in a different sense. Salted speech is not the opposite of unpleasant speech. It is the opposite of bland speech.

    To quote Jimmy Dunn:

    It was an obvious and familiar idiom: Timon (third century bc) calls the speech of the Academics ἀνάλιστος, “unsalted, insipid” (BAGD s.v. ἅλας 2); Plutarch speaks of a pastime or business “seasoned with the salt of conversation” and of wit as “the tastiest condiment of all,” called by some “graciousness” (χάριτας, Moralia 514E-F, 685A, cited by Lohse 168 n. 39); in Latin sales Attici means “Attic wit” (e.g., Cicero, Ad familiares 9.15.2, cited by Bruce, Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians 175 n. 22; see also Wolter 212).

    From: Dunn, James D. G.: The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle : William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press, 1996, page 266 [via Logos Bible Software]

    If we set aside the suggestion that wit and graciousness are the same thing in Plutarch, an equation that sounds incredible, the listed qualities speech is supposed to have in Colossians 4:6 complement one another; they are not synonymous. Our word is to be gracious, but also peppery – able to sting a little. One might say that about Paul’s own speech: gracious and peppery at the same time.

    “Salty,” of course, does not work in current English. “Salty speech” remands to someone whose words are as salty as a sailor’s. Not what Paul had in mind.

    But I admit that “peppery,” though it describes Paul’s speech with considerable accuracy, especially when he is polemical, is not exactly what he proposes here.

    “Speech that is tempered by grace and flavored with wit” is the best paraphrase I can think of for the gist of Paul’s recommendation.

  2. Wayne Leman says:

    Thanks, John. Yes, I agree with you and I had the same reservations even as I posted (or maybe it was just after I posted which is sometimes the case!). I like your translation.

  3. Mike Sangrey says:

    I think our understanding of χάρις (CHARIS) is a bit too spiced with our understanding of the English graciousness, and therefore it misses communicating the component of “giving a benefit” or “giving favor.” At least gracious does not do that for me. So, it sounds odd to combine graciousness and wit.

    Also, I’m not with John on this in thinking that something peppery is in play here. I don’t think “salted conversation” (as it’s used here) would lean toward, for example, sarcasm (which, even when positively thought of, has a bit of a bite to it). I think it leans more toward the idea of entertainment. That is, that the dialog would be enjoyable and satisfying, not dry and bland. It puts an appreciative smile on one’s face. And it may even be thought of as clever. Galatians 5:12 is a bit piquant, for example.

    In any case, how about joining the ideas of χάρις (‘grace’) and ἅλας (‘salt’) a little more closely?

    Your speech should always be dressed with a savory benefit to the hearer.

    If nothing else, I think this posting highlights an important need in Bible translation. It needs to be more savory, more tasty. More like a fine meal than a chemistry set.

  4. Bob MacDonald says:

    Your sacrifices should be in good taste also. Every sacrifice will be salted with salt. Perhaps there is no connection between sacrifice and speech ‘in good taste’ but if there was I would miss it if they were not translated with some concordance. Interpreted translation may sacrifice intertextual resonance. In this case, the explanatory translations are not good. Was Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of good taste? Salt is a multifaceted metaphor.

  5. Wayne Leman says:

    Bob, you are right that salt is a multifaced metaphor. And in my early thinking about translation of this verse in Colossians I thought that the preservative function of salt might be an option also. But the context helps us decide which figurative meaning of salt Paul used. He said “flavored” with salt. I realized that we would not flavor food to preserve. Of course, you didn’t suggest that. I’m just sharing my own train of thought about translation of the salt metaphor in this verse. Yes,it’s one of the salt metaphors in the Bible, but in this verse its meaning is constrained by the collocation with “seasoned”.

    I think we should only translate with the flavor meaning of the biblical salt metaphors if the context calls for that meaning, yes? Other contexts will call for translating other metaphorical meanings of salt.

  6. Dannii says:

    Salted speech is not the opposite of unpleasant speech. It is the opposite of bland speech.

    It was an obvious and familiar idiom

    What then is a natural way in English to say the opposite of bland speech? If the Greek is metaphorical then there is an argument to maintain some aspect of the flavouring metaphor, but if it’s thoroughly a dead idiom then I see no reason to keep it.

  7. John Hobbins says:

    Bob’s comment raises the question of what might be referred to as “true” and “false” concordance.

