Translation commentary on Acts 28:26 – 28:27

In Greek, verse 26 begins a participle (literally “saying”), which the Good News Translation has rendered for he said. The Old Testament passage cited in these verses is Isaiah 6.9-10, and, as quoted here, it is in almost word-for-word agreement with the Septuagint. Both in Isaiah and in its use in Acts the phrase to this people is a specific reference to the Jewish people.

Listen and listen … look and look (Jerusalem Bible “hear and hear … see and see”) translate Hebraic idioms which indicate intensive action. The contrast between listening and understanding, and between looking and perceiving, may be rendered in some languages as “though you listen and listen you will not understand, and though you look and look you will not perceive.” However, in certain languages emphasis cannot be indicated by a mere repetition of a verb in phrases such as listen and listen or look and look. It is necessary to indicate that this is an intensive action—for example, “You will listen very intently but not understand; you will look very hard but not really see.”

The word rendered minds is literally “hearts,” but in Hebrew thought the heart was the center of the intellectual activity. One should not translate the term dull in this type of context to mean that the people’s minds are simply below normal in intelligence. It is not their lack of intellectual capacity, but their stubborn refusal to understand what their senses tell them. In some languages one must translate “because the minds of this people are hard,” while in other languages precisely the opposite idiom would be employed “because the minds of this people are soft.” Basically what is required here is an idiom which indicates refusal to comprehend. In some languages this is rendered as “because these people do not wish to understand.”

The Hebraic idiom “they hear with ears of heaviness” has been transformed into an English idiom: they have stopped up their ears. This expression stopped up their ears may be rendered as “covered over their ears,” “have put something in their ears,” or even “have closed their ears.”

Two other Semitic idioms, “lest they should see with their eyes … hear with their ears,” have also been transformed into more natural English expressions: otherwise, their eyes would see, their ears would hear. In a number of languages one cannot say “their eyes see,” but one can say “they see with their eyes and they hear with their ears.”

In some languages it is necessary to specify the relationship of the last two lines of verse 27 to what has preceded. This can be indicated as “and as a result they might turn to me.”

The verb heal should be understood in the broadest possible sense, since it should include not just physical healing but spiritual transformation as well—for example, “cause them to be well again.”

Quoted with permission from Newman, Barclay M. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on The Acts of the Apostles. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1972. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

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