Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Translating Truth: A review—Part 3

TranslatingTruthThis is now Part 3 of a review of the book Translating Truth. You can find Part 2, a chapter written by Leland Ryken, here! The start of this multi-part review can be found here.

Part 1 covered the foreword by J.I. Packer and chapter 1 by Wayne Grudem. Part 2 covered  chapter 2, written by Leland Ryken.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3, is written by C. John Collins, and is entitled WHAT THE READER WANTS AND THE TRANSLATOR CAN GIVE: First John as a Test Case.

For Collins, the issues of Bible translation go beyond the linguistic and theological academy, down to the type of Bible ordinary people will read and study. Also, with the Biblical illiteracy that prevails in the modern church, a major challenge lies before us. While the discussions concerning translation philosophy have been vigorous, Collins feels that it should be vigorous. There have been many comparisons between Bibles by opponents of certain translation philosophies, and this is where Collins’ approach is different. He writes,

“[I]t is easy to score points against an opponent by selecting out particular Bible passages, and this is what many reviews have done: but this fails, whether because the translation under review may or may not reflect its stated philosophy well in that particular place, or because the reviewer may or may not understand how the translators applied their philosophy, or because we have to see how the version performs on a whole body of text.” (p78)

Collins then continues with his aim in this chapter of the book.

“In view of this, here is what I am to do: first, I will consider what an ordinary person might think of as ‘translation’; second, I will aim to make this more rigorous by considering the dynamics of communication; third, I will compare how the various approaches to translation perform on a continuous text, namely 1 John.” (p78)

Collins also calls “essentially literal” translation (ELT), “transparent” translation (TT). Since people have misunderstood this translation philosophy, Collins explains that

“The goal is for the syntax and semantics of the original text to govern the translation in such a way that such things as text genre, style (including irony and word-play), and register, figurative language, interpretive ambiguities, and important repetitions show through.” (p83)

While TT philosophy agrees that translation involves transferring text from one language to another language, yet “it aims to keep its interpretation to the level of recognized linguistic operations on the text.” (p83) That means, when an ambiguity exists in the text where it could mean two different things, the TT leaves it intact while other translation will attempt to remove the ambiguity, thereby leaving the reader in the dark about a possible difference in translation and meaning.

Translations could be pragmatically equivalent, but could be rhetorically different. What does this mean? Collins gives us an example from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

“In the first chapter, the return of the Pevensie children to Narnia for their second visit (recounted in Prince Caspian) is likened to King Arthur coming back to Britain. The translation into Modern Hebrew transposes this to King David coming back to the land of Israel. This replaces something in the shared world of Lewis’s audience with something in the world of the translator’s audience, presumably for equivalent effect: but the result does not take the reader on a trip to England. A further move of this translator is to render the word ‘Lamb’ (in the final chapter) with the Hebrew taleh rather than seh: Lewis surely meant us to see here a reference to Christ, the sacrificed lamb, and the Hebrew New Testaments use seh for that. The Hebrew translation does not allow the reader to even consider the reference. . . the translator has not shown the reader Lewis’s world.” (p86-87)


Collins explains how the author of a text tries to convey information and ideas to his audience by using shared world knowledge. In the image above from Collins’ chapter (which I altered slightly), Collins shows how the author writes a text using shared world images to convey a message to his audience. I added the bottom part starting with the translator’s translation to convey information and ideas to his audience by using his own shared world knowledge.

By inserting into the translation something of the reader’s shared world (the DET way), the translator essentially inserts his own shared world with the reader, into the author’s shared world with the reader, thereby altering the message that the reader was supposed to read. This is indeed what the Hebrew translation of C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader does. In effect, the translator has shared his own world with the reader and not that of the actual author. What DET translators do is to let the reader listen in on the translator’s communication, whereas ELTs allow the reader to listen in on the author’s original communication. Hence, in my humble opinion, DET is playing the Pass the Message game where one person whispers a message in another’s ear, that one then does the same to the next person, and then after the message had been passed to 20 different people, the last person must say what the message is. The group invariably bursts out laughing because the end message hardly ever is the same as the starting message.

Collins the proceeds with looking at different kinds of translations. Here he makes us think about the kind of translation to suit a particular kind of context. These would be Bibles for the church, for the home and personal study and also for outreach to the uninitiated. Collins here covers several criteria for these different uses of the Bible.

In the next section of Collins’ chapter he has a look at the Greek of 1 John. He writes:

“I was sitting in church one day in the Spring of 2004, listening to a sermon series on 1 John, where the sermon text was the NIV (I had a Greek New Testament on one knee, and my son on the other). It struck me that this translation made it hard for the English reader to see the key features of the Greek text, and hard for the preacher to draw attention to these features.” (p94)

Next, Collins drew up a list of the features that the translator should allow the English reader to see: (p95)

  1. The author repeats key terms throughout the book.
  2. he uses generally simple vocabulary, syntax, and sentence conjunctions, to express profound thoughts (one reason why many Greek teachers use this book for beginning students).
  3. Within this general simplicity there are some puzzling ambiguities (which is why I no longer use this book for beginners).
  4. The author makes careful use of verbal aspect.
  5. There are expressions of tender affection toward readers.
  6. Even though there are no direct Old Testament citations, there are plenty of evocations.
  7. There are important parallels with the Gospel of John.

Once he has listed these he goes into every one of these points in more detail show how TT (ELT) is best suited for translation.

In his conclusion to this chapter, Collins answers the title of this chapter, WHAT THE READER WANTS AND THE TRANSLATOR CAN GIVE, by writing,

“What does the reader want, and what can the translator provide? An opportunity to listen in on the original foreign language communication, without prejudging what to do with that communication.” (p106)

We have now concluded chapter 3. Next we will look at Vern S. Poythress’ chapter, TRUTH AND FULLNESS OF MEANING: Fullness Versus Reductionistic Semantics in Biblical Interpretation.

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