What is a Literal Translation?

Discussion in 'Bible Versions/Translations' started by franklinmonroe, Nov 16, 2006.

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  1. franklinmonroe

    franklinmonroe
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    How do you define literal? And are the terms 'formal equivalence' and 'word-for-word' synonymous with 'literal'?

    For a working example, how should the Greek word sunagoge(soon-ag-o-gay) be literally translated in James 2:2? The word transliterates into English as 'synagogue'. It is a reduplicated form of sunago, meaning 'to gather'.

    Thayer's lexicon states that the word has three possible meanings: 1) a bringing together, gathering; 2) an assembly of men; 3) a synagogue - either the physical building or the group of Jews formally gathered there.

    Strong's lexicon (#4864) states that it means "an assemblage of persons; specially, a Jewish synagogue - the meeting or the place; by analogy, a Christian church: assembly, congregation, synagogue."

    The context of this verse begins with the first verse of the book: James states that he is writing "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad." He calls the readers "my brethren" and also "my beloved brethren" both before and after our verse. Generally, James is about faith without works being worthless; specifically, here the apostle condemns a sinful regarding of the rich, and despising the poor.

    The KJV otherwise translated this word as "synagogue" (55 times; "congregation" once, and "assembly" only at James 2:2). Many others (NKJV, ESV, RSV, NASB, and NET which does have a note about the Greek word) also render this word as "assembly". I would agree with the KJV at the 52 places through the Gospels and Acts that this word is probably referring to a Jewish institution. It does not appear that "synagogue" had a different meaning before or after 1611. The other two occurrences, besides the verse under discussion, are in Revelation (both read "synagogue of Satan" in the vast majority of versions).

    Another 'dynamic' version (NIV) also renders this word as "meeting". The Houghton Mifflin online thesaurus displays "meeting" and "assembly" as synonyms. It seems that the KJV and others that use "assembly" are being just as 'dynamic' as the NLT and NIV with this word. Is the KJV a literal translation?

    Other versions considered 'literal' (ASV, Darby) also render this word as "synagogue".

    The American Heritage online dictionary defines "synagogue" as: 1) a building or place of meeting for worship and religious instruction in the Jewish faith; 2) congregation of Jews for the purpose of worship or religious study; 3) the Jewish religion as organized or typified in local congregations.

    It would seem that in today's English the word "synagogue" can only mean a Jewish place of gathering, or its Jewish membership; not a 'generic' assembly (much less a 'Christian' gathering).

    Now the Greek language has another word ekklesia (Strong's #1577) which is also translated "assembly" but more often "church" in the Christian sense of gathering for worship or religious meeting. This is the word rendered as "assembly" at Acts 19:32, for example. The Holy Spirit could have used ekklesia but chose instead sunagoge. Why?

    It would seem a risk of 'interpretation' to make sunagoge an assembly or meeting of non-Jews (or more likely, a mixture of converted Jews and gentile Christians). Would anything other than "synagogue" be more literal in this context? And in this case, is the word most literal (your definition) also the most 'accurate' word in context?

    As a reader, what is the difference between having to determine: the proper definition of a supplied word (may require a dictionary); or if the word supplied is correct for the context (may require ancient language skills)?
     
    #1 franklinmonroe, Nov 16, 2006
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  2. MNJacob

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    Impossible.
     
  3. Logos1560

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    James 2:2 If there come into your company a man with a golden ring and in goodly apparell and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment (1534 Tyndale's, 1537 Matthew's)

    James 2:2 If there come in to your company a man with a gold ring and in goodly apparell, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment (1535 Coverdale's)

    James 2:2 For if there come into your company a man wearing a golden ring, clothed in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment (1539 Great)

    James 2:2 For if there come into your company a man with a gold ring, and in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment (1557 Whittingham's, 1560 Geneva)

    James 2:2 For if there come into your company a man wearing a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man, in vile raiment (1568 Bishops')

    James 2:2 For if there shall enter into your assembly a man having a golden ring in goodly apparel, and there shall enter in a poor man in homely attire (1582 Rheims)

    James 2:2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment. (1611 KJV)
     
  4. EdSutton

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    Wouldn't a 'literal translation' actually be a transliteration, at best? The OP thread title is an impossibility from the outset, it seems to me. Different languages have different syntax, structure, and form. One may do the best one can to 'translate' word for word; generally 'Word for word', i.e. "formal equivalence"; generally 'thought for thought', a/.k.a. "dynamic equivalence"; and on to 'freely translated', thence 'parahrase'. Only problem is, all languages are limited to one degree or another, as to the degree of "literalness" one can achieve, save for the 'autographs', in the Hebrew, Chaldee and Greek, which to my knowledge, no one has ever claimed to have, outside of a couple of 'cultists'. It simply "ain't gonna' happen.

