Hearts and minds

Mark 6:45-52 is the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water, which comes right after the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The narrator in v. 52 concludes that the disciples might have understood how Jesus could walk on the water if they had been able to really understand that he was able to feed the five thousand. In the Authorized Version, verse 52 reads, “For they considered not [the miracle] of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.” Is that a good translation? Well, we all know the language of the KJV is archaic, so let’s look at the RSV: “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Okay, we know that the RSV is a faithfully literal translation, so we can be assured that the original really does say here something about hearts and about hardness. (A look at the wording of the Greek original confirms that fact.) That must be a good translation, right? Because it reflects what the original says. The NIV (both the 1984  and 2011 versions) says, “For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Looking also at the New Living Translation, we see “For they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.”

So, what does that mean? My understanding of the expression “hard-hearted” is that it means that someone is callous toward other people’s feelings. Huh? Is this saying that the disciples were insensitive to Jesus’ feelings? Or was it someone else, to whom their insensitivity was directed? To confirm my understanding of the expression, I looked it up, and according to the Random House Dictionary, hard-hearted means unfeeling, unmerciful, pitiless, heartless, merciless, mean, unforgiving, from Middle English hard herted. This means that the disciples couldn’t accept what was going on because they were pitiless, mean, and insensitive. Right?

Compare this with a set of other English Bible translations that do not use the word “heart” in Mark 6:52. Is it possible that these could be correct, accurate, even if they are missing a word that is in the original?

TEV: “because they had not understood the real meaning of the feeding of the five thousand; their minds could not grasp it.”

CEV: “Their minds were closed, and they could not understand the true meaning of the loaves of bread.”

GW: “They didn’t understand what had happened with the loaves of bread. Instead, their minds were closed.”

JB: “because they had not seen what the miracle of the loaves meant; their minds were closed.”

Here is what one commentary says about this expression: “This hardness of heart is something quite different from our use of the same words, denoting blunted feelings and moral sensiblities. The Biblical καρδία denotes the general inner man, and here especially the mind, which is represented as so calloused as to be incapable of receiving mental impressions.” If this commenary is right, and I believe it is, based on my own studies, then it is possible that a translation that translates καρδία into English as “mind(s)” is more accurate than a translation of “heart(s)” in this context. Or maybe an analogous idiom like “thick-headed” would be appropriate. Along those lines, we translated this verse into Saint Lucian French Creole (1999) as “paski yo p’òkò té konpwann miwak-la Jézi té fè èk sé pen-an. Tèt yo té wèd toujou.” (I’ll leave it to you to figure out that one.)

The problem, of course, is that in different cultures, different qualities are attributed to different body parts. That’s a simple way of putting it. The translation problem is cultural and linguistic. In this case, it might not be so bad if the resulting translation resulted in no meaning, such that the reader/listener might realize that a proper understanding is lacking and go looking for it. But what is worse here is that a literal translation involving “hardness of heart” would prompt a wrong interpretation without the reader/listener being aware of it. This may be debatable, but I believe that a translation cannot be accurate if does not prompt, or at least allow, a proper interpretation in the mind/heart of the reader.

Now let me back up and qualify that a little. There are different kinds of translations. There are what I consider normal, good translations, suitable for lectionary or devotional purposes or personal reading, and then there are special purpose translations, such as quite literal ones. A literal translation has a purpose of giving a word-for-word rendering, and if this results in an incomplete or inaccurate understanding, that is not their problem. The RSV falls into this category, and I appreciate the RSV a great deal. It is very dependable for certain purposes. I use it for study purposes, to get at the forms of the underlying original texts. But it is a special purpose kind of translation that I would use for study but not for general use. So I am not criticizing the RSV, considering its special purpose, and when it first came out, it was one of the few Bibles available that did not use the archaic language of the King James. What I am saying is that a normal translation is not so tied to the words of the original that it does not take responsibility for accuracy of understanding on the part of the reader, and that accuracy in a translation is tied to an accurate understanding on the part of the reader/hearer. Of course, no translation is perfect.

1 Cor 13:7 – the language of love

One of the most famous and beloved passages in the NT is 1 Cor 13. I have been digging into the Greek text of verse 7 recently and thought I might share my thoughts with you.

The Greek words are: πάντα στέγει, πάντα πιστεύει, πάντα ἐλπίζει, πάντα ὑπομένει.
RSV provides a fairly literal translation: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The verse is poetic in two ways: the rhetorical repetition of πάντα (panta) – all things or everything or all the way and a chiasm. Let me explain the chiasm.
The Greek word στέγει (stegei) is very close in meaning to ὑπομένει (hupomenei), so the first and last words are close. Similarly the word for believe and hope are close in meaning, so the two middle words correspond to each other.

