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GeorgeW

“On Translating Paul’S Letters – For The First Time.”

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I have, in the past here, recommended the bi-monthly publication associated with the Jesus Seminar, The Fourth R.

 

The most recent (Sept-Oct 2011) issue has several interesting articles including one titled “On Translating Paul’s Letters – for the First Time.” This article written, by Lance McGaughy (a professor emeritus of religious and ethical studies at Willamette University), discusses a new translation of Paul’s authentic letters undertaken by the Jesus Seminar. I will try to summarize the article below.

 

McCaughey begins with what he describes as a “bold claim: The most pressing reason for the new SV [scholars Version] translation of Paul’s letters is because they have never been fully nor accurately translated into English.”

 

He says the reason for the inaccuracies is that the default method for translating from Greek is a literal word-by-word approach. He also notes that the KJV has been the privileged literal translation that has dominated later translations for five hundred years. He points out correctly (I have studied translation theory formally) that the meaning of a word is also based on the syntax and the context in which it occurs. He notes that a single word can have multiple counterparts in the target language. I would add that this is a problem for those who use interlinear resources without a good understanding of the grammar of the source language.

 

The better approach to translation is what is called ‘dynamic equivalence.’ It involves taking a semantic unit (a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph) in the source language and determining how the idea can most meaningfully be expressed in the target language. He also notes that to do this, one must understand the broader cultural horizons of the text and the various connotations that words might have.

 

One serious problem with traditional translations of Paul’s letters has been a syntactic issue that involves certain genitive (possessive) phrases in his letters. The issue is one of “objective genitives” vs. “subjective genitives.” It involves determining who or what ‘possesses’ whom/what. Traditional translations have tended toward the ‘objective possession” vs. “subjective possession.” An example from Galatians 2:16:

 

In the traditional translations, a person is justified “. . . through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Translated with the objective genitive) where a subjective genitive would result in “Jesus’ faithfulness or trust in God.” Or, idiomatically, “We gain acceptance only though a confidence in God like that of Jesus.” This is not an insignificant difference in translation. McGaughy gives a parallel expression from Rom 4:12 where the same genitive phrase means Abraham’s trust [in God] (subjective genitive) vs. [my] faith in Abraham (objective genitive).

 

McGaughy says that the translation using the subjective genitive is “by itself a game changer!” I agree.

 

I hope this simplified summary and explanation makes some sense to someone. In any event, if anyone is interested, I recommend subscribing to The Fourth R and reading the article itself.

 

George

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NT Wright makes exactly this argument in Justification. Wright is a larger supporter of the new perspectives on Paul (understanding Paul in a more historically situated and Jewish way than he often is), and makes a lot out of the faithfullness of Christ line in Paul (and earned the hostility of certain conservative corners of Christianity for his trouble). As I've said in my review of Justification, Wright isn't a PC by any means, but he's scholarly and systematic and that counts for a lot.

 

If I had more time, I'd subscribe.

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I've taken only the first semester of Kione/biblical Greek, and didn't do very well in it, but, I did get enough to see the kinds of problems pointed out here. For so many words in Greek, there simply is no clear equivalent in English, and the multiplicity of potential meanings of words dependent on context is mind-boggling. Addtionally, there are verb conjugations and noun declensions commonly used in the Greek that are not used at all, or much, in our English, and that can really throw off interpretation. Gentitives were particularly problematic for me in the semester I took.

 

Add to this, how even after translation into English, English itself has always been a language in flux, and meanings change often dramatically over even relatively short periods of time. Certainly the meanings, and implications of many phrases, found in 16th century KJV have changed signficantly in our common usuage today.

 

One thing about "justification" as I've understood it compared to what many seem to consider regarding its meaning, is that of making right, bringing into order, to conform to an ideal or standard, that many people seem to miss in their understanding of justification. Many people think of justification as "an excuse", as in to "justify" one's actions, as if it just somehow just gets one off the hook of responsiblity for something they've done, without understanding just how that is accomplished. To justify something is to make it right, bring into conformance to a certain order. Justifiable homicide, for example, doesn't just let someone off the hook for murder, but presents a valid argument for the killing as being the right thing to do under the corcumstances. Some people actually confuse justification with forgiveness, as in forgiveness of sins. That view is a sort of, well, you did something very wrong, there's no excuse for it, but God's going to let you off the hook this time, forgive you, or, that Jesus 'paid the penalty' for those sins.

