Was Paul hard to understand?

I’ve wondered for quite a long time whether 2 Peter 3:16 means what we think it means. The Greek word (“hard to understand”, δυσνόητος) is unusual; Peter, curiously enough, could have used a simpler to understand expression.

The verse is very often used to support an objection to clear translation. I’ve come to the opinion that this verse can’t be used to support such an objection.

The word only occurs once in the NT. It also occurs in Lucian’s “Alexander the Oracle-Monger” (Para 54).

I laid a good many traps of this kind for him; here is another: I asked only one question, but wrote outside the packet in the usual form, So-and-so’s eight Queries, giving a fictitious name and sending the 120 drachmas [~13.6 troy ounces of silver]. Satisfied with the payment of the money and the inscription on the packet, he gave me eight answers to my one question. This was, “When will Alexander’s imposture be detected?” The answers concerned nothing in heaven or earth, but were all silly and meaningless together.

The phrase of interest is the very last one. “Silly” translates δυσνόητος. The entire tone of this section, indeed, the entire book, will not allow for “unable to understand.” Lucian is making fun of Alexander. It’s not that Alexander’s reply was “hard to understand.” But, the answers were just stupid or infantile. It’s as if Lucian is saying, “Gosh, a person with a brain could have done better.” (if you think I’m overstating, go here (http://www.epicurus.net/en/alexander.html) and read the first paragraph.

Here’s what I’m thinking. The definition of δυσνόητος should be something like: “refusal to cognitively accept. The word does not refer to an inability caused by lack of intelligence or knowledge, or to the difficulty of the content, but has more to do with how one disparages the value of the content that actually is communicated.

2 Peter 3:16 (NIV) says:

He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Keep in mind that Peter refers to Paul to bolster the importance of what he himself writes. It seems odd to me that Peter would commend Paul for wisdom and do that in a context where he immediately adds, “Well, you can’t understand him half the time anyway.” And, furthermore, where then is the culpability for the “ignorant and unstable” if Paul is hard to understand to begin with?  Such “logic” doesn’t work for me.

I suggest:

“His letters contain content which some find silly, which the ignorant and unstable distort, …”

What are your thoughts?

A simple idiomatic translation exercise (part 2)

Idioms are difficult to translate. In A simple idiomatic translation exercise (part 1), I raised the question of how to translate two idioms from two different languages, and I asked people to take guesses. Several people were right. The best translation is “To make a mountain out of a mole hill.”

However, that wasn’t what I was after. 🙂 “Crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!

The exercise gives us insight into ourselves and helps us understand some things a translator (and an exegete) needs to be conscious of.

  1. With many foreign idioms, one cannot “make sense” of them. Take Énêhpoése ma’eno for example (Hi Wayne 🙂 ) What’s a turtle have to do with fog? Literally rendered in English, the foreign idiom reads, “The turtle is shrouded.” In cases such as these, the reader cannot obtain the correct meaning. The Cheyenne simply means, “It’s foggy.” And that English expression would be the right translation.

    But, I picked the foreign idioms I did because I thought you could intuit the meaning (even from two different languages!). In the examples, the meaning garnered from the literal English turned out to be semantically close to the desired accuracy. Literally rendering Sääsest elevanti tegema as “To make an elephant out of a gnat” gets the reader relatively close. If the reader recognizes that they are reading an idiomatic expression—that is, they know the above expression isn’t some kind of recipe for elephants with gnats as the main ingredient[1]—then it’s possible they can intuit the correct meaning.

    You showed me your ability to achieve accuracy since you were able to take a guess at the appropriate English idiom and get the meaning right.

  2. However, it was a guess. That means that you had to analyze the literal rendering—you couldn’t just read it. So, the comprehension of the text was a two step process for you, and not simply the normal, one step, reading effort. In this example you did this analysis quite quickly; however, it was still two steps, not one.

    What that means is the literal rendering was not natural for you. Not being natural may simply mean you need more exposure to the specific linguistic construction. It might simply mean you’re “out of the loop” as it were. It might be that the idiom, “To make an elephant out of a gnat,” is used by a majority of English speakers but not by you with your ideolect. So then, if that were the case, it would be just a matter of you learning an expression common to the larger audience to which you are a part.

    However, the expression is not natural in English. So, the vast majority of the audience would have had to analyze it, break it into smaller pieces, assess the relative merits of the different possibilities, filter out the ridiculous, and, finally, make a semantic decision. I know this is true since the comments evidenced a discussion around the meaning even though it was an idiomatic expression. If the discussion would have really got going, the comments would have overwhelmingly shown that the expression is not natural English. People would have torn it apart, wanted context (one commenter brought this out explicitly), offered alternatives, and much more I’m not thinking of. We would have heard people say, “Well, to me this means…” and offered a explanation that anyone “in the know” would have known was completely wrong.

    This is simply what happens when a reader is confronted with an unnatural expression. And it is esspecially true when a reader is reading a text they deem of very high worth–like a Bible.

