Authority of Lexicons: Pt. 3

What’s in a WORD?

Translators today place, so it seems, great authority in every statement in the Greek and Hebrew Lexicons.

Is this a valid placement of one’s confidence when translating the New and/or Old Covenants? I don’t think so. And, the reason is simple enough, neither do those who make the Lexicons.

Let’s take an example from the new Original Order translation. That is, the use of “then” for the Greek word “kai”. Usually, the word is translated “and” because it is a conjunction. However, modern translators, more and more, feel “comfortable” with using “then”. Then being a word related to time. That is, changing a conjunction to an adverb of time.

What is this based upon? Well, the final authority usually goes back to a Lexicon, and usually to the A&G Lexicon.

FREEDOM for PERSONAL OPINION in Translation?

Here is the crux of the problem. When using a Lexicon in this manner, it leaves extreme flexibility for the translator. That is, too much flexibility to “interpret” into the Scripture a PERSONAL OPINION of what would be said in English. And, there is the other rub. They think the best thing to do for the “ignorant” reader [i.e. ignorant of the languages of preservation, Greek and Hebrew] is to try and turn the Greek thinking into English thinking. This sounds great on the surface, but in fact, it ends up deceiving the reader. In these posts we will be giving many examples of how this works.

The point being this: The use of Lexicons gives too much freedom for translators to put into Scripture their own opinions versus what is actually stated in the Greek or Hebrew. And, this is true of the new OB translation we are discussing on this site. Now, let’s take a moment and look at a statement in the preface of the A&G, third edition (BDAG), Univ. of Chicago Press, c. 2000.

Frederick William Danker Speaks

This revision makes a primary departure in the use of bold roman typeface to highlight the meanings of words or their functional usage. Traditionally, lexicons have shown a preference for definition of a word in the source language with a corresponding word or phrase in the receptor language. A series of words or glosses is then offered to cover a variety of possibilities for translation. But these ALLEGED meanings are for the most part MERE FORMAL EQUIVALENTS, and in the case of words that occur very frequently [like “kai” in the Gk. text] in a language they run the hazard of being devoid of semantic value. Even worse, an UNWARY READER may think that a given word bears all the content expressed by a series of synonyms. Not to speak of the student whose primary language is not English and who therefore may not understand distinctions between the ENGLISH synonyms that SUPPOSEDLY define a given Greek term. [All emphasis mine in this and other quotes.] p. viii

I wonder if you grasp the full meaning here? Reread that comment for it contains much insight into the “art of translating” the Bible. So, if the above is true, what is the attempted solution? There is one, and this solution is what leads the translator into the “supposed freedom from restraint” in their translations. And, remember, we will demonstrate one aspect of this with the use of “kai” from the Greek. Here then, is the attempted solution.

In an effort to overcome this problem, this revision builds on and expands Bauer’s use of EXTENDED DEFINITION. This approach permits readers to explore the semantic structures of their OWN NATIVE LANGUAGE for ADEQUATE INTERPRETATION without the need of first deciphering the meaning of various glosses or synonyms. In this lexicon an arabic numeral at the head of a classification signifies that all the passages contained in that classification share a given meaning structure. Numerous entries therefore variously modify some older classifications that were based on mere grammatical or theological distinctions. SUBSETS of a meaning or COLLECTIONS of data relating to it — such as Bauer’s valuable collections of grammatical or theological association — are indicated as needed, through the tradition use of lettering a, b, …… WHEN a FORMAL EQUIVALENT is sufficient to convey the meaning, as marry in the entry gameo this meaning stands in BOLD italics…. Normal italic type is used for SUGGESTED translation equivalents.

Now, it should be noted that under the definition of KAI, or AND in the A&G there are only TWO bold italic definitions. The rest are under the italic type or SUGGESTED equivalents. What are those two definitions? Let’s see:

KAI conjunction (Hom.+) found most frequently by far of all Gk. particles in the NT…

1. marker of connections, and….

2. marker to indicate an additive relation that is not coordinate to connect clauses and sentences, also, likewise, funct. as an adv.

