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Thursday, November 10, 2005
 
When Mummy knows best - overdetermining in translation ::

Wayne (Better Bibles) has a post about Ephesians 1:4. I'm not an NT scholar, so I won't comment on most of the post, but one point did stick out. Wayne notes that to render καταβολῆς κόσμου as "foundation of the world" does not make much sense:
I'm not sure what "the foundation of the world" refers to in English. I know what a foundation of a building is. I know about the foundation of some things that are more abstract than a building. For instance, I understand what it means to refer to "the foundation of our democracy." I would think that the Greek word katabole could more naturally be translated here as "creation" even though the lexicons give one of its glosses as 'foundation.' To me both English words refer to the same event, and the word "creation" brings to a reader's mind more easily what that event is. But I can't say that it is wrong to translate with the word "foundation." To my mind, the word "creation" would translate Greek katabole as accurately as "foundation."
I hesitate over "created" though. Now, I am sure this is what the writer thinks, but it is not quite what they have said. It is an inference from our presumption of their Christian theology... καταβολή generally refers to founding or beginning something, so how about "before the beginning of the world"?

"beginning" allows the reader to read with the same presumption, but - like the original Greek - it makes it something we work out rather than being explicit...

I do not want translators to over determine their readers' reading, rather I want them to allow readers to do the sort of work the writer intended. Presumably if the writer of Ephesians had meant to write "before the world was created" that is what they would have written! But they chose a close synonym...

That's a problem often with translations that aim for simple straightforward English, often they over determine our reading, making explicit what in the original was implicit - sometimes this can't be avoided, but when it can - as in this case? - it is better to leave the reader to do the work the writer intended!



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