    I should also point out here that an idiomatic expression triggers a single semantic concept. That is, the meaning of an idiom “snaps” into place for someone familiar with the idiom, even though the idiom uses many words. Many idioms, in fact, cannot be analyzed as a sum of parts so as to retrieve the single concept. Frequently, one can analyze the history of the idiom, or possibly intuit how someone can get from the pieces to the whole, but it’s still analysis. This is undoubtedly what many of you did to get from the foreign idiom to an accurate English one.

    The problem is, it’s this analysis into the details which leads the exegete away from the meaning of the whole.

    This kind of analysis is a natural process (and it really is a valuable one!). However, the use of it is strong evidence that the translation uses unnatural English.

So, on the one hand, you could get the accurate meaning. And, yet, on the other, it took you more effort than needed.

A frequent modus operandi for Bible translators is to go with the literal unless the literal obtains inaccurate meaning. But, the above example contradicts such a method. The best choice, in spite of the fact that accurate meaning CAN be obtained by the literal, is a non-literal translation.

The best choice is the one that obtains accurate meaning with the least processing effort.

[1] Notice the slight humor in this is a natural result of your NOT thinking of an interpretation which, nonetheless, is syntactically and grammatically possible. I’ll talk about this more in another post.

A simple idiomatic translation exercise (part 1)

You’re a translator, and you have been given the following statement in Estonian (with an English literal translation), how do you think it should be translated into English?

Sääsest elevanti tegema
To make an elephant out of a gnat

Similarly, you’ve also been given a statement in Finnish. What is your guess for an English translation?

tehdä kärpäsestä härkänen
to make a bull out of a fly

See also: A simple idiomatic translation exercise (part 2).

When summarizing is too hard

Many times on this blog I’ve expressed the distinction between two types of translations:  one which is intended to be analyzed by its user and one that is to be synthesized.  They are roughly equivalent to translations for study and translations for reading, but the similarity is only rough.  The analytic vis-a-vis synthetic distinction is to emphasize the cognitive process by which one uses the translation.  The analytical translation enables the “reader” to tear the text apart, to get at the details, to perform word studies, even to hear the underlying original language.  Those processes are unique to intentional analysis.  The synthetic translation enables the reader to process the text’s meaning, to follow the flow of the author’s thought, to engage in the narrative.  Any analysis which is done in these synthetic processes happens subconsciously and automatically.  With the synthetic, it’s like the analytical engine is hardwired in.

William Tierney and Stefani Relles, in a Washington Post guest blog,  posted four ways to teach students to write.  Of those four ways, one stood out to me as apropos to a Better Bible discussion.

Teach summarizing, not analyzing: Critical thinking in and of itself is not a precursor of good writing. Putting thinking into words, sentences and paragraphs is the endgame, and that crucially involves the ability to summarize material, a more concrete and therefore teachable skill. If students are able to summarize what they have read, they can better grasp how to put together their own arguments.

I think many English Bible translators have preconditioned the resulting text to support critical thinkers.  For me to suggest we question such a thing probably approaches heresy.  I can hear someone ask, “Come on, Mike, are you saying we shouldn’t teach critical thinking skills?”  No, not at all.  Perhaps it would be better to end that sentence with the phrase, “…resulting text to support analytical processes.”

But, the point I want to focus on is brought out by Tierney and Relles when they say that critical thinking and good writing are not necessarily concomitant.  Might I suggest that our English Bibles show anecdotal evidence to support this claim.  Many of our English translations make it easy to do word studies; and painfully difficult to grasp the meaning of a paragraph.  And since the hurdle of summarizing a paragraph is so high, the analytical, it seems to me, has not only fragmented the text, it has fragmented the body of readers who love that text.  When this whole body is taken as a whole, one is immediately confronted with the unmistakable reality that critical thinking has not resulted in a text that brings us together.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Bible translators should summarize the original text using the destination language.  Summarization is the responsibility of the reader.  But, I can’t help but think that a good text—that is, a well written one—enables a reader to summarize.  And I think the contrapositive also shows this to be true.  That not being able to summarize reflects a text that is not well written.  It’s like there is a distance between a text and a summary.  Good writing presents a shorter distance.  A poorly written text presents a greater distance.  I think that most English Bibles offer too great a distance for the vast majority of readers (and I fear that too much scholarship is buried in the weeds).

The other point gleaned from Tierney and Relles comes from their last sentence, “If students are able to summarize what they have read, they can better grasp how to put together their own arguments.

Which if these two translations is easier for you to summarize?

And he was certain days with the disciples that were at Damascus.  And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God.  And all that heard him were amazed, and said, Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havoc of them that called on this name? And he had come hither for this intent. That he might bring them bound before the chief priests.


Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God.  They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers?  And didn’t he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the hight priests?”

This is from Acts 9 and is a narrative text. And, generally speaking, a narrative text doesn’t lead directly to theology which changes one’s life (narrative texts can, but some care needs to be taken).  However, let me ask you, if it is easier to summarize the one over the other, then wouldn’t it be more likely for such a summarizable translation to impact your life in real and relevant ways?  Isn’t it easier to “own” it?

