This was a stimulating week for All-Nations members pursuing Bible translation. We hosted a forum for them to learn from others and discuss a number of philosophical and practical issues in translating the Bible.
A recent Bible translation conference provided the impetus for this. We were able to gather and watch selected presentations from that conference, and discuss issues that were raised in each presentation. Some of our members were here in person, and others participated remotely.
What gets talked about at such a gathering?
Well, perhaps a session title would help give a sense. The longest title for a session we watched was this: "The Hermeneutical Burden of Making it Possible for the Modern Reader to Enter into the Literary World Created by the Original Author." If you follow the thought behind that title, you see that this pretty quickly gets into deep issues regarding what it means for a translated text to bridge the gap from the culture in which the text was written to the culture of the people being translated for. These aren't easy issues! In fact, the presenter spent the whole session looking at one New Testament word and its various uses, attempting to understand what cultural sense was being conveyed by the choice of this word in specific situations. This example served as a case study for the issue raised in the title.
Another was called "God’s Eternal Truth Expressed in Contextual Bible Translation." The key word here is "contextual." What adaptations can be made in translating certain terms to help people of a vastly different culture "get the picture"? As you may expect, we're generally on the conservative side of this debate. The presentation was almost too broad to be useful, making the claim, for example, that translation itself is contextualization. While this may be true in some sense, it leaves us with no clear guide for determining parameters for acceptable vs. unacceptable contextualization. On the other hand, we agreed with a number of the author's examples. If a culture has no sheep, can we translation John the Baptist's proclamation as, "Behold the Piglet of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"? This messes with the biblical understanding of the significance of both sheep and (unclean) pigs, and should never be done.
Here is a sampling of additional topics we covered in discussions:
- How to translate some of the shocking and seemingly vulgar language used in Scripture
- Discourse Analysis: evaluating and understanding a text at higher levels, e.g., paragraph structure, change of subject. This is helpful with both biblical texts and in evaluating how the language works that you hope to translate into.
- A presenter's suggestion about how Jesus' name should be translated in Islamic contexts
- Tools for exegesis: figuring out the best way to express a passage that could be translated several different ways. This is complex because many Hebrew and Greek terms have multiple possible meanings.
- Comparing procedures being used by our members who are already working in translation (Mixtec, Madara, and Mayangna projects)
- Acceptability: whether it's ever okay to use a less accurate term in a translation because of what people are used to or expect. This is often an issue when the people have been exposed to a certain term in another language.
Bible translation is a complex task. Faithfulness in this work is our goal. We appreciate your prayers.
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