God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Q&A: Genesis 18:14 (and the right way to do Bible translation)

From the About page comes this question:

I have a couple concerns in Gen 18:14. 1) “for the LORD” is prefixed with a mem which is what you see in Gen. 24:50 but is translated there as “from the LORD”; 2) Why is dabar translated as “anything.”

This is an excellent example of why all of the words of a phrase have to be translated together, not one by one.

The prefix mem in Hebrew does two things:

1. The mem indicates “from,” as in your example of Genesis 24:50: mei-Adonai yatzah ha-davar, literally, “from-Adonai went-out the-thing,” or, in English, “this matter comes from Adonai.” (The bold-face is to help compare the words with the next example.)

2. The mem indicates comparison, as in Genesis 24:50: ha-yipaleh mei-Adonai davar, literally, “Q-will-be-wondrous more-than-Adonai thing,” or, in English, “Is anything too wondrous for Adonai?” (Again, the bold-face is for comparison with the previoius example.)

The word “too” in English is one way we express comparison, and the word davar becomes “anything” in English because of the complex interaction between thing/something/anything/nothing. (“I see a thing.” “I see something.” “I don’t see anything.” “I see nothing.” All of these correspond to the Hebrew davar.)

So what we see is a detailed interaction of Hebrew grammar and English grammar. The correct translation comes from using Hebrew grammar to decode the sentence, and then re-encoding the sentence using English grammar.

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August 23, 2012 Posted by | grammar, Q&A, translation practice, translation theory | , , | 1 Comment