    It is right and proper for biblical exegetes to allow scripture to interpret scripture. After all, interpreters of Homer allow Homer to interpret Homer; the same applies to Shakespeare and indeed all authors of note. However, in the case of a book like the Bible, which comes to us from a time span of perhaps a thousand years and represents the combined efforts of dozens of authors, one cannot assume that passages X and Y, even if they have a word or two in common, have a tight semantic relation.

    In this instance, the passage from Leviticus in which salt is an apparent preservative, or, to take another example, Jesus’ statement to his disciples that they are “the salt of the earth,” are not nearly as relevant or illustrative of the meaning of “salt” in the Colossians passage as are the extra-biblical references cited by Dunn.

    The problem is exacerbated by the fact that countless exegetes continue to interpret their Bible on the “word study” principle, a linguistically flawed method if there ever was one. There are two main drawbacks to the word study method as usually deployed.

    (1) It assumes that one can divine the meaning of a text from the ground up, by establishing the meaning of individual lexemes and grammatical constructions in serial fashion, and then add up (or, if that leads to unhelpful results, not add up) the results.

    This might seem to be the method of much midrashic, figural, and homiletic interpretation of the Bible, but the better examples of interpretation of those kinds proceed first of all in the precisely the opposite fashion.

    That is, the best starting points for interpretation are Gestalt considerations, such as, a precise awareness of the overall drift of the larger discourse of which a particular passage is a part; its genre; its implied readers; its implied author(s); its implied historical setting. From there it is important to have a sense of the rhetorical aims of the larger work and the particular passage, *before* attempting to adjudicate questions of the kind discussed here, the sense in context of “salt” applied to speech. On that basis, it will be self-evident that passages in ancient Greek which speak affirmatively of “salted” speech are on the face of it far more likely to be truly concordant with the Colossians passage than are a passage from Leviticus which has to do the recipe for an animal sacrifice, and the words of Jesus, which apply to a specific class of people and not to speech in particular.

    (2) It privileges inner-biblical concordances over against concordances across larger corpora, inclusive of everyone from the Qumran sectaries to Plutarch. Often enough, the approach suffers from a lack of intellectual curiosity and rigor. The fact is, if you are not interested in the language and meanings found in Qumran sectarian literature, the intertestamental literature from the Septuagint to Ben Sira to Wisdom of Solomon to IV Ezra and 2 Baruch, not to mention Josephus all the way to Plutarch, you cannot really claim to be interested in the language and meanings found in the New Testament (except insofar as you can figure them out by using a Strongs Concordance).

    Dannii raises a very interesting point. Is “salt” a live or dead metaphor in this passage? It’s a very good question. The answer to questions like these are often quite complex. For example, take the phrase:

    “I beat Dannii to the punch on that one.”

    “Beat” in this instance might seem to be a perfectly dead metaphor, as in “I beat Fred in chess.” Physical contact is not implied, much less a battering of either Dannii or Fred. Still, since “beat” co-occurs with “to the punch,” the conclusion that “beat” is a dead metaphor would no longer seem to be a slam-dunk (sorry, I’m having fun here). In the same way, in our passage, since “salt” co-occurs with “prepare,” it is less likely that it is a dead metaphor.

    Beyond that, I always feel as if proponents of dynamic equivalence need to make a confession of sin with respect to metaphors. Most DE/FE translations bungle metaphors on a regular basis. That is, they almost systematically reduce metaphors to their presumed analytical abstract semantic core, and translate the latter. It’s about time that true DE translations be produced. They would engage in metaphor-for-metaphor translation.

  8. Iver Larsen says:

    It seems to me that a lot of guessing is going on here. I consider it more likely that we are dealing with Jewish idioms or metaphors than with Greek ones. It is probably related to Mat 5:13, and it is not too long ago that I learned that the Hebrew word tapel can mean both lack of wisdom and lack of salt. I would suggest that salt in Col 4:6 is also a metaphor for spiritual wisdom.

  9. John Hobbins says:

    I would note that salt is a metaphor for wit (and wisdom) in Greek and Latin no less than Hebrew. That’s why “Attic salt” denotatively refers to Attic wit and wisdom.

    In determining the denotative reference of “salt” in the Sermon on the Mount, it is once again wise to look at usage in Greek, not only Hebrew and Aramaic. See the commentary by Hans Dieter Betz on the Sermon on the Mount.

  10. Joshua Bariova says:

    This is my first post.

