for a Literal Translation
Frank Neil Pohorlak, D.D. Litt.D.
CHRYSOSTOM said, “This is the cause of all our evils—our not knowing the Scriptures.” Yet how does one get to know the Scriptures if he does not have in his version of them, exactly what God says?
EXACTITUDE VERSUS INEXACTITUDE
In Thai, 1 Timothy 1:15 says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to help people responsible for their own sins to escape the consequences of them.”
In Tamil (one of the languages spoken in India and Ceylon), 1 Timothy 1:15 says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to provide free board and lodging for rascals.”
In Thai, John 3:16 (to a Thai Buddhist) would mean that “God was so attached to this (evil and transitory) world, that he gave his only son, that whoever is credulous enough to trust in him, will not perish, but be doomed to unending existence.”
These examples serve to show what can happen when there is not equivalence between what the Original says and what the translator knows of the culture and language into which he is translating.
In the Authorized Version 1 John 3:4 reads: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” But this is false, this is misleading, this contradicts Paul at Romans 5:12-14.
If sin is the transgression of the law: then sin could not be in the world until Moses, then law would be chargeable for putting sin into the world, then sin could be abolished by abrogating law. Let us be crystal clear at this point. Law does not create sin, it manifests what already exists. This makes it mandatory that a version reflect the distinctions in the Original, even though it transcends the translator’s grasp of its truth. “Law” and “the Law” are distinctions strictly kept up, for instance, in Romans 2:1-29, and such distinctions should be scrupulously preserved in translation. A well-turned English phrase is totally unacceptable if it turns out to be a Greek phrase poorly translated. Or does acceptable translation mean altering the rough original into a smooth distortion? To have a right to your opinion carries with it the responsibility of seeing that your opinion is right.
LITERAL VERSUS IDIOMATIC
John Beekman insists that “literalism” is “a hindrance to understanding” the Original (THE BIBLE TRANSLATOR, October 1966, pages 178-189).
Joseph Agar Beet takes the opposite stance when he writes in his “Preface”: “For two classes of readers I have written expressly: for students of the Greek Testament and for intelligent readers of the English Bible. The former will find a careful grammatical exposition of the Greek text of the Epistles and will catch the reason for many English renderings which to others will seem harsh or even ungrammatical. They will notice that, at every point, both in my translation and in my frequent paraphrases and summaries of the language of St. Paul, I have endeavoured to reproduce the exact meaning and emphasis of the Greek words written by him. This frequent and careful reproduction of his meaning will also be of use to many who are unable to verify it by comparison with the original, but who wish to grasp, through the medium of their own language, as accurately and fully as possible the thoughts of the great Apostle” (A COMMENTARY ON ST. PAUL’S EPISTLES TO THE EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS, COLOSSIANS, AND TO PHILEMON. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1890).
Joseph John Scott in THE LIFE OF CHRIST, A Continuous Narrative in the Words of the Authorized Version of the Four Gospels with Introduction and Notes, uses “literally” more times than one would care to count as he corrects the AV by calling attention to the Original and what it says literally (THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN THE WORDS OF THE GOSPELS. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, W., 1905).
The Anchor Bible series, Volume 29, is THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN (i-xii): Introduction, Translation, and Notes by Raymond E. Brown. After comparing the AB translation with the RSV, the reviewer feels constrained to say this. “Perhaps it is personal bias, but this reviewer feels that the ideal Bible would be one with a quite literal translation accompanied with ample notes explaining the meaning of the terms and syntax in the age in which they were written. A literal translation, properly understood, can convey to the reader the thought and mood of an ancient writer better than free translation in modern idiom” (JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF RELIGION, June 1967, page 170).
Edwin W. Rice in his COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW tells us in his Foreword that his purpose is “…to insist upon the recognition of the Oriental character of the Gospels as the guiding principle of interpretation.” In addition, another special feature of his work is “to aid the reader in grasping shades of meaning in the original text, the textus receptus not only, but also the Anglo-American Revisers’ Greek Text. This is attained through a comparison of the Authorized Version with the Revised Version, and often through a more literal translation” (Philadelphia: The American Sunday-School Union, Sixth Edition, newly revised, 1909).
