Monday, March 3, 2008

translation method: better Bibles

What’s the best English translation of this Greek phrase?

Ἰάκωβος θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος

In comments here, please feel free to give the English (yours or someone else’s). And feel free to label the method of translation (such as “translation equivalence” or “dynamic equivalence”; “formal equivalence” or “literal translation”; “literary translation”; “bi-lingual quotation”; and so forth). In addition, feel free to explain why this English translation is one of the best and how the translation method is one of the best.

Helps / Hints:

a) The phrase is the opening of the New Testament letter “James”;

b) Some of the words use the “Greek form (genitive case)” that Wayne Leman has blogged about recently;

c) This form is what the Gospel writer John uses to quote Jesus speaking Aramaic:

i. for instance, in chapter 21, verse 15, John quotes Jesus and translates what he says into Greek: “Σίμων Ἰωάννου”

ii. and in chapter 19, verse 7, John quotes the accusers of Jesus who quote him to Pilate: “υἱὸν θεοῦ”.


Wayne Leman said...

One difficulty translating this Greek is that there is a conjoined possessor and, furthermore, one of them is a heavy NP, so the whole thing is bulky.

But let's try to work up from something less bulky:

Ἰάκωβος θεοῦ δοῦλος

I think that this would translate to natural English as "James, God's servant"

With a little more weight:

Ἰάκωβος κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος

would translate as "James, Jesus Christ's servant"

Now conjoining the two possessors:

Ἰάκωβος θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος

would translate into more difficult, but still grammatical and understandable, "James, God and Jesus Christ's servant." Or for those who prefer to include the possessive suffix on both possessors, "James, God's and Jesus Christ's servant."

I'm not sure that I've used any particular method of translation here. It's simply matching the meaning of the Greek form to an English form that has the same meaning. I guess, then, it would be an example of simultaneous translation and translation equivalence, at a minimum. I forget what bilingual quotation is, so it might be that also. Is it literary translation? I assume so, since it is how native English speakers would say and write that English. I don't know of any more literary way to express the same meaning.

I don't think that formal equivalence or dynamic equivalence are particularly relevant concepts here. There is no thought-for-thought plus impact idea which would be DE. I don't think there is any other English form which could be used which would illustrate FE here.

It seems to me that, as always, one of the priority questions here is:

"How do native English speakers normally express the meaning of the Greek?"

As far as I know, since there is a possessive kind of relationship expressed by the Greek genitive, English would use its possessive syntax for that same possessive relationship.

J. K. Gayle said...

Welcome Wayne!
Wow, yours is a wonderful and carefully explicated English translation of the Greek. Thanks for your thoughtful questions about your methodology (i.e., it's not quite DE or FE and it's maybe simultaneous translation, and is it bilingual quotation? is it literary translation?). I do like your priority question too--all of it fits in well with your recent observations over at your Better Bibles Blog: observations about normally expressed possessives for native English speakers, as an expression of the Greek.

I'll wait a while before giving my translation and comment on method(s). If there are others who want to join, I'll try to give a fair summary of how unique or similar these are. I'll also show all the published English translations of this little phrase that I can find to include in the summary.

Peter Kirk said...

In this case I would go for something like "James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ". (Wayne omitted "the Lord" presumably by mistake.) I don't use the English possessive here for two reasons: firstly, it makes this sentence unwieldy; and secondly and more importantly, the rendering with the possessive suggests a definiteness not in the original or in the context, as if James is the only servant/slave or some special servant/slave of God and Jesus rather than one of a large number. Thus "Millie is Mr Smith's servant" suggests that she is the only one, in a way "Millie is a servant of Mr Smith" does not. But this may be partly a matter of my English dialect.

J. K. Gayle said...

Great points, Peter. And fabulous translation as a result. It doesn't take just a linguistic relativist to say with conviction that "there's absolutely nothing wrong with your English dialect"! (Would you care to comment on your translation method here?)

Nathan said...

James, slave to god and master Jesus the anointed one;

That's a more mass-market translation using the familiar English names. My personal preference would be to transliterate their names from Hebrew (it's been a while since I've studied Hebrew names). There's a few ways to spell them out but quickly we've got:

Yakob, slave to god and master Yehoshua the anointed one;

I am currently trying to read the NT in light of it's Jewish context, so my intentional choice of wording here reflects that a bit. I think some of the implications are lost when we are over-exposed to terms like "Lord Jesus Christ." I also like the word-play of master/slave; and perhaps theos is not implying Father and Son but rather that Jesus is master/god. I also prefer to use the root meaning in English for messiah/christ and usually read scripture that way in my head. I've found most translations follow very similar methodology and so I offer something out of the norm. I'd label it 'contextual translation' or something along those lines. I have very poor knowledge of greek, but this phrase didn't seem too difficult and I felt like sharing my perspective. Of all of the published translations I own, the Complete Jewish Bible (Stern) comes closest to my version so I'll close with it:

From: Ya'akov, a slave of God and of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah

J. K. Gayle said...

Welcome! And thank you very much for the three different translations. Of the three, yours is the best! I like it very very much. What you capture of the Greek word play and of the Hebrew names is just fantastic. Thanks for admitting your level of knowledge of Greek but also your very astute perspectives here.

Nathan said...

After I posted last night I've spent some time reconsidering what I offered. Perhaps a better case can be made for transliterating the Greek names over inserting a Hebrew transliteration. Jesus Christ is certainly more comfortable usage, however something else occurred to me. Your request was for "the best English translation" and the Greek and Hebrew names being used here both have English equivalents. So to offer a truly English translation it would probably be better to insert the modern equivalents and not a transliteration from either language. I also have revisited the translation of christ/messiah. Since it is fairly common to use either name as a title, ie. "the Messiah" and "the Christ" then it wouldn't be much of a stretch to use the English equivalent as a title as well. All that being said, perhaps the best equivalent translation into purely English terminology would be:

Jacob, slave to god and master Joshua the Anointed;

Weighing in at nine words versus seven in the Greek I think it captures the succinct introductory remarks and avoids verbosity. Finally, I think a good translation would include a pronunciation guide indicating that all Hebrew names starting with a "J" should be pronounced as a "Y" is sounded, etc. I think that's enough from me for now and I'm anxious to see your preference.

J. K. Gayle said...

excellent, Nathan! Thanks for staying at it, and for posting your revised translation. I really like it (and think the pronunciation guide is an interesting idea. Do you know Willis Barnstone's translation the New Covenant?) You've inspired me to post again, and to highlight your translations there.

discipuluscriptura said...

I'm not familiar with his translation, no. However I just looked it up on Amazon and it looks interesting.

Nathan Stitt said...

Ugh. I think that's the last time I will use OpenID... No idea why it's using my blog name for the comment instead of my real name.


tc said...

Nathan, I do like your spin on James 1:1, but I think we need to consider that James was writing to the Diaspora, though familiar with some Hebrew, would be more disposed to Hellenistic Greek. Just an observation!

"James,God and the Lord Jesus Christ's slave."