The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.
Showing posts with label missions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label missions. Show all posts

Nov 9, 2013

Some Thoughts on Missions

 This is a somewhat less academic post than usual, but I wanted to challenge both myself and my readers with something a bit more practical (not that there should necessarily be a dichotomy between the academic and the practical!) I grew up on the mission field, and both my parents have served the Lord in Japan for roughly the past 30 years. Recently, I had the privilege of attending a memorial service for Becky Black, the wife of my doctoral advisor. I was very touched by the fact that featuring prominently at this event was her heavy involvement in foreign missions, both proclaiming and living the Gospel in foreign countries, as well as organizing missions trips overseas when she herself could not go.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, in one sense, the measure of a Christian’s life is the contribution he or she makes to the spread of the kingdom of God. This can take many forms, of course, and includes both service in the local church and involvement in missions.  Furthermore, circumstances may limit one’s contribution, though I would suggest that even those with significant health problems will still find ways to contribute. One lady who had Osteogenesis could barely leave her house, yet still prayed frequently, wrote a tract, financially supported my parents, and witnessed to the delivery boy who brought her groceries.

Thus I believe that everybody, in way or the other, can and should contribute to missions. Broadly speaking, missions could probably be defined as “the furtherance of the Gospel both in proclamation and in lifestyle, with the intent of pointing souls to Christ” (my own definition, for now; I’m positive there’s numerous better ones out there). Assumed here is the importance of both proclamation (preaching, witnessing, teaching) and living (good deeds, social action, kindness). Both go hand in hand. As defined thus, missions is the role of every Christian. In his recent booklet Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? (Gonzalez, Florida.: Energion, 2012), Dr. Black aptly states, “Don’t think for a moment that it is more honorable to go to seminary and become a pastor than it is to serve God faithfully as a nurse or a salesperson. Missions is the intended vocation for the whole people of God, no matter what your occupation may be” (p. 2; emphasis added).

In addition, mission beyond one’s immediate environment should also be a concern for every Christian. In other words, since it is through the Offspring of Abraham that all nations are to be blessed, since the nations (plural) are to benefit from the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 22:2), and since Christ commanded the first disciples to “make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19, my translation), this is something that all Christians should be concerned with. Thus the Apostle Paul’s cry in Romans 10:14, “But how will they believe on the one they have not heard about? And how will they hear without a preacher?” should be a rebuke to all of us.

So how, then, does one participate in missions? It is, of course, worth pointing out that somebody who shows little concern for those around them, in their present location, can hardly expect to be effectively led by the Spirit to contribute to missions anywhere else! Thus Dr. Black writes, “We need to learn to view our employees, our co-workers, and our fellow students as our mission field” (p. 5). In addition, “immigrants and international students” also provide immense opportunities (p. 5). (And, may I dare suggest, that if we Americans spend less time whining about illegal immigrants and more time learning Spanish so we can speak to them about Christ, the church would greatly benefit?)

Having demonstrated a concern for those around you, there are a number of ways you can contribute to missions elsewhere. First of all, you can simply go. Not necessarily for your lifetime (though you should definitely be willing to do so), but take a missions trip and contribute, not as an “American” (or any other citizen) helping nationals, but as a fellow brother or sister serving alongside of Christians of another race (and a lot could be said here about the need for humility and willingness to learn from others!; the “ugly American” stereotype can sometimes rear its head amongst Christian ministers as well as tourists!) May I suggest that every Christian, at least once in his or her lifetime, needs to take a trip to some other country and serve alongside Christians of another race ministering to the lost? [as an aside, nationalism is an idol that has no place in missions; there is no such thing as a “American” missionary or an “Australian” missionary or a “South Korean” missionary; we are all representatives of that “holy nation” in 1 Peter 2:9, the church of Jesus Christ; may I suggest that Christians should be willing to sacrifice even their native citizenship if it means one more soul overseas can hear the Gospel?].

Secondly, prayer is extremely important and spoken of often in Scripture within the context of missions (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:10-11). This assumes, of course, that one is actually paying attention to what is happening on places other than your own home country, especially to fellow believers. Sorry for the strong emphasis, but this is more of a problem that you would think. I think there’s a sad case of “missions illiteracy” among many of our churches.