στέγω only occurs 4 times in the NT and all in Paul’s letters. Let us look at them:
1 Cor 9:12 – we endure everything (NET), we put up with anything (NIV)
1 Cor 13:7 – bears all things (NET), always protects (NIV)
1 Th 3:1 – we could bear it no longer (NET), we could stand it no longer (NIV)
1 Th 3:5 – I could bear it no longer (NET), I could stand it no longer (NIV)

I like the NIV idiom ”I cannot stand it”. This idiom is mainly used in a negative construction, I believe, so for the positive usage NIV says ”we put up with anything.” Why NIV did not also say ”Love puts up with anything” in v. 7 I do not know. It would be consistent with 9:12 and give the meaning nicely. Why did they use ”protect” and why say ”always” instead of ”everything” or “anything”? Paul commonly used the standard word for always (pantote). I can only guess the reason for the NIV rendering. My guess is that it was to forestall possible misuses of the text. Because we have a long tradition of pretty unreadable Bible translations, Bible readers, including pastors, cannot stand to read many verses at a go before they get tired. Maybe that is one reason for their habit to take one or two verses out of context and meditate or preach on them. The result is often some strange teaching and ideas. Of course, we are not to ”put up with everything” in every situation. But this text talks about the characteristics of love. It must be set in the context of a relationship between people, especially the context of a natural and spiritual family. PANTA – everything/all things is a rhetorical hyperbole, it does not literally and absolutely mean everything, but it does mean a lot. A loving person puts up with a lot that an unloving person would not put up with. Another reason for the NIV may be that a text is supposed to be read aloud, and ”Love bears everything” might possibly be understood when spoken as ”Love bares everything.” Or maybe ”bear” is just too old-fashioned English?

The final word ὑπομένω (hupomenw) means to endure something, to stay put when others might have left. These words describe love very well, including the relationship between husband and wife. If I have love, I can put up with (almost) everything in my spouse, and I will stay put in the relationship through difficult times.

The two middle words are πιστεύω (pisteuw) and ἐλπίζω (elpizw). PISTEUW can have a semantic frame with three participants or with two. When pisteuw has three participants, it means that A entrusts P to G.
We see this in John 2:24 IHSOUS OUK EPISTEUEN AUTON AUTOIS – Jesus was not entrusting him(self) to them. Jesus is Agent, him(self) is Patient and AUTOIS is the Goal/Direction. It is normal for the semantic Patient to be encoded with the accusative case and the Goal with the Dative case or a preposition such as EIS and occasionally EN or EPI, and this is how PISTEUW is used.

In many instances of this verb, the Patient is not expressed openly, but assumed, and in that case it refers to the same person as the Agent. In John 3:15 we find hO PISTEUWN EN AUTWi and the next verse has the variation with the same meaning hO PISTEUWN EIS AUTON. John 4:21 has PISTEUE MOI – entrust (yourself) to me. This is the same as “put your trust in me” or “believe in me.”

This tri-valent APG verb is sometimes used in the middle-passive. One of the functions of passive is to make the Agent (or Goal) implicit. Usually the Patient takes over the subject slot in a passive construction, but in some cases the Goal can also be subject in Greek.
1 Cor 9:17 OIKONOMIAN PEPISTEUMAI – a stewardship has been entrusted to me or: I have been entrusted with a stewardship. Implied/assumed Agent is God, Patient (accusative) is OIKONOMIAN and Goal is me, expressed as subject.
Gal 2:7 PEPISTEUMAI TO EUAGGELION – the gospel has been entrusted to me (also 1 Th 2:4)
1 Tim 1:11 TO EUAGGELION…hO EPISTEUQHN EGW – the gospel which has been entrusted to me. (also Tit 1:3)
Rom 3:2 EPISTEUQHSAN TA LOGIA TOU QEOU – The words of God were entrusted to them. The implicit Agent is God, the Patient is TA LOGIA TOU QEOU and the Goal is represented by the plural subject – they/them.

