Sunday, November 14, 2004

RB15992 - Rob #22: Changing your position on what is "fractured syntax" 

(15992) - Rob #22: [Sun Nov 14, 2004 8:46 pm ](John 8:58 - Rob #22: Changing your position on what is "fractured syntax")

[Editor's note: The main issue Rob raises here appears to be a claim that Jason has changed his arguments. Could this be a prelude to what Rob's next posts will include? New arguments or changed ones? Time will tell.]


I begin my reply to your last group of posts by addressing an issue pertaining to your position on word order that you raised in your post #17. (I will give both post numbers and page numbers from the archive in the Files section of this discussion group.)

In your post #17, you wrote:
In your post 3, you denied that the word order found in most English translations of this verse was, in my words, "fractured or broken syntax." You argued that English has flexibility to put dependent clauses before main clauses, and this does not constitute "fractured" syntax. I clarified that my characterization referred to both the word order and the disharmony of verbal tenses between the main and dependent clauses, and that these two aberrations together merited that characterization. You subsequently (your post 5) acknowledged that that was my meaning. (p. 217)

This is not an accurate summation. Here is the passage from your post #4 to which you are referring:

Please note that I have said both in my book and in my earlier post that the single weakness of inverting standard subject-verb-predicate complement is not in and of itself enough to judge a translation of John 8:58 faulty, or to provide grounds for charges of bias. It is only the combination of inversion of standard word order with the anomalous tense of English "am" that together gives reason to fault the translation significantly. See the last paragraph of page 110 in my book where I enumerate three anomalies that, stacked one upon the other, build up progressively increasing grounds for suspecting bias; and my post #2 where I say: "In itself, either weakness does not cry out 'bias.' It could just be lame translating. But when there is inconsistency . . . and the weaknesses begin to pile up in a single verse, and there are other clues (such as capitalizing "I Am") to the translators' thinking, then one starts to have grounds for suspecting bias." (p. 38)

I replied in my post #5:

** I recognize that you did fault traditional versions at John 8:58 for the cumulative effect that you perceived in their "inverted word order" combined with their rendering of EIMI with "am." However, if such "inversion" is not itself bad English, as you had claimed, it cannot be a valid part of a cumulative complaint against the versions exhibiting that word order. You argue that most versions are faulty in two respects and that it is that combination of the two faults that suggest bias. Well, if one of these faults is not really a fault, the argument based on the combination of thetwo "faults" is unsound. ** (p. 49)

The point that I was acknowledging here was that in your opinion the two "defects" (of "inverted word order" and the use of "am" to render EIMI) together constituted evidence of bias on the part of the translators. I agreed that you built your case *for bias* on the cumulative effect of these two aspects of the traditional translation (along with the capitalization of "I AM," which as I pointed out applies to only a few modern versions). I did *not* agree that your meaning (previously) was that the traditional rendering of John 8:58 was "fractured or broken syntax" only when those two "aberrations" were combined. In fact, I pointed out that "you had claimed" that the "inversion" of the clauses was "itself bad English." That is clearly what you said repeatedly in your post #2:

But leaving that aside for the moment, and looking at these various versions just as English sentences, they are not English sentences. That's true of the NW as well as of almost all of the others.... I think you and I agree that the only reason for the broken syntax -- having "I am" at the end of the sentence -- is the mistaken notion that Jesus is quoting Exodus. So at least can we agree that the main subject and verb should stand at the beginning of any English translation ("I am before Abraham was born") before we go on to debate the proper rendering of the tense of the main verb? ... The NW rendering of John 8:58 has only the anomaly of broken syntax (the main clause at the end of the sentence), which it shares with almost all the other versions, and that's just a residue of the English translationtradition of the verse as far as I can see. (pp. 18, 22, 24)

Please note that you described the wording of the NWT as "broken syntax" even though it has only one of the elements for which you faulted most translations. You stated that these translations of John 8:58, including the NWT, "are not English sentences." The only basis for this judgment with regard to the NWT was that it puts "the main clause at the end of the sentence." And you referred explicitly to "having 'I am' at the end of the sentence" as "broken syntax." In your book, you characterized the NWT along with other translations that put the dependent clause first in John 8:58 as having "mangled word order" in this respect: "Yet all of the translations we are comparing, with the exception of the LB [Living Bible], offer precisely this sort of mangled word order" (_Truth in Translation_, 105). I do not know how you can now claim that you had said otherwise.

We see, then, that you have flatly misstated what you originally said about the "broken syntax" of most translations of John 8:58. You cannot have "clarified" (as you claim) that you meant that two or more of the objectionable features had to be present, when you repeatedly stated outright that just one feature (wrong order of clauses) constituted broken syntax. This is really a change in your argument. I emphasize this point because some people (including you!) are claiming that you have remained rock steady in your argumentation throughout our debate while I supposedly have been desperately changing my arguments here and there in order to "win at any cost." Is this change of argument on your part a big deal? No, in and of itself it is not. There is nothing wrong with revising one's argument to overcome a particular objection or problem. There is something wrong with revising one's argument, denying that one has done so, and falsely stating that one's debate opponent has agreed that your meaning has not changed.

In addition to the above misstatement of your earlier argument, your review (in your post #17) also passes over the change in your argument concerning what is wrong with the order of clauses in most translations. In both your book and your first two posts, you argued that these translations erred because they put the main clause at the end of the sentence instead of at the beginning. I documented this argument in my post #3 (pp. 29-30). Your book faulted these translations for putting the "predicate phrase" before the main subject and verb. In your first post, you faulted them because they "place the main clause after the adverbial clause, rather than before it, violating standard English syntax." In your second post, you objected that "the main subject and verb should stand at the beginning of any English translation." In response, I pointed out that perfectly good English sentences often place adverbial clauses first (giving some examples from your own post) and that English Bibles like the NRSV often do so specifically when translating clauses that begin with the word "before" (my post #3, pp. 30-33).

You then replied in your post #4 that you were glad for the opportunity to "improve defects of clarity" in your book and that although you knew what you "meant to say" and your "manuscript readers" understood what you were saying, you "evidently did not successfully say" what you intended (p. 37). You went on to acknowledge that you "skipped right over" the fact that "modern English" does have some "general flexibility...in placing subordinate clauses relative to the main verb," explaining that such flexibility "is not found in connection with the English be-verb" (p. 38). "The English be-verb cannot stand alone" without a complement, and when we want to make an existential statement without a complement we cannot use the be-verb but must instead use a verb like "exist" (p. 38).

This explanation represented a considerably different, more nuanced argument than the one you had presented in your book and in your first two posts. However, I did not challenge your claim to be merely explaining what you and your manuscript readers had no trouble understanding that you had meant. I did not suggest that you had changed your argument because you wanted to win at all costs. Instead, I accepted what I called "your newly clarified argument" and addressed it alone, making nothing of the way it differed from your earlier presentation. I said nothing more about it. As everyone following this debate knows, you did not grant me the same courtesy later in the discussion when I offered a fresh analysis of the issues pertaining to the PPA.

In Christ's service,

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

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