Orientation for Polished English Translations in Exegesis Papers
Preparing a polished translation for an exegesis paper is significantly different from providing a wooden translation as part of a translation exercise for a class in basic Greek. For translation exercises a certain “code-language” is often established between the teacher and students in order to indicate that the student has made certain grammatical observations or has recognized certain grammatical features. The polished translation of the exegesis paper is not to be written according to such artificial codes. It should reflect a natural and somewhat polished English style. The following are some of the guidelines I provide for students taking exegesis courses with me.
Do not translate second-person plural verbs or pronouns as “you all” except as directed by a Greek professor for Greek exercises. Greek professors sometimes use “you all” as in-house code language to signal the translation of second-person plural forms, but that is not intended to suggest that “you all” is actually an accurate translation of those forms. “You all” implies a totality and unanimity that is not at all implied in the use of the second-person plural forms. They are used to address a crowd without implying that what is being said is necessarily true for all those in the crowd. In English we use the simple “you” when addressing a crowd and expect the reader to understand from the context when the “you” is intended to be singular or plural. In a formal translation one might choose to use footnotes to distinguish between plural and singular uses if they are not clear in the context.
Do not translate present indicative verbs with continuous present English forms unless there are clear contextual clues that a continuous present idea is intended. The Greek present indicative is used for both continuous and non-continuous present verbal ideas. Most are non-continuous. The present indicative does not suggest (in and of itself) continuous action as much as it does a broader idea of action that is not currently viewed as already concluded (it may be presently unfolding, ongoing, intermittently repeated, or instantaneous present). To identify the aspect of the present tense verb as continuous is similar to the mistake of identifying the aspect of the aorist verb as punctilear. Punctilear and continuous are particular uses of the aorist and present tense (the aspectual differences are better described in terms of the difference between perfective and imperfective).
Do not include brackets, parentheses, or italics in your polished translation to indicate words in the English translation that do not have corresponding words in the original Greek. That practice implies a false view of what translation is and does. If the English word is necessary to properly/accurately translate the meaning of the Greek text it does not matter if there is a particular Greek word that corresponds to it. Translation is not a matter of word-for-word equivalents but of communicating the same meaning though a very different language structure. (Note, e.g., how we translate the substantival participle with a relative clause that is not part of the Greek text.) Parentheses should only be used to communicate that the author is making a parenthetical statement. Italics should only be used when it is felt necessary to communicate stress (as we use italics in English) that the original author communicated by word order or other means..
Do not attempt to distinguish between present and aorist subjunctive, imperative or infinitive verbs in your translation. Often there is no implied distinction and if there is a distinction it is most likely communicated through contextual clues in English rather than through distinct or overt verbal differences.
Ask yourself: Is this translation clear? Does it sound awkward? A wooden English translation will often make the passage sound awkward or unclear. The Greek text is probably neither (or at least not as awkward or unclear as a wooden English translation would suggest). Be sure to follow the principles of proper English style rather than Greek style. In English we normally place prepositional phrases after the main verb, etc. Make sure your translation reflects normal English standards. (Remember, you are translating the text into English, not Biblish!)