If a student is better able to summarize what they have read, then it seems to me they are better equipped to own the text for themselves.  Obviously, there needs to be a profound submission to the authoritative text.  But, isn’t the effort and the process of summarization the very key to appropriating the text for one’s life?  Doesn’t summarization coupled with submission unavoidably lead to a changed life?  If the Bible is what I think the Bible is, then when I appropriate it, making it part of me, it positively impacts me—it does not go back to God empty.

If the Bible translation text battles against summarizing, then has not that translation to that degree failed in its God given charter to teach, rebuke, correct, and train?

What do you think?

An inquiry into better seeking — Matthew 6:33

What does ζητέω (ZHTEW) mean?

Matthew 6:33 says, “ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν”

An elementary Greek, wooden translation is, “And/But seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of him and these all will be added to you.”

I’ve often wondered what seeking a kingdom meant. Where is it? Is it lost? Has it been misplaced? Is there a map that can direct me to where it is?

Specifically, how does one do this seek activity? The literary context doesn’t really answer that question. The context is about the anxiety of meeting rather important day to day needs: food, water, and clothing. We are to not get worked up into a sweat about such necessary things, but, instead replace that anxiety with seeking. The text seems to assume that the person hearing this for the first time will know what seeking a kingdom means. Seeking is not elucidated.

Moulton and Milligan (MM), “The vocabulary of the Greek New Testament”, show that ζητέω has a lot to do with inquiring into something which is not immediately obvious. The word was sometimes written into a margin (with δίπλωμα) next to specific names on a list. Perhaps this meant that someone was to do a little research into these person’s official papers (travelling papers, perhaps). MM appear to me to indicate that the idea of inquiry was a significant core piece to the meaning of ζητέω.

TDNT also bears this out. Additionally they bring another conceptual piece into play. Namely, that the information being sought is not immediately obvious. Well, of course it’s not immediately obvious–why else seek for the information? But, it’s not that the data is purposefully hidden; it’s just not something readily available unless one makes the effort by doing a further inquiry. Jesus is not painting the picture that the kingdom is a mystery (μυστήριον)–at least not here. “Mysteries” had to be taught; they couldn’t be learned by simple inquiry. He is not talking about a strenuous effort to find special knowledge. It’s more like, ask the right questions. Go talk to the right people. And you’ll get clued in. It’s closer to “figure out God’s kingdom.

Does the idea of inquiry come to mind when the English reader reads Matthew 6:33? Should it? I think so.

Seeking a kingdom immediately brings to mind that there is a place one needs to go. That one needs to leave here and go there. I’m questioning whether that’s the real intent here. It’s pretty easy to interpret the English as “try to get out of this world” either in a real sense or metaphorically. If that were true, then why would one pray, “I want your kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven?” And, given the context, why would I “give a cup of cold water to the least of these?” Why wouldn’t I tell this thirsty person to not get all anxious about it but go find the kingdom and the drink will “be added to them.”

I wonder if it would be better to think in terms of inquiry. That is, that one is to try to gain information about, and try to understand, the kingdom of God (the same can be said about God’s righteousness).

I wonder if it would be better to translate Matthew 6:33 along the lines of:

Make understanding God’s kingdom and his righteousness a first priority, and these other things will accrue to you.

What are your thoughts? Can we do better than seek?

Headline news: Accuracy Battles Readability—Surreality Wins

Joel Hoffman, over at “God didn’t say that,” cites David Roach in the Baptist Press, “most American Bible readers … value accuracy over readability.” Reading between the lines of Joel’s posting I take it he’s a bit bothered by the statement. Joel, you’re not alone. He asks, “What do you think.” Since my response involves more than just a quick comment, I thought I’d post here instead of comment there.

Well, what do I think? I think the “accuracy versus readability” statement is like the question, “do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Or perhaps, “have you beaten your wife lately?” The survey question is incredibly confusing. Do you prefer accuracy or readability? “Ummmm….yes, with salad, and can I have some adrenal gland support on the side?”. The surreal should encourage the reader to scratch their head at this point. I think part of the reason for the existence of BBB is to help people think their way through such confusing statements as the one offered by Baptist Press.

And, frankly, the issue has gotten serious. I think the pitting of one against the other—accuracy against readability—in many cases, has reached the point where if a translation is readable, it’s assumed to not be accurate. Which, very sadly, leads to the hopelessness of some: “if I understand it, it must be wrong (inaccurate).” [Which is why all Surreal paintings make me think, “Ahhhhh…fish! I get it.” But, I digress.] I have seen the face of hopelessness happily melt into a smile when the confusion disappears. One lady, quite literally, ran up the steps to dust off her NIV. She had been convinced that “more accurate” translations were better for her even though the readability was so low.

When I read the survey result, I too, wondered, probably out loud, “what is the real reason for why people think that?” I think the confusion stems from the depths of world-view. A world-view is that which one looks through and not what one looks at. Unfortunately, how one understands how language works is not one of the topics discussed when exploring the interworkings of world-view. It should be. Language is filled with metaphor (not metaphors). Our language forms the transparent fabric through which we look at our world. This doesn’t limit what we can talk about (that’s what one looks at); but, it does determine how we can talk about what we talk about (that’s the through).

