When to Use Your Language Knowledge, Part 2: Only if it’s Absolutely Necessary (and it probably isn’t)

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4 Responses

  1. Fedya Minakov says:

    Thank you Dr. Keen, that is very helpful observation. More often than not we can better prove the point using the context and avoiding Greek or Hebrew.

  2. Pat says:

    Thank you for this very well written post—it is, I think, good advice and a needed reminder. I’m curious though, because one of the examples you’ve chosen (πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) seems to me to be one of the very few cases where resort to the original languages might actually be absolutely necessary (if the preacher’s views diverge from the church’s common translation). You are quite correct that it won’t be clear to the English reader that the construction could go either way, but the fact that the translators made an interpretive decision puts preachers in a difficult position if they disagree with that choice. If you hold to the objective genitive and preach from the ESV, you can preach through normally without mentioning of the issue. But if you are convinced that it is a subjective genitive, you are in a more difficult spot. You can marshal all the contextual arguments, but unless you explain that the Greek can equally be translated “faith in Christ” OR “faithfulness of Christ”, you’ll be fighting the plain words on the page (without even a footnote to point to in the ESV, if I’m not mistaken). You could point to a translation that opts for the subjective rendering (e.g., NET), but that would raise some of the problems you’ve pointed out in earlier posts. I can’t see any way forward for preachers favoring the subjective rendering other than explaining the ambiguity of the Greek construction (I suppose they could decline to raise the issue, but I would think that the difference here is important enough that those convinced of the subjective rendering would feel obligated to preach their position). I completely agree that the preacher should then primarily support the subjective rendering contextually from the English, but at least some recourse to the Greek seems absolutely necessary where the English adopts a rendering obscuring ambiguity and the preacher disagrees with the chosen rendering. Just a few thoughts; perhaps this is the exception that proves the rule.

    • Tommy Keene says:

      Hi Pat. What a great comment! While writing the post I actually thought about this as an exception and then thought “but no one will raise this issue.” Oh well! I’m glad you did.
      Couple of thoughts:
      – First, there are two issues here. The first is “is this an exceptional case” and the second is “regardless, how do I handle it in a sermon (or equivalent)?”
      – So to the first issue, I didn’t use this example because it was an exceptional case; I used it because it was a clear case. I used it because most English readers could understand the similar ambiguity that attaches to the word “of.” I don’t think this is exceptional. I considered other examples, but they required greater expertise in the Greek, and as such I excluded them because I thought this would be better for a non-Greek audience.
      – Of course, a lot of cases of different translations are important to experts, but trivial when it comes to preaching and teaching. “I prefer to translate this word ‘guard’ instead of ‘protect'” is an example. “Fish” or “whale” for Jonah is another. This post isn’t about that; wait for the next one!
      – But, to your point, this is an IMPORTANT issue that is (possibly) only exposed by the Greek. How do you handle it in teaching or preaching? Technically that’s the subject of another post as well (I have a “case studies” epilogue already sketched out). But as a preliminary answer: I’d preach it as my particular translation has it, and then make a qualifying point by bringing in another text. So if you are using the ESV, I would preach “faith in Christ,” and if I had translational scruple about that I would say something like “we must remember that our faith in Christ is only effective because of the faithfulness OF Christ; it is only because Christ submitted to the will of God, ‘entrusting himself to a faithful creator while doing good (1 Pet. 2:something),’ even in the midst of suffering, that our faith is accredited as faithfulness.” Or something like that.
      – If my audience was not afraid of Greek, and if I had enough “relational capital” with my audience to do so, I would feel comfortably pulling out “the Greek is ambiguous; it’s either x or y.” But (1) I would “resolve” the equation by appealing to the context, not the Greek, and (2) I would think long and hard about if this is a point worth making (the next post in this series). I will say, though, I’ve done that twice in my preaching career, and I’ve regretted half of them. Sunday school is different, though.

  1. August 15, 2020

    […] Sign and Shadow – When to Use Your Language Knowledge […]

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