Literal translations (and trust)

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darinhouston
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Literal translations (and trust)

Post by darinhouston » Sat May 03, 2014 3:16 pm

I know we all love the literal translations, but even with the "most literal" among them, I am frequently frustrated by what seems to be liberties taken with translations. Sometimes, the semantic ranges of the words used are so wide that it seems like only presuppositions as to context lead to one translation over another, which would seem to create a circular exegesis. It sometimes leaves me to wonder how we can have any trust in the translations at all -- of all the "study aids" we've discussed, the one I want the most is a colorized bible with colors to highlight where passages have anything beyond a plain and universal understanding as to word choices and word order. If there is ANY meaningful deviation, I'd like a cue so I can use the many tools available to guide my understanding. Otherwise, I can trust that there is near unanimity in translation and rely on the text.

An example just came to me yesterday as my wife encountered Psalms 51:7 in her daily readings and remarked that it might be a basis for "sprinklers" in baptism.

(net) Psalm 51:7 Sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow

It struck me as odd that something this closely related to baptism could be unfamiliar to me, so I looked it up in a concordance and in other translations. This is by no means unique -- it's quite frequent that I find something like this and it leaves me with a real uncertainty I don't like.

The NET usually has a pretty good reason for departing from a mostly literal word for word translation, but as I compared to other translations, I noted that some used "purge" instead of "sprinkle" and others "hyssop" instead of "water." So, reading the translation notes of the NET, it was apparent that replacing hyssop with water would make more sense to a modern reader who might not be aware that people used hyssop branches to sprinkle water, but then the word "purge" vs. "water" seemed odd. Wow, what a semantic range for the hebrew word "chata":
"chata"
to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness
(Qal)
to miss
to sin, miss the goal or path of right and duty
to incur guilt, incur penalty by sin, forfeit
(Piel)
to bear loss
to make a sin-offering
to purify from sin
to purify from uncleanness
(Hiphil)
to miss the mark
to induce to sin, cause to sin
to bring into guilt or condemnation or punishment
(Hithpael)
to miss oneself, lose oneself, wander from the way
to purify oneself from uncleanness
How can the same word be used for both "sin" and "purify from sin"? If Hebrew is that limited in its word choice then what hope do I have?

Thoughts?

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Michelle
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Re: Literal translations (and trust)

Post by Michelle » Sat May 03, 2014 6:00 pm

darinhouston wrote: The NET usually has a pretty good reason for departing from a mostly literal word for word translation, but as I compared to other translations, I noted that some used "purge" instead of "sprinkle" and others "hyssop" instead of "water." So, reading the translation notes of the NET, it was apparent that replacing hyssop with water would make more sense to a modern reader who might not be aware that people used hyssop branches to sprinkle water, but then the word "purge" vs. "water" seemed odd.
I think using "water" for "hyssop" is kind of an odd choice. A modern reader who might be unfamiliar with the word "hyssop" might (should!) search it out. They would discover several examples where hyssop branches are used to sprinkle water or blood for cleansing. (Exodus 12:22; Leviticus 14; Numbers 19; Hebrews 9:19)
...but then the word "purge" vs. "water" seemed odd.
Do you mean "purge" vs. "sprinkle" here?

Wow, what a semantic range for the hebrew word "chata":
"chata"
to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness
(Qal)
to miss
to sin, miss the goal or path of right and duty
to incur guilt, incur penalty by sin, forfeit
(Piel)
to bear loss
to make a sin-offering
to purify from sin
to purify from uncleanness
(Hiphil)
to miss the mark
to induce to sin, cause to sin
to bring into guilt or condemnation or punishment
(Hithpael)
to miss oneself, lose oneself, wander from the way
to purify oneself from uncleanness
How can the same word be used for both "sin" and "purify from sin"? If Hebrew is that limited in its word choice then what hope do I have?

Thoughts?
We also have English words that mean opposites. You know which meaning by the context. Could David have really meant "miss me with hyssop" or "induce me to sin with hyssop"?
Last edited by Michelle on Sat Jun 14, 2014 8:43 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Paidion
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Re: Literal translations (and trust)

Post by Paidion » Sat May 03, 2014 8:48 pm

You may want to check out the Greek Septuagint. The New Testament writers quoted either from the Septuagint, or translated from the form of Hebrew from which the Septuagint was translated. Their quotes were often quite unlike the Masoretic text.

Also Hellenistic Greek words in general do not have such a wide range of meaning as does the Hebrew.
Paidion

Man judges a person by his past deeds, and administers penalties for his wrongdoing. God judges a person by his present character, and disciplines him that he may become righteous.

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StevenD
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Re: Literal translations (and trust)

Post by StevenD » Sun May 04, 2014 1:05 am

As I haven't posted anything here in at least a couple of years, hopefully this doesn't seem like I'm sticking my nose into a conversation where I don't belong.

