Lecture 03: Hermeneutical Issues (Part 1)
Course: Biblical Hermeneutics
Lecture: Hermeneutical Issues (Part 1)
II. Hermeneutical Issues Involved in Translation
A. There is no on-to-one correspondence between languages
We want to talk about the philosophy of Bible translation. C. H. Dodd made the statement – he was involved in the RSV -, “The first axiom the art of translation is that there is no such thing as an exact equivalence of meaning between words in different languages.” Languages are a part of culture and no two cultures are the same, so we have a problem. For instance, the word “spirit” in English has a number of possibilities. The norms of language for that word can have a variety of understandings. You can talk about a ghost, you can talk about the Holy Spirit, you can talk about the soul, or something like that, you can talk about alcoholic spirits and the like. In German there is a word, “geist” and there is an overlapping of these, but they are not identical. You can’t talk about an alcoholic “geist.” In Greek you have the word, “duma,” talking about the spirit of man, talking about the Holy Spirit, but you can’t talk about alcoholic “duma.” So, what you have is the realization that there is overlapping of words, but identical synonyms and all of the possibilities you just can’t find. So when you go from one language to another, you have a problem.
Let me give you an example of that. In 1975 my family and I went to Germany and we spent our sabbatical in Heidelberg. My oldest two children, Julie and Keith, attended Bundson Gymnasium that year. How do you translate that in English? They spent the year at the Bundson Gym, played basketball and soccer and all those things. Gymnasium is the name of the school , it was an academic thing. What grade were they in? They were in fifth and sixth grade. Then why do you say they went to Bundson Junior High? A little problem. This junior high, so to speak, went from fifth grade to 13th grade. Why don’t you just say, they went to high school? Well, there is another problem. That is, when a student in Germany graduates from fourth grade, grades one to four are “grundschule,” foundation school. They all go there. But after that, they go to one of three kinds of schools. They go to “fachschule,” beginning in fifth grade, where they learn a trade, electrician, carpentry, things of that nature. They can go to “middleschule,” where they learn how to be in business and economics, or they can go to “gymnasium,” in which you study only for the university. There is another problem here. There were three gymnasiums in Heidelberg. There was a science gymnasium with majors in biology, science, chemistry, physics, math. There was another one which was a modern language gymnasium and there was a classical language gymnasium. They went to the modern language gymnasium.
Now, do you understand where my children went? There is no English equivalent. What do you do to simply translate that? You put, “They went to Bundson Gymnasium with a footnote with a large paragraph explaining it: gymnasiums are schools in Germany where after fifth grade students go to prepare for university, goes from grades five to 13. Or, you try to find an equivalent . That’s the problem.
A Biblical problem like that is found in Matthew, chapter 1, beginning at verse 18. In 1:18 we read, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way, when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph,being a just man and not willing to put her shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what was written by the prophet: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called “Immanuel” which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife, but knew her not until she had bourn a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
What is the relationship of Joseph and Mary? In verse 18 they are betrothed. Verse 19, Joseph is the husband thinking of divorcing her. Verse 20, Mary is his wife. And in verse 24, Mary is again referred to as his wife. Now, are they engaged? Are they married? What is going on here? And the answer is, “Yes.” There is no English word . Joseph and Mary in the culture of that day had entered into a legally binding engagement in which they were considered husband and wife, although the sexual consummation had not yet taken place. To break that engagement, you had to divorce her. So you can’t say they are engaged, simply using English words, because engagement for a lot of American young people think of is kind of like going steady. It is not going steady, it is a legally binding situation in which you can only break through divorce. And if she has a sexual relationship with someone else, this is adultery. So it is a different culture, a different relation. How do you translate that? A problem. How do you translate to Eskimos in Northern Canada that he is like a sheep led to the slaughter? There aren’t sheep up there. What do you say? He was led like a four-footed animal whose skin people peel to make clothing? Do you say, “He is led like a seal pup to the slaughter? “ How do you convey to a different culture something that is different in your culture? And the Bible has problems that way.
Do you see the difficulty? Some people get so exasperated and say, “They will never understand.” That is not true. That is to over-exaggerate the problem. You can explain and people can understand. You understand what kind of school my son Keith and my daughter Julie went to. You understand the relationship of Joseph and Mary. The problem is when you try to translate this, there are often not good English equivalent words that you can use. So this is the major problem.
