Thursday, August 05, 2004

RB15328-Rob #2: general considerations (cont.) 

(15328) Robert Bowman [Thu Aug 5, 2004 8:21 pm ] (Rob #2: general considerations (cont.)


Your second post convinces me that we agree to a considerable extent on the foundational issues. I will offer some brief comments and in my next post address a specific translation issue that dominated your second post.

I agree, of course, that the KJV exerted enormous influence on later translators. On the other hand, its influence on Catholic versions in the English language has presumably been far less than on Protestant versions. Yet we see both older and newer Catholic versions rendering John 8:58 in the same way as the Protestant versions. Moreover, at least some of the contemporary versions show sufficient independence from the KJV tradition as to call into question the notion that all of them have simply parroted the KJV. The NRSV comes especially to mind.

Although you detected “a fundamental difference in our perspectives” with regard to the matter of the burden of proof, I am not so sure. I did not make the burden of proof “a principle of truth,” as you put it. It is a principle of argumentation, not of truth per se. And in many contexts I accept the burden of proof. As a Protestant, I accept the burden of proof where Protestant theology differs from the mainstream Catholic tradition that preceded it for a millennium.

When we compare knowledge of a religious text demonstrated by those “inside” and “outside” the community of those who regard that text as their primary or sole authority for faith and life, we must be careful to compare apples with apples. Naturally, “outside” scholars can have a much greater knowledge about the text in many respects than “inside” adherents who lack basic instruction. Let me use Islam again as an example. Rank-and-file Muslims on the street may be woefully ignorant of various elements of the Qur’an familiar to non-Muslim scholars of religion, but their ignorance is likely to pale in comparison to that of people who are neither religion scholars nor Muslims. On the other hand, Muslim scholars of religion are likely to know more about the Qur’an than Buddhist or Christian scholars of religion. A good Christian scholar writing on the Qur’an will surely defer to Muslim scholars specializing in Qur’an studies on a wide array of matters, and would properly bear the burden of proof in claiming that most such scholars have got something wrong in their reading of the Qur’an.

I had written:

“For example, in your chapter on John 8:58, you write: ‘It is natural to assume that the majority are correct and the odd ones at fault. It is only when translations are checked against the original Greek, as they should be, that a fair assessment can be made, and the initial assumption can be seen to be wrong.’[3] One would think from such a statement that nearly all of the English translators of the Bible for the past four centuries have failed to check the original Greek, or that they were such poor or biased translators that they checked the Greek and still managed to get it wrong. I believe such a claim bears a heavy burden of proof indeed.”

You replied:

“You are not being fair, here, Rob. Read the quote again, and in context, please. I am arguing against the public ASSUMPTION that simply counting up the versions that have one reading against those that have another reading identifies who is right and who is wrong. And I am arguing for checking the original Greek as the more valid test of accuracy. There are times, then, when one finds that the majority of versions are in the wrong (because there are relations of interdependence that generate a plethora of versions that copy each other's poor readings). I am talking about the PUBLIC's habit of just comparing English translations, and accepting the reading found in most of them against the minority, not the work of translators.”

Perhaps I was being unfair. I am unclear, though, as to how you expect “the public” to check the original Greek. I agree that the public should be encouraged to understand that determining the best translation is not simply a matter of counting how many versions support a particular rendering. Where there are significant differences between versions in a particular passage, I recommend that those unfamiliar with Greek consult commentaries to understand the issues underlying those differences. Of course, I agree with you that sometimes the majority of versions are wrong. Again, I was addressing two issues in this regard: the burden of proof, and the differences among versions that result from different translation goals and methods.

You make a legitimate point when you say that the NWT rendering “I have been” for EGW EIMI fits within a “word-for-word” translation methodology insofar as “have been” is a form of the English “be” verb. Whether the NWT has correctly interpreted the verb EIMI is a matter of controversy to which I will respond in later posts. That question must be resolved, and the original rationale for the NWT rendering understood, before reaching any conclusion about it reflecting theological bias.

Happily, we seem to agree on the relationship between translation and interpretation, so I have nothing to add on that subject.

The main point remaining from your second post that I need to address is the matter of the word order in John 8:58. I will take up that subject in my next post.

In Christ's service,

Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Center for Biblical Apologetics
Online: http://www.biblicalapologetics.net

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