    I personally usually prefer what is known as 'formal equivalence', generally, as I believe this is the closest one can usually get to the authors intended meaning, generally speaking, outside of a handful of 'self-proclaimed' :rolleyes: "Literal" Version(s), such as the YLT, and the "Murdock" and "Parker' versions of the mid 19th century. Like I said, "It ain't gonna' happen!"

    Ed
     
  5. Pipedude

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    The freshest white bread you can buy in the grocery store is very flimsy and fragile. If you handle it much at all, touching the white part instead of the crust, you dent it and leave your fingerprints on it.

    So it is in translating God's word. We want to handle it as little as possible and pass it to the reader without impressing it with our grubby little paws. The scholarly term for this is "formal equivalence."
     
  6. franklinmonroe

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    James 2:2 exemplifies the difficulty that translators face, which we frequently criticise.

    I do find it interesting that translators are often inconsistant. For example, the KJV men gave us an transliteration of the Greek baptismo instead of an actual English translation (something like 'immerse' or 'dip'). Clearly, leaving the transliteration stand in the KJV text has given opportunity for erroneous interpretation. Yet, the KJV translators felt compelled to not to simply transliterate the word sunogoge at James 2:2 (despite of having letting it stand that way at nearly every other occurrance).
     
    #6 franklinmonroe, Nov 18, 2006
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  7. Pipedude

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    It's not as clear as you claim. As early as the Didache you find Greek-speaking Christians saying "baptize thus" and then saying "pour water on the head three times." That predates the English "transliteration" by quite a bit, and indicates that the force of the Greek word wasn't nearly so compelling to first-century speakers of the language as it is to today's students thereof.
     
  8. franklinmonroe

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    I did not mean to imply that it was the origin of 'alternate methods' of baptizing.

    The point, as related to this topic, was that "baptism" is a literal transliteration and not at all a translation for English readers, which is somewhat inconsistant with the manner the KJV revisers dealt with similar situations (for example, the word "synagogue" in James 2:2).
     
  9. franklinmonroe

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    Perhaps the word was not as strong then (I will seek further evidence). For now, all I have are these authorities--

    Thayer's says that baptismo means to: 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk); 2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe; or 3) to overwhelm. It is a derivative of bapto which means dip in, or immerse.

    Strong's (#907) says it means "to immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet); used only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism: Baptist, baptize, wash."

    However, I still think that baptism by sprinkling or pouring is an inexcuseable error. I think the scriptural evidence is clear that the proper method is to completely immerse. John the Baptist did not stand in the midst of the Jordan in order to dribble water upon folks. The symbology demands complete submersion.
     
  10. John of Japan

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    "Literal translation: A word-for-word translation of an utterance or text into another language, without regard for the differences between the two languages as to grammatical structure and idiomatic peculiarities" (Dictionary of Linguistics, by Mario Pei and Frank Gaynor, p. 124.

    Franklin, all of the translations of sunagoge you mentioned were literal: synagogue (technically a loan word, not a transliteration), assembly, meeting, etc. As long as you use an English word with approximately the same meaning in context, it is literal. It becomes thought-for-thought when you paraphrase ("a big bunch of guys ") or use a single word which is not like the original language word as used in context ("club" or "group").

    I would write more, but it’s late over here in Japan. Catch you in the morning. :sleeping_2:
     
  11. John of Japan

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    Ed, language professionals (linguists, translators, etc.) clearly distinguish between literal translating and transliteration. "Transliteration: The representation of a sound, phoneme or word or utterance in the conventional symbols of another language or system or writing" (Pei and Gaynor, p. 219).

    If you were to transliterate a book of the Bible into English, no one could understand it unless they knew Greek. However, if you were to translate literally the same book into English, much of it would be understood, although idioms, ambiguous phrases, etc., would be extremely hard to understand.

