God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Are You a Good Dragon or a Bad Dragon?

In response to Scot McKnight’s third post on Translation Tribalism, MatthewS says:

A prof told me once that some missionaries in China feel that translators might have made a mistake by translating the word “dragon” in Revelation literally. It is supposed to convey negative affect but the dragon in Chinese culture is a positive thing. This is a literal word-for-word translation that tends to immediately convey the opposite intended impression.

He’s talking about Revelation 12 and 13, for example (12:3), “Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads” (NRSV).

Is “dragon” the right translation into Chinese even if the original was a bad omen and the Chinese a good one? Or to put the question differently, do drakon and whatever the Chinese is really mean the same thing if they have such different connotations?

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September 15, 2009 Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , , | 8 Comments