Here’s the answers

Yesterday (Disagreeable nouns) I posted some examples of “disagreeable nouns” in English translations. And I included a few examples of my own just to see if you were awake.

Here are the four passages I listed with the problems highlighted and explained.

1. The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1, ESV)

There’s an ambiguity here because of the use of the word “son.” Does Jesus have two fathers? Or maybe Jesus is the son of David who is the son of Abraham. Better to say something like, “Jesus Christ, the descendant of both David and Abraham.”

2. Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. (Mark 2:13, NIV)

This isn’t ungrammatical but there is a switch in pronominal reference. A crowd (singular, it) came to him and he taught them (plural, referring to people). This is very common in the Gospels. You’re always hearing something like, “Then the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Master…'” I always imagine the 12 disciples speaking in unison.

3. One day Zechariah’s group of priests were on duty, and he was serving God as a priest. (Luke 1:8, CEV)

Now this is an error. Agreement with a noun phrase is with the head noun. So it should be “group of priests was.” This is a very common “error” and people make it all the time while speaking. Still, it’s pretty amazing to find an error in the CEV unless this is some kind of British English that I’m not familiar with.

4. 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3, KJV)

Peter caught the error on this one. Pronouns tend to refer back to the most recent, logical referent. So if I say, “Yesterday, I saw Wayne having coffee with Peter. He was looking great.” In this example, “he” refers to “Wayne” since he’s the most active referent. But if I said, “Yesterday, Wayne introduced me to Peter. He’s a stock broker on Wall Street.” You would know that “he” refers to Peter.

But in this passage from John, Word is an “it” (generally speaking) while God is a “he” so we expect the pronouns in verse three to be referring to God. But “Word” is the participant in focus so I think that even though the Greek is ambiguous that the pronoun was understood to be referring to Word and not God.

In Nyungwe, Word (fala) and God (Mulugu) come from different word classes so the pronominal reference forces you to choose which you are referring to. I remember the translators going back and forth on this one for a while.

Finally, my errors. Several people caught this error:

Here’s some examples (Should be “Here are some examples).

But nobody caught the other error which was the last word in the post:

Can you tell me what each of the errors are?

And to leave you with one last error. The title of this post contains an error.

Thanks for participating. Have a great week!

10 thoughts on “Here’s the answers

  1. David Frank says:

    The reason I didn’t figure that “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” was ungrammatical was because I figured that “son of David” referred to Jesus and “son of Abraham” referred to David. I might add that even if both of these qualifiers had the same referent (Jesus), I’m not sure I would describe that problem as “ungrammatical.” But I understand what you are trying to get at. Maybe “infelicitous” would be a better description.

  2. Wayne Leman says:

    Actually, David, I think there are an increasing number of English speakers who say “Here’s the ___” when the item mentioned is plural. In this case number agreement is not with the item mentioned but with the presentative scene. I think this may be parallel with:

    “It’s raining”

    where “it” doesn’t have a referent but it simply a grammatical filler so that the sentence is grammatical in English.

    So, although some would call your “Here’s the answers” ungrammatical, many descriptive linguists today would not. To my ears, as a matter of fact, it sounds grammatical. Of course, in the past we probably would have insisted on:

    “Here are the answers”

    with contraction, I suppose, to:

    “Here’re the answers.”

    So, you’re more grammatical than you might realize! (descriptively so, anyway)

  3. David Ker says:

    @David, your reading is certainly possible. I’d always assumed the structure of the genealogy was somehow summarized in that first line or that Matthew was making a statement about Jesus’ Jewish and kingly roots.

    Yes, infelicitous is a better way of saying that.

    @Wayne, it’s the difference between speech and formal writing. But the gap between those two modes in English is shrinking!

    @Mike, youse guys crack me up.

  4. David Ker says:

    @Wayne, just noticed you wrote this:
    “I think there are an increasing number of English speakers”

    Strictly speaking that’s ungrammatical but there might be a linguistic reason why the agreement is happening like that. The more animate noun is in the genitive and so agreement is jumping to that rather than to the head noun, “number.” It would be interesting to hear from a linguist on this one…

  5. Iver Larsen says:

    I don’t know about English, but in Denmark we have a national language board. They constantly monitor how the language develops, and if a majority of writers break the “rules”, then the language board changes the rules. In terms of descriptive linguistics the majority is always right. I suppose a similar principle applies even if there is no language board.

    As a translator, I have always been in a quandary about what to do with Matt 1:1. The main problem is that “son” in Hebrew has the connotation of being like somebody else. It is much more than simply son or descendant. The expression “Son of David” was a known Messianic title. Matthew’s focus is probably not that Jesus was from the clan of David, although that is part of it. His focus was probably much more that Jesus was the expected Messiah. So, the translator should consider keeping that connection.

    NLT does not do so when it says “descendant” in 1:1 and “son” in 1:20.

    GNB does not do so when it says “descendant” in 1:1 and 1:20, but “son” in 9:27.

    There is a similar problem with the second description of Jesus as “son of Abraham.” This phrase has a double meaning. One meaning is “descendant of Abraham” which is equivalent to saying that he was a Jew, which would not be new information to Matthew’s audience. The other meaning is that he had the same kind of faith as Abraham had, a spiritual “son of Abraham”. Luke has this sense in 19:9 (and related ones in 3:8 and 13:16) and Paul does the same in Gal 3:7.

    Whatever you do, you run into problems, so my preference is to keep the literal “son” and explain the background in footnotes and in the book introduction to Matthew.

  6. Daniel Buck says:

    Ah, the Word was ‘it’ rather than ‘him’! I missed that, probably because in English Bibles Word is always capitalized here, which makes it a proper noun, which in standard English always take a gender:

    America is a nation that can be proud of HER history.

    The USS Titanic sank on HER maiden voyage (not his bachelor voyage).

    The Scarlet Pimpernel is a spy who masterfully conceals HIS identity.

    The Unabomber has delivered HIS latest missive.

    ‘Its’ would not work in any of these, except progressively the first, then the second, as we more and more avoid using gender-specific language for any mixed-gender group of humans, directly or indirectly.

  7. Robert Berman says:

    Concerning “group of priests were on duty,” it is a Britishism to do that. I remember thinking it was weird that the liner notes of U2 albums say, “U2 are Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, and Adam Clayton.”

  8. Michael Nicholls says:

    “And to leave you with one last error. The title of this post contains an error.” –Here’s the answers

    Is it the assumption that there are indeed definitive answers?


  9. exegete77 says:

    Title: “Here ARE the answers”

    I agree with Iver about retaining the translation “son,” even with Abraham it is the promised one (as Paul explains in Gal. 3). Yep, I know, theology, now, but sometimes….

    Rich Shields

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