Fire In God’s House: Imagery From Malachi 3 In Peter’s Theology Of Suffering (1 Pet 4:12-19) -- By: Dennis E. Johnson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 29:3 (Sep 1986)
Article: Fire In God’s House: Imagery From Malachi 3 In Peter’s Theology Of Suffering (1 Pet 4:12-19)
Author: Dennis E. Johnson


Fire In God’s House: Imagery From Malachi 3 In Peter’s Theology Of Suffering (1 Pet 4:12-19)

Dennis E. Johnson*

I. Introduction: Translation And Context

The work of translation may appear to the beginning student of the original languages of Scripture to be a simple process of looking up Greek or Hebrew words in a lexicon and replacing them with English equivalents (with perhaps some rearrangement of word order). On further reflection, however, translation proves to be a far more complex process. In a real sense an adequate translation can only be the final result of the whole process of exegesis and interpretation of a Biblical text. This essay concerns the effect of interpretation on translation.

At least since James Barr subjected certain trends in Biblical and theological studies to the critique of modern linguistic science, Biblical scholarship has become more sensitive to the error of what Barr called “illegitimate totality transfer.”1 Words do not bring with them into every context in which they are used their whole semantic field, the whole range of meaning and associations that they may bear in other contexts. Rather, each context automatically limits the “meaning” that the word can contribute to that context. Thus the proper objective of a word study in the process of exegesis is not simply to survey the whole range of meaning that a word is thought to accumulate through its use in diverse contexts. Rather, the aim should be to determine the word’s meaning in the specific text under consideration.2

Now I have no serious quarrel with this linguistic principle, nor with the proper warning against “illegitimate totality transfer.” But a proper application of the principle of context in word studies must give attention not only to the word’s immediate literary context but also to more distant literary contexts to which the author may be making conscious allusion. Particularly in a text in which the NT author is consciously directing his readers’ thoughts to OT backgrounds, translational equivalents should be chosen for key words that allow the OT allusions to be seen through the translation as well as doing justice to the word’s immediate context. The main thrust of this essay is that certain modern translations—notably the NIV, which I greatly admire and

*Dennis Johnson is academic dean and associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California.

consistently use in teaching and preaching—have, in my judgment, apparently considered the context of

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