Thirdly, one can give (and give sacrificially). Every little bit helps, and the Philippian church was especially commended for their sacrificial giving to Paul’s missionary work. If the widow can give her mite to the temple treasury, I think all Christians can give something to the ministry of those laboring overseas, especially when it means sacrificing a little comfort in their own home country, whether at their church building or in their local home. (see Black, pages 8-10 for more on this).

So anyways, hope that’s food for thought. This challenges me, since I know I can definitely be doing more on my end. May the Lord grant that each of us contribute better to the spread of his Kingdom in the future!

Mar 30, 2013

Translating Idioms (guest essay by missionary John R. Himes)

With final preparations for my dissertation defense under way, I thought this would be the perfect time for another guest essay by my father, missionary John Himes (who is currently involved in a new translation of the Greek New Testament into Japanese). Actually, his essays are more popular than mine on my own blog, but if you think about it, somebody who has spent 30+ years on the mission field should be heard before some young whipper-snapper who has yet to finish school and get a life!  :)

What Shall We Do with Those Idioms?
By John R. Himes

I know it’s a poor pun, but my wife enjoys saying, “Are you calling me an idiot?” every time I get linguistic on her and use the word idiom. This essay will tackle how to translate idioms, but first we need to define what one is. This brings up an interesting problem. The usual definition of an “idiom” says that it has two or more words. But can an idiom have only one word?

Nida and Taber define it this way: “idiom: an expression consisting of several words and whose meaning cannot be derived from the meaning of the individual words, e.g. kick the bucket for die; also called exocentric expression” (Eugene Nida and Charles Taber, The Theory and Practice of Translation, 203). A dictionary of linguistics has: “A set expression in which two or more words are syntactically related, but with a meaning like that of a single lexical unit: e.g. ‘spill the beans’ in Someone has spilled the beans about the bank raid, or ‘put one’s foot in it’ in Her husband can never make a speech without putting his foot in it“ (P. H. Matthews, Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics, 2nd ed., 183). 

Another definition doesn’t specify more than one word, but gets the definition wrong: “Idiom: (1) Any expression peculiar to a language, conveying a distinct meaning, not necessarily explicable by, occasionally even contrary to, the general accepted grammatical rules” (Dictionary of Linguistics, Mario Pei & Frank Gaynor, p. 95). What is wrong here is that an idiom must be defined in terms of semantics, not grammar (though we must admit their point in that occasionally an idiom will defy conventional grammar).

Oddly enough, even a book of idioms proclaims that an idiom must be two or more words. Harold C. Whitford (Handbook of American Idioms and Idiomatic Usage, 183) says in his preface that, "An idiom...consists of more than one word." However, in the book Whitford gives many one-word idioms, such as "arms" (weapons), "axe" (used when firing someone), "baloney," etc.

So now we need to clarify what an idiom is. First of all, note that idioms are culture specific, or "culture bound" as secular translation scholar Susan Bassnett puts it (Translation Studies, 3rd ed., 30). For example, consider some idioms from the Old West, such as "men with the bark on" (tough men) and "salty" (good in a fight), easily found in western novels like those of Louis L'Amour. This illustrates how an idiom comes into existence from some aspect of the culture. These idioms are not used in modern America except for a few places out West where the Old West culture lingers on.  

Secondly, note that an idiom is a word or words which may carry a very different meaning than the literal meaning.  So in the examples from Whitford, the idiom “arms” does not mean human appendages but weapons, “axe” does not mean an edged weapon or tool but the firing of a person from a job, and “baloney” does not mean a sandwich meat but is an expression of doubt. This characteristic is what makes idioms fascinating but often hard to translate. The translator is not able to begin from a word-for-word meaning, but must carefully determine the non-literal meaning of the idiom in the original text.

