God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Double-Edged Sword of Etymology in I Timothy 3:8

William Mounce at Koinonia (hosted by Zondervan Academic) disagrees with Mark Strauss about dilogos in I Timothy 3:8.

Dr. Strauss takes issue with the ESV’s choice of “double-tongued,” arguing that it “sounds like a mock ‘Indian-speak’ (with forked-tongue) or some strange alien creature,” while Dr. Mounce defends the decision because — in cases like this where we lack sound knowledge about what the word means (it’s a hapax legomenon):

You have to go to etymology. Since we have no prior use of this word, and since Paul shows openness to making up words, especially in the Pastorals, it makes sense he coined the word here. Dilogos is from dis meaning “twice” and logos meaning “something said.” Suggestions for its meaning range from “repetitious, gossips, saying one thing and meaning another, saying one thing to one person but another to another person.” The basic meaning is clear. When a deacon speaks, his words must be true, rigorously honest.

The problem is that the exact same reasoning that suggests “double-tongued” also suggests the English “bilingual” (from bi-, “two/twice” and lingual, “tongued.”) as a translation for dilogos.

I’m not suggesting that “bilingual” is the right translation. But I think there’s something wrong, or at least incomplete, with a translation approach that suggests two so completely different translations for the same word.

[EDIT: Take a look at this fun and detailed analysis for a more in-depth look at dilogos and related words. J. K. Gayle is in particularly good form.]

October 7, 2009 Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , , | 8 Comments