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Home    About    Bible Translation

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Three Articles on Bible Translation from Anvil Journal

BY DREW PUBLISHED 04/30/2012

Gratuitously and shamelessly reposted from Antony Billington’s blog. I got these babies instapapered and look forward to reading Sanneh’s first, then maybe Wright’s and possibly but possibly not Tomlin’s.


Some contents of the latest issue of Anvil are now available online (after a pain-free registration process), with essays on translating the Bible, with special reference to the 400th anniversary of the King James’ Version.


N.T. Wright

The Monarchs and the Message: Reflections on Bible Translation from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Century

In this article, Tom Wright, whose own translation of the New Testament was published in 2011, highlights the importance of translation within Christian faith as the message of the universal kingship of the Jewish messiah is communicated to the nations. Exploring the translations of the Reformation era, he sets Tyndale’s translation and the King James Version in their contrasting political contexts before explaining the significance of the word ‘Christ’ and the issues it raises today both for translators wishing to be faithful to the New Testament message and Christians seeking to live out Jesus’ radical definition of ‘lordship’. He concludes, drawing on his own experience, with reflections upon some of the other challenges facing translators today – such as the inevitability of distortion and the tensions that can arise between accuracy of word and tone or flavour – as they seek to convey the Bible’s message to contemporary readers and rulers.


Graham Tomlin

The King James Version and Luther’s Bible Translation

Graham Tomlin here examines perhaps two of the most influential Reformation texts: Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible (1534) and the King James Version (1611). He shows how their different emphases reflect different strands in tension within the Reformation as well as their different historical contexts. For Luther, translation should be idiomatic and so accessible, theological and the work of a faithful translator who has been humbled by God’s grace. His is a translation of immanence and incarnation into his culture. In contrast, the KJV is not concerned to propound a particular theological standpoint but seeks simplicity and the integrity of precise translation of the original languages. It thus preserves the Scripture’s strangeness and trusts the reader with the text’s uncertainties.


Lamin Sanneh

Bible Translation and Human Dignity

In this article, Lamin Sanneh explores the revolutionary impact, in various contexts, of translating Scripture into people’s mother tongue. He shows this significant religious, social and cultural event is an expression of Christianity as a translated religion which empowers those who receive the translation and affirms their human dignity. These findings are illustrated from history and more recent mission experience in Kenya, West Africa and Zululand and a sketch is offered of the spread of Bible translation and the social and cultural renewal that has followed.


POSTED IN BIBLE TRANSLATION TAGGED: GRAHAM TOMLIN, LAMIN SANNEH, N. T. WRIGHT | LEAVE A COMMENT

The New World of the Bible: Drink Me

BY DREW PUBLISHED 04/21/2012

I like to picture Bible translation a bit like that scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice finds herself in a big room with a small door as a big person. A new world awaits her on the other side of the petite door that is unfortunately the wrong size for her. She thus seeks a magic potion by which she may enter the new world. Bible translation by comparison seeks to provide a door the size and shape of one’s language so that all may enter into the strange world of the Bible. And the world of the Bible really is a new world.


Partly what led me to this analogy is the lecture by Karl Barth in which he answers the question What is in the Bible? with the declaration that “there is a new world in the Bible, the world of God” (this and quotes hereafter are from “The New World of the Bible” in The Word of God and Theology, trans. Amy Marga, 2011).


“The Bible leads us out of the stale atmosphere of humanity and into the open doors of a new world, the world of God.”


Is God merely the God of the new world and not our own? No, “he is the heavenly Father on earth and on earth really the heavenly Father! The One who does not want to split life into ‘this side’ and ‘that side.’ The One who does not want to leave it up to death to set us free from sin and suffering…The One who let eternity break into time here and now and who truly let it break in to time — for what kind of eternity would it be if it first came ‘afterwards?’ He is the One who does not have just any old idea in his head but who constructs a new world” (emphasis mine).


Thus, “what happens in the Bible is already the glorious inception of the beginning of the new world!” Let us enter therein! Let us “risk it in faith to take what grace offers us!”


The Christian enters this new world by faith and journeys by faith. “We read the Bible properly not when we read it with a false humility, reserve, or other alleged sobriety but when we read it in faith, as those who travel along on the way which they are led.” Happily, the Bible brings the traveler along: ”There is a stream in the Bible that carries us away once we have entrusted ourselves to it; it carries us from ourselves to the seas!”


