God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

My Translation is a Guide to Greek Grammar

The question of how much original linguistic structure should be preserved in a translation has come up twice recently — on BBB and on Bill Mounce’s blog.

Bill Mounce notes that most people’s gut-reaction is that, “[a]n accurate translation is … one that reflects the grammar of the Greek and Hebrew.” (Dr. Mounce seems to be saying that although that used to be his position, he is questioning his old approach.)

Similarly, Mike Sangrey notes that, “one type of translation helps the ‘reader’ work with the original forms — accuracy is form oriented.”

More generally, some people seem to want a “translation” that not only tells them what the original means, but also shows them a little about the original languages. (I used “Greek” in the title of this post because of the alliteration. My point applies equally to the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the Bible.)

The reasoning seems to be that “a little bit of knowledge about Greek or Hebrew will help me understand the Bible a little bit better.”

But I don’t think it’s true.

On the contrary, I think a little knowledge of Hebrew or Greek is likely to confuse English speakers, and lead to less understanding.

That’s because learning a foreign language is really difficult. On the other hand, misinterpreting a foreign language by using your own language’s grammar is pretty easy.

So I think we should leave grammar to grammar books and vocabulary to dictionaries. Then translations can skip past the details of how the language works and convey what the language does.


September 24, 2010 - Posted by | translation theory | , ,

1 Comment

  1. As a professional Japanese-English translator, I couldn’t agree more. I find that often the further I stray from the grammatical structure and vocabulary of the original Japanese, the clearer and more accurate the English translation I can produce. I see no reason why Greek should be any different.

    Comment by Paul D. | September 24, 2010

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