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Inside Translation
Translating the Gospel (Part 8) : Logical Connections
by Hart Wiens, CBS Director of Scripture Translation

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

In this installment we concentrate on the little Greek conjunction represented by the two English words "so that." In translation we refer to tiny words like this as "discourse particles." Few Bible Commentaries discuss them. They are generally relegated to the Greek Grammars and Lexicons where only the most serious Greek students are made aware of how complex and full of meaning they are. However, as translators we are very much aware of the large freight of meaning that these "particles" carry. They are the glue that holds a discourse together, connecting separate units into a meaningful whole. To translate them properly we must have a clear understanding of how they are used in Greek and then research grammatical possibilities in the language into which the translation is being done which will make comparable connections.

Frequently these linking particles are ambiguous or even meaningless in isolation. Since they function to link parts of a discourse, their precise meanings can only be discovered by examining the context in which they are used. The Greek Lexicon produced by Arndt and Gingrich, one of the best available resources, identifies at least 4 major areas of meaning for this particle, each with itd own complex variations depending on specific usages.

In the present context this linking particle is used to introduce the purpose for which God sent his only Son. The Judeo-Christian understanding of God is of one whose actions have meaning and purpose for the world he created. It can not be assumed that all cultures share this view. For example in many animistic cultures the activity in the spiritual realm may be viewed as arbitrary and capricious.

Having established the function of this particle as introducing a statement about God's purpose in giving his only Son, the challenge in translation is to find the word or combination of words that will most clearly communicate this. Many traditional English versions attempted to capture this with one word, "that." Unfortunately this is somewhat ambiguous and not as natural as it could be. Most newer versions use the phrase "so that." This certainly makes for an improvement both in clarity and in naturalness. Eugene Peterson's paraphrase "The Message" captures the clearest rendering of all. "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. "And this is why: so that...." This degree of clarity requires restructuring that is more difficult to justify in translation than in a paraphrase.

The English speaking world is fortunate to have a large variety of versions (translations and paraphrases) which all contribute to the clear communication of God's word. As Bible translators we invite those who have such ready access to the Bible not only to read and study it themselves, but also to participate in the great ministry of making it available to people in languages that still do not have even one word of Scripture in their language. Why not consider making a gift this Christmas to help provide the Bible for one more people group?

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