“TO BE LITERAL AT EVERY COST”
One could go on and on in this vein, quoting respected and responsible scholars who opt for a version that is literal at every cost. These would simply be reflecting Browning’s attitude, where he says in the preface to his translation of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon: “If I wished to acquaint myself, with the aid of a translator, with a work of the immense fame of this tragedy, I should require him to be literal at every cost, save that of absolute violence to our language. And I would be tolerant, for once, of even a clumsy attempt to furnish me with every turn of each phrase, in as Greek a fashion as English will bear.”
WORD-FOR-WORD CONCEPT REPUDIATED
On the other hand, in all fairness, there are those who inveigh against the word-for-word concept of translating, such as Ernest Cadman Colwell in A BEGINNER’S READER-GRAMMAR FOR NEW TESTAMENT GREEK; Boyce W. Blackwelder in TOWARD UNDERSTANDING ROMANS; Frederick C. Grant in TRANSLATING THE BIBLE; and Dewey M. Beegle in GOD’S WORD INTO ENGLISH, to mention only a few of the volumes at hand. If the Concordant method and its refined-by-use principles were truly understood, we feel that these strictures against the Concordant system would be less severe. When measured by its assured results, it would, rather, be warmly welcomed.
The persistent attack by some against the Concordant principle of translation, against the word-for-word equivalence, is prosecuted as though it were on a par with trying to decode the hidden message in a can of alphabet soup. The demand for conformity to consensus exerts a deleterious effect on a version. Group-translation—committee-consensus cannot be, in actuality, as perceptive as the work of one person responsible to conscience, impervious to pressure, invulnerable to fear, and intolerant of inaccuracy. Frequently the single eye sees clearly what the group eye sees dimly, if at all. The world owes a deep debt of gratitude to one-man versions such as those made by Tyndale, Wycliffe, Coverdale, Young, Fenton, Moffatt, Goodspeed, Weymouth, Rotherham, and many, many others.
Each of these attitudes is equally reprehensible: the uncritical reception of the old, and the truculent rejection of the new. What we have need of really is a healthy fear of ignorance and a holy love of knowledge, for without them God’s people perish. We are living in perilous periods. The inspired Word alone is sufficient to save the reader from the deception which is gradually engulfing the world as “Giant Error, darkly grand, grasps the globe with iron hand.” The poet as usual says it simply and concisely.
Davidson, in THE THEOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, says: “Etymology is rarely a safe guide to the real meaning of words. Language, as we have it in any literature, has already drifted away far from the primary sense of its words. Usage is the only safe guide. When usage is ascertained, then we may enquire into derivation and radical signification. Hence the Concordance is always a safer companion than the Lexicon.”
The concordance is a safer guide than the lexicon. Like a dictionary, the lexicon usually reflects the usage of religions and theologians, whereas a concordance gives one ready access to the contexts where a word occurs, and where a careful canvass of all occurrences serves to settle its central significance which should not be shared with any other word. A word can best be understood in context when its inflections are translated. Words define themselves as one attends to their usage.
Justice Oliver W. Holmes wrote that “A [legal] word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanging, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used” (Towne v. Eisner Decision, 245 U.S. 418).
IMPORTANCE OF WORD ORDER
A book six inches by nine inches does not look the same as a book nine inches by six inches, since the first measurement should be on the side where the book is bound.
Is there no difference between “four miles square” and “four square miles”? Is there no difference between “Love one another” and “Love another one”? Is there no difference between “She was too fond of him” and “She too was fond of him”?
Dr. Robert Lindsey in “Problems of Biblical Translation” tells of his research with the Gospel of Mark in the Greek text and his discovery of its being strangely Hebraic in flavor and syntax. The “constant Hebrew word order” presented problems when he saw that Matthew and Luke had more consistent Hebrew word order than even Mark. In his studies he found Hatch and Redpath, the Septuagint, Moulton and Geden’s New Testament Concordance constant companions (THE BIBLE COLLECTOR, October-December 1965, pages 3-6).
SENTENCE ORDER VARIES IN VARIOUS CULTURES
The natural order in sentences is subject/verb/object: A mother loves her child.
The Tartar order in sentences is subject/object/verb: The mother her child loves.
The Semitic order in sentences is verb/subject/object: Created Elohim the heavens and the earth. What shall we do with “In [the] beginning”? Some scholars construe it as an abstract clause answering the questions: how (creates), who (Elohim, Deity), what (heavens and earth), but not when (“in [the] beginning”—a title?). See the article titled “Ancient and Modern Titles of the Bible” by Robert P. Markham in THE BIBLE TRANSLATOR for July 1967, pages 133-145, for an illuminating insight into how some books of the Bible got their name.
