Sunday, April 29, 2007

"Word for word"

Yesterday I finished my post with this quote and implied that I did not agree with it.

    The application may be right from the text, but it is not applications or ideas that are inspired. It is words.
And I don't agree with it. Here is why. First, Jesus and the writers of the Christian scriptures quoted the Hebrew scriptures in a way that can be called eclectic and paraphrastic. Not word for word. Here is the article that I am planning to write about some time on the BBB. Which Old Tesament did Jesus prefer and quote from? So why should we differ from what Jesus did?

Next, what was the model of translation given to us. The Greek Septuagint, I would suppose. After all this time I would have thought that I would know that there is no "word for word" concordance between words in the Hebrew and words in the Greek. But I really thought that people who argued for "word for word" had something up their sleeve.

Lately, I've been reading a few Psalms in the Greek and Latin and then checking a little on the Hebrew, just a word here and there. And finally I realised that there are 4 words for "man" "human being" in Hebrew and 2 in Greek, and there is no set pattern as to how to translate them. In fact, each Hebrew word is translated into Greek by both Greek words. So, that's it - no "word for word" translation there.

Well, at least there might be the same number of words in Greek as in Hebrew, right? No, actually there seem to be twice as many words in the Greek Septuagint as there are in Hebrew. So, not "word for word" in that way, either.

Eclectic, paraphrastic, good enough for Jesus, good enough for me. That's why I don't worry about Bibles being "word for word".


DavidR said...

Hi Suzanne!

Quote: "...a few Psalms in the Greek and Latin and then checking a little on the Hebrew, just a word here and there ... and there is no set pattern as to how to translate them."

This suprises me! It's been a long time since reading the Greek Psalter with Pietersma, but my recollection is of a very wooden translator. I know you know that it takes more than spot checking!

And I know you know about LXX translation technique and such like. I still found Jenny Dines' The Septuagint (T & T Clark, 2004) a very useful read on these and related matters. Her Ch. 7 on "The Use of the Septuagint" is germane here.

I don't recall off-hand which NT authors depended on the LXX, and which translated on-the-fly (as it were) ... but I'm sure some one has a table! Would be worth checking, I reckon. I see that article you linked has some of the data. IIRC, that collection edited by H.G.M. Williamson and D.A. Carson (It Is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988]) has more along these lines.


Suzanne McCarthy said...


I found that ish, geber, adam, and enosh, had each been translated at least once by aner, and once by anthropos.

There is a difference in frequency for each, a tendency, but not a fixed rule. For example, ish, which I thought would alsways be aner, is actually anthropos in Psalm 25:12 (24:12 in the LXX) and enosh which I thought would be anthropos is actually aner in Psalm 55:24 (LxX 54:24). So, for each Hebew word for "man" I could find at least once that it had been translated as aner and once as anthropos.

Does that make sense?

For example, in Psalm 84, adam is translated once as aner and once as anthropos. What is that - poetic variation, not wooden, well maybe wooden but not concordant.

You are right - someone must have a chart of this already. I made up a little chart and then stopped when I got each Hebrew word for man to match each Greek word, at least once. Maybe the chart does not prove anything and so it is not a big hit, sort of a non-chart.

All I am saying is that the NT authors quoted the LXX at laast some of the time, and it wasn't strictly concordant. It didn't follow a set of guildelines like the Colorado Springs. This is not profound stuff Daved, but it was something I noticed when I started to read a few psalms in Hebrew. Hey, this doesn't match.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I found the chart, you're right someone did it. Rather it is a list of sorts but very clear.

The Synonymous Words
used for "Man".

adam - anthropos 411, and aner only 18 times as well as thnetos, brotos, and gegenes.

ish - aner 1083 and anthropos 450

So there it is. There is a tendency but it was not consistent. But the Colorado Springs guidelines say that if it was a man, then you must use the word "man" in English, not mortal, not human being, not person. So that is the problem with the TNIV, it uses other words than just "man" for each of these.

DavidR said...

There is a tendency but it was not consistent.

That certainly makes sense. I took a quick peek at the page you linked. It was interesting to see some nuancing of numbers, esp. regarding Proverbs. I would expect (am quite sure that) different books would exhibit different patterns or tendencies. I'm also quite sure (call it a "hunch"! :) you're right to think none of the LXX translators would follow the "word-for-word" style translation that the CSG advocates. Or that advocates of the CSG advocate. Whatever.

The LXX isn't Aquila, that's for sure!

Do you have handy access to Hatch & Redpath? Its entries provide a quick and graphic way of seeing exactly the sort of translation variation that you're pointing out. But I think you knew that, too. :)


Keith Schooley said...

Hi, Suzanne,

I'm not too tied up with "word for word" either, but I find your arguments curious. You seem to assume that the fact that NT writers frequently quote from the LXX means a blanket endorsement of the LXX translation model. Not that I'm any sort of an expert, but I seem to recall that LXX is notoriously uneven in terms of translation "tightness": tighter in the Pentateuch, looser--almost a commentary--in other parts.

Then, you seem to indicate that, because Hebrew has four synonymous words that are translated by two synonymous Greek words in the LXX, that therefore "word for word" is invalidated. But I don't know anyone who argues that there is always a perfect one-for-one correspondence between each word in a source language and a specific word in any receptor language.

Finally, you suggest that "word for word" should indicate an equivalent number of words, as though "seventeen" would somehow not be the "word for word" translation of "diez y siete."

It seems to me that whatever argument there is for "word for word" involves not really words themselves, but the precision of ideas and connotations. One may capture the main point in a periphrastic translation but miss important nuances.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

the precision of ideas and connotations

Could you give some examples. I am never sure what people mean by "word for word" to tell the truth. Ideas I understand, nuances, not so much.