B. A good translation should:
1. be based on the best manuscripts
If you are going to have a translation, what are the qualities that we want to find in such a translation? The first thing to note is that a translation can never be better than the text they use. So what you want to do is to base your translation on the best Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that are available. When Tyndale translated the New Testament he used for his Greek text a printed edition by a man named Erasmus. Erasmus was a leading Renaissance scholar, a brilliant man. A publisher came to Erasmus and said to him, “They are producing a Greek translation in Spain, a polyglot of various translations of various languages. And the publisher said to Erasmus, “I think there is a big market for a Greek printed text. Can you produce one and beat the Spanish product?” And so Erasmus worked on it, he went in 1516 to the library in Basel and he had four Greek manuscripts that he found, dating from the 12th to the 14th century. He used those four Greek manuscripts to produce this Greek text, which later became so popular, it was called “the textus receptus,” the text everybody receives and uses. Some interesting things. None of those four Greek manuscripts had the last six verses of the Book of Revelation . So what he did was get a Latin vulgate and translated the Latin into Greek for those last verses. Needless to say, he has the translation that in part is not found in any Greek manuscript of the Book of Revelation that has ever been seen before.
Since that time, we have come across some 5,500 additional Greek manuscripts in part or in whole. Since that time we have come across fragments and whole manuscripts that are up to 1,000 years older than the one used in Erasmus’s Greek text. That Greek text was the one Tyndale used and the revision of that was the one the King James version translators used.
Since the King James version has come out, what we have now are thousands of additional manuscripts, some of which are much, much older. What should we do with these additional manuscripts? Should we just say, “Get rid of them, they just cause problems.” There is a sense that ignorance is bliss, right? If we only had four, it would be a lot easier. Now you have 5,000 of in the deal, it is much more difficult.
Most of the New Testament translations today are based on the best of these Greek manuscripts. One of them is the Codec Vaticanus named because it was found in the Vatican library. The other one is a Codec Sinaiticus. Generally those are the two best old manuscripts that we have that are somewhat complete. Those two are at least 800 years older than the best manuscript that Erasmus had available for the Textus Receptus. If you are going to now make use of these older Greek manuscripts, it is going to be clear that some times you will see changes in them , different than in the manuscripts that were available and became part of the work of Erasmus.
Most, as I say, modern translations make use of the best Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. The glaring examples of the contrary is the New King James version. That does not. It refuses to accept these older Greek manuscripts and leaves what the King James has as a result.
If you have a Bible, I want you to turn with me to 1John chapter 5 verse 7. Like the King James version , this new King James version reads this way: Verse 6 is as follows: This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ. Not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness because the Spirit is truth.” Verse 7 in the King James version: “For there are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit and these three are one.” If you have the New American Standard, verse 7, does it have that, “there are three that bear witness”? It does not have it. Is there a footnote or something like that? The New International version, 5:7, doesn’t have that, right? Other translations? The English Standard, it doesn’t. What do we do with this?
Let me say that when the King James version was translated, the Greek text of Erasmus had those words in the Greek text. Let me tell you a little about that particular verse as it is now found, verse 7. Of all the Greek manuscripts in the world, there are only four that have that expression in 1 John about the three that bear witness, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. One is a 12th century manuscript and it is written in the margin in a modern hand,. Other than the 12th century, after the 12th century, it is not in the text itself, it is on the side of the text and in a later hand. We know that from styles and so fourth. There is an 11th century manuscript which has it, but again, it is not in the text, it is in the margin, written in a hand similar to 17th century. There is a 14th and 15th century manuscript and there again, it is not in the text, it is in the margin, written in a 17th century hand. Erasmus was not going to include this in his Greek text because it was not in any of the manuscripts that he was using. He said to somebody, “If you could show me one Greek manuscript that has it in, I will include it. “ There is a Greek manuscript , it dates from, listen carefully, the 16th century, and it has it in, the only one that has it in the text. And most scholars are convinced that it was written just for Erasmus, to make sure he would put it in.
Now, what do you do if you are responsible for a translation of the Word of God, do you leave it in like the King James has? Or do you not have it in? You say, there is a warning in Revelation about anybody who takes out of the Bible these verses, but read that warning. It also says about adding into it. Are we taking something out that is there, or are we not allowing anybody to add something that was not there? All the other manuscripts on that passage that are earlier, do not have anything, not even in the margin. But what is really interesting is that in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th centuries, the church debated the issue of the nature of God and they hammered out the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Nicene Creed comes out of Nicaea. They wrestled with the nature of God. Isn’t it interesting that never once, all of those who argued for the Trinity quoted this verse. Wouldn’t you think, if you were trying to prove the Trinity and this was in your Bible, you would quote it? They never found it. It was not in their Bible. It came into the Bible later, centuries after those conferences.