When it comes to Bible translation, people define ‘accuracy‘ in a particular way, irrespective of whether the real world of language actually works that way. So, the “accuracy versus readability” debate is a constituent of a world-view. In the “popular press” it hasn’t yet risen to the level of a truth-propositional discussion. And it needs to. I think Joel bumps up against this when he says, “Maybe the issue is part of the broader disagreement about the roles of religion, of science, and how to balance the two.

And I think that brings us to one of the larger questions—“How does one measure accuracy and readability separately?” If I have a quantity of gas (as opposed to liquid or solid) I can measure its temperature, volume and pressure. I can take each measurement separately, even though each of these characteristics influences the other. How do I do that with ‘accuracy‘ and ‘readability‘? People assume the two “sides” exist along a single line. ‘Accuracy‘ exists on the one end; ‘readability‘ exists at the other. If ‘accuracy‘ goes up, then ‘readability‘ goes down. That’s the assumption. But, we know for a fact that one can have both ‘accuracy‘ and ‘readability‘ at the same time. And, the simultaneity is not the result of compromise (an idealistic meeting in the middle). One can optimize both. All popular translations strive to meet this goal. And, ironically relative to the survey, many succeed in many cases. So, we know we must deal with this by using two dimensions. ‘Accuracy‘ and ‘readability‘ are separable. The survey question, and more importantly, the definition of ‘accuracy‘, assumes a single dimension. This is a basic flaw within the survey.

I believe another basic underlying assumption, a thing people look through, is that ‘accuracy‘ somehow means “closer to the Greek” (or Hebrew or what have you). But, even that is ambiguous—what does “closer” mean? Popularly, it means that one can match the translated word to a Strong’s number which can then be used as an index into the original language lexis and therefore the word’s meaning. I mention “Strong’s number” to emphasize the assumption of something discrete, just like an integer. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about something neatly packaged into a discrete box. But, that’s the assumption. The assumption is wrong; but, the discreteness forms part of the metaphor through which we look at “accuracy versus readability.” And therefore, we get confused when staring at reality (or when it stares back).

The discreteness assumption is so strongly and pervasively held that the system of hermeneutics assumes it—it’s systematized into how we study the Bible. How many hermeneutics books do you know train people in such things as Information Structuring (see Lambrecht’s work on this), Discourse Grammar (see Runge), the boundary connections at discourse transition points (see Longenecker), and Pragmatics (Mona Baker is helpful here and I think even Sperber and Wilson, though Ken Bailey is quite helpful here, too, but only in a popular and practical way)? Because ‘accuracy‘ is defined as “close to the Greek”, the so-called better translations adopt the wrong definition of accuracy and therefore hermeneutics books must foster an activity of close analysis of discrete details. That is, they have to work with a specific class of translations. The “other” class is ruled out as sub-par. In Pike’s terms, we never get to talk about ‘wave‘ (dynamic) or ‘field‘ (system). It’s all discrete ‘particle‘ (element). The assumption supports the system; the system supports the assumption. We need to adopt a definition of ‘accuracy‘ which reflects the systemic nature of a communication activity (such as a text). It must reflect the contextual nature of communication. And by ‘context‘ I mean more than just the discrete words around the discrete word. Obviously, Pragmatics applies here as well as much else.

Additionally, I think there’s an assumption that a syntactic element in one language when morphosyntactically reproduced in another language accurately reflects the same function as it performed in the original text. That’s quite demonstrably not true. A few quick examples are: the Greek participle works differently from the English one, conjunctions work differently (take καί as one quick example), Greek tense (if it should even be called that) works differently, word order works differently, and so on. In other words, the signaling mechanisms (ie. the lexico-syntactic constituents of a text) used by different languages signal different meanings in the different languages. [I apologize for the Greekiness; I suspect Hebrew is much more illustrative of the issue—I’d be interested in some examples/explanations]. The point being that the assumption of “closeness to the Greek implies accuracy” is very obviously wrong.[1] A person saying ‘yes’ on the survey must be willing to obtain significant original language, linguistic skills since they have to buy into this underlying assumption. I suggest the survey respondents didn’t know this.

I wondered what would have happened if some questions were asked where a more literal translation (and therefore more accurate according to the definition) was pitted against a more readable one where the readable translation was more exegetically accurate. Blind, but now I see is one such example. Which way would the survey takers have gone?

It would have been much more helpful if the survey had sought to expose these underlying assumptions. In other words, I wonder what would happen if respondents were chosen from those who do not read their Bibles but would like to. The problem with this is people tend to not respond openly to surveys that make them feel stupid (which, I would think, means that surveys which make you feel smart also exhibit skew).

I found it disheartening that only half those surveyed thought a higher level of education should not be required in order to understand the Bible. Only half!? I wondered if this answer was quite substantively skewed since only those who read their Bibles regularly qualified to take the survey in the first place. That is, “If I’m educated, I can handle the extra cognitive load of such an understanding of ‘accuracy‘.”

In my opinion, if one is going to pit accuracy against readability, then one must—absolutely one must—inform the audience that their interpretive skills must rise to clear the bar placed by the assumptions underlying the definition of accuracy. Otherwise you run the grave risk of deceiving the audience into thinking they can obtain exegetical accuracy by applying English lexico-syntactic parsing expertise to the text.