Now, the verb PISTEUW can also have only two participants with the meaning “accept as true”. In this case, we have the Agent (or Experiencer) and the Patient (object). The Patient can be in the form of a clause introduced by hOTI (that) or it can be an infinitive (or participle) with accusative or it can be a noun that stands for a statement.
Mat 9:28 PISTEUTE hOTI DUNAMAI TOUTO POIHSAI – Do you accept as true that I am able to do this?
John17:9 (+21) EPISTEUSAN hOTI SU ME APESTEILAS – They accepted as true that you have sent me.
John 11:27 EGW PEPISTEUKA hOTI SU EI hO CRISTOS hO hUIOS TOU QEOU – I have accepted as true that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.
Acts 8:37b (v.l.) PISTEUW TON hUION TOU QEOU EINAI TON IHSOUN CRISTON – I accept as true that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Jn 11:26 PISTEUEIS TOUTO – Do you accept this as true?
Rom 14:2 hOS PISTEUEI FAGEIN PANTA – he who accepts as true that he can eat anything.
1 Cor 13:7 PANTA PISTEUEI – it (love) accepts all things as true

Quite often the verb is used without any object or prepositional phrases, and in such cases there is no way to know whether it is the tri-valent verb “entrust” or the di-valent verb “accept as true”. Context will usually clarify it, but not always.

So, “accept everything as true” shows the attitude of love. You accept that this other person (husband, wife, child, etc.) speaks the truth and can be trusted. It does not mean that we are to accept and believe every wind of doctrine that comes our way. The accusative object “everything” indicates that this is not a matter of believing in God or Jesus, but of accepting as true what the other person is saying.

ἐλπίζω (elpizw – hope) can be used with a semantic Goal in the dative case or a preposition like EIS (towards), e.g. John 5:45 ”Moses, in whom you have placed your hope.” (NET). Also 2 Cor 1:10, 1 Pet 3:5. Sometimes EPI (on) is used as in Rom 15:12 ”The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in (EPI) him will the Gentiles hope.” (NET). Also 1 Tim 4:10, 5:5, 6:17, 1 Pet 1:13. Or an EN (in) can be used as in 1 Cor 15:19 and Php 2:19 ”I hope in the Lord Jesus” (KJV has trust here – I place my hope and trust in Jesus).

However, in most cases ἐλπίζω (elpizw) has the two semantic participants Agent and Patient (object). This object may be a clause introduced by hOTI (that) or it may be a noun that stands for something that you can hope and expect will happen.

In 1 Cor 13:7, the two words hope and believe are parallel in the sense that they are both used with an object (Patient). Love accepts everything as true and hopes for everything. A relationship has hopes and aspirations, but these hopes require acceptance and love to be realized.

Words to avoid

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.
(Mark 10:13, ESV)

We read this verse in church recently. I had to stop myself from laughing.

What’s wrong with it? Any ideas on how could it be translated differently?

Date and time

In a post reacting to Wayne’s Eye Opening post, Wezlo comments:

It caught my interest because I mentioned the phrase, “No one knows the day or the hour”  of the Son of Man’s return in my sermon yesterday, and how people mistakenly believe that this means the year is still open for us to figure out (oh the headaches).

In my darker moments I think all literalism in the evangelical world could be eliminated simply by getting rid of Biblish. (But that would be a mistake of the kind Orwell made in his essay, Politics and the English Language, which I pointed out in a post last year.)

Still, dealing up front with Biblish is a worthy undertaking.

In some places even DE translations succumb to the inclusion of Biblish. In this post I’ll pick on the Holman Christian Standard Bible. That’s not because I think it’s bad. In fact, I think it gets a lot spang on referentially. But no one gets this baby right. I could just as well go after the TNIV, CEV, or NLT.

The phrase at issue is the juxtapostion of ἡμέρα and ὥρα. The key passages are:

περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης καὶ ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι τῶν οὐρανῶν οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός εἰ μὴ ὁ πατὴρ μόνος
Now concerning that day and hour no one knows — neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only. (Mat. 24:36)

… ἥξει ὁ κύριος τοῦ δούλου ἐκείνου ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ᾗ οὐ προσδοκᾷ καὶ ἐν ὥρᾳ ᾗ οὐ γινώσκει
… that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. (Mat. 24:50)

γρηγορεῖτε οὖν ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε τὴν ἡμέραν οὐδὲ τὴν ὥραν
Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour. (Mat. 25:13)

περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ἢ τῆς ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι ἐν οὐρανῷ οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός εἰ μὴ ὁ πατήρ
Now concerning that day or hour no one knows — neither the angels in heaven nor the Son — except the Father. (Mk. 13:32)

… ἥξει ὁ κύριος τοῦ δούλου ἐκείνου ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ᾗ οὐ προσδοκᾷ καὶ ἐν ὥρᾳ ᾗ οὐ γινώσκει
… that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. (Lk. 12:46a)

and possibly also:

