Misunderstanding translation?

In his brief introduction to Ephesians, Stephen Fowl says this:

Naturally, it is a mistake to think that there is pure translation, free of all commentary. This is always a matter of degree. Nevertheless, dynamic equivalence translations offer considerably more commentary than the formal correspondence and do so under the guise of providing a translation.


I’m not so sure. It would certainly be possible to attempt to produce a literal gloss, whereby the same English word is used every time the same Greek word is used. I’m not aware of any translation that actually does that. The problem is that the semantic range of English words is not the same as the semantic range of Greek words.

I’m not aware, for example, of any translation that tries to represent the meaning of Paul’s “ψυχικόν” (psychikon – e.g. 1 Cor 15:46) as either “lifeish” or “soulish”. And that’s before we consider how the word is used in sentences, or spoken in performance. A sarcastic comment of “Yeah, right!” does not mean “I agree”, but more something like “Are you insane?”

Literal – word-for-word – translations are likely as interpretative as dynamic – meaning-for-meaning – translations. Glossing the Greek (or Hebrew) text word by word is simply neither informative nor accurate. All translations are commentary, and arguing for a presumed superiority of the formal or literal is simply, I think, to misunderstand how language works.

please leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.