Also, if one uses this definition of accuracy, then, in my opinion, the translators must inform their audience for each specific text where they have chosen readability over accuracy. For example, the many cases where participles are rendered as finite verbs in clauses or new sentences. I pick this example because it is often done even though it contradicts the underlying assumptions of the accuracy definition. In other words, the “as literal as possible, as free as necessary” concept breaks down with the use of this definition of accuracy unless one explicitly declares (ie. footnotes) what is accurate (literal) and what is readable (free). How else will the reader know unless they assume that where it’s readable, it’s inaccurate—awkward to say the least.

It is much better to define ‘accuracy‘ as exegetical accuracy. Then, a translator can render an exegetically determined result into the natural forms of English (thus readability). That way, the reader can use their mother tongue language skills to understand the text and thereby bear fruit (the ultimate assessment of quality). And original language scholars and original language exegetes can debate the quality of the exegesis. Each user can function with their own skill set since ‘accuracy‘ and ‘readability‘ can be optimized simultaneously. Additionally, the higher level of readability ensures that original language experts have a highly seamless view into the exegetical understanding of the translators—the exegesis is readable. Ironically, it seems to me this means a readable translation requires fewer footnotes than a more literal one[2]. Also, unlike what is popularly offered as an accusation of too much power given to the translators, the readability of a translation actually promotes translator accountability. They made it readable—how right are they? This, quite positively, puts the reader in the position of going to the original and using original language, linguistic skills, if they happen to have them. Please note that I’m assuming that exegetical accuracy is determined linguistically, not theologically (not that theology is dismissed).

The survey results are meaningless since those taking the survey were not aware of what all they were saying ‘yes’ to—given the assumed “definition” of accuracy. If the survey would have been explicit regarding the additional, required skills (which come along for the ride with the assumed definition) then I suspect the results would have been much different. Also, the survey does nothing to clarify for people the many linguistic facts feeding into the many translation choices Bible translators must make. Ironically, in many English translations, many of these linguistic facts are intuitively relied on to present both an accurate and readable text to the reader. Unfortunately, these translation “choices” are more because of precedent than linguistic knowledge. And what’s worse, is these choices tend to contradict the assumed definition of accuracy they’re working with.

[1] I’ll point out in this footnote that there is a lot of confusion around how the Greek gender system relates to the English pronoun system. To say it simply, the utterly confused gender wars have horribly damaged the gender translation debate. That is very sad. Historically, any mention of gender in a BBB posting immediately implies a gender discussion. I don’t want that to happen here.

[2] The reason there are not more footnotes in literal translations explaining how the translation reflects the exegesis is because the translation is not intended to reflect an exegesis. It’s meant to reflect the original text. Which, of course, means the reader should apply original language, linguistic skills to the English in front of him or her. Which, in this blogger’s humble opinion, is very badly broken since it conflates two languages, and the reader is not told he or she needs to do this.

N.T. Wright’s Reflections on Bible Translation

Recently we had some discussion regarding N.T. Wright’s translation. Here is his views of translation presented at the SBL in London, July 2011.

I’m glad to report he makes many of the points that BBB has tried to make.

See: The Monarchs and the Message, Reflections on Bible Translation from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Century, International SBL Meeting, London, July 2011

What are your thoughts about his thoughts?

Using Underscores in Translation–πλὴν

S. Taman asks on our share page:

I was looking up an interlinear bible and what each word may mean in the concordance and wondered if it is possible that the end of Ephesians 5 v 33 could also be translated “let each of one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself IN ORDER THAT the wife reverence her husband” because of the word “hina” (Strongs G2443)in the greek instead of the common translation of “and the wife SEE TO IT that she reverence her husband”?

Let’s get the Greek in front of us:

πλὴν καὶ ὑμεῖς οἱ καθ’ ἕνα, ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα οὕτως ἀγαπάτω ὡς ἑαυτόν, ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἵνα φοβῆται τὸν ἄνδρα.

Rather literally: “And note this, you(pl) also, one by one, each his own wife thusly love as himself, and the wife that she respect the husband.

Don’t let your cognitive underwear get into a knot, the nonEnglish is not meant to be understandable.

First, let me answer the question directly. “In order that” is not a possibility, but for the reasons why we must look beyond just the ἵνα.

At the time of the writing of the NT, clauses constructed with a ἵνα plus subjunctive were replacing infinitives. So here it works pretty much like an infinitive (English or Greek). A somewhat literal translation could be, “the wife [is] to respect her husband.” Also, given that ἵνα generally introduces a purpose or result, or even a purposed result, it’s an easy step for it to take on some imperatival force. And this is also not unusual. That “lite” imperatival force is captured in the translation with the use of English ‘is’ plus an infinitive.

Now, where this sentence gets interesting is how it fits into the larger discourse. It’s interesting because it appears to me that Paul explicitly turns off a misunderstanding by underscoring something. This misunderstanding is the one that an “in order that” would lead to. To show this explicitness we need to look at πλὴν and the idiom οἱ καθ’ ἕνα.