The meaning of the Hebrew term in question (תְּחַטְּאֵנִי) largely pivots upon its particular verbal construction. Hebrew verbs are generally built upon a root consisting of three letters (consonants; e.g. חטא).

The root can be plugged in to one of seven standard 'binyans' (lit. buildings/constructions) that shape the meaning (and influence the behavior [morphology]) of a particular verb. Shifting a single root from construction to construction may significantly effect the meaning that one derives from a particular root.

The shift in meaning between the act of sinning and the act of purifying from sin does span an unusually wide semantic range. The meaning changes from 'sin' to 'purge [from sin]' depending upon the particular binyan to which the root is assigned. As your message suggested, when the root is plugged into the binyan known as Pi'el the root takes on the meaning to 'purge' rather than to 'sin' (or similar shades of meaning).

The choice to include the word 'sprinkle' may expose a presuppositional bias on the part of the translator(s) as I don't see any lexical support for it.

More specifically, Williams' Hebrew Syntax describes something called the 'privative' form of a verb (applied to two binyans in particular, the Pi'el and it's passive counterpart known as Pu'al). The privative form is said to refer to "removing something". Examples cited in English are the verbs 'to peel', 'to skin', and 'to husk' as they describe the act of removing the peel, skin, and husk of something. See p. 61 sec. 146:

http://books.google.co.il/books?id=U4bt ... &q&f=false

Hopefully this is of some value to you.

Peace in Christ...
StevenD

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darinhouston
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Re: Literal translations (and trust)

Post by darinhouston » Sun May 04, 2014 9:27 pm

Michele, thanks -- yes, I meant purge vs. sprinkle. I do agree as to this passage it's clear which word to choose, but it's not always that clear.

Steven, thanks -- that is very helpful, and raises the "trust" level somewhat although I'm afraid that leaves me in a position of simply "trusting" the experts as it makes casual use of lexicons very challenging. (leaves us with "just enough knowledge to be dangerous...")

In the end, I still think we need to be really careful trusting even "so-called" literal word for word translations. A literal word for word translation would be virtually incomprehensible.

StevenD
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Re: Literal translations (and trust)

Post by StevenD » Mon May 05, 2014 1:00 am

Hi Darin,

As some say, if there's a science to the translation of NT Greek then there appears to be both an art and a science to translating the Hebrew Bible. Though I suppose that this adds another good reason to tremble while handling God's pearls.

It's probably unnecessary to point out that presently available resources (like computerized search options) allow one to check out the use of a term/construction within a given phrase or larger context. One could feasibly glance over the use of the term you presented (in this case the root is framed in the Pi'el constuction) and either confirm or dispute with the lexicographers. If their findings remain unsatisfactory, perhaps the appetite is wet for taking the next steps in learning the language..?

Even reading a text in it's original language requires a measure of confidence in the available learning tools, so an outlet for criticism (or paranoia) to express itself is likely to remain open. At best, I think we still see through a glass--darkly. Maybe that adds energy to continue digging for more of that pearl..?

One reason that I began studying Hebrew was in response to critics (mostly of a particular religious persuasion themselves) who suggested that if I were to read the text in its original language I would see that most English translations were mere shoddy works, driven by the presuppositional biases of their Christian translators. A few years into it I began to marvel at the work of my favorite rather literal translation (though not without scratching my head a few times about some things).

Though my own experience may not relate much to your interests, I was relieved with a boost in appreciation for the work of some translations. Furthermore, the anti-Christian polemics that I was confronted with seemed to backfire as links (mostly in poems/songs) that I never paid much attention to (though should have) within English translations appeared to prompt attention toward other relevant passages. The criticisms (arguments against the faith) that I was previously confronted with were effectively being turned on their heads.

I realize that your concerns are probably not limited to the Hebrew Bible, but may extend to the integrity and competence of the work of translators of the entire Bible (and/or academic claims related to meaning). I doubt that we can know everything (though on occasion Steve Gregg's lectures unwittingly provoke me to rethink this).

You are probably well aware of the presence of hapax legomena (words used only once whose meaning remains questionable or at least sufficiently ambiguous to scholars). The fact that such terms are present within the OT could be disheartening if I feel that I (or at least somebody on the planet) must understand every given detail within Scripture. As different philologists may have their own agendas (possibly either clouded by their own fields of study) as well, after considering the weight of each appeal, can we hope to do more than continue to remain content while prayerfully searching the Scriptures for more understanding?

My apologies if I'm taking this thread out of bounds. Maybe I'm trying to read too much into the thoughts you relayed.

Christ is risen!
StevenD

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darinhouston
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Re: Literal translations (and trust)

Post by darinhouston » Mon May 05, 2014 3:45 pm

Not at all. Very welcome feedback!


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