Koine Greek has many idioms, as is well documented in books by C. F. D. Moule and Stewart Custer. However, very few writers on Bible translation have dealt with how to translate idioms. The only mention of the problem I can find in my library is by Eugene Nida and Charles Taber, who write, “The adjustments are quite understandably of three types: (a) from idioms to nonidioms (sic), (b) from idioms to idioms, and (c) from nonidioms (sic) to idioms” (The Theory and Practice of Translation, 106. There is about one page on the problem in this text). However, this statement misses the possibility of translating an idiom as is, even in cases where the target language does not have the same idiom. In rare cases an idiom from the source language can make sense in the target language. Let’s consider that possibility first, since it may be the most ideal rendering, assuming a genuinely equivalent meaning in the target language idiom. 

In a culture with bilingual people, sometimes an idiom will migrate directly from one language to another. In such cases one may translate the idiom literally and have it make sense. For example, “in Canadian French the idiom ‘to talk through one’s hat’ has acquired the equivalent ‘parler a travers son chapeau’” (“A Methodology for Translation” by Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet, in The Translation Studies Reader, 2nd ed., ed. by Lawrence Venuti, p. 134). Since many in Canada are bilingual in French and English, this idiom migrated successfully with almost exactly the same meaning.

A Bible example of the migrating idiom is “kick against the ox-goads” (Acts 9:5, 26:14), which is an idiom meaning “resist leading,” understandable literally in English through Greek from Hebrew. The KJB translates it literally, as does the HCSB, NIV and ESV (all three of which render “kick against the goads”), and many other versions. (Note that only the TR has the phrase in 9:5, but all Greek texts have it in 26:14.) This is a case when an idiom can be translated literally and retain its meaning. The original idiom migrated from Hebrew to Greek, and then the Greek idiom was translated into English with no loss of or change in meaning.

There are other cases where the original idiom can be retained in a language with no loss of meaning. This is only true in cases when the idiom makes sense outside of its cultural milieu. One example of this is the idiom common in the teachings of Christ, o ecwn wta akouein akouetw, “The one with ears, let him hear.” Though it may seem strange to our English-tuned ears, it makes sense, since it puts extra emphasis on hearing, thus meaning to the non-Greek ear something like, “You had better listen, this is important!”

Another possibility is translating an idiom with a non-idiom. A Greek example of when this is necessary is in 1 Peter 2:24, where we have taiV amartiaiV apogenomenoi (“being dead to sins”). It’s very hard to make this idiom work literally in Japanese, and one may question its literal rendering in English. It just doesn’t make sense in an Asian language, and may even steer the reader completely away from the authorial intent! So in our new Japanese translation we had to choose a wording that made sense. So, we have translated this into Japanese as 罪と係わりを断った私たち (refusing connection with sin), an idiom into a non-idiom.  

Again, the HCSB translates an idiom with a non-idiom in 2 Cor. 2:17,  kaphleuonteV ton logon tou qeou (“dilute the Word of God”) with “market God’s message for profit.” This idiom refers to the practice of wine merchants illicitly adding water to their product to make more money. This rendering does carry the original meaning over into the target language, but perhaps it loses some of the flavor of the original idiom. A possible rendering that keeps the flavor of the original idiom is, “huckster the Word of God.”

A third possibility is translating an idiom with an equivalent idiom. This is another good solution, better perhaps than translating an idiom with a non-idiom, since there is a certain nuance, perhaps a feeling the reader has when he reads, in the very fact that an idiom is used. (We have seen how this happened with the Hebrew idiom, “kick against the goads,” was translated into Greek.) Once again semantic equivalency is still necessary. 

According to secular scholar Susan Bassnett, Hilaire Belloc gave this guideline for translating idioms in 1932: “The translator should render idiom by idiom ‘and idioms of their nature demand translation into another form from that of the original.' Belloc cites the case of the Greek exclamation 'by the dog!', which, if rendered literally, becomes merely comic in English" (Translation Studies. 3rd ed., 2002, p. 116). So, while Belloc believed the best way to translate an idiom is with another idiom, he realized that the original idiom often may not be carried into the target language, but requires an idiom equivalent in meaning.

