I've had some linguistic thoughts recently set off by the question of the proper translation of ωφθη in I Corinthians 15:5.
ωφθη is the first aorist passive for οραω, which has the base sense "to see". In I Cor 15:5, Paul is in the middle of giving a sort of basic confession of faith; he had just finished saying that Christ had died, was buried and rose again on the third day. He then goes on that "και οτι ωφθη κηφα επειτα τοις δωδεκα". κηφα here is in the dative (I can't seem to do an iota subscript here). Hence, this might be translated rather obviously "and that he was seen by Kephas, and then by the Twelve". Now, this was essentially the translation a fellow student gave for this passage, but our teacher (actually a well known expert in Koine Greek) objected to this translation on the following grounds: οραω, he said, can mean "to see" in the normal way with your eyes, but it also has a broader sense. It can be used, for example, for things like mystical visions or intellectual intuitions. Therefore, since the word is not restricted to the simply visual dimension, he would prefer that it be translated in such a way as to leave open the non-visual possibilities of the word οραω: St. Paul might be refering to some sort of mystical vision or a "faith experience," and not to an actual seeing of a risen Christ with the eyes. So his choice was: "and that he appeared to Kephas, and then to the Twelve".
Now, I have a problem with this logic. Granted that οραω can be used in all these non-visual ways, isn't the same true of the English verb "to see"? One might experience some revelation and "see the light", or perhaps "see the error" of one's ways. In fact, "see" can be used in so general a way as to refer to almost any type of knowing or experiencing something: "Come and see for yourself", "I see now that the sum of the interior angles of a triangle must be 180 degrees." So if the English verb "to see" can express as wide a range of meanings as the Greek verb οραω, why not use the one to translate the other?
This begs another question, however: if the English verb "to see" can have such a range of meanings, why is it that the phrase "and that he was seen by Kephas, and then by the Twelve" seems so clearly to indicate something visual, as opposed to some purely mental apparition? I think this merits some attention, so I intend to do a small series of posts looking at this question. I think it is significant that οραω and "to see", in fact, are both what might be called "basic" words: they are both words learned at the Mother's knee, describing a very basic and very universal phenomenon. This indicates to me that one must understand the wide range of dictionary meanings for these words in a special way. In other words, the fact that there are multiple options that can translate the word οραω means something different from the fact that there are multiple options that can translate, say, the word μορφη, which also has a wide range of meanings but is an abstract word even at root.
So, I'll be pursuing this line of thought over the course of some days. In the end, I'll come back to the question of the translation at stake and make my choice.