καὶ ἐλύθησαν οἱ τέσσαρες ἄγγελοι οἱ ἡτοιμασμένοι εἰς τὴν ὥραν καὶ ἡμέραν καὶ μῆνα καὶ ἐνιαυτόν ἵνα ἀποκτείνωσιν τὸ τρίτον τῶν ἀνθρώπων
So the four angels who were prepared for the hour, day, month, and year were released to kill a third of the human race. (Rev. 9:15)

The Biblish word hour and the English word hour differ. In Biblish (as in Latin and Greek) hour (hōra, ὥρα) is ambiguous between referring to a point in time and a period of time. (I posted on ὥρα as a point of time here.)

καὶ ἰάθη ὁ παῖς αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐκείνῃ
… And his servant was cured that very moment. (Mat. 8:13b)

In modern English hour is a (shortish) period of time. You can do something for an hour. You can complete it in an hour. But you can’t say that it is the hour to do something. In modern English we mostly use the word time for point of time meanings.

It’s time to go.
I have been looking for a new car since that time.
At the time he left, I was still asleep.

In Shakespeare’s day the word hour was ambiguous.

I have served him from the hour of my
nativity to this instant (The Comedy of Errors Act IV Scene IV)

But give me leave to try success, I’ld venture
The well-lost life of mine on his grace’s cure
By such a day and hour. (All’s Well That Ends Well Act I Scene III)

In modern English there are only a few remnant constructions in which hour can refer to a point in time, mostly as the object of at and referring to the time of day (or night).

What are you doing up at this hour?

He works on his car at all hours of the night.

It’s interesting (but not surprising) that there are few limited expressions left over from an earlier time, but not sounding archaic — a phenomenon well known by linguists. But the fact remains that in 21th century English, all non-idiomatic uses of hour as a point in time are Biblish. This is not limited to Protestants, by the way. The English Ave Maria also has this mistake (compounded by the odd use of in). (1)

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and in the hour of our death.

A similar argument can be made for day – it generally refers to a period of time in modern English. but the situation is a little more complex than with hour. There are a number of regular usages with day as a point in time, for example on a day. Nonetheless, the normative point in time word that corresponds to day is date.

So translations of the two different texts with parallels above should read as follows:

περὶ δὲ τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης καὶ ὥρας οὐδεὶς οἶδεν οὐδὲ οἱ ἄγγελοι τῶν οὐρανῶν οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός εἰ μὴ ὁ πατὴρ μόνος
No one knows the date and time — not the angels in heaven, not even the Son — just the Father. (Mat. 24:36)

… ἥξει ὁ κύριος τοῦ δούλου ἐκείνου ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ᾗ οὐ προσδοκᾷ καὶ ἐν ὥρᾳ ᾗ οὐ γινώσκει
… that slave’s master will return on a day he doesn’t expect and at a time he doesn’t know. (Mat. 24:50)

There is the temptation to simplify the whole thing (including moving information up from the following verse).

No one knows just when the Son of Man will return – not the angels in heaven, not even the Son himself – just the Father. It will be like it was in Noah’s time. (Mat. 24:36-37)

As a final note, the usages I’ve talked about here are subtle. When does it sound OK to say at that hour? What’s the difference between at [modifier] time and at [modifier] hour? — to which I plead ignorance.

OK: What are you doing up at this hour?
Odd: What are you doing up at this time?

Bad: He was eating at the hour.
OK: He was eating at the time.

By comparison with real English Biblish is flat. And for my money that’s a crucial reason to avoid Biblish — especially for those who claim they want literary quality translations.

(1) In my wife’s Catholic family, they said at the hour of our death.

Your blood be on your own head

In 2 Sam. 1 a young Amalekite comes upon the wounded king Saul who is near death. Saul asks the young man to finish him off. The young man complies. Then he goes to David’s camp and tells David what happened. David orders one of his men to kill that Amalekite for having killed God’s anointed king. David then says to his corpse (I had added boldfacing):

Your blood be on your own head! Your own mouth has testified against you, saying ‘I have put the LORD’s anointed to death.’ (2 Sam. 1:16 NET)

In Acts 18:6 Paul tells people at Corinth who opposed the message he was preaching:

Your blood be on your own heads! I am guiltless! From now on I will go to the Gentiles! (NET)

The idiom, “Your blood be on your own head,” was commonly used and understood within the cultural contexts of these two episodes. Field testing can determine how many English speakers understand the figurative meaning of this idiom.