Basnett gives another example from the Italian: “The translation of idioms takes us a stage further in considering the question of meaning and translation, for idioms, like puns, are culture bound. The Italian idiom menare il can per l’aia provides a good example of the kind of shift that takes place in the translation process. Translated literally, the sentence Giovanni sta menando il can per l’aia. becomes John is leading his dog around the threshing floor. The image conjured up by this sentence is somewhat startling and, unless the context referred quite specifically to such a location, the sentence would seem obscure and virtually meaningless. The English idiom that most closely corresponds to the Italian is to beat about the bush, also obscure unless used idiomatically, and hence the sentence correctly translated becomes John is beating around the bush” (Basnett, 30-31).

Finally, let’s consider translating from a non-idiom into an idiom. HCSV translates a Greek non-idiom (aporoumenoV de egw, the verb being aporew) with an idiom in Acts 25:20, “Since I was at a loss . . . .” One wonders why an idiom was chosen to translate a non-idiom here when a fairly literal translation (“I was in doubt”) would accurately convey the meaning. Then one looks at the lexicons and learns that “at a loss” is given as a meaning in almost all of them! (I checked BAGD, Abbot-Smith, the Fribergs’ Analytical Lexicon, Louw-Nida, etc.) So obviously it is not a mistake to render “at a loss” here. Indeed, it might be argued that “at a loss” is a good rendering with a vivid meaning. But we could then ask, is vividness the right strategy here, since the original is a formal letter from one ruler to another? It seems obvious that translating from a non-idiom to an idiom should be carefully considered based on the context before making a final decision.

So, as can be seen, the translation of an idiom is not an easy task. The meaning of the original idiom and its possible renderings should be carefully considered in every case. Hopefully this brief essay will be a help in that regard to translators and future translators.

Aug 7, 2011

Transforming for Translators (guest essay by missionary John R. Himes)

For a translator of the New Testament, the ideal target language would be one that has identical grammar to koine Greek. Old Church Slavonic (O. C. S.) came close to that ideal. According to Horace G. Lunt, “The surface structures of O. C. S. and Greek coincide in nearly all major features. The form-classes are generally the same: verbs (conjugated for several tenses, with person-number desinences), substantives (nouns and adjectives, including participles, declined for case and number), pronouns (personal, demonstrative, interrogative, relative; declined for gender, case and number), numerals (declined), prepositions, adverbs, a variety of conjunctions, and particles…. So close were the two languages that a reasonable translation could often be achieved by a word-for-word rendering” (“Limitations of Old Church Slavonic in Representing Greek,” in The Early Versions of the New Testament, by Bruce Metzger, p. 432).

We can imagine the 9th century translators of the OCS New Testament sailing through passages that give fits to a 21st century translator into Chinese. Few translators have the good fortune to translate into a language as similar to the original language as OCS is to koine Greek. Target languages range from grammatically similar to Greek (but not identical) Indo-European languages such as Latin, to languages with no similarity at all to the Biblical original languages such as Chinese, Japanese and other Asian languages, or tribal languages in Indonesia, New Guinea or South America.

How does a translator get his syntax from his original to his target language in dissimilar languages? A good answer is in something called transformations, which has been systematized into a branch of linguistics called transformational (or generative) grammar (TG). Diane Bornstein, in her excellent textbook, defines a transformation this way: “A grammatical process that operates on a given string with a given constituent structure and converts it into a new string with a new derived constituent structure” (An Introduction to Transformational Grammar, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984, p. 247).

Remember that homework assignment in bonehead English that required you to take a simple declarative sentence and make various kinds of sentences out of it? For example, from “I have a book” (a “kernel” sentence in TG) you might make a question: “Do I have a book?” Or a negative statement: “I don’t have a book.” Or a future statement: “I will have a book.” And so forth. Those are transformations. A translator does this in two languages, either consciously or unconsciously. If he does it consciously he has either studied transformational grammar, naturally developed the concept in his own thinking, or is talented enough in languages that he makes the transformation unconsciously. (To further define and delineate this branch of linguistics is beyond the scope of this short paper. For an early but good basic discussion, see Chapter 12 in the classic textbook by H. A. Gleason, An Introduction to Descriptive Linguistics. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1955, 1961.)