Attention must be given lest we believe that the traveler is the main character of the story. Barth is quick to point out that the Bible’s “chief interest is not our capability to function in our ordinary old world, hard-working, honest, and helpful, but in the establishment and growth of a new world, the world in which God rules, and in which his morality rules.” This is where and by whom the new world emerges.


As a result, the ministry of Bible translation seeks to participate in God’s in-breaking by bringing his word in the language people understand best.

POSTED IN BIBLE TRANSLATION TAGGED: ALICE IN WONDERLAND, KARL BARTH | LEAVE A COMMENT

Alter: Translations Lack Literary Grace

BY DREW PUBLISHED 03/24/2012

Robert Alter answering the question, “With so many new [Bible] translations available, is the King James Version still important and relevant today?”


Translations that cast the Bible in up-to-the-minute American English are definitely cutting into the constituency of the King James Version because they are easier to read and seem more “accessible.” My own sense is that such translations lack any literary grace and distort the feeling and the meaning of the Bible. Though we are distanced from the 1611 version now because of its archaic language, its beauty is undiminished, and I think it will always have readers as a great literary achievement that altered the course of the English language.


Interesting comments from a man who himself translates Scripture. Read the full (short) interview, “Robert Alter shares insight about the King James Bible.”


Robert Alter shares insight about the King James Bible – Cultural Compass


POSTED IN BIBLE TRANSLATION TAGGED: KING JAMES VERSION, ROBERT ALTER | 1 COMMENT

Study Greek or Hebrew?

BY DREW PUBLISHED 02/27/2012

Moore College professor George Athas writes:


A friend of mine who pastors a congregation told me of a young man in his church who was heading off to study at a theological college. This young man approached my friend for advice on making a choice: should he study Greek when he got to college, or should he study Hebrew? My friend’s response was legendary: “Well,” he said, “when you finish college and get up into your pulpit, do you want to be wearing only your shirt, or only your pants?” Since not many of us should presume to be teachers, we should do our best to make sure that our teachers are as well equipped as possible. Hebrew is just one of the tools of the trade.


And again:


Our teachers in our churches, our theologians and Christian scholars, our Bible translators and missionaries, will inspire more confidence when they’ve done the hard yards of understanding the biblical texts — the authoritative Word of God — in the original languages. It’s not a guarantee to good teaching or sound theology, but it certainly is a good step in the right direction. It’s the responsible act of going back to the sources.


May God grant us perseverance in biblical language study.


POSTED IN BIBLE TRANSLATION TAGGED: KING JAMES VERSION, ROBERT ALTER | 1 COMMENT

“I want to die for the Bible”

BY DREW PUBLISHED 02/27/2012

I would invite you to read “The battle for accurate Bible translation in Asia” published on the WORLD Magazine site. In case you have not heard, there is currently a lot of discussion concerning the translation of uios theou (“Son of God”) into languages in Muslim contexts. Emily Belz’s article in WORLD Magazine presents the perspective of several indigenous pastors on the issue.


Here’s an excerpt:


Anwar Hussain, the head of the Bangladesh Bible Society, has been at the forefront of efforts in his country the last few years to repel Bible translations from various groups that change divine familial terms. Hussain grew up Muslim, and when he professed Christ as a young man, his family cut ties with him. Edward Ayub, another Christian of Muslim background, is the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh and—alongside Hussain—has vigorously opposed the translations. “I want to die for the Bible,” not a misleading translation, Ayub said. “The harm they are doing now for the church will be long-lasting.”


Read the article in full.


Oh and let me just add that there will always be a battle for “accurate Bible translation” wherever Bible translation is done: wrestling with the original texts and wrestling with the target language.


WORLD Magazine _ Translation battle _ Emily Belz _ Feb 25, 12


POSTED IN BIBLE TRANSLATION TAGGED: ISLAM, SON OF GOD, WORLD MAGAZINE | 1 COMMENT

What does it mean to be “Son of God”?

BY DREW PUBLISHED 02/27/2012

N.T. Wright concludes his masterful tome The Resurrection of the Son of God with a section entitled “The Meanings of the Son of God” where he outlines the “world of meaning which was generated for the early Christians by the resurrection of Jesus.”1


I find it helpful to remember the three subtitles, or worlds of meaning, under which Wright works as (1) messiah, (2) master, (3) and Emmanuel.