    I footnote “seasoned with salt” as “lively, witty, and entertaining.” Many churches I’ve attended lack this “salt,” and the atmosphere of a funeral is conveyed by preachers trying to give gravity to what they say by the seriousness of their tone. True preaching is effected with the excitement of a brother relating a wonderful discovery to his siblings. This verse has been neutered of its power by those who think felicity is not appropriate in the church.

  11. Wayne Leman says:

    John wrote:

    Most DE/FE translations bungle metaphors on a regular basis. That is, they almost systematically reduce metaphors to their presumed analytical abstract semantic core, and translate the latter. It’s about time that true DE translations be produced. They would engage in metaphor-for-metaphor translation.

    Yes! And lively English translation literature would be the result.

    How do we grease the skids, John?!

  12. John Hobbins says:


    Sorry to see that CEB de-metaphorized its source text in this instance. Nor is it clear that it got the so-called abstract semantic core right (see the discussion above). I’m sure that CEB is more successful in other cases.


    I quote from an online resource:

    Too many religious folk are so sober and sour they repel people rather than draw them. Legalists have a great eye for criticism, but a dull ear for wit. Because humor requires a somewhat “playful” disposition and a willingness (at least temporarily) to suspend all seriousness, many people—especially those with strong and well-defined religious beliefs—may be reluctant to give up their trademark seriousness.

    The New Jerusalem Bible translates Colossians 4:6:

    “Talk to them agreeably and with a flavor of wit (“seasoned with salt” in the Revised Standard Version Bible), and try to fit your answers to the needs of each one.” (Colossians 4:6, NJB)

    Greek comic writers used the verb artyo, meaning “to season,” as seasoning with the salt of wit. Of course humor can get too “salty” and like other good things become degenerated. Funny need not be filthy.



    I think it would be fun to go through the Psalms one at a time online, with CEV/NLB/GNT as the base text on the one hand, and the Hebrew on the other, with the intention of producing a DE/FE translation that is like the others except in the matter of translating metaphors with metaphors. Better Bibles would be a great forum for that.

  13. Paul Franklyn says:

    I think you are right about preserving the metaphor or exchanging it, instead of flattening. Emphasis on metaphor is a key principle for CEB, so I will raise with editors before we send final full Bible to printer in April.

  14. John Hobbins says:


    My goodness, nothing like a real-time online constructive response. You endear yourself, and CEB, to readers in so doing. I look forward to the full CEB Bible in print.

  15. John Hobbins says:

    For CEB to find its way into song at Psalm 119:105, it needs to read:

    Your word is a lamp before my feet
    and a light before my path.

    That’s a question of prosody; I don’t see why Catholics (see their Psalter) have to be the only ones to recognize the importance of prosody.

    More modestly, the translation I propose might make Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith’s song (in the UMH, I note) a new lease on life.

  16. Wayne Leman says:

    Paul, how many kinds of light are there in the CEB translation of Ps. 119:105?

    As for poetic prosody, it would sure be nice to have since prosody is important for traditional English poetry and even for some free verse. But to make the poetic passages of the CEB sound more poetic in English would add a significant amount of time more before publication. These are the difficult trade-offs in the Bible publishing world, aren’t they? My prayers are with you, even as I type this, Paul.

  17. Bob MacDonald says:

    John thanks for the gestalt idea – very true that word usage is wider than the Biblical corpus. I find some aspects of concordance extremely difficult as expected and I am severely limited in my experience with contemporaneous literature.

    I like your idea of a psalms critique. I have already started too serious a series of posts at 3 verses a day for the next two years. I am writing in sequence to see if there really is a plot to the psalms. My posts are up to psalm 2 at the moment but I am currently drafting psalm 35. I intend to keep the draft about 30 psalms ahead of the posts so that I have time to consider each psalm. All this is happening at my newest blog.

  18. Gary Simmons says:

    It looks like I came late to the punch on this one! Or is the party just getting started?

    A metaphor is like… a simile.

    Here’s my attempt at translating the verse: “Your words should always be laced with wit; your every reply should be graced with it.” The statement is more poignant if there’s a wordplay in the statement itself. Irony? I think so.

    A relevant question might be this: How does the discourse flow here? How does verse 6 nestle into its context? 4:2-5 set things up by mentioning speech/prayer in conjunction with thanksgiving, and conduct in conjunction with wisdom. How does this relate?