IDIO[MA]TIC MODERN EQUIVALENTS
When translating the original Greek into modern English, where does one draw the line between beauty and banality? Under the heading “Come Down, Kingey” CHRISTIANITY TODAY calls our attention to “A version of the four Gospels in the ‘Scouse’ dialect of Liverpool, England” which will shortly appear. “The cover will picture Christ on the cross, wearing a flat cap, open shirt, and dungarees, against a Liverpool background. The crucifixion scene reads:
“ ‘Come down, Kingey’ dey yelled, ‘You’ve done some big talkin’. If yer de Son of God, get yourself out of this mess den we’ll believe yer.’
“Liverpool’s Bishop Stuart Blanch says ‘it is a fine piece of work. In parts, it gets to the root of the real meaning of the Gospel, which may have been obscured in normal orthodox translation’ ” (June 9, 1967, page 41). For such commendation the Bishop should live up to his name, and blanch.
WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE?
Where do we draw the line between a version that represents the “crucifixion,” and this modern version which can only be described as cruci-fiction.
Where shall we draw the line? Because we in the Western world sit up when we eat, shall we make them sit up at table, or recline at table, as was their custom? Shall we make the beggar’s bag an attache case? Shall we make the ancient sandals our modern shoes? Shall we make His seamless robe Levis and a pullover sweater? Shall we make the ancient chariot a modern super-charged automobile? Shall we make an ancient caravansary the modern underground parking facility? Shall we make purification jars the modern shower bath and tile stall? Where shall we draw the line between the effort to pander to public taste and religious scruples, and the desire to set forth in a version its purity and power to His honor and glory?
THE BUSINESS OF AN EXPOSITOR
It was our announced intention to deal more thoroughly with John Beekman’s article in THE BIBLE TRANSLATOR for October 1966, pages 178-189, and also Herbert Dennett’s A GUIDE TO MODERN VERSIONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, where he does not list the Concordant Literal New Testament in the category of literal versions, but in a category of those versions having a special slant or bias. For our position we have already quoted scholars of impeccable character and acknowledged accreditation, and the opposite position could be supported by scholars of equally impeccable character and accreditation. And what would it prove? Only that scholars differ so that the humble student is baffled as to which criteria to follow in choosing between proponents and opponents.
The staff believes that the student will be better served if we publish a series of articles showing how Concordant research yields exploratory discoveries.
“The business of an expositor is not to criticize the words of men, but to interpret the Word of God.” These words by the late George L. Rogers in his STUDIES IN ROMANS make us realize that more profit would accrue to the reader of our magazine
 8adevoted to reverent research of the inspired Originals if he were given examples of Concordant principles applied to hermeneutical and translational problems, rather than showing where others have erred (and in whose company we may find ourselves), though such apologetics are needed and will be prosecuted when a book or an idea or an author warrant such treatment.
ARE YOU CONFUSED ABOUT—?
Language is both fascinating and frustrating. Think of the librarian who was asked to help a student find material for a theme paper on “Youth in Asia.” After many false starts and many fruitless trips to the stacks, the librarian reasoned out the root of the difficulty. It was the antics in semantics. The student wanted material on “Euthanasia.”
We need to eliminate fuzzy edges by sharper focusing. We need to wrestle with the components of meaningful communication. We need to grapple with the idea that God designed His world so that man is forced to ask the kind of questions His Word is designed to answer.
SCIENCE AND SEMANTICS OF GENESIS
When a student approaches, say, the science and semantics of Genesis, the first two chapters confront him with an unmarred creation—the heavens and the earth; an unmarred creature—the human Adam; and an unmarred communication—thou shalt not eat of it. All this from an Unmarred Creator and Communicator.
After Genesis three the student confronts a marred creation—thorns and thistles; a marred creature—naked, ashamed and afraid; and a marred communication—ye shall not surely die.
God is not to be thought of as One Who cannot give an unmarred revelation; rather, sin erected a barrier which God recognized and must overcome. God must use man’s words, but not necessarily with man’s meanings. Psalm 12:6 tells us what had to be done.
The words of the Lord are pure words:
As silver tried in a furnace.
[Words] of earth,
Purified seven times.
The formidable facts we face are as follows: a marred creation—the observable; a marred creature—the observer; and a marred conviction—the observation. To recover man from his ruin and to enable him to regain the faculty of knowing God aright, God uses the earth words of man, but purifies them of man’s dross seven times.