1. Messiahship

“To claim the risen Jesus as ‘son of god’ in the sense of ‘Messiah’ was the most deeply Jewish thing the Christians could do, and hence the most deeply suspect in the eyes of those Jews who did not share their convictions.”2


“The first level of a ‘son of god’ understanding of Jesus’ resurrection can therefore be summarized as follows. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. In him, the creator’s covenant plan, to deal with the sin and death that has so radically infected his world, has reached its long-awaited and decisive fulfilment.”3


2. World Lordship (or Master)

“We must not confuse derivation with confrontation. The roots of the title as it appears in the New Testament are the firmly Jewish ones noted in the previous sub-section. But there can be no question that the title would have been heard by many in the greco-roman world, from very early on, as a challenge to Caesar.”4


“Jesus [as] ‘son of god’ within this wider circle of meaning constituted a refusal to retreat, a determination to stop Christian discipleship turning into a private cult, a sect, a mystery religion. It launched a claim on the world… It grew from an essentially positive view of the world, of creation. It refused to relinquish the world to the principalities and powers, but claimed even them for allegiance to the Messiah who was now the lord, the kyrios.”5


“This, then, is the second level of meaning. The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world’s true sovereign, the ‘son of god’ who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. He is the start of the creator’s new world: its pilot project, indeed its pilot.” 6


3. The Question of God (or Emmanuel)

“…early Christians [had] the breathtaking belief that Jesus was ‘son of god’, the unique ‘Son’ of this God as opposed to any other. They meant by this not simply that he was Israel’s Messiah, though that remained foundational; nor simply that he was the reality of which Caesar and all other such tyrants were the parodies, though that remained a vital implication. They meant it in the sense that he was the personal embodiment and revelation of the one true god.”7


“The third sense of ‘son of God’, then, does not leave the first two behind, but integrates them within a larger picture of who the one true God, Israel’s God, actually is.”8


Implications for Missiology


Wright’s threefold definition of Jesus as “Son of God” highlights the missiological consideration that within each culture that encounters the gospel announcement of Jesus as the Son of God there will without fail be aspects of that culture that run counter to at least one level of meaning of Jesus as “Son of God.” As a result, each culture must change in some way: my culture as much as your culture as much as that culture over there in a distant land. The gospel challenges inherited culture wherever it is found.


For cultures of Abrahamic background, Jesus as Son of God challenges established notions of who or what ultimately reveals God and in whom God’s promises come to a head. For cultures that deny sin, the Son of God as Messiah in his great act of redemption signals the reality of sin and God’s own offering of a remedy. For cultures that exalt autonomy of any sort, the lordship of Jesus as Son of God redraws the Creator-creation distinction. Jesus Christ is Lord. For cultures in which God is a stranger or for cultures that blur the Creator-creation distinction, the personal embodiment of the Son of God reveals God for who he actually is.


Thus, we see that no person and no culture is free from the all-encompassing person of Jesus as Son of God. Change as a result of encountering the gospel is not imperialism, it’s what it means for Jesus to be Son of God.


  1. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God) (Augsburg Fortress Publishers. Kindle Edition), 734. ↩
  2. Ibid, 727 ↩
  3. Ibid, 728 ↩
  4. Ibid, 729 ↩
  5. Ibid, 729 ↩
  6. Ibid, 731 ↩
  7. Ibid, 731 ↩
  8. Ibid, 735 ↩

POSTED IN THEOLOGY TAGGED: EMMANUEL, INCARNATION, KURIOS, MESSIAH, MISSIONS, N. T. WRIGHT, RESURRECTION, SON OF GOD | 1 COMMENT

How Not to Do a Bible Translation

BY DREW PUBLISHED 02/27/2012

An Alaskan radio station is reporting on the dire reception of a new Tlingit (an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of America) encyclopedia.  “The problem is: The language in the book is not recognizable by contemporary scholars, or Native Tlingit speakers.” All in all, the story is absolutely baffling and provides a very clear negative example for Bible translators.


What the author did wrong:


Does the author then view her self-published work as a waste? She describes her motivation,


“To some degree I think I was trying to bring my mother and father back together through my Celtic heritage. My father had a little French, and my mother had a little Scottish. And I thought that when they lost their culture, they lost their reason for being together. And I think that deep in my heart I was looking for that family togetherness, and I wanted to find that through language.”


What?!

Read the full story (with audio).