First what function does πλὴν do?

It occurs 31 times in the GNT, predominantly in the Lukan writings with 19 times. After looking at these 31 occurrences, it seems to me that πλὴν performs the following:

Πλὴν reinforces the already established topic and emphasizes the comment. The Pragmatic effect is the comment stands in bas relief to the topic. The topic and comment can be semantically conjunctive or adversative. If it’s conjunctive, the comment is an emphasized restatement of the topic. If it is adversative, then the comment stands as an emphasized contrast to the topic.[1]

Phil. 1:18 provides an excellent example—“the important thing [NIV].” Matthew 11:22,24 also provide good examples where a translation such as “but, note this:” might be better than many of the translations’ choices. Translations tend to use a simple ‘but’. But, I think that loses the focusing force of πλὴν.

So, πλὴν does not introduce new information. It’s intent is to direct the mind to focus on the specific point which follows.

Notice I did not say, “the word means…” and then use an English gloss or two to complete that sentence. Such so-called definitions are not helpful and at worst, quite confusing. What I asked was, “What function does the word perform?” Answering the function question helps us, who hear and speak our own native tongue, to get closer to the Greek idiomatic understanding of the original text.

Here in Ephesians 5, Paul has been instructing husbands and wives how best to build their relationship. At the end of this instruction, Paul sums it up with a single sentence starting with the word πλὴν. So, the effect is for Paul to say, “concerning all that I’ve just said, here’s the important point” or “here’s the thing on which to focus.”

So, if Paul had already developed the idea that a wife’s respect is somehow dependent on her husband’s love, then he can restate that here. If he didn’t state it previously, then emphasis triggered by πλὴν in the mind would have sounded very odd.

The important point is Paul speaks with a French idiom.

See what I mean. 🙂

Now, the idiom οἱ καθ’ ἕνα underscores this even further; however, I’m less confident how to interpret the idiom. I’d love to have some references and other examples of its use.

Basically, from what I can glean, it’s very similar to the English, “one by one.” Its use here I take to mean “each of you considered individually but not uniquely.” So, it encompasses the group in its entirety—both men and women in this case— but considers each member of the group as single agents in the actions.

Also, it seems to me Paul could have simply said, πλὴν ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ…, dropping the additional phrase. This would have restated what was previously said. Why the “extra” words? I think Paul builds emphasis regarding the individuality. He strengthens it even more with the use of the plural pronoun ὑμεῖς and even further by the adverbial use of καὶ. I think it is strengthened even more in the husband’s case by the use of the adjective ἕκαστος as well as the reflexive pronoun ἑαυτοῦ. This is not additional information since in the sentences before he spoke to the woman and then the man in turn. He didn’t mix them.

In other words, Paul is very strongly emphasizing that the respective roles should individually remain in force no matter what. So, considering all these things, translating ἵνα with “in order that” would be quite inaccurate.

I think I would translate as:

And now every single one of you should note this: each husband is to love his wife the same as he does himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.

Lastly, on a practical note, I’ve been married for almost 30 years. I believe I can safely say that having my responsibility in our marriage be level set by whether or not I think my wife meets her responsibility would have never worked. Also, the same downward, spiraling disaster would have been created if she would have limited her responsibility by my lack of meeting mine. Neither respect or love is ever to be earned. And the free gift of the one enables the other.
[1] Topic and Comment are linguistic technical terms sometimes described as theme and rheme. Basically, Topic is what you’re talking about and Comment is what you’re saying about the Topic.

Translating Punctuation when there is No Punctuation to Translate

Jonathan Morgan, on our share page, asks this,

One thing I have heard a number of times is the assertion that “Greek has no punctuation”, and that as a result we can choose to repunctuate the *English* in any way we like, because “it’s all just been added by the translator anyway”. I’ve never been entirely convinced by this…

First, good for you not being convinced by the apparent, and incorrect, logic of “no punctuation in the original means we can punctuate the translation any way we like.” We are never free to translate “any way we like.” The goal is accuracy. Secondly, there’s an underlying assumption (if I myself may assume such) in the “logic” that punctuating is not translation. The use of punctuation in the destination text most certainly is translation as is such things as paragraph breaks and section breaks.

English uses punctuation. So, punctuation is required in the translation, or it wouldn’t be clear and natural—it wouldn’t communicate to an English audience. However, just because there were no punctuation marks, per se in the original, does not mean the function of punctuation was not performed in the original. The function of punctuation is to generate meaning pauses for the reader so as to generate cognitive chunking (think of this as taking bites of the text with your mind). And so it is such a basic cognitive requirement that, as far as language goes, this function is a language universal. So, the function is there; we just need to determine how that function is formally captured in the original so we can accurately translate the meaning into a language that uses punctuation marks.