So, do we allow it in or put it in? Or do we say, “No, no-one can add to the Word of God and we are not going to allow this to be added to it.” I assume it is the latter. When the new King James version came out, I was teaching at Bethel Theological Seminary and one of the editors came out and gave everybody, the faculty and students, a copy of this after chapel address and then there was a time for questions. And he said, “Are there any questions?” My colleague in New Testament , Berkeley Michelson had his hand up and he said, “Yes, why did you include 1 John 5:7?” The editor said, “The editorial staff really felt that we should not include it, but the publisher said that if we don’t include it, the translation won’t sell,” which is a “noble reason” [sarcasm] for adding something to the Bible. In other translations , this is not a major problem. This is one. Same thing when you get to the issue of the woman taken in adultery, John 7:53 to 8:11. If you look at that, most translations will either put it in the footnote or they will put brackets around it and they will say, “The earliest Greek manuscripts that we have don’t have this.” John 16:9-20, same thing. Most translations will eliminate that or put it in brackets and say, “Some manuscripts add this,” etc.
So what we are dealing here with is the issue of textual criticism, and the average lay person really does not know enough about textual criticism . The average pastor doesn’t know much about textual criticism. The average New Testament scholar like me, I don’t know much about textual criticism. So it is an area where we feel uneasy and you have some dogmatic people who have a direct line to the Lord, making pontifical statements about this, which really does not show any humility at all. When you don’t know enough about something and you are dogmatic about it, it tends to be arrogant . Whenever you preach, you have to exegete where your congregation is, where do theylive? Some churches, this would not be a big issue if you said the early Greek manuscripts don’t have it, it seems to be a later edition. Okay, what do you mean? What are you taking out of my Bible? If you have the latter congregation, let’s just say, it takes a lot more explaining to deal with that.
Fortunately, none of these begin a book of the Bible. So, by the time you get to Mark 16, you’ve been with the congregation long enough that they have either a trust for you or suspicion. If they have suspicion, you can’t help that. But they develop a trust if they see you have a real love for the Lord, you have a great reverence for the Word of God, and you are not going to allow anybody to add something to it. Then they might say, “I’m not really sure, I don’t quite agree with him, but he loves the Lord and he wouldn’t say something like this if he didn’t believe it.” Or, if you are dealing with John, you have seven chapters to prepare your congregation for that.
Somebody says to me, “I’m only going to read the King James version, I don’t care what you say.” I would say, “Why don’t you get a New King James version. Some of the words we don’t use anymore are explained a little better there..” And they would feel more comfortable with it. And I would say, “Fine.” If a person won’t read a different translation , whatever one they will read, unless it’s a Jehovah’s Witness kind of thing, I’ll get it for them and say, “You read this.” What we want is the use of the best Greek and Hebrew texts available.
Since the discoveries at Qumran, we have discovered Hebrew manuscripts that are 1500 years, 1300 years older than the oldest manuscript that was available at the time. The oldest was something like 900 A.D., 11 manuscripts of the prophets. They only go back to 300, 400 B.C. some of them. Wouldn’t it be absurd not to use manuscripts that much closer to the original? It is not quite as mechanical as this, but simply this way. Here we are today, 2002, and here we have the Biblical author , say the prophet Isaiah at 600 B.C. Would you like to base your manuscript evidence on manuscripts that date from 1600 or 300 B.C. All things being equal, isn’t the tendency down here for more spelling errors to creep in than up there? It is not quite that simple, but it is still relevant to see in this way. With Greek manuscripts, there are a number of issues. For instance, if you have Mark, the original Mark. Here you have a copy that dates 600. Here you have a copy dating 1200. This one is based on a 500 copy. This one is based on a 300 copy. So this is essentially 600 years later, but its predecessor is earlier. So you talk about families and traditions and the like. It gets to be a whole art at which I’m not really much of an expert. Generally I think you would say, the older they would be, the more that they would tend to be less affected by changes and errors that have occurred. The older they are, the more opportunity for that.