  19. Paul Franklyn says:

    I am not sure if John and Wayne mean to get practical, but development of a new translation for the sake of setting the psalms to music is a massive topic, probably worth a whole blog. The KJV is so tied to English hymnody and popular Scripture songs in the American denominational experience that no one would attempt a new American English translation if they waited for the musicians to embrace change away from KJV in images and idioms. (A good example is dependance on vocative O that is not in Hebrew or Greek. Sometimes I think vocative O is a musical filler, sort of like wood putty for lyric writers and composers.) Hymnody from the 18th and 19th century, which is still so dominant in church worship memory, is quintessentially biblish, and may take another 200 years and the demise of a few denominations, to adjust in the memory of what sounds correct to the ear with poetic prosody. In any case, it’s a complex cluster of topics, and I will lurk appreciatively if any jump into it down the road.

  20. Wayne Leman says:

    Paul, John and I are serious about the need for the poetry of the Bible to sound poetic in English. We, of course, recognize that translating like that is a huge undertaking. I’m not referring to setting the Psalms to music. (And I doubt that John is, either, but he can speak for himself.) Setting the Psalms to music has, as you know, already been done several times.

    We’ve just been mentioning the prosody (rhythmic patterns, esp. meter, alliteration, and line length, trying to retain the feel of Hebrew poetry while using English words and poetic tools.

    I am not suggesting that you hold off the publication date for the CEB. We’ve just talked a few times on this blog about the need to make the poetry of the Bible sound like poetry when it is translated to English.

    John, let’s work on some blog posts which demonstrate maintaining poetic prosody. Your own blog would be a good place for it. Probably you’ve already posted on it. We can collaborate somehow with what you write or you are welcome to guest blog here if you prefer.

  21. Gary Simmons says:

    Actually, Greek has a vocative O. It’s rather formal, but you can find it, e.g., in Acts 1:1.

    As for setting the Psalms to music, an Australian band known as the Sons of Korah do that. For instance, here’s Psalm 148. Their albums are on iTunes. As far as I know, they’re not out to extensively do all the Psalms, and they take a measure of license in rephrasing the grammar (e.g. singulars to plurals and vice-versa; omitting verses).

  22. Iver Larsen says:


    In my books, wit is quite different from wisdom. A wise person may be witty at times, but a witty person is rarely wise. Interesting and fascinating, but not wise. Paul is not interested in Greek, philosophical wisdom or wit, but in spiritual wisdom. It is helpful to look at the context. V. 5 says something like this: Walk (live) with wisdom towards the outsiders (non-Christians) making good use of the opportunities you get (to explain and defend the gospel). v. 6 is a specific example and further clarification of this: Your words always (being said) with love/grace/mercy, prepared with (thought out using) inspired wisdom so that you can know how God wants you to respond to each person.
    Paul is talking about Christian, spiritual wisdom, not pagan, Greek wittiness or wisdom or entertainment.

    This discussion highlights to me the principle that you cannot translate what you don’t understand. The various English renderings only show that none have understood what Paul was trying to say. Almost all English commentators are floundering and BDAG is simply wrong. Those are rather strong statements, and I am considering defending and explaining them in a future post. The issue has been discussed in detail in another Bible translation forum, and I am especially indebted to Lucy Lincoln for the insight into Semitic languages, idioms and traditions as the background for a proper understanding of the meaning of salt in Matt 5:13 and Col 4:6.

  23. Bob MacDonald says:

    Re music – I have not heard anyone talk about the work of Suzanne Haik Vantoura except at the psalms conference in September at Oxford (my notes are here) in September – no commentary that I have mentions her work even when specifically writing about Music.

  24. Paul Franklyn says:

    Wayne, sorry, I realized in twilight of sleep that I digressed about music. My Shakespeare professor who just retired after 47 years recently asked me what sort of metre drives the translation of Hebrew into English. I replied without elaboration that Hebrew has it’s own rules or formulas (parallelism, etc) for poetry, and they are not based in the norms that emerged because of or after Shakespeare. Everyone knows that the KJV appeared at the same time as Shakespeare’s plays and established what our English lit teachers claim is the standard for poetry in English, but times have too obviously changed. If this blog does some posts on Psalms and poetry, note that the CEB Psalms have been available since November as a PDF download. We’ve made a few changes since that file was posted, but in general we are getting positive feedback about the prosodic impact. Try Ps 65 for example. The CEB editors, prior to adjusting Psalms that were co-translated by Bill Bright and Clint McCann, had an extended discussion about an important book by Robert Bly, Eight Stages of Translation, and we adapted to Bly’s translation technique with the Psalms, though Bly is more dynamic than we would risk, and his effort could easily take a lifetime.

