Translating The Faith

In the course of the last few weeks I’ve had a few conversations both in person and via twitter about what can loosely be called “translation”.  This morning Evan Cockshaw posted a link to a survey that got me thinking:

Christians who make Bible reading a part of their everyday life prefer word-for-word translations of the original Greek and Hebrew over thought-for-thought translations, according to a new study released by LifeWay Research.

This led to an interesting 140 character tweeted conversation at cross purposes about the translation of biblical texts.  The premise that there is a way of merely translating the words of the Greek text directly into the English language is in many ways flawed.  I remember one of the first things said to a beginners Greek class I was in a few years ago.  An ancient monastic was explaining verbs and struggling to explain how language worked.  He turned to the class and said:

It is a shame that you need a Zimbabwean monastic to come and teach you how the English language works.

Earlier this month I had been talking with a relative about the parable of the mustard seed and was asked “what’s that all about”?

Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.

In England mustard is generally a bright yellow field crop not unlike oil seed rape.  A tiny plant incapable of performing the function Jesus describes.  The parable’s meaning was obscured for the reader because the concepts used within it did not have meaning.  There is a tendency to assume that writing is about the writer and ignore the impact that the hearer has upon the narrative.

Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra

Of course in this instance with the mustard tree, a simple google image search brought different varieties of mustard growing wild in warmer climates.

In the modern world we see through our own cultural lenses.  The experiences we have had colour the way in which we use language.  As we celebrate the King James Version of the bible it is important to remember the way in which language has developed over the past four hundred year and how concepts have been lost and words rendered new meanings.

If we are to continue to retell our salvation history afresh we need to constantly strive for both accuracy and cultural relevance to explain the most exciting tale ever told – that of God and how he reveals himself to his people in the past, how he reveals himself now and how he will reveal himself in the future!

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2 Responses

  1. We work a work of God, in our testimony of the Gospel. And though it is true that man’s failings, in this regard, are frightenly real, there is a hope beyond our own strength of understanding.

    Though every Bible become burned by the wickedness of man. Though every written testimony be destroyed from the face of this earth, there is the power of the Holy Spirit. His Spirit crosses boundaries which man is not permited to even know exist. And it is that same power from God which gives life to even the least likely translation of God’s Word.

    I do not advocate loose translations of His Word at all. In fact, I would rather read the original; if it could be found (or even to sit at the feet ot the Lord Himself).. Let us give every possible due to our charge of guarding the truth of God’s word. But let us not forget that He is able to save those who simply call upon His name. Not one who works the work of God will find himself alone in that task.

    By His Grace.

  2. So do you read in the original Greek and Hebrew?

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