Before I give some explanation, I’ll point out that the web page you point us to gives a good explanation. The question the web page answers shows a wrong assumption about the translated text. It says, “Holman, CEV and others place the comma in a way that implies that Jesus had already risen, before the first day of the week,” citing Mark 16:9–“very early on the first day of the week, after Jesus had risen to life, he appeared…” While the translation might imply that Jesus had risen before the first day, the translation does not say that. It simply and only says that the resurrection happened before the appearance, and that Mary saw Jesus very early. Sometimes I think we judge a text by the cover we ourselves project on to it. While an important criteria for translation is to be unambiguous, we can’t prevent people from wrongly interpreting a text no matter how clearly we write it (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). I think there’s a tacit contract between translator and reader that each will do the best they can. There are no major translation publications where the translators have intended to lead the reader astray. I felt I had to get this out of the way.

I’m going to illustrate from the Greek. I assume Hebrew and Aramaic are analogous. Basically, the question is: What are some of the mechanisms ancient koine Greek used to “punctuate” the Biblical text?

Well, for example, Mark (and others) frequently used καί (KAI, ‘and’) to mark a sentence break.[1] Open an NASB to Mark 3:13-20 for a good illustration of this. The function καί brings to the text is to mark the closing and opening of two sentences. This “punctuation mark” (if you will) is much like our English period and a capital letter. Δέ (DE, ‘and’, ‘so’) frequently performs the same function.

Also, one should not think that the Gospel of Mark is rapid fire because he uses so many καί–“and this, and this, and this”. That’s not what is going on. That’s interpreting the Greek using an English idiom (ie. way of thinking with our language). Many times καί “provides” the punctuation between two sentences.

However, let me be clear here. Καί and δέ perform other functions, too; the ones we normally think of them doing. Καί connects two semantic items which are otherwise equal. Δέ adds supporting material to what has just been written. However, just like so many things in translation, there is no one-to-one mapping between the form in the original and its analog in the destination. The mapping between the languages is nearly always many-to-many. That is, the characteristics that a specific form brings to the text in the original will map to multiple forms in the destination and vice-versa.

This complexity is why the Tower of Babel was so successful, and it makes translation hard. I’ll also point out that translating punctuation is clearly one place where a naive adherence to a formal equivalent methodology breaks down. A naive adherence that no formally equivalent translation follows. Since there was no punctuation in the original, there’s no way to formally map it to the destination. The point being: Even the formal equivalent methodology must follow a functional equivalent methodology when it comes to punctuation.

So, there were no punctuation marks in the original; but that function is dispersed through many Greek forms. And one of the characteristics of those original forms (a punctuation function) maps to the many punctuation marks in English. So, it’s not arbitrary. But, nor is it formally equivalent.

Furthermore, Greek has flexible word order, but it is certainly common for the Greek sentence to either begin or end with a verb. This, too, tends to mark the breaks between sentences. Obviously, I’m not describing this in a mechanically precise way. Nor is its use or non-use determinative. To illustrate, I’m saying that the sentence in Acts 1:2 ends in a verb and the one in Acts 1:3 begins with one.

ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας … ἀνελήμφθη. οἷς καὶ παρέστησεν ἑαυτὸν ζῶντα…
“Until which day…he was taken up. To whom he also presented himself alive…

It’s very natural and expected to have the phrase οἷς καὶ pre-positional to the verb and still think of the verb as being “first” in the sentence. An author will vary the verb’s position for a variety of reasons. I believe “punctuation” to be one of those reasons. Again, there’s no, neat, sweat, simple one-to-one mapping.

There are other forms, too. I may be wrong, but I’ve often thought that one way of making direct speech very clear is the often used combination of two verbs of speaking used in close proximity. For example, ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς (Literally: “Answering, the Jesus said to-them.”) In English, we punctuate with double-quotes. In Greek, the ἀποκρίνομαι does more than just help fulfill this punctuation function, it also characterizes the way Jesus said what he said. Again, it’s many-to-many. An accurate translation is: Jesus answered, “…” or even Jesus responded, “…”. For our purposes here, note the quotation marks in the translation. They are not in the original, per se. But, their function is.

There’s much more that could be said. Hopefully, this provides enough meat so you and others will have confidence that punctuation is not arbitrarily decided. Punctuation, like every other form (or symbol as used in semiotics) signals something. The way at getting at that “signaling something” is to ask and answer, what function is it performing. Since the function punctuation performs is so cognitively basic, we expect the function to be in the original even when the English way of performing that function is no where to be found. I hope my start of an answer generates some further examples in the comments as well as some discussion.

[1] The so called definition that καί and δέ mean ‘and’ or ‘but’ is far too simplistic, and it is either wrong or at best an insufficient explanation. The continuity or discontinuity provided by the English ‘and’ or ‘but’ is provided in the Greek by the semantics of the sentence. Καί connects two equal items; δέ adds supporting material. Again, there’s a mapping between the original and the destination languages, but one cannot simply match the forms.

Being Pragmatic about Words

We are having a fascinating discussion about ἀποστέλλω and πέμπω in Apostles and missionaries. I don’t want to slow it down, but one comment on that post brought some thoughts about Pragmatics to mind.

Stephen Beck, here, says, “But for now I did want to ask Mike to consider two verses: John 7:18 and 12:49.”

He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.[NIV, 7:18]

For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.[NIV 12:49]

You’d think John would use ἀποστέλλω in both places, wouldn’t you?

At first glance (and second and third) I would think so, too.