That’s it. Just two! AND , ALSO . Everything else is SUGGESTED. The word KAI in the A&G covers almost three large pages of definitions, but only two are FORMAL EQUVALENT meanings sufficient to convey the meaning.

Yet, there are many “suggested” definitions, one of them including “then”. Actually, it is “AND then”, not just then. By the way, there is a Greek word for “then” in the language, so one does not need to use “then” for KAI. If the author meant then, he would have written the Greek word for THEN, don’t you think?

Now, how does this play in translation?

PLAYING WITH TRANSLATION

If we take the OB translation, where it uses then for KAI (and), and compare it with other translations we find something very intriguing. The translators use their own opinions as to where THEN should be used. If then, we take a basic chapter from the book of Revelation and do the comparison we will find no two translators translate the same way. In other words, where the OB has THEN the others have AND, and where the OB has AND the other has THEN. Point? Simple. If the LEXICON gave correct and explicit meanings versus opinions SUGGESTED by “scholars” then the translations would be consistent. As you will see, there is no rhyme nor reason as to how to FORCE the Greek KAI into a THEN, etc. Let’s see:

A COMPARISON

The OB translation has this in Revelation, chapter 8, Note all words in CAPS are the word KAI in the Greek text:

1. NOW when he opened the seventh seal.

2. THEN I saw the seven angels

3. AND another angel,

4. AND the smoke of the incense

5. AND the angel took the censer

6. THEN the seven angels

7. AND the first angel sounded

8. THEN the second angel sounded

9. AND a third of the living creatures

10. AND the third angel

11. NOW the name of the star

12. THEN the fourth angel sounded

13. AND I looked

Notice closely how the above verses have been translated. Every single word in caps is the word KAI in the Greek text. And, it means in its first FORMAL EQUIVALENT definition AND. This translation by the way is based on the Berry’s Interlinear according to the main translator. So, let’s now compare the above with that source work.

1. AND when he opened the seal

2. AND I saw the seven angels

3. AND another angel came

4. AND went up the smoke of the incense

5. AND took the angel the censer

6. AND the seven angels

7. AND the first angel

8. AND the second angel

9. AND died the third of the creatures

10. AND the third angel sounded

11. AND the name of the star is called

12,. AND the fourth angel sounded

13. AND I saw

Notice anything different? I thought so. Now, one more very modern translation to compare with the two above. From The Revelation to John, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apokalypse, Stephen S. Smalley, InterVarsity Press, Ill., c. 2005, p. 203.

1. AND when the Lamb

2. NEXT, I saw seven trumpets

3. THEN another angel,

4. [Left out] The smoke of the incense

5. THEN the angel

6. The seven angels….THEN

7. The first sounded AND

8. The second angel THEN

9. a third of the living creatures …. AND

10. AND the third angel

11. The star’s name is…. AND

12. NEXT, the fourth angel sounded

13. [Left out] In my vision I heard

Without going through any more translations, it becomes obvious that the translators are translating according to THEIR OWN PREFERENCES and NOT according to what is actually there in the text. This is why so many people do NOT understand the book of Revelation for instance. To this point, it has virtually never been translated correctly. We will give an example of this in another post about the letters to the seven ecclesias, which are not to the seven ecclesias upon close examination.

Further, the OB and the third example above CANNOT be reverse translated into the Greek language and come out with a close, or certainly not even an exact text. A really good and proper translation would make it possible to retranslate back into the Greek and come out with a virtually exact Koiné text. This is why we should have a new concept in translation. That is this: We need to translate the Greek text into a MIRROR-IMAGE ENGLISH text.

Finally, IF the use of the LEXICONS did not create the idea of and give too much “freedom of expression into English” for English Bible translators, then we would have consistent and accurate translations. In fact, we might then only need ONE translation.

I conclude by the above, and suggest to the translator of the OB, that the book should be revised into a consistent, accurate and non-personal preference translation while it is still young.

More next time. And, remember, this and all other posts will be updated and improved as time goes on.

Author: Bob Petry

Student of the Bible since 1953. And am still learning.