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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

unholy marriage between the code model and propositional revelation

One of the artifacts of the fundamentalist modernist controversy of the twentieth century is found in ARTICLE VI of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics[1]
We affirm that the Bible expresses God's truth in propositional statements, and we declare that Biblical truth is both objective and absolute. We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts.
The meaning based translation model pioneered by Eugene A. Nida was associated with a very early version of Noam Chomsky’s treatment of syntax structures (late 1950s). Stay with me here, this is important. Micheal W. Palmer, a biblical linguist told me in a public discussion (late 1990s) that Nida had adopted some ideas from Chomsky but essentially his notion of semantic deep_structure was Nida’s own “spin” on semantic theory. What takes place in Nida’s model is the source language text (e.g., Greek NT) is reduced to propositional statements (deep_structure) in some modern language (e.g., English), which are intended to capture the “meaning” of the original. These propositions are then “transformed” in to the target language (e.g., Swahili) not necessarily as propositions but in some form suitable for representing the genre of the original text. 

The key issue here is that “meaning” is considered to be a property of the source text “code” which can be extracted and reduced to propositional statements. This theory of meaning has been demonstrated to be inadequate over the last thirty years.[2]

David J. Weber borrows a metaphor from Edward de Bono:

... Edward de Bono likened the mind to a contoured surface composed of something like gelatin. Thoughts are like warm marbles. When placed on the surface, they roll according to the contours of the surface. As they go, they melt the surface slightly, leaving a trace of their course. This metaphor captures some important aspects of the human mind and the brain on which it is implemented.

Context is like the contoured surface of set gelatin. An utterance is like a warm marble. Its explicature is like the place where the marble is set down on the surface, the starting point of the path it takes. ... The interpretation is like the endpoint of that path. ...  The impression an utterance makes on a mind is the path the marble takes. This is not the starting point (explicature). It is not the ending point (interpretation). It is the path left by the warm marble moving from the explicature to the interpretation as influenced by the contoured surface (context).[3] 
Reducing the "meaning" to a propositional statement disregards the path of the marble and the trace left by the marble. It flattens out the notion of meaning treating it like a discreet object.    

We have been led to think of “meanings” much like fixed objects out in some Platonic space, out there with integers and other things, discrete objects that we can manipulate symbolically, ones we can grasp and stuff into a text. [4]

[1]The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics Copyright 1978, ICBI.

[2] A Tale of Two Translation Theories, David J. Weber, Journal of Translation, Volume 1, Number 2

[3] ibid, p63

[4] ibid, p64


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