For an Informed Love of God
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Does inspiration require every word to be translated? (Matt 1:4)
Some people feel every Greek word should be translated with an English word. There are, of course, notable exceptions; ὅτι introducing a direct quote is translated with quotation marks. But it is argued that inspiration requires every word to be translated one way or another.
I am not convinced this is an accurate way of thinking. Yes, Scripture is the Word of God, and all of it comes from the mouth of God (2 Tim 3:16). But how does Greek communicate? How does any language communicate? I suggest that authorial intent is discovered more at the phrase level (in most cases) than at the word level, and style is part of the communication process.
After all, if I wrote as a first grader, or in Yoda-speak, in a colloquial style, or in an extremely formal style, style is one of the tools I am using to communicate Is there a difference in meaning between answering the phone “It is I” and “It is me,” “yeh,” or “Me it is”? Is there a difference in saying “With whom should I speak?” and “Who should I speak to?”? Of course there is.
This is obviously true with idioms. In order to say that God is patient, Hebrew says that he has a “long nose,” brought into the KJV with the phrase “long suffering.” But the Hebrew author never meant to convey the idea that God has a protruding proboscis, and translating every word (which no one does with idioms) miscommunicates.
This issue of translating every word is also seen in how we list a series of items. Greek tends to use conjunctions more than we do, so it says A and B and C and D. In the genealogy of Matt 1, we see, “and (δέ) Ram the father of Amminadab, and (δέ) Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and (δέ) Nahshon the father of Salmon” (1:4; ESV, see also the NRSV, KJV, and any interlinear).
The problem is that it miscommunicates by giving the impression that Matthew writes in an awkward style. It is poor English, and the old adage that “Translators are traitors” proves to be true once again since this is not poor Greek.
In English we say A, B, C, and D. In other words, we use punctuation instead of “and” between the elements of the series, and we include a conjunction before the last item in the series. This is why the majority of translations say, “Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon” (NASB, see also CSB, NIV, NET, NLT). To be honest, I was shocked to see the NASB translate δέ with a comma and maintain English style.
This illustrates why it is impossible to translate in a way that is transparent to Greek structures and at the same time be sufficiently flexible so as to be accurate and acceptable English style. You can’t have it both ways, and each translation must choose one course or another.
Let’s stop saying one translation has a higher view of inspiration than another and keep our discussion at the level it should be, and that is how does the inerrant word of God communicate?