Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Translation Snobs: "Saving Faith" and "Geometric Proof"

1Tim. 5:11-12
ESV But refuse to enroll younger widows, for…they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.
Comment: Pistis doesn’t mean “faith” here, but a pledge made to the Lord (BDAG). The ESV sounds like the widows’ remarriage results in apostasy.
TNIV …they have broken their first pledge.
NRSV …having violated their first pledge.
Keep that faith to yourself!
Rom. 14:22 ESV The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.
Comment: The ESV seems to be discouraging believers from sharing their faith. But the word pistis here refers to personal convictions about food and drink, not about saving faith.6
TNIV So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.
REB If you have some firm conviction, keep it between yourself and God.
--Dr. Mark Strauss

Using an Aristotelian conception of causality which depends on distinctions between potency and act, identity of actual cause and actual effect, and the distinction between kenesis and energeia, removes apparent ambiguities and inconsistencies from Aristotle's account. For example, pistis does double duty as one of three modes of proof alongside ethos and pathos, but these three, only one of which is called pistis, are also collectively called pisteis. That "logical" source of proof is also called logos and ta pragmata. As a source of proof, pistis is a potentiality; as proof, it is actuality. The enthymeme is called the body of proof. . . . When I offer you a geometric proof, you don't have to like it, remember it, act on it; all that is necessary for my successfully performing the act of proving is that you recognize that that is what I'm doing. Proof is something I do in discourse.
--Dr. Eugene Garver
If you've made it through the two quotations above by the two Ph.D.s, Mark Strauss and Eugene Garver, then you may have noticed something. First, they are experts on the Greek word πίστις, which they both transliterate pistis. Second, they are making very clear to us naive English readers of the New Testament and of Aristotle's Rhetoric just what pistis means and should not mean in various contexts. Third, either the contexts or the two experts themselves (Strauss and Garver, both with high doctorates) will not agree on the technical meaning of pistis. For Strauss, the default prototypical meaning of pistis is "saving faith" that Christian "believers" have. For Garver, the default prototypical meaning of pistis is "geometric proof." (The sources for these quotations are Strauss's paper, "Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version" and Garver's book, Aristotle's Rhetoric: An Art of Character.)

Do you get the problem? Two experts disputing with other experts in their respective areas of expertise the meanings of a single Greek word. Two different disputes with two very different precise results. Funny thing is, us naive English readers and the original naive Greek readers can laugh that our "belief" and their "πίστις" hardly must mean the things Dr. Strauss and Dr. Garver insist they must mean.

Just to be clear, I don't imagine for a minute that either Ph.D. is mean spirited. Rather, each thinks he's being really helpful. They each recognize that πίστις is a hugely significant term in the New Testament and in Aristotle's writings. But by narrowing down the precise or idealized meaning, they would rob us readers and translators of meaning making.

It'll take another post or two, but I think we all can think of πίστις in lots of exciting ways. Less snobbish experts like Krista Ratcliffe and Albert Einstein and Kenneth Pike and Jacqueline Jones Royster would allow any of us to view πίστις very subjectively, as wavy or like some particular thing or as a relative of sorts. I might even say that these experts would let us view the word believingly.  And I just may tell you some of my πίστις stories: of falling in love, of encountering a snake on a path, of my dog getting bit twice by a beaver near the Trinity River, and of Amelia meeting Martha Stewart two weeks ago. Maybe you'll believe me now that I have a Ph.D. --- hmmmm.


Bob MacDonald said...

Thank you Dr JKG - and congratulations. But I won't believe you any more now that you are a doctor! At least not any more than I already did before. I don't believe because of letters of authority. I believe you because your letters and words let me be creative in my understanding. That is a response to relationship.

I hope you can translate my English ambiguities.

J. K. Gayle said...

Dear Dr. MacDonald,
Thanks for your always kind, inspiring words! I love your translations, even the ones you leave for me to do.

Bob MacDonald said...

My initials are D. R. and they come before my name but they mean Donald Robert. I am not humble but I am also not a doctor. (I don't want to leave any impression that my translations - fun though they are for me - are 'authoritative' except as the gift of the anointed author lends them credence and power.)

BTW - I am glad you see Rachel's work - occasionally she knocks my socks off!

Anonymous said...

Dear Bob,

My google alert picked up your blog post and I was a bit puzzled by your analysis of my work--since I am saying almost the opposite of what you suggest. I am specifically not saying that pistis has an "idealized or precise meaning," but that it has a large semantic range that must be considered in each individual context. The ESV translation errs in defaulting to "faith," when the term can mean many different things.


Mark (Strauss)

P.S. And you are right, I am not mean spirited, but hopefully also not a translation snob!

Bob MacDonald said...

Hi Mark - Bob here - I think you want to address your question to the blog owner - Kurk - not to me.

I have not commented on your long series of posts because I have found it too sparse to know exactly what concern you have with so many verses so I have personally tended not to read the posts. I don't do much Greek but my own translations of the psalms are frequently slightly archaic and awkward - much like English poetry! I design the translation for its ability to raise questions against a commonplace reading.

J. K. Gayle said...

Oh dear, I'm afraid I've confused us all with a few things. Bob, thanks for straightening us out on your name, and that you are not me. Mark, thank you for taking time to read and comment. Bob would have said things so much more nicely than I did. I certainly did not mean to say that you are a "translation snob" if you are saying it's the ESV translators who so narrowly define the Greek words. I do appreciate your paper, which Wayne Leman has posted at BBB. I do wish Bible translators and linguists and theologians and classics scholars and philosophers and literary scholars and rhetoricians would talk more, together, about their (our) translating!

Tessa said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



J. K. Gayle said...

Ruth (Tessa),
Thank you for your kind remark and for reading. I'd love to hear from you anytime you want to comment!