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Sunday, May 15, 2011

anarthrous “son” in Hebrews 1:2 part two

Heb. 1:1 Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις  2 ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων, δι᾿ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας·

Timothy Dwight[1] calls attention to the difficulty presented by ἐν υἱῷ for english translators. He claims there really isn’t an equivalent english idiom. The preposition ἐν is semantically ambiguous which is goodness according to the ostensive-inferential language model. The english translator may be forced to decide between options like “in [a/his] son” or “by [a/his] son”.  The search for an english expression should not be confused with semantic analysis of hellenistic greek. The meaning of the greek text is not constrained by the semantic structure of the english language. If your reading from the greek text, the ambiguity in the original isn’t a problem that needs to be solved. However, the english translator will probably struggle with the target language idiom.

The ostensive-inferential approach to translation advocates retaining the source text ambiguity in the target language text, however, the choice between reading ἐν υἱῷ  “in [a/his] son” or “by [a/his] son” will unavoidably constrain and distort the original. The other option is to paraphrase “[in/by] one who is [a/his] son” which moves away from the principles of direct translation.

If we supply an english indefinite article “a son” we activate an english language scenario which suggests the possibility of multiple persons who posses the status “son” in relationship to ὁ θεὸς. This is a distortion, since υἱῷ was definite hearer old information[2] for the intended audience. The anarthrous[3] υἱῷ “is marked salient as a key theme of the whole letter” R. A. Hoyle [4]. The english translation should indicate that υἱῷ is definite and salient. The indefinite article “a son” is not marked salient and is not definite. Supplying a possessive pronoun “his son” makes explicit a semantic feature (possession) which is inferential in the original. The paraphrase “one who is a son” is rhetorically weak, not marked salient and not definite.   

[1] Critical and exegetical hand-book to the Epistle to Hebrews by Gottlieb Lunnemann, … Notes on the American Edition by Timothy Dwight, Professor of Sacred Literature at Yale College.

[2]  Richard A. Hoyle, Scenarios, discourse and translation, SIL 2008, p.735. H. Alford and B. F. Westcott agree that the lack of the article draws attention to ἐν υἱῷ by contrast to the articular ἐν τοῖς προφήταις.  

[3] anarthrous, without an article

[4]  R. A. Hoyle 2008:735.


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