Translation tidbit: Ifs, ands, or buts

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul bases his argument for the resurrection of the dead on the claim that God raised Jesus to life: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12, NIV). As I begin to draft the CT notes for translators on this verse, I see a number of issues that require explanation, including how to understand Paul’s use of a rhetorical question, how to translate with active verbs (in languages where the passive verbs aren’t natural), and how to unpack the abstract noun “resurrection.”

But I start with the small things. In Greek, the verse begins with a conjunction that functions in different ways. In some contexts, it’s translated as “and,” which is not how it’s used in this verse. The NIV translates it here as “but,” a valid option since Paul is contrasting the proclamation known to the Corinthians—that Christ is risen—with the competing claim that there is no resurrection. Another valid way to translate the conjunction is “now,” since it introduces a new stage in Paul’s discourse on the resurrection.

Then there’s the Greek word translated “if.” In this verse, it’s introducing a fact. However, in some African languages, the word “if” can only signal uncertainty about whether or not a statement is true. So our CT notes must point out that it may be clearer to translate with a word meaning “since.” Although these are little words, they are important links in the chain of Paul’s logic. In some languages, the meaning will be clearest if translators use a structure more like that of the Good News Bible: “Now, since our message is that Christ has been raised from death, how can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life?”

Christ is risen indeed! Thank you for remembering my CT teammates and me in your prayers as we work together to provide tools that translators in many African languages will use to bring the good news to their people.

 

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