  25. John Hobbins says:


    Thanks for sticking to your guns. I hope you develop your thesis further.

    But you are fighting an uphill battle. If it is true that the collocation of verb (“prepare”) and complement (“salt”) was used in ancient Greek to reference and affirm flavorful speech (“word” in this passage), in order to advance your thesis, you are going to have to show

    (1) that Paul’s rejection of sophisticated speech was real rather than rhetorical (it is usually understood to be the latter) and

    (2) that the same verb-complement *collocation* in reference to speech is used in Hebrew or Aramaic in the sense you suggest.

    That’s a tall order.

    My sense is that Paul was a master of barbed/ piquant/ poignant/ provocative speech; that he did not consider such speech to be sophisticated in the negative sense; that he subscribed to, and practiced, a bold and provocative style of parenesis (just as the wise in Israel practiced a bold and provocative style of wisdom instruction: see Qohelet 12:11); and that in Colossians 4:6 he lifts up gracious and clever (in the good sense) speech as an ideal: for an example of gracious and clever speech to outsiders, see Paul’s Aeropagus Speech in Acts 17:22-31.

  26. John Hobbins says:


    I didn’t know that CEB Psalms was available online. I’ll take a look.

    The goal I have in mind is that of producing a translation of the Psalms that is attuned to the need to offer tuneful language in Robert Frost’s sense:

    My Spanish is not good enough to determine how successful the attempt was, but I would want to take Julio Trebolle and Susana Pottecher’s version of the Psalms as a model:

    Click to access 1499_676.pdf

    On my blog I have translated a number of Psalms with goals similar to those of Trebolle and Pottecher. For example:

    Wayne Leman and Rich Rhodes and others of the Better Bibles tribe commented on the series of posts on which the summary post to which I just linked is premised, and thereby contributed to the final result.

  27. Sue says:

    Sylvia Dunstan is recognized as Canada’s foremost hymnwriter of the last century. She went to U. of T. at the same time as John and I. She had started to translate all the psalms into hymns, but died at an early age, and they remain unpublished.

  28. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne (or anyone else),

    Since “English lacks the Greek idiom for seasoning speech with salt,” should “salt” be preserved in translation of Mark 9:50 or of Luke 14:34? (Both of those sentences have ἀρτύω + ἅλας, presumably as this same idiom as in Col. 4:6.)

  29. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk, Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34 are about salt and I don’t find any idiom in the verse, whereas Col. 4:6 does have an idiom. So, preserve the salt in these gospel passages!

    An idiom, by definition, requires some mismatch of semantic domains so that the speaker and hearer know they are dealing with figurative language. In Col. 4:6 the mismatched domains are speech and taste. The beauty of metaphors and idioms comes from the mismatch of domains, requiring our brains to figure out what the intended point of similarity is between the figurative language and the non-figurative language in which it occurs. Yes?

    The issue for translation is whether the users of a translation will get the same figurative meaning that the speakers of the original language did. If they do not, then the translation is not yet accurate. *Can* the users of a translation learn the figurative meanings of another language? Yes, just as they can even learn the other language and not require a translation.

  30. John Hobbins says:

    Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match! Find me a find. Catch me a catch.

    Metaphors depend on the creation of unity out of a diversity/ alterity of semantic domains. A marriage takes place. In the moment it is understood, it is consummated.

    I hope this metaphorical treatment of metaphors remains within the guidelines of this blog.

    Ultimately, the territory over which a metaphor works cannot be limited to a word or idiom but is to be thought of as a frame of reference. On this point, I recommend:

    Metaphor and Frames of Reference:
    With Examples from Eliot, Rilke, Mayakovsky, Mandelshtam,
    Pound, Creeley, Amichai, and the New York Times, by Benjamin Harshav, Chapter 2 in Explorations in Poetics (Stanford University Press, 2007) .

    Contact me if you want a PDF of this essay.

  31. J. K. Gayle says:

    Thanks, Wayne. Yes “Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34 are about salt,” but the oddness of the Greek is that it’s a question of salt seasoning salt. It is possible that unsalty salt can get seasoned is what Jesus more or less asks rhetorically (in Mark’s Greek). Is it possible that tasteless salt gets seasoned (is how Luke renders it, more or less, in Greek). Salt seasoning Logos, as in Paul’s statement, is only differently peculiar. So you want the translations of Mark and Luke to keep “salt” even though it’s a weird thing that Jesus is asking, right?