(HT: Language Hat) New Tlingit encyclopedia baffling to scholars, speakers _ KCAW


POSTED IN BIBLE TRANSLATION TAGGED: ISLAM, SON OF GOD, WORLD MAGAZINE | 1 COMMENT

The Written World

BY DREW | PUBLISHED 01/12/2012

If you’re not a regular listener of BBC Radio 4′s program(me) “In Our Time,” you may have missed the series of five episodes that just aired on the history of the writing and how it has shaped intellectual history. Of particular interest to my readers will be episode three, how the invention of writing influenced the spread of religion.


The five episodes cover:


  1. How making signs on clay, wood or parchment enabled the development of human culture.
  2. The impact of the invention of the book.
  3. How the invention of writing influenced the spread of religion.
  4. How the written word, originally used for accountancy, gave rise to human literature.
  5. How the invention of writing made the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment possible.

Listen to the five parts before they’re gone. (The BBC doesn’t usually archive programs for long.)


POSTED IN EVERYDAY | TAGGED AUDIO, BBC RADIO 4, HISTORY, IN OUR TIME, LITERACY, RELIGION, WRITING | LEAVE A COMMENT

Hyperpolyglot

BY DREW | PUBLISHED 01/05/2012

From the Economist:

“The world’s most celebrated hyperpolyglot relied on the same tools given to first-year language-learners today. The conclusion? Hyperpolyglots may begin with talent, but they aren’t geniuses. They simply enjoy tasks that are drudgery to normal people. The talent and enjoyment drive a virtuous cycle that pushes them to feats others simply shake their heads at, admiration mixed with no small amount of incomprehension.”

Read on…


POSTED IN LANGUAGE | TAGGED BOOKS | LEAVE A COMMENT

Translators as Agents of Change

BY DREW | PUBLISHED 12/20/2011

In her review of Translation, Resistance, Activism, a collection of essays on “resistant translation” edited by Maria Tymoczko, the reviewer highlights the chapter on Bible translation (emphasis mine):

Antonia Carcelen-Estrada in ‘Covert and overt ideologies in the translation of the Bible into Huao Terero’ (65–86) relates how the Bible came to be translated into Huao Terero, the language of the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon, called the Huaorani. Two threads run through this essay: one is the history of how the Huaorani came to be subjugated and exploited by outsiders, an endeavor led by missionaries set on translating the Bible into Huao Terero and converting the people to Christianity, and the other is the nature of the Bible translation that was carried out. The resistance in translation in this context has to do with how the Huaorani have managed to resist outsiders and their ways and beliefs, including Christianity, while seeming to comply.

This is an important perspective for Bible translators to consider, especially given the role positive “Stories of Impact” play in the “marketing” of Bible translation organizations like Wycliffe. However, the positive impact of Bible translation is not without its academic advocates, most notably Yale Divinity School’s Lamin Sanneh. He concludes in his article “Christian Missions and the Western Guilt Complex”

that Christian missions are better seen as a translation movement, with consequences for vernacular revitalization, religious change and social transformation than as a vehicle for Western cultural domination. Such an assurance should help alleviate some of the Western guilt complex about missions.

Read the rest of the review.


POSTED IN BIBLE TRANSLATION | TAGGED CHANGE, LAMIN SANNEH, MARIA TYMOCZKO, RESISTANT TRANSLATION, TRANSLATION | LEAVE A COMMENT

Kindle, Christianity and the Future of the Book

BY DREW | PUBLISHED 12/20/2011

Don’t miss this very insightful post by Alan Jacobs (professor of English at Wheaton College) entitled Christianity and the Future of the Book. The similarity of the codex and ereaders, like the Kindle, might surprise you.

…for those who love the book and especially the Book, the Bible, the rise of electronic reading devices should be the least of our concerns. Electronic reading devices like the Kindle, and even tablets like the iPad, preserve many of the essential features of the codex; and in this, they are quite distinct from other “screens” on which we might read. To decry the move from the book to the screen is simply to employ categories too crude for the phenomena that are being described.

A codex, by the way, is “a book in the format used for modern books, with multiple quires or gatherings (sheets of paper or vellum in multiples of two which are folded and stitched through) typically bound together and given a cover” and looks like this (yep a book):










Moreover, Jacob knows well the connection between technology and Bible translation:

…Christians tend to be a proselytizing people, and the message that they bring will always be entangled with technologies of reading.


Read more…


(HT: First Thoughts)


POSTED IN BIBLE TRANSLATION, CHRISTIANITY | TAGGED ALAN JACOBS, BOOKS, CODEX, EARLY CHRISTIANITY, EREADERS, INVENTION, KINDLE, READING, TECHNOLOGY | LEAVE A COMMENT