Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Paraphrase: Less Is More?

In the paragraph beginning, “It is obviously impossible” (see images below if you need to see it for yourself), Stevens elaborates on the necessity of a paraphrase’s focus on the “central idea.” The key sentence it this paragraph focuses on the neglecting of some thoughts to highlight others, it reads:

If, in doing this, minor phrases of [Paul’s] thought have sometimes been neglected, it is believed that the omission is justified in the interest of simplicity and clearness.

You might find it strange that I’m in complete agreement with this sentence. I think that it is justified and good. For paraphrases have their own unique purpose and this how they accomplish it. A paraphrase does not pretend to capture everything. It focuses on what it believes are the key issues.

This is also why multiple paraphrases are helpful. Each person working on a paraphrase will highlight different aspects of the original that they feel are the most important. The “central idea” of a text is often debated by scholars and pastors (not to mention parents during Bible time with their children). Multiple paraphrases allow for the complete spectrum of interpretation to shine through.

However, a translation does not have this liberty. A translation can not neglect “minor phrases of thought” in order to make things clear. In fact, a translation can not even neglect a single word, such as a small subordinating particle like for. Translations must show us what the text says and only what the text says. Paraphrases are allowed to take the liberty of showing us what the translator thinks the text means.

I have to admit here, this is why I love the ESV. For the most part, they leave the English ambiguous where the Greek is ambiguous. Anyone who knows about the function of adverbial participles in Greek will know that there is often any number of ways the participle can be interpreted. In these cases the ESV has done a good job in leaving the participle open to interpretation instead of offering its own interpretation.

Here is another personal note. When we read the Bible together at night with our children, we read from the ESV. Karis, Isaiah, and Gloria all follow along in their Children’s Edition of the ESV. When questions come up about the meaning of the text, I sometimes have to say, “Well, the meaning of the text isn’t that clear. I believe this is what the author meant, but others take it differently. They think it say this.”

I think this demonstration of humility before the text instills greater trust in the text than if I were to simply say, “This is what the text means.” Especially since later on as they grow in their understanding of the text, they may find that my interpretation was not at all what the text said or meant. I don’t want my children to place their trust in my interpretation of a text. I want them to trust the text and figure out what it means. I believe this will create little theologians who will seek God’s help in figuring out what the text says instead of relying on daddy.

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