My Photo
Location: United States

Sunday, February 27, 2011

the Jesus road: conceptual metaphor & propositional truth

In his treatment of scenario and schema, K. A. McElhanon, toward the end of From Word to Scenario[1] talks about conceptual metaphors and immediatly wanders into contentious territory[1]:

The biblical concept of truth is integrated with the concept of life, in particular a life characterized by faith. This is true of both testaments of the Bible. The life of faith is grounded in the conceptual metaphor EXPERIENCING LIFE IS A GOING ON A JOURNEY.[2]
 4.2.2 Truth as expressed by propositions
We have already noted that in the Aristotelian tradition truth is regarded as a property of sentences, so that what a sentence states has to correspond to reality. It is important to note that those who hold to the correspondence theory of truth can find biblical support. When Jesus indicates that what he is about to say is true, he uses the phrase ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ‘I tell the (solemn) truth’, with the reduplicated form, usually in John’s gospel, indicating emphasis (Louw and Nida 1988:I:673). In all cases the phrase is immediately followed by the statements regarded as true. In what follows we will further elaborate upon the biblical concept of truth. What we will see is that the biblical concept represents the notion of truth as primarily experiential rather than as rational. In particular we will see that it concerns more about how we ought to live rather than what we ought to know or say. Along with these elaborations we will reveal how the English translators have consistently misconstrued the biblical concept. [3]
McElhanon is not presenting us with an absolute either/or concerning the biblical concept of truth. However, he does consider the western preoccupation with propositional truth a source of frequent mistranslation and he makes a general claim which will not go down well[4] with some  who continue to support the Chicago Statement[5]: "the biblical concept represents the notion of truth as primarily experiential rather than as rational"[see above].

McElhanon claims that the Aristotelian notion of truth as a property of sentences, propositional truth, is often imposed by western translators and exegetes on biblical texts where the scenario/schema is constructed using a conceptual metaphor of truth as a road within a larger conceptual metaphor life as journey.

I find interesting that an author who doesn't have any problem with cultural substitutions such as bamboo tubes for wineskins obviously is very very concern about the substitution of truth as an object (a property of sentences) for a conceptual metaphor truth as a road embedded within another metaphor life as journey. I certainly do not deny that these conceptual metaphors are real features of the biblical text. On the other hand McElhanon's propositional statement "the biblical concept represents the notion of truth as primarily experiential rather than as rational" is a truth claim formulated after what he calls the Aristotelian notion of truth.

There is overwhelming evidence that most, if not all, translators of the New Testament into English have unwittingly substituted the English conceptual metaphor TRUTH IS AN OBJECT for the Greek TRUTH IS A ROAD. It is important to recognize that the examples which follow are not simply cases of the nuanced meanings of isolated words. Rather, the substitution of the English conceptual metaphor for the Greek one is so consistent that it is likely the translators were unaware that they were doing so. If that is indeed the case, it testifies not only to the tacitness of the metaphor, but also to its power to structure our thoughts along certain lines rather than along others. Of many examples, I will present only a few of the most revealing. [6]
Both truth as an object and truth as a road are metaphors. Does the substitution of a conceptual metaphor in translation make the translation not true in the Aristotelian sense? Are conceptual metaphors a nonnegotiable semantic component in the text such that an alteration or replacement of a conceptual metaphor distorts the intended meaning? Once again, we cannot even pose the question without assuming the Aristotelian truth metaphor. If according to the New Testament truth is a road and life is a journey then what were the church councils leading up to Chalcedon all about? Apparently the early church went down the wrong road in regard to truth.

[1] From Word to Scenario: The Influence of Linguistic Theories Upon Models of Translation,  Kenneth A. McElhanon, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 3 (2005), pp. 55-62.

[1] note the travel metaphor. 
[2] ibid, p. 56.
[3] ibid, p. 59.
[4] note the eating metaphor.
[5]  The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy  1978.
[6] From Word to Scenario, p.60.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home