Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 158:631 (Jul 01) p. 370
By the faculty and library staff
of Dallas Theological Seminary
Robert D. Ibach, Editor
“Improving Bible Translations: The Example of Sickness and Healing,” John J. Pilch, Biblical Theology Bulletin 30 (2000): 129-34.
John Pilch makes a plea for Bible translations to use terms and definitions from the field of medical anthropology in the translation of Hebrew and Greek terms for sickness and healing. This sounds like a good proposal in principle, and indeed the author cites numerous examples, even from recent standard lexical reference works like the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, edited by Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988) to support his claims that translations of terms related to sickness and healing have not kept pace with other advances in philological knowledge.
Pilch’s basic argument is that reading the Bible is an exercise in cross-cultural communication, and some of the definitions developed by medical anthropology since the end of World War II make better sense than many of the so-called “standard” definitions found in lexicons and theological dictionaries. To begin with, the normal human situation is known as well-being, of which health is only one element. Pilch also argues that health is a concept defined and interpreted differently by different cultures, and it is inappropriate to impose a modern-day, Western medical interpretation on other cultures, including the cultures of the Bible. Pilch goes further, however, to distinguish between the words “disease” and “illness,” which he views not as realities but as explanatory concepts, and the word “sickness,” which he views as a reality. He then cites usage from the Revised Standard Version, which employs the English word “sickness” twenty-one times, “disease” ninety-five times, and “illness” nine times. The problem, as Pilch sees it, is that each English word renders more than one Hebrew or Greek word, while the same Hebrew or Greek word is rendered by different English words. (It should be noted that Pilch is well aware that there is not a one-for-one equivalence between one language and another.)
It might not be surprising to find that standard lexicons of Greek and Hebrew have not kept pace with philological distinctions arising from the field of medical anthropology, since there is little natural overlap between these disciplines. More surprising, though, is the failure of Merriam Webster’s Medical Desk Dictionary to distinguish between the English terms “sickness, disease, illness” (which it treats as synonyms). Pilch would prefer to see the distinctions that were developed in the field of med...
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