When translating the Bible there are two main solutions for communicating the figurative meaning of an idiom, as well as its literal meaning, to people who do not understand the idiom from their own cultural and language background:

  1. Translate the biblical idiom literally and footnote its figurative meaning.
  2. Translate the figurative meaning of the biblical idiom and footnote its literal meaning.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. English Bible versions illustrate both solutions. Translators must weigh a number of factors for each translation audience to come up with a solution which works well for them at a particular time in their knowledge of the Bible.

But I would like us to discuss possible wordings for both translation solutions.

As I was thinking upon this issue yesterday, I realized that Cheyenne, the language which my wife and I helped translate scripture for, already has a word which is a translation equivalent for the figurative meaning of the biblical idiom. It is: Netaomenêhešehahtseme! We used it many times in the Cheyenne Bible translation. It literally means ‘You (plural) did it to yourselves.’

If you were translating the Bible to English and chose solution #1, how might you word the footnote to explain the meaning of the biblical idiom?

If you were translating and chose solution #2, how might you word the figurative meaning of the biblical idiom in your English translation?

NOTE: In this post and comments on it, we ask that we limit our comments to address these two questions. This time let’s not open the floor to all possible comments, especially any attempt to say that either translation solution, in general, is better than the other. And we ask that no one denigrate any solution chosen by translators or those who comment here.

insight for Bible translation

There is a Semitic idiom which occurs frequently* throughout the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. It is literally translated to English as “in the eyes of X,” or, slightly less literally, “in the sight of X.” In English we normally express the meaning of that idiom with wordings such as “X was pleased with Y” or “Y pleased X”, or “Y liked X”.

1. Most literal

The first instance of the Semitic idiom is found in Gen. 6:8 where we are told in the most literal translations of the idiom that

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD (KJV)
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (NIV, TNIV, NASB, ESV, Alter)
Noah, however, found favor in the eyes of the Lord (HCSB)

2. Moderately literal

The NRSV and NET Bible move one step away from the most literal translation by translating the Hebrew for ‘eyes’ with English “sight,” the action that is done with the eyes:

But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD (NRSV, NET)

In English we do not normally refer to doing anything “in the eyes of” anyone or even “in the sight of” anyone, whether we are referring to literal eyesight or cognition that is figuratively represented by eyesight. The wording “in the sight of” does come close to the English wording of doing something “in plain sight of” someone, but this wording refers to literal eyesight, not cognitive “eyesight” or consideration, which is the figurative usage of the Semitic idiom.

(UPDATE: See comment to this post by David Lang who points out some examples of “in the sight of” used in English. Further study is needed to determine how widely this expression is used by English speakers and whether it is a borrowing from literal versions of the Bible.)

3. Moderately idiomatic

Some translations move yet closer toward a natural English expression of the meaning of the Semitic idiom, as in:

Noah, however, had won the LORD’s favour (REB)
But Noah won Yahweh’s favour (NJB)
But Noah found favor with the LORD (NAB, NJPS, NLT)

4. Most idiomatic

Finally, the most natural translations of the Semitic idiom are found in these versions:

But the LORD was pleased with Noah. (TEV/GNB)
But the LORD was pleased with Noah (CEV, GW)
But Noah pleased the LORD (NCV)

What can you see (!) as the advantages and disadvantages of these four different degrees of literalness for translation of the Semitic idiom?

What audiences do you feel would these different degrees of literalness appeal to the most?

Which audiences do you think would understand the figurative meaning of the Semitic idiom from each degree of translation shown in the four categories?


*Some other occurrences of this idiom are in Gen. 38:7, 10; 41:37; Ex. 5:21; 24:17; Lev. 10:19; Num. 20:12; Deut. 4:25; 6:18; 9:18; 12:25; 13:18; Judges 2:11; 1 Sam. 12:17; 26:24; 2 Sam. 11:27; 15:25; 1 Ki 3:10; 15:5, 11; 16:25; 2 Ki 3:18; 1 Chron. 13:4; 2 Chron. 21:6; 25:2; 28:1; 29:6; Prov. 17:8; Is. 49:5; Jer. 52:2; Zech. 8:6

New Testament examples are literally translated as “before the ___,” or “well-pleasing to ___,” but are sometimes translated as the Semitic idiom, “in the sight of”, e.g. Luke 1:6, 15; Acts 4:19; 7:20; 8:21; 24:16; Rom. 12:17; Gal. 3:11; 1 Tim. 2:3; James 1:27