Tuesday, August 10, 2004

JB15378-Jas #5: burdens of proof 

(15378) Jason BeDuhn [Tue Aug 10, 2004 9:47 am] (Re: John 8:58 - Jason #5:burdens of proof)


The conclusion to be reached on this line of argument, then, is that assessing any position is not a matter of who but of what. Any resort to "so-and-so says so" is a resort to authority, rather than evidence and demonstration. You and I may occasionally lapse into whipping out our favorite big name scholars, but ultimately the issues can only be settled by the preponderence of evidence.

To any two people committed to the ideal of objective and neutral research, the designation of one as "insider" and the other as "outsider" would presumably not add a shred of relevant information. So this whole line of discussion you introduced seems a bit of a red herring. The so-called "insider" brings nothing inherently different to an inquiry than an "outsider" if they are both committed to the same standards of evidence and demonstration. That is why I am puzzled by this line of your argument, and why I have to assume that by "insider" you do not mean simply someone who personally has a particular belief that is bracketed in the research process, but rather someone whose research and conclusions are explicitly produced within, and bounded by, a public proclamation of faith. All that I have tried to point out is that such a position (position, not person) is, by definition, the product of historical forces and traditions that have placed the contemporary believer at a considerable distance from the state of things two thousand years ago. And someone who approaches two thousand year old material while publicly avowing that he or she sees no possibility of finding anything outside the bounds of a particular contemporary understanding of the faith cannot be considered to be committed to the ideal of objective and neutral research. That's their choice, and perfectly fine in itself, but has nothing to do with how we determine the better of two positions on translation.

Perhaps we should check to see if we are even interested in the same thing in a Bible translation. Something like the TEV (Good News Bible) was pretty clearly put together to be a carrier of a contemporary Christian faith, not a communicator of the original meaning of the biblical text. That, too, is a kind of translation that fills a certain niche and serves certain goals. That might suit a certain segment of Bible readership. But in my experience those Christians passionately interested in reading the Bible are exercizing a kind of private "Protestant" revolt (even among Catholics) to have their faith "direct" from the earliest Christian tradition, as much as possible unmediated by the intervening history of dogmatic developments. So my "bias" for history referred to in my book happens to coincide with the interest of many modern Christians not just to find new meaning in their sacred scripture (and so continue the process of dogmatic development step by tiny step) but to have that newly discovered meaning be in some way related to what the scripture did and could have meant two thousand years ago.

And I do maintain in my book, and wonder if you agree, that translation depends on certain basic secular skills in language and the referential meaning of that language within a particular historical and cultural situatedness. Despite the fact that some translation projects have limited their participants to people who are committed not to reach a conclusion contrary to certain dogmas, I am unaware of claims that a particular translation is directly inspired in a way that other translations are not. If that is the case with individual translations, then it holds equally true of traditions of translation within a faith community, which have more to do with the strength of tradition and trends of interpretation than they do with issues of accuracy. That being the case, the debate over more or less accurate translations must again fall to evidence equally within the skills of "insiders" and "outsiders." And all translations must be placed on an equal playing-field of assessment. "Mainstream," "non-mainstream," "orthodox," "unorthodox" are all designations of the subsequent history of dogma -- an area that I don't think is what we have agreed to discuss here.

At least we can agree that there is no dogmatic reading of John 8:58. It has been utilized for, and integrated into, various dogmas. But that use does not in turn dictate what the verse in itself says. I have already stated that an accurate translation of the verse does not preclude its integration into a dogma along the lines you have advocated (eternal preexistence Christology), just as it does not preclude integration into an alternative dogma (limited preexistence Christology). You and I agree that one interpretation of the verse -- one that has shaped a commonly found English rendering -- that could be seen as wieghing against one of the two dogmatic integrations is not really valid (that is, a direct quote of Exodus 3:14 is not involved here). Nevertheless, you have so far maintained a fondness for the rendering of the verse that I have argued is actually dependent on this invalid interpretation of the verse. So I expect our discussion to now move on to the fine points of meaning of the verb, and what we both feel is found or lost in various renderings of it. My argument to date has been simply this (and you will see that it is a kind of burden of proof claim): if such Greek constructions are typically and usually translated without a dangling be-verb at the end of the sentence and with suitable tense complementary between the main verb and its dependent clause, then one must explain why it should be translated differently here. And "differently" takes two forms: differently than any given translation typically handles such Greek, and differently than contemporary standard English normally expresses itself.

best wishes,

Jason B.

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