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?

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