    (You add: “An idiom, by definition, requires some mismatch of semantic domains so that the speaker and hearer know they are dealing with figurative language.” Well, aren’t you conflating idiom and metaphor? I’m looking at all the OED definitions of “idiom” and think they generally have to do with oddness and peculiarity and uniqueness in language rather than semantic [mis]matching.)

  32. Wayne Leman says:

    John wrote:

    I hope this metaphorical treatment of metaphors remains within the guidelines of this blog.

    John, it’s always nice to get additional references here which bear on translation of figurative speech, metaphors included.

    A book I highly recommend is Metaphors We Live By, by Lakoff and Johnson. It is now a classic (not age-wise), written by two linguists who recognize how pervasive metaphors infuse our lives and how we speak about them.

  33. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk, I’m sure not intending to conflate metaphors and idioms. They both use figurative language but do so in different ways. My definitions for and examples of each can be found by clicking on the Terminology link for this blog.

  34. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk wrote:

    So you want the translations of Mark and Luke to keep “salt” even though it’s a weird thing that Jesus is asking, right?

    Weirdness is not the translation issue at hand, as far as I can tell. The translation issue is whether or not the Greek idiom in Col. 4:6 is already in use by English speakers, and, if not, can English speakers figure out its meaning from a translation that retains the forms of the original? If they cannot, then there are several solutions, including: (1) translate the figurative meaning in Greek to its referential meaning in English (“plain-vanilla English which does “taste” very good; (2) translate the figurative meaning in Greek to an idiom in English which has the same figurative meaning as the Greek idiom (this tastes better); (3) translate the form of the Greek idiom then footnote its figurative meaning.

  35. Refe Tuma says:

    Great discussion! Metaphors make translation fun, and prepositions make it maddening. Love the site by the way – only one of it’s kind that I’ve found that is able to discuss translation without degenerating into academic squabbling!

  36. J. K. Gayle says:

    Thanks Wayne. I follow you. Please see my response to Iver, below.

    Iver said: The various English renderings only show that none have understood what Paul was trying to say. Almost all English commentators are floundering and BDAG is simply wrong. Those are rather strong statements, and I am considering defending and explaining them in a future post…. I am especially indebted to Lucy Lincoln for the insight into Semitic languages, idioms and traditions as the background for a proper understanding of the meaning of salt in Matt 5:13 and Col 4:6.

    Iver, I’m hoping you’ll write that post. Interesting that you mention Matthew in light of Semitic idioms and salt. Samuel Tobias Lachs, in his A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, does provide some detail on the topic including other scholars’ speculations about what the spoken Hebrew Aramaic (source) might have been in Matt. 3:13. Clearly, Mark, Luke, and Matthew are not Hebrew Aramaic but Greek (translations at Mark 9:50, Luke 14:34, Matt. 3:13?). What is not too different from Wayne’s question about how to translate Paul’s Greek into English is how the gospel writers translate a likely spoken Hebrew Aramaic idiom with respect to salt into written Greek. Wayne gives three ways to move from what he sees as a Greek idiom (Paul’s) into better English.

    This, to me, raises the question whether Paul’s supposed Greek idiom isn’t rather simply a Hebraism which he’s literally translated into Hellene. If so, then I can only wonder whether Wayne would like very much Paul’s translating so literally and ignoring the Hebraic meaning while more imitating the Aramaic form.

    If we could see that Jesus’s odd sayings about unsalty salt getting salted are likewise idiomatic, then we might have to concede that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all translating into Greek rather literally, and not figuratively, for whatever reason. How they get away with that could be that the Greek readers are bilingual and tolerate literal translations, which seem to hearken back to the oral Aramaic. (This is much different from our generally monolingual context — that forces English readers to need the translation only to “communicate to the English reader what the Greek form meant”; and, sadly, this may even ignore the fact that the Greek form simply mirrored a Hebrew Aramaic form.)

  37. Mike Sangrey says:

    Been busy, but I can’t resist the urge to comment.

    John mentioned,
    Metaphors depend on the creation of unity out of a diversity/ alterity of semantic domains. A marriage takes place. In the moment it is understood, it is consummated.

    I hope this metaphorical treatment of metaphors remains within the guidelines of this blog.

    I think you’ve arrived at the right conception.

    I know, I know, it’s an impotent pun.

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