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Chapter 13.—How Faulty Interpretations Can Be Emended.

19.  But since we do not clearly see what the actual thought is which the several translators endeavor to express, each according to his own ability and judgment, unless we examine it in the language which they translate; and since the translator, if he be not a very learned man, often departs from the meaning of his author, we must either endeavor to get a knowledge of those languages from which the Scriptures are translated into Latin, or we must get hold of the translations of those who keep rather close to the letter of the original, not because these are sufficient, but because we may use them to correct the freedom or the error of others, who in their translations have chosen to follow the sense quite as much as the words.  For not only single words, but often whole phrases are translated, which could not be translated at all into the Latin idiom by any one who wished to hold by the usage of the ancients who spoke Latin.  And though these sometimes do not interfere with the understanding of the passage, yet they are offensive to those who feel greater delight in things when even the signs of those things are kept in their own purity.  For what is called a solecism is nothing else than the putting of words together according to a different rule from that which those of our predecessors who spoke with any authority followed.  For whether we say inter homines (among men) or inter hominibus, is of no consequence to a man who only wishes to know the facts.  And in the same way, what is a barbarism but the pronouncing of a word in a different way from that in which those who spoke Latin before us pronounced it?  For whether the word ignoscere (to pardon) should be pronounced with the third syllable long or short, is not a matter of much concern to the man who is beseeching God, in any way at all that he can get the words out, to pardon his sins.  What then is purity of speech, except the preserving of the custom of language established by the authority of former speakers?

20.  And men are easily offended in a matter of this kind, just in proportion as they are weak; and they are weak just in proportion as they wish to seem learned, not in the knowledge of things which tend to edification, but in that of signs, by which it is hard not to be puffed up,17861786    Comp. 1 Cor. viii. 1. seeing that the knowledge of things even would often set up our neck, if it were not held down by the yoke of our Master.  For how does it prevent our understanding it to have the following passage thus expressed:  “Quæ est terra in quo isti insidunt super eam, si bona est an nequam; et quæ sunt civitates, in quibus ipsi inhabitant in ipsis?17871787    “And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in.”— Num. xiii.19 (A.V.).  And I am more disposed to think that this is simply the idiom of another language than that any deeper meaning is intended.  Again, that phrase, which we cannot now take away from the lips of the people who sing it:  “Super ipsum autem floriet sanctificatio mea,”17881788    “But upon himself shall my holiness flourish.”— Ps. cxxxii. 18 (see LXX.).  “But upon himself shall his crown flourish” (A.V.). surely takes away nothing from the meaning.  Yet a more learned man would prefer that this should be corrected, and that we should say, not floriet, but florebit.  Nor does anything stand in the way of the correction being made, except the usage of the singers.  Mistakes of this kind, then, if a man do not choose to avoid them altogether, it is easy to treat with indifference, as not interfering with a right understanding.  But take, on the other hand, the saying of the apostle:  “Quod stultum est Dei, sapientius est hominibus, et quod infirmum est Dei, fortius est hominibus.”17891789    “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. i. 25).  If any one should retain in this passage the Greek idiom, and say, “Quod stultum est Dei, sapientius est hominum et quod infirmum est Dei fortius est hominum,”17901790    “What is foolish of God is wiser of men, and what is weak of God is stronger of men.” a quick and careful reader would indeed by an effort attain to the true meaning, but still a man of slower intelligence either would not understand it at all, or would put an utterly false construction upon it.  For not only is such a form of speech 542 faulty in the Latin tongue, but it is ambiguous too, as if the meaning might be, that the folly of men or the weakness of men is wiser or stronger than that of God.  But indeed even the expression sapientius est hominibus (stronger than men) is not free from ambiguity, even though it be free from solecism.  For whether hominibus is put as the plural of the dative or as the plural of the ablative, does not appear, unless by reference to the meaning.  It would be better then to say, sapientius est quam homines, and fortius est quam homines.

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