Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Tuesday, February 21

Common Sense in Translation (Acts 7:18)

There is no substitute for common sense in translation. Sometimes when you read the Greek, it is so obvious that it can’t mean what it says. The question is, what is a translator to do?

Stephen says in his speech, “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph (ὃς οὐκ ᾔδει τὸν Ἰωσήφ)” (Acts 7:17-18, ESV).

Of course he did not know Joseph. Joseph had been dead for centuries.

Some translations of course are willing to leave such a silly notion in the text and expect the reader to figure it out (ESV, NKJV, HCSB). 

But watch the other translations try to spell out the specifics of the abbreviated Greek.“Who knew nothing about Joseph” (NASB, NLT). “To whom Joseph meant nothing” (NIV). “Who had not known Joseph” (NRSV). I do like the NET on this one: “who did not know about Joseph.” The simple “about” makes the implicit clear and understandable.

A simple reminder that all translation involves interpretation, and sometimes a word for word translation leaves us with something nonsensical.