But, I think each can be relatively easy to explain (well, “easy” from my perspective, that is 🙂 )

Let me state that my perspective seeks to bring to the surface each word’s pragmatic function in the texts in question. It really doesn’t have as much to do with their precise referents or their relative semantics (though the semantics come into play). It has to do with the impact on the hearer’s interpretive context. It has to do with molding the way we (and they) interpret the words. Your observation–which is a good one in my view–is focused on the semantics. However, it is that focus that (I think) causes people to go down a specific pathway that leads them to questions framed as you have yours. Language, and more specifically, language in use, is more complex than (dare I say) simply semantics. If we analyze the discourse from a pragmatic functional perspective, then (I think) some exegetically relevant observations and conclusions are ready at hand.

Specifically, as I see it, considering the sentences results in:

John 7:18: The story develops to a relative climax.
John 12:49: Jesus’ authority would be overstated (I’m not thinking in theological terms here, but in linguistic ones; that is, it would receive too much focus.)

First, John 7:18.

πέμπω is used in John 7:16, 18, and 28. ἀποστέλλω is used in 29 and 32. πέμπω is then used again in 33.

The use of ἀποστέλλω in 32 refers to the guard sent by the Pharisees; so, let’s set that aside–the discourse relevant features applicable to this discussion revolve around Jesus and not the guard. (Though this rather interestingly pits the Pharisee’s authority against God’s–not a good place to be. More about that in a sec.)

As the pericope develops, the question of where Jesus comes from is developed. That is, it’s initially a πέμπω type of question–it’s solely geographic. However, the building of tension continues until Jesus uses ἀποστέλλω. At that point there’s a strong reaction (vs 30). Note that these are two widely disparate reactions: take him by force and unreserved commitment to him. Both of these are responses to an exercise of authority. The first is the proud, belligerent reaction. The second is the humble, submissive one. But, the important thing to note is that the sense of ‘geography’ changed to one of ‘authority’. As a slight aside, in the English translation, did you (like me) wonder, “What’s up with these two strong reactions? Why the hate? Why the belief?” Our Pragmatic level response to the text differs from how the original readers (and participants in the event) responded. As I see it, that’s a translation problem.

Also note the use of ἄρχων (‘authorities’/’leaders’) in verse 26. I don’t wish to make too fine a point, but the question of who is in charge is clearly portrayed in the background on the canvas of this pericope picture. This “questioning of the Pharisee’s authority” in 26 is picked up again in verse 32–the Pharisees don’t like it. It seems to me, BTW, that verses 25-32 form a chiasmus with the use of ἀποστέλλω pretty close to the middle.

So, basically, it’s a build to climax pericope. Consistent with that is the uses of πέμπω (more general ‘send’) building to the use of ἀποστέλλω (specific type of ‘send’) at a climatic point.

Furthermore, verse 33 starts the next paragraph. Notice the use of οὖν in 33. οὖν is a discourse marker which indicates two things: Development and close thematic proximity to the previous theme. In other words, John indicates to the reader that this new paragraph picks up the theme of the previous one and develops it further. That is, Jesus states, by using ἀποστέλλω in 29, that he has been given a mission. So, his use of πέμπω here in 33, though it’s referring to a change in location, would still keep conceptually alive the ‘mission’ concept in the background of the hearer’s thinking (cognitively, the associated neurons would stay turned on). In fact, it does exactly that, but the crowd misses the meaning (the theme is way too beyond them). John continues (from chapter 6) to build this idea of Jesus being glorified in his resurrection. But, sadly, the crowd can’t think in terms of a resurrected Christ. So, when they wonder, “where is this guy going to go?” they think in terms of a mission; but quite interestingly, it’s a mission to the Gentiles!

Here’s how I would translate 7:29
    I know him. Because I am from him. He’s the one who gave me my mission.

That’s how I see it.

For John 12:49, I see it as Jesus muting the whole authority component. It’s kind of like this. If I say, “I’ve been given the authority to do a job. I’m the envoy. This authoritative sending has..yada…yada…yada.” Pretty soon it’s not about what I’ve come to do; it’s about me talking about my authority. That misses the point. So, in this pericope of John 12, the authority aspect is already there in that it is the Father who is in focus. To use ἀποστέλλω, while consistent with the aspect of the mission, wouldn’t be consistent with the intended focus. It’s about the Father.

For example, if he had used ἀποστέλλω, then the text would read more like this:
Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who gave me the authority to do what I’m doing.”
That subtly shifts the focus from being on God, the Father, to being on Jesus. Jesus goes on to say that when a person sees him (ie Jesus), he’s looking at the Father. And that Jesus is the light so people can really see what they need to look at. So, the whole point is to get people to see the Father. Jesus is the reflector, but the Father is the point. Read the pericope now, I think you’ll see that part of what is being conveyed there is Jesus saying, “It’s not about me; it’s about the Father.”

One could easily argue that using ἀποστέλλω would be more consistent with the theme. However, one can also easily argue that its use would bring too much emphasis to a specific component, in fact, one that can be very easily not emphasized by the use of a different word, namely πέμπω. I lean toward the later.

At least, that’s how I see this one.