Thursday, January 16, 2014

“Corn” or “Maze” – Know the Culture of the Translator!

If you have read many of my blogs, you know how much I stress the importance of knowing as much as you can about the culture of Second Temple Judaism when you read the words of Jesus. It was his culture. But, there is another culture that you should be aware of too -- if you rely on English translations of the Biblethe culture of the translators.

Here is an example from Matthew 12:1 of the King James Version:

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.

Now compare the underlined words to the American Standard Version’s translation:

At that season Jesus went on the sabbath day through the grainfields; and his disciples were hungry and began to pluck ears and to eat.

When most Americans read the King James Version they picture Jesus walking through fields like this:

His disciples were plucking and eating ears like these:

But in the American Standard Version, Americans picture Jesus walking through a field like this:

His disciples were plucking and eating ears like these:

Which one is correct? Actually, British readers of the King James Version picture the same thing as American readers of the American Standard Version. Both translations create the same images in the minds of their original audiences. The word “corn” to British readers means “wheat,” but to American’s “corn” is a type of “maize.” The translators of the American Standard Version correctly translated the Greek word by choosing “grain.”

A very interesting situation arose in World War II because of the different meanings for the word “corn.” Not knowing these differences, an American government agency received a request for "corn" from the British government.  The Americans shipped the British "maize." The British were expecting "wheat" which they needed for the European famine relief program.  Needless to say, the British were not happy with the maize they received.  Both groups used the identical word – cornbut they had different bundles of associations attached to it.  The Americans corrected the problem by shipping the British “wheat.” This bit of linguistic ignorance cost tax-payers a few million dollars to correct.

Knowing this information doesn’t reveal a great theological truth, but it does give you a much more accurate picture of what Jesus and his disciples were actually doing. The next time you read your Bible, be sure to go to the introduction and find out who the translators were -- and identify their culture. It is good to get in the habit of comparing English translations made by people from different cultures. This will help you identify situations like the one above.

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SHALOM & Be Empowered!

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