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Friday, August 04, 2006 

Translations

I have gotten back into reading the New Testament in Greek. I had stopped doing it for a while because it is an arduous task, and I have to spend time looking up vocabulary. Reading the English translations are much easier.

The trend in scripture translation is to make it more accessible. For example, The Message, The New Living Translation, and the New Century Versions all purport to render the scriptures in a more affable format. I use these translations often in sermon preparation, but I have begun wondering if this really is a good way to digest the scriptures. I mean, isn’t God worthy of us really struggling to find the meaning of the words on the page? And shouldn’t we too know that thousands of Greek manuscripts offer divergent phrasing on nearly every passage in the New Testament? Oh, and isn’t it noteworthy that the Greek language’s vocabulary is much more complex and that translators have to make very important theological decisions about which word they think is the correct word from a Greek word that may or may not be the original word?

Now, don’t get me wrong, Bible translators are much more dedicated and educated than me. They have spent tireless hours trying to get it right, and for the most part, they do an incredible job. If they didn’t keep doing it, then we would still have the King James Bible, which is perhaps the most poorly translated edition available, as the standard for scholastic Biblical interpretation.

But the question still remains: should we have to work at knowing God? And if the scriptures are a divine revelation, then shouldn’t we have to work to know them too? Is it good enough to use one translation? Is it good enough to read the scriptures in paraphrased form? These are detail questions that I struggle with in my pursuit of loving God

I have to constantly remind myself that these types of questions are important only if we set our lives to loving God and loving people. That is, in the end, Jesus said, the paraphrase of all the scriptures.

I think it has to do with your audience. Yes, for ourselves, knowing God is hard work. But when our audience is "others," we shouldn't necessarily make the task of understanding God's word any more difficult than it has to be. I don't mean we soft-peddle it. But we should make an attempt to communicate God's word in a way that our audience can understand it. If I use a translation in public that while extremely literal, uses a vocabulary that is so far above my audience, well then I have not communicated the Scriptures effectively.

You're back!

Paul,
Which professor taught your Greek classes?

You asked (rhetorically, I think):

I mean, isn’t God worthy of us really struggling to find the meaning of the words on the page?

I would suggest that we should struggle with a translation only as much as the audiences for the original biblical texts had to struggle to understand the meanings of those words. After many years evaluating English Bible versions I conclude that much of the struggle is created by the translator, not the biblical authors. I am *only* addressing the process of understanding the words, not the concepts behind the words which can be quite a different issue.

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