Sunday, August 25, 2013

Driscoll Linguistic Confusion 3

This is now my third post burning Driscoll's hermeneutic in effigy. Again, the ESV is an excellent formal equivalence translation with a few Reformed edges.  I don't recommend it for Wesleyans, but it's a fine translation if you're a Calvinist. I'm attempting to excoriate Driscoll's arguments for why he thinks the ESV should stuff your NLT or NIV down the toilet.

So far:
1. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.
2. All translation involves interpretation.

His third reason he thinks the ESV is the best is because...
3. Words carry meaning.

I was a little puzzled at what he was arguing here.  Was he going to mount a sophisticated argument against deconstruction, which holds that words do not have stable meanings and that the meaning of texts is inevitably uncertain?  If so, I do believe that words can have stable meanings when we know the context in which they are used.

Was he going to mount an attempt to undermine Wittgenstein and the sense that the meaning of a word is in the way it is used?  Was he going to argue for the picture theory of language Augustine had?  That would have been foolish, because a few simple examples would have unraveled that attempt.

Was he even going to argue against the likes of card-carrying conservative evangelical D. A. Carson and pooh-pooh the very notion of word fallacies like
  • the lexical fallacy (which supposes that all instances of a word carry around some root meaning), 
  • the etymological fallacy (which supposes that the history of a word in some way tells you the meaning of a word today), or 
  • the overload fallacy (which reads too much ideology into an individual instance of a word).
Carson's pretty scary.  I think he would have lost.

Nah, nothing that sophisticated.  I think he's just sayin' that the meaning of a sentence somehow adds up the meanings of the individual words, such that if you try to translate thought for thought instead of word for word, you've changed the meaning.

Is that what he's really saying, because that's just plain dumb? Let me give you a word for word translation of Galatians 3:17: "covenant having been ratified by the God the after four hundred and thirty years having come to be Law not nullify into the to cancel the promise." You can't really recapture the emphasis of this sentence in English because you pretty much have to put the object after the verb: "The Law [that] came into existence after 430 years cannot nullify a covenant that was ratified by God with the result that it cancels the promise."

That would be a pretty good formal equivalence translation, with some words added even there. Notice that it's impossible to come up with a good translation without moving the words around, adding some to make the English flow and taking away a couple others.

Now how about this as a dynamic translation: "The Law of Moses, which did not exist until 430 years after God made his promise to Abraham, cannot cancel that promise." Have I changed the meaning by adding words like Moses and Abraham?  Or have I actually clarified the meaning that was already there?

Basically, Driscoll seems to be making a fool of himself here. Paul Ricoeur has in fact argued against the deconstruction I mentioned above by suggesting that meaning is more a matter of sentences than individual words. The meaning of individual words is slippery in themselves. What does the word "fire" mean?
  • Ready, aim, fire!
  • You're fired.
  • Come on, baby, light my fire.
  • Fire!
  • Is that a fire?
It is the sense of word collections, coupled with the likely context each sentence assumes, that equates to a sense of the meaning. Driscoll's way out of his depth on this one.

1 comment:

Susan Moore said...

I'm reading these blogs knowing I have sent you that email on The Common Language of God (TCL), and wondering where you fit TCL into these blog discussions about scripture interpretation. TCL seems to have its own 'spot'. The question remains whether or not I have yet written about it in a way which would enable you (or anyone) to 'see' it.