What are the factors in meaningful dialogue? The Communicator: God. The communicatee: man. The communicated: God’s revelation by many portions and many modes (Heb. 1:1)—the inspired Scriptures. The interplay of these forces the faith-evoking ability of the Word and the hearing response-ability of man make for communication.
God made and created and formed man so that the impressions received through the senses would be, according to science: 1% through taste, 1½% through touch, 3½% through smell, 11% through hearing, and 83% through sight. God is thus the Originator of the audio-visual method of educating man. Is Christ not for the eye the Image of the otherwise invisible God? Is He not for the ear the Word of the otherwise inaudible God? Christ Jesus the Lord is the Image for the eye, and He is the Word for the ear. But the other aspects are not neglected. John said that they saw and heard and also touched Him (1 John 1:1-5). We, too, are told to taste and see that the Lord is good. And are we not also a sweet-smelling fragrance to God in Christ? Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling all may be used to learn how great He is, how good He is, how gracious He is (cf Heb. 5:14).
TWO MEN ON SCIENCE AND SCRIPTURE
Let us look at what two different men have to say, one about science and the other about Scripture.
KIERKEGAARD ON NATURAL SCIENCE
Sören Kierkegaard wrote in his Journal, “Almost everything that nowadays flourishes most conspicuously under the name of science (especially natural science) is not really science but curiosity. In the end all corruption will come about as a consequence of natural sciences....But such a scientific method becomes especially dangerous and pernicious when it would encroach also upon the sphere of the spirit. Let it deal with plants and animals and stars in that way; but to deal with the human spirit in that way is blasphemy, which only weakens ethical and religious passion. Even the act of eating is more reasonable than speculating with a microscope upon the function of digestion....A dreadful sophistry spreads microscopically and telescopically into tomes, and yet in the last resort produces nothing, qualitatively understood, though it does, to be sure, cheat men out of the simple, profound and passionate wonder which gives impetus to the ethical....The only thing certain is the ethical-religious.”
TILLOCH ON SCHOLARS AND SCRIPTURES
Alexander Tilloch has something to say about some scholars and how they treat words, especially those found in the Scriptures. “How can his [ the Apostle’s] meaning be known but from the language he employs? If an individual has any other way of acquiring a knowledge of divine truths than from the Scriptures, let him say so at once and hold his own opinions; but, if he profess to draw his information from these lively oracles, he is bound to abide by their decision, in the plain and obvious sense which they yield, without any evasion whatever; and if he refuse to do so, he denies their authority wholly, however much he may persuade himself to the contrary; for, in this case, though he may hold some of the things taught in the Scriptures, it is, because they agree with his decision, and not, because he has therein learnt them....”
Later in the same dissertation he writes, “The first question ought to be,—What does the author affirm? and this we must know before we can either assent to, or dissent from, his statement: the meaning of an author’s assertion, and the truth or falsehood of his assertion, are quite different things; nor can we even enquire about the latter until the former is known.”
ENTREATY AND ENCOURAGEMENT
In these days of instant coffee and instant tea, we may subliminally hypnotize ourselves into pursuing the mirage of instant maturity, whether in truth or in translation.
Growing is not the work of an instant. The insight into maturation as an ideal may be instantaneous, but the realization of it, in practice, is the labor of a lifetime.
Instant Christians often are found to be spiritual pygmies, delinquents in disposition, gutless in character, zombies with unexercised faculties and unexamined faiths.
Sophocles in Ajax 582 said it thus: “to chant formulæ over a wound that needs the knife.” Proverbs 27:5 says it in this way: “Open rebuke is better than secret love.” In conclusion: let the men who would interpret Nature be true to the facts, and let the men who would translate the Scriptures be faithful to the facts. The Concordant principles should be tried and tested, and if found wanting or lacking in some respect, improved and then utilized so that God’s Word in all of its purity and power may become the possession of the pupil who prizes His Word above all earthly treasures. These qualities are approximated in the Concordant Literal New Testament.
UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, 48-page bimonthly. [Return to text]
DISSERTATIONS INTRODUCTORY TO THE RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF THE LANGUAGE, STRUCTURE, AND CONTENTS OF THE APOCALYPSE (London: 1823) pages 267, 268. [Return to text]
Ibid. page 273. [Return to text]
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