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Monday, February 28, 2011

ambiguity, metaphor: the doctrine of scripture & revelation

The inferential nature of natural language and semantic indeterminacy appear to raise a problem for the classical protestant doctrine of scripture and revelation. The reformed concept of perspicuity[1] of scripture combined with the doctrine of propositional revelation create problems in bible translation when dealing with metaphor and other forms of semantic indeterminacy in biblical language. In my thinking on this, it isn't the doctrine of perspicuity alone that causes difficulty. It is the combination of perspicuity and propositional approach to translation which is not just an Aristotelian model of truth but also a key component in E. A. Nida's implementation of early Chomsky where the translation model involved reducing the surface structure of the of source language text (SL) to a propositional deep structure from which it was rendered in the surface structure of the target language (TL). This three phase translation process assumed that biblical language can be reduced to propositional form. That, in my thinking, is the crux.  

K. A. McElhanon[1] claims that an Aristotelian approach to metaphor continues to have a impact on translation strategy.
The belief that scripture must be clear has had a lasting impact on interpretation and translation. It was readily combined with an Aristotelian concept that metaphors are deviant, ornamental forms of language that serve to embellish language. The result has been that clarity is often regarded as dependent upon literal, propositional statements. Callow (1998:154-55) writes,
A proposition represents the simplest possible thought pattern, the weaving together of several concepts in a purposive way…. [P]ropositions are cognitively based, not word based; one proposition underlies the various expressions in different languages.4 The concepts, therefore, which combine to form the proposition, are at a cognitive level which relates to experiences not to words. Words follow later.
Moreover, propositions are generally regarded as expressing pure thought, and so truth is also associated with words that are understood literally. Thus Geisler (1999:742) writes,
Communication depends on informative statements. But correspondence to facts is what makes statements informative. All communication ultimately depends on something being literally or factually true. We cannot even use a metaphor unless we understand that there is a literal meaning over against which the figurative sense is not literal. So, it would follow that all communication depends in the final analysis on a correspondence to truth (italics added). 5

To be continued. (I don't like long posts).

[1] reformed doctrine of perspicuity according to CRI and L. D. Pettegrew (TMSJ 15/2 (Fall 2004) 209-225) who cites from Old Princeton:

Definition of Perspicuity
What does the assertion, “the Bible is a plain book,” mean? In further explanation, Hodge writes, “Protestants hold that the Bible, being addressed to the people, is sufficiently perspicuous to be understood by them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and that they are entitled and bound to search the Scripture, and to judge for themselves what is its true meaning.” [6]    His son and successor at Princeton Seminary affirmed, “[T]he Scriptures are in such a sense perspicuous that all that is necessary for man to know, in order to his salvation or for his practical guidance in duty, may be learned therefrom, and that they are designed for the personal use and are adapted to the instruction of the unlearned as well as the learned.”[7]    Even more clearly, Callahan explains,
Scripture can be and is read with profit, with appreciation and with transformative results. It is open and transparent to earnest readers; it is intelligible and comprehensible to attentive readers. Scripture itself is coherent and obvious. It is direct and unambiguous as written; what is written is sufficient. Scripture’s concern or focal point is readily presented as the redemptive story of God. It displays a progressively more specific identification of that story, culminating in the gospel of Jesus Christ. All this is to say: Scripture is clear about what it is about.[8]
[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology 1:183.
[7] A. A. Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of
Christian Education, 1926) 63.
[8] Callahan, Clarity of Scripture 9.

[2] Kenneth A. McElhanon, From Simple Metaphors to Conceptual Blending: The Mapping of Analogical Concepts and the Praxis of Translation
Journal of Translation, Volume 2, Number 1 (2006)


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