 

The underlying meaning of justification is also demonstrated in its use in context of printing. A typesetter (or now, our programs for desktop publishing) does not want a ragged margin at the right hand side of the text of each line. Ideally the only lines of text that do not extend fully to the right hand margin are the final lines of paragraphs. Since there is no way one can accomplish that with normal spacing between words and letters, there are subtle adjustments made to those spaces so as to bring the end of each line fully over to that right hand margin.

 

To me, justification in context of matters of faith works toward adjustments that "make it come out right." In retrospect, justification applied to past actions helps me see and understand why I did what I did, sometimes (often, actually) helps me reframe certain events and situations in a more accurate and positive way, and in the process, helps make adjustments to my present thinking as I apply it to future actions, to make me more functional in a healthy way.

 

I see justification as a process of correcting, fixing, making more whole. The alternate translation given in the initial post here makes sense in that contex. It is through faith, such as Jesus had, demonstrated by his example, that we effectively access that process, toward becoming more whole and 'righteous' = "in right )correct, true) alignment before/with God."

 

Jenell

 

Jenell

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Btw, George, are The Fourth R publication you are referring to that of the Westar Institute? Your reference to them sound interesting, I'd like to check it out further.

 

Jenell

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Btw, George, are The Fourth R publication you are referring to that of the Westar Institute?

Jenell

Yes, it is published by the Westar Institute. It is, in some way not clear to me, associated with the Jesus Seminar.

 

George

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George,

I haven’t read the article you referred to, but Bruce Sanguin’s blog focused on the same verses in Paul’s letter to Galatians, a few weeks ago --

http://ifdarwinprayed.com/lost-in-translation/

The way a single word is interpreted, changes the exhortation from passive belief to active responsibility. His conclusion also reminded me of Richard Rohr explaining the difference between having faith in God, and having faith in a tradition about God.

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George,

 

I haven’t read the article you referred to, but Bruce Sanguin’s blog focused on the same verses in Paul’s letter to Galatians, a few weeks ago --

 

http://ifdarwinprayed.com/lost-in-translation/

Rivanna,

 

Thanks for the link. I notice that Sanguin uses the same term as McGaughy: "Game changer." It is amazing how one minor translation error can profoundly change one's understanding of what Paul was saying. I wonder how many people have gone to hell because of this misunderstanding (just kidding of course).

 

George

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There is a book by members of the Jesus seminar (Roy Hoover, Arthur Dewey, Lane McGaughy, Daryl Schmidt) entitled "The Authentic Letters of Paul" which gives background to each of the letters and includes the Scholars version of the text. ISBN 978-1-59815-019-3 - Polebridge press.

The section on Galatians includes a cameo essay dealing with the different ways 2:16 has been translated. It is interesting that the King James version had "Faith OF Jesus" and only around the mid 19th century did this get changed to "faith IN Jesus".

I agree that how this verse is rendered makes a tremendous difference to how you view Paul.....

Edited by organistGB

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Thats very interesting

George,

 

I haven’t read the article you referred to, but Bruce Sanguin’s blog focused on the same verses in Paul’s letter to Galatians, a few weeks ago --

 

http://ifdarwinprayed.com/lost-in-translation/

 

The way a single word is interpreted, changes the exhortation from passive belief to active responsibility. His conclusion also reminded me of Richard Rohr explaining the difference between having faith in God, and having faith in a tradition about God.

 

 

That is very interesting concerning Galatians 2:16 after looking that verse up in different translations its kind of a coin toss as to which translations render it "of" or "in" but even the ones who translate it "of" it really reads as "in". I don't know if thats because of a pre disposed notion that I have so thats what I think it means or not. It definitely makes a difference doesn't it. It does to me anyway very interesting thanks for the post

Edited by markn902

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