How You Can Translate Mark 1–4 On Your Own
A few weeks ago we introduced you to an approach to reading biblical Greek that Mark Strauss calls “interesting and innovative.”
Reading Biblical Greek, conceived of and designed by Richard J. Gibson and Constantine R. Campbell, introduces first-year Greek students to the essential information needed to optimize their grasp of the fundamentals of the Greek language.
The goal of their approach is “to equip students to read the text of Mark’s Gospel as soon as practicable.” (vii) They succeed in part because their grammar is paired with an equally innovative companion workbook.
This supplemental workbook is designed to help students navigate their way through translating Mark 1–4, all on their own, by breaking up the Greek text into manageable portions and providing the vocabulary and grammatical assistance required for beginning students.
Since it is such an integral part of the Greek learning experience, we thought we’d share some of the insights from the resource. Below are three important tactics and considerations when translating Mark’s Gospel all on your own.
Because as the authors say: “If you can translate one chapter of the New Testament, you can translate any chapter” (vii).
Pre-Translation: Marking the Greek Text
Before you get to actually translating the Mark text, Gibson and Campbell encourage you to adopt certain conventions for marking Greek forms.
Following these steps will go a long way in helping you translate the New Testament on your own. “The order of the steps outlined below reflect the nature of the Greek language and its translation” (44):
- DOUBLE UNDERLINE finite verbs, which include the indicative, imperative, subjunctive, and operative
- SINGLE UNDERLINE other verbal forms, infinitives, and participles
- BRACKET prepositional phrases (prepositions and its object that follows, including words that modify the object of the same case)
- MARK the subject, object, genitive, and indirect object with the following symbols:
- => SUBJECT of the verb
- <= OBJECT of the verb
- of GENITIVE case
- 2/4 INDIRECT OBJECT of the verb—often translated TO / FOR
- PLACE VERTICAL LINE between clauses beginning with a conjunction (and, but, then), as they function like English punctuation and mark the beginning/end of clauses
- BRACKET other clauses and phrases, usually adverbial or adjectival, related to the main clause
- SQUARE BRACKET direct speech
Here's how following such a process will look marking up Mark 1:16–17:
Approaches to Translating
Before getting to the actual translation of Mark, the authors remind us of three broad approaches to translation, each with their set of strengths and weaknesses. There is no shortage of good English translations. However, one important reason for learning New Testament Greek is:
to enable us to make judgments about the text rather than taking the translators’ word for it . . . Learning Greek enables us to be more aware of the alternatives they faced and the decisions they made. (45)
Most of these approaches will be familiar to you, but here’s a refresher:
- Formal Equivalence. Seeking to preserve the original word meaning, this approach translates Greek words consistently with the same English words and maintains the Greek word order.
- Dynamic Equivalence. Seeking to convey the original message meaning, this approach reproduces the “sense” of the words or phrases as appropriately as possible.
- Paraphrase. This approach is more concerned with readability and contemporary relevance and takes more liberties with the original language.
Understanding these approaches to translating alerts us “to how original ambiguities have been ‘translated out’ and interpretations that have been ‘translated in’ our English versions” (45).
Translating: Conveying the Greek Text into English
Now it’s time to translate! Your aim with first-year Greek translating is to provide literal translations of Greek phrases and sentences. The goal?
To become competent at identifying the original Greek forms. While it may seem necessary to change the word order to make sense in English, don’t be concerned if your translations are not idiomatic, or sound a little wooden. (45)
Great advice as you approach your own translating work. Below are the steps for how you can translate Mark 1–4 on your own:
- ISOLATE the first clause
- TRANSLATE the main verb, taking account of tense, voice, mood, person, and number
- PLACE the SUBJECT (external or internal) in front of the verb
- PLACE the OBJECT behind the verb
- TRANSLATE the indirect object as “TO…” or “FOR…”
- TRANSLATE any genitives as “OF…”
- KEEP words within a prepositional, participial phrase, etc… TOGETHER; DECIDE whether adjectival or adverbial—ensure English reflects this (some phrases may precede the subject)
- COMPARE with English translation and note differences. Why are they different?
“Open [Reading Biblical Greek] to any page,” Robert Plummer says of this resource, “and you will feel that a master teacher is leading you to abundant pastures of reading the Greek New Testament.”
If you want to learn biblical Greek or teach others to learn biblical Greek, look no further than Gibson and Campbell's resource.
Professors, are you interested in taking a deeper look? Go here to request your exam copy.
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