TG is generally said to have been conceived by linguist Noam Chomsky. Strangely, Chomsky apparently did not believe his invention was appropriate for translation work. According to Edwin Gentzler, “Noam Chomsky’s theory of syntax and generative grammar was not, nor was it intended to be, a theory of translation. In fact, Chomsky cautioned against its appropriation in such a fashion” (Contemporary Translation Theories. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2001, p. 46).

Oddly enough, Gentzler says on the very next page, “Transformational grammarians work in various languages and continually point out structural similarities across languages” (p. 47). So it would be strange indeed if TG was not useful for translation work. It seems to this writer to be a given that the more a translator knows about linguistics and its various theories of grammar the better at translating they will be. After all, the translator must deal with grammar in not one, but two languages! Along that line, two Bible translation scholars with very different views of what translation should be have used TG in their theories.

Eugene Nida was the first to develop a means of using TG for translation. In his pioneering treatment of the subject, he writes, “The most effective means by which we may deal with these problems of diverse meaningful relationships between structurally similar types of expressions is to employ a generative type of grammar which makes full use of transformations” (Toward a Science of Translating. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1964, p. 60). He then goes on to discuss how that can be done.

Nida was commendably a pioneer in this area. But some writers have criticized Nida’s usage of transformational grammar on the basis of his lack of a principle to properly handle the deep structure of a sentence in two languages. Deep structure, in transformational grammar thinking, is “The underlying form of a sentence, which structures its meaning” (Bornstein, p. 239). According to Susan Bassnet, “Even in his simplified theory, Nida does not tell us how the deep structure transfer occurs” (Translation Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 1980, 1991, 2002, p. 57).

In the view of James Price, Nida’s lack of this principle leads to paraphrasing. “It is quite clear that paraphrase is unavoidable with dynamic equivalence theory. Glassman wrote, ‘It is, in fact, impossible to analyze, transfer and restructure without paraphrasing, at the level of the underlying kernel structures; and that, in turn, shows up at the final level of the surface structure.’ (Quoting Eugene Glassman, The Translation Debate, p.66—JRH.) This is primarily true because of the subjectivity involved in the transfer step. The failure to employ transfer rules, but rather to depend on the translator’s subjective judgment, makes it almost certain that the information transferred to the receptor language will lack complete equivalence with the information of the source message. Thus the theory fails to accomplish equivalence; it is instead scientific paraphrase” (James Price, Complete Equivalence in Bible Translation. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1987, p. 17).

Price himself utilizes transformational grammar somewhat differently in his theory of optimal equivalence, which he identifies as the method used in both the NKJV and the HCSV. In his magnum opus, A Theory For Biblical Translation: An Optimal Equivalence Model (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), Price develops a complete transformational grammar of the Hebrew language with the intent that it be used for Bible translation. The difference between his method and Nida’s is that Price, opting for a more  literal method, advocates a strict correspondence between the syntactical structures of the source language and the target language. Price wrote, “In transformational grammar the rules of transfer that govern the relationship of the kernels should be derived from the back transformations, with strict observance to the sequence in which they operate. This assures maximum transfer of equivalent information, and minimum subjectivity” (Complete Equivalence in Bible Translation, 24-25. Note: Dr. Price has told this writer that “complete equivalence,” the term used in this book, was not his choice, but was chosen by the publisher. His preferred term for his literal method is optimal equivalence.)

I have a caveat here. The translator should know that both Nida’s method and Price’s TG for Hebrew are very complex, and developing a complete transformational grammar in either the source or target language is a huge task. Using TG in either method means the translator’s task is made more difficult. (Nida teaches the process in Chapter Four of Toward a Science of Translating. See also Chapter Three, “Grammatical Analysis” in The Theory and Practice of Translation, by Nida with Charles Taber. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1982.) The average translator who has not researched TG, or prefers not to do a complete TG of the source or target languages, will develop his own mental TG of the target language, and do transfers and transformations intuitively, an easier task.

Transformational grammar is cutting edge stuff for the Bible translator! Those who are naturally very gifted in language may be able to do transformations in the two languages mentally as they translate, with good results. The rest of us are wise to study TG and then develop a consistent approach, which will then help cross the language barrier with a syntax equivalent to that of the original Greek and Hebrew.