We now come to the final part (Part 5) of my review of the book Translating Truth. The previous 4 parts looked at the foreword by Packer (Part 1), and then the first four chapters by Grudem (Part 1), Ryken (Part 2), Collins (Part 3) and Poythress (Part 4).
The final chapter is by Bruce Winter and is called REVELATION VERSUS RHETORIC: Paul and the First-century Corinthian Fad.
Winter starts his chapter with a discussion of Seneca the Younger’s (4 B.C.-A.D. 65) writing style to Lucilius, the procurator of Sicily, and also his friend. Seneca, a noted Stoic philosopher and Roman senator, was surprised by the criticism of his style of letter writing. Gallio, the proconsul of Achaea who was also the judge in the case of Jews vs. Paul in Corinth (Ac 18:12-17), was the brother of Seneca, and together they were carefully educated in Rome by their father, Seneca the Elder. Later, Seneca the Younger became the personal tutor of Nero before Nero became emperor.
Seneca responded to his friend Lucilius that his style of writing to him was of such a nature because of their friendship, and the way he would have spoken to Lucilius if they had been sitting together somewhere or were taking a walk together. Seneca said that the person who is the same when you hear him as when you read his words, is the one who has fulfilled his promise. Seneca stated
“that, ‘I should not stamp my foot, or toss my arms about, or raise my voice,’ for he leaves ‘that sort of thing to the orators [the rhetoricians]’” (p136)
with their “rhetorical delivery” (ὑπόκρισιϛ).
Letter writing in the time of Rome was very significant in that it had an awareness of the social connection between the letter writer and the recipient. The tone of the letter was affected by this social connection with its rank and status.
“Seneca helpfully reveals the options that were open to Paul as a letter-writer, an issue highly relevant to our subject of revelation and rhetoric in Paul. His letters [Paul's] had likewise come under scrutiny from some of his recipients, namely the Corinthian Christians and, in particular, his detractors.” (p137)
Some New Testament scholars have judged Paul’s letters as epistles structured along the rules of the rhetorical handbooks of the time. Many scholars read Paul’s letters through this epistolary rhetoric grid. Also, remember, Paul and Seneca the Younger were contemporaries. Winter writes that this chapter will examine whether Paul’s communications weren’t, like Seneca’s, influenced by the writer’s relationship with the recipients. The fad among the educated of the day was to write in this grand epistolary style, a fad that did not escape the view of this proud Roman colony of Corinth. So, if Paul wanted to, he certainly could have written in this style. Winter writes concerning this issue,
“We have important information in 1 Corinthians 2 on the topic of revelation versus rhetoric, although it is not immediately obvious on an initial reading that in 2:1-5 Paul dealt with rhetoric or that 2:6-16 is Paul’s clearest declaration in any of his letters on the issue of revelation.” (p138-139)
In order to draw conclusions in this regard, Winter discusses four issues: (1) the relationship between Paul and the recipients of his letters, (2) his self-disclosure as to why he adopted his approach concerning rhetoric with the Corinthians, (3) Paul’s claim concerning revelation and the mind of Christ, and (4) Paul and the “grand style.”
1. Paul certainly breaks with the “grand style” of the day by addressing his recipients with the startling term, “brother” (ἀδελϕὸϛ). In Roman law, this term had no validity outside of sibling relationships. It was not just improper to use this term of those who are not siblings by birth or by adoption, but it was illegal too. It was significant that Paul chose to use this term, since it reinforced the idea of family, brothers and sisters in their relationships with one another. Sibling language in such a letter would have been deemed inappropriate.
2. Paul certainly refers to his modus operandi when he arrived in Corinth.
“On Paul’s coming to Corinth he refers specifically to the grand style of rhetoric in 2:1, asserting that in making known ‘the witness or mystery of God’ he did not retort to either rhetoric or wisdom. His phrases refer to superlative rhetoric and to knowledge achieved through learning.” (p141-142)
Paul’s preaching of the cross was not with cleverness of speech (the wisdom of rhetoric). Paul presented himself in complete antithesis to the virtuoso rhetoricians of the day (2:3). He came to them in weakness and fear, not with powerful speech and grandiose style. Paul’s abandonment of rhetorical demonstrations was that the Corinthians’ faith would rest not on the wisdom and demonstrations of men, but in the power of God. “By first-century reckoning Paul had adopted an anti-rhetorical stance and, in doing so, had clearly bucked the latest fad.” (p142) Winter concludes this section by writing that
“it is important to reflect on the fact that Paul has renounced for presentation purposes the conventions of orators and the devices used by its promoters at the time of the flowering of what is known among ancient historians as the Second Sophistic. For him the grand style of the orators and the grand style of oratory were antithetical to the Christian messengers and message. . . His modus aperandi was shaped by the message and not by the contemporary fad.” (p143)
3. After Paul showed his antithetical stance with regard to rhetoric, he continues this stance in terms of the wisdom of God as opposed to the wisdom of men. Paul writes that this is “a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age. . . just as it is written, ‘THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” (1 Cor 2:6, 9-10)
4. Almost a century ago there were scholars that argued that Paul did not write epistles, but real letters. A decade or so ago Janet Fairweather, who is a Cambridge classicist specializing in rhetoric, studied Galatians and came to the conclusion that Paul’s style rejected standard Hellenistic modes of argumentation and that it was not an Atticizing one, and that it was not well suited to writing.
What does this mean for the translator? Paul stuck to a style of simplicity and a word order that assured a forcefulness in delivering God’s Word. Paul was not interested in the fads of the day, and delivered the message of the gospel in plain language and not great sophistication.
This book is not always easy, especially if the reader is not familiar with translation issues or linguistics. However, with a little grit, most Christians should be able to comprehend the importance of Bible translation and what translators should give us in translations. I found most of the book easy reading and I think the issues were carefully covered.
I have to admit, I have always been an ELT proponent (see Part 1). What this book has done for me is to provide me with more grounding in the faithfulness of the ELT philosophy. When dealing with the words of God, the translator needs to be absolutely sure that what he is providing as a translation of those awe inspiring words do actually represent God’s words and not merely a human approximations of what God said.
I know there are some readers of this blog that feel that the DET philosophy of translation is the correct one, however, in my opinion, DET hides too much of the authors shared world and inserts too much of the translator’s shared world into the translation of the Bible.
In the end, you still have to make up your mind as to which translation you prefer, but I do hope that this review have stirred something about the importance of translation in your heart and that you decide to purchase the book to see the detail for yourself; or, at least you will reconsider your use of DET translations and start looking at ELT translations. To refresh your mind concerning the scale of translations between ELT and DET, revisit Part 1 and go down to the table called A SPECTRUM OF TRANSLATIONS.