In the previous post there were some good and insightful comments on how to translate emphasis, and I thought it worthwhile to take the example from John 4 out from the general thread on theory.
The text of these 3 verses is in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and an unnamed Samaritan woman. Jesus has the upper hand and is leading and directing the conversation. Jesus does not follow-up on the woman’s request in v. 15, but instead introduces a new twist.
Let’s start with v. 16:
Λέγει αὐτῇ, Ὕπαγε φώνησον τὸν ἄνδρα σου καὶ ἐλθὲ ἐνθάδε.
He-says to-her: “Go-away, call your husband and come here.
No matter what your translation theory is, you have to start with studying the original text in its context. Already the very literal translation above has made some choices. Compare with the KJV: Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
The Greek text above has no subject for the verb saying apart from the “he/she” embedded in the verbal suffix. It is normal in Greek discourse that the main character is often only referred to by a pronoun, rather than a name like Jesus. Many manuscripts clarified the speaker by adding “Jesus” and the KJV followed these later manuscripts. The first choice of a translator is which Greek text to follow.
In some languages, the person who has the upper hand in the conversation is to be mentioned by name, and it may also be more natural in English to introduce the name here, even if it may not have been in the original text. RSV did that: “Jesus said to her.”
How do you mark the shift in the conversation? Is it enough to start a new paragraph? Or would it help to say: “Then Jesus said to her,”?
Since it is in the middle of the conversation with only two people present, Jesus and the woman, do we really need to keep “to her”? If we translated it as “Jesus then said,” would it be less accurate? Is it not abundantly clear to the reader that Jesus still speaks to the woman even without saying “to her”?
Greek used present tense: “He-says”. Why? We now know that this so-called historical present when used in a speech introducer functions to highlight the unexpectedness of the speech itself. It tells the reader: Sit up and listen to what is coming now! English also uses the historical present. Could we say: “Then Jesus says to her,”? All English translations, whether formal or functional, have changed from present to past because the translators did not understand the rhetorical function of the present tense used here. Even the most literal versions lose part of the intended meaning.
The speech has three singular command forms. That is lost in English, since your language (it’s my second language) does not show the singular-plural distinction. So, again we lose something in the translation, but it can be understood from context, since Jesus is speaking to the woman. Even the word “come” is singular, although from the words “go and call your husband and come back” it is implied that she should bring her husband along. Some languages would require a plural subject for the return of the two.
The first word is literally “Go-away”. It means: remove yourself from here. But saying “Go away” in English seems too harsh as if he is chasing her away. That is not intended, so English versions chose to simply say “Go”. In American English, it may have been more natural to say “Why don’t you go and get your husband and then come back with him?” I would have expected something like that in the Message, which is very American, but it says “Go call your husband and then come back.” One has to make a decision about how harsh and commanding the command was originally and try to reflect that aspect also. Is it a strong command or simply a suggestion? What is the social context at the time of Jesus for a man to command a woman? How different is that from modern Western context? Should that be reflected in the translation or not?
Very often, different words in the original are used to express the same meaning, and the translation may need to use the same word. I already gave the example of “Go” in English which translates the Greek word for “go-away” rather than the normal Greek word for “go”. Similarly, one word in the original may cover several different senses where the translator must choose. Greek uses the same word for “man” and “husband”. The context indicates that in this case the appropriate word to use is “husband”, even though the speaker knew that the man referred to was not the woman’s actual husband, but the man she was living with. Even the Greek word here translated “come” can in some contexts best be translated by English “go”. (Last word in Heb 11:8 for instance.)
Now you are better prepared to produce an accurate, clear and natural translation of this verse in English. (It’s not my language, so I won’t try.)
Let’s go to 17a: ἀπεκρίθη ἡ γυνὴ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Οὐκ ἔχω ἄνδρα. Answered the woman/wife and said to-him, “Not I-have husband.”
The doublet “answered and said” reflects a pattern that is natural in Hebrew and it shows how the author uses Greek as his second language. A literal rendering will not communicate that, but only sound strange. Most versions reduce to one speech word, either “answered” (RSV, GNB) or “replied (NIV etc.) or “said” (Message). Do you answer to a command that is not a question? Wouldn’t “respond” be better? And where should the speech introducer come? Before or after the speech? It is normal in Greek to have it first, but it is common in Modern English to have it after as reflected in NIV, GNB, NLT etc. It makes no difference to the accuracy, but it is matter of naturalness.
The word order reflects that “have” is relatively more prominent than “husband”, and this could be indicated by italics in writing to show where the stress ought to be placed: “I don’t have a husband.” (She is not officially married). Or we could add “Actually, I don’t have a husband” or “I don’t actually have a husband.” This is where a functional equivalent translation has the freedom to be more accurate than a literal one, because there is freedom to add words in order to represent an emphasis that is lost in the literal ones.
Let’s move to 17b: λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Καλῶς εἶπας ὅτι Ἄνδρα οὐκ ἔχω· he-says to-her (the) Jesus, Well you spoke that husband not I-have.
We notice again the historical present which asks the hearer to sit up and listen to what unexpected turn the conversation now takes. Jesus is mentioned by name, but not emphasized. It could be for variation or to indicate that Jesus has the upper hand in and directs where the conversation is to go. Jesus now speaks as a prophet.
For the first two words, KJV has: “Thou hast well said”. Is it not more common nowadays to simply say: “Well said!”?
The next part is a semi-direct speech where Jesus appears to quote the words of the woman, but changes the order. Most English versions make it indirect, partly because this allows the translation to more accurately and naturally communicate the intention. The woman has subtly acknowledged that the man she is living with is not her legitimate husband, and Jesus commends her for that. It is OK to have “husband” last in English, since contrary to Greek, that is the most prominent position. So, we could say: “Well said! You don’t have a husband.” Or even: “Well said, because you don’t have a (real) husband.”
Verse 18: πέντε γὰρ ἄνδρας ἔσχες καὶ νῦν ὃν ἔχεις οὐκ ἔστιν σου ἀνήρ· τοῦτο ἀληθὲς εἴρηκας.
After-all five husbands you-have-had, and the man you now have is not your husband. That is-true you-have-said.
There is relative emphasis on the word “five”. To “have a man” in Greek can refer to living with a man without being married. It is most likely that the first “have” is in the context of five consecutive marriages, but it is a choice the translator has to make in choosing between men and husbands. The Greek connector γὰρ is not a logical reason connector, but a rhetorical and discourse explanatory connector, so it is usually best translated by “after all” or “you see”. I might venture a more dynamic version: “You see, you have already had no less than five husbands, and the man you are living with right now is not a husband to you. So, what you said before was really true.” This is not far from the Message: “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”