on translating scripture

Sometime back I wrote a post interacting with the thought that there ought to be a new translation of scripture which somehow is in our language, the way we speak, but preserving the differences in the various styles found in the copies of the original writings which we have. So that one could see the stylistic differences between all the writers and writings.

Since then I’ve rethought this some, and I have to say that I have my doubts that there can be a translation which can seriously reflect the styles of the originals, but match anything we do in our English language. Often in translating from one language to another there is no match to say it in just the same way. Or form. But now we get back into philosophy of translation.

A good philosophy of translation (and I can only write in a basic way concerning it) should want to get as much of an equivalence in content and impact across to the receptor language, as was the case in the original language. And in translating, if one wants to really understand the meaning of  the original in depth, it would seem that footnotes would be required to make a decent start.

The New Living Translation (NLT) attempted to show the differences in the various styles of writing in scripture, but according to one of its translators, it was limited in what it achieved. One might say that a faithful translation is bound to get something of the differences across, but that is likely only so in content, and not so much in style.

I recall watching Douglas Moo, the chairperson of the Committee on Bible Translation which oversees the New International Version of the Bible, saying that the NIV tried to keep the form wherever possible, as long as the meaning was not lost.

I think scripture needs to be translated as William Tyndale wrote: so that the plowman can read it. The idea that it needs to keep something of the way of speaking of the original I think is problematical.

Theologically, scripture as God’s written word should come across in something of the same way as did God’s Incarnate Word, Jesus. Jesus came and lived with the people in a specific culture. And Jesus was just as human as any of them. He became one of them, one of us. And Jesus communicated, albeit God’s truth, in language and ways that were clear, even though the Spirit is needed to give understanding. It is not that the words themselves were obscure in meaning, or form. There is no such thing, I want to add, as some Holy Spirit language which our Bibles should mirror. The real language of the Holy Spirit is incarnate in a translation of the Bible in which anyone who can read the language can understand what is being said, even if the meaning makes little or no sense to them.

And so, to end this somewhere, I think the New International Version (NIV) (for me, being the best example of this) and other translations like it are the ideal. A translation that reads well, and yet does not water down the meaning in its essence from the original. And just as importantly, the meaning is communicated naturally in another language.

If there is a translation that is done seeking to bring across the stylistic differences, well and good. That will be a niche translation. But for the church we need a translation that like Jesus gives us God’s word in our own heart language, from God’s heart to ours. And to all the languages of the earth.