    And now I really have to call it a night! :sleep:
     
  12. Pipedude

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    Such authorities are as plentiful as cell phones, and we all know what the dictionaries say. But there is another fact besides what the dictionaries say, and that is what the Greek-speaking Christians actually did. They used "baptize" to refer to baptism by affusion (Didache 7:5). When a Baptist says that the word cannot be rightly used of affusion, he pretends to know the language better than its native speakers.
    Now you're on firmer ground. Immersion can be defended theologically. It cannot be defended linguistically.
     
  13. bound

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    Without recognizing the use of 'economy' within the Greek-speaking Church we're just not going to understand how affusion entered into the life of the Church.

    To understand the use of affusion as a method of baptism, we have to understand the proper use of 'economy' within the early Church.

    Great discussion BTW. God Bless you all!
     
  14. John of Japan

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    Pipedude, you are assuming a couple of things here that you can't prove.

    (1) You are assuming first of all that the Didache was a document widely accepted (or even accepted at all) among the churches when it was written. There is no evidence of that. In fact, the evidence is to the contrary, since mss are so few as compared to other Apostolic Fathers.

    (2) You are assuming that baptizo meant the same when the Didache was written as it did when the NT was written. That is a huge assumption, since the evidence is that the Didache was probably not written until close to 100 years (see the revised ISBE article) after almost all of the NT (excepting Revelation, which does not mention baptism). Words can undergo huge changes in meaning in a matter of a few short years, as witness the word "gay." I would say it is a sure thing that baptizo had gained an ecclesiastical meaning by the time of the Didache.

    IMO, the 1st century meaning of baptizo as "immerse" will contine to stand unless someone can come up with more than the Didache to prove "pouring."
     
    #14 John of Japan, Nov 20, 2006
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  15. bound

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    Are you suggesting that one 'needs' to be Baptized by emmersion in order to be 'saved'? If not then why is it such a big deal?

    Your thoughts please?
     
  16. John of Japan

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    Whoa, how did you get that from what I wrote? :eek: Baptism is certainly not necessary for salvation, though as I Baptist I consider it to be important. I was just interacting with Pipedude. This is a debate thread, after all! :smilewinkgrin:
     
  17. Pipedude

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    Not really. I haven't alleged that its ideas were accepted by churches (although I haven't denied it, either). I've only showed that the word "baptize" was used by Greek speaking people to refer to baptism by affusion.
    Remember that I haven't said anything about the Didache expressing the ideas of the NT writers. I've only said that first-century speakers of the language saw nothing in the word "baptize" to exclude affusion. If I have to move it to early-second-century, that won't weaken my position noticeably.

    I agree with you that "baptize" had an ecclesiastical meaning. Where I would differ, apparently, is that I believe that it always had an ecclesiastical meaning. "Baptize" never meant simply "dip" when used in its Christian context; it included the administrator, the witnesses, the name of the Trinity, the believer, the profession of faith, and maybe a few more things. Somebody might fall down a well, but it wasn't Christian baptism.

    As we see from the Didache, those who spoke the language had no difficulty in saying "Baptize thus: pour water on the head." To hear a modern Baptist talk, you'd think such an expression was comparable to: "Eat and drink the Lord's Supper thus: think about beans." But the Didache's manner of speaking wasn't linguistic nonsense to those Greek speakers, even if it seems to be to a modern Baptist. "Dip" must not have been uppermost in their minds.

    Quite obviously, as you wrote, the Didache cannot establish the theological permissability of affusion, and I never suggested that it could. The original topic was the English Bible's use of the word "baptize" and the allegation that such a translation left the door open to modes other than immersion. My response was, and is, that those who spoke the language had no difficulty in using the word for other modes, so Tyndale and his successors (immersionists all, BTW), added nothing the affusionist cause by using the English word "baptize."

    A side topic, which I would have been wise to omit, was whether or not the Greek word provides a defense for the immersion-only position. Upon reflection, I see that my statement "Immersion can be defended theologically. It cannot be defended linguistically" says too much. Rather than issue a corrected version of that claim of mine, I simply unsay it and scurry back into my burrow.

    You didn't hear it.
    I wasn't there.
    It didn't happen.
     
  18. Pipedude

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    You mean, like, they were saving money on utilities by using less water?
     
  19. John of Japan

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    :laugh:
    Okey dokey. I'll buy that.
     
  20. bound

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    Ha Ha! No! :tongue3:

    I'm not Orthodox so I have limited ability to articulate their use of 'economy' within their church tradition but I do believe they find their 'root' to this through Jesus giving the Apostles the abiliity to 'bind and loose'.

    BTW what is the Baptist take on 'binding and loosing'? I don't even know...
     
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