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St.Mark's
Episcopal Church

About translations

A translator is trying to capture the meaning of the words as close as one can, to texts and in contexts, yet retain the sense as written in earlier versions of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, etc.

The same translation issues have been faced over thousands of years from the time in the very very distant past, such as when translators were translating from ancient Hebrew to Greek (creating one of Jewish Septuagint versions) in Old Testament times. Translators have been busy in the meantime, such as when translating from a choice of Septuagint versions and ancient Hebrew versions, in a Medieval Hebrew environment (the Jewish Masoretic Text, which the Protestant Reformation looked to as its preferred Old Testament version).

The same issues were faced by translators when translating into Medieval Latin (Catholic Church) or Church Slavonic (Orthodox Church).

These challenges have been similar to what translators try to do today, when translating directly from Aramiac, Greek, and Hebrew into English, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Inuit, Belizean Creole, Garifuna, Mayan, Quechua, sign language, Luganda, or into any other language.

The translator is trying to catch an idea being expressed in a text, perhaps using a metaphorical expression, which may defy direct word for word translation or fail to have a common point of reference that would make equal sense in two different cultures. Bottom line, some are more acceptable versions than others, for a variety of reasons. Prayer that translations would be guided by God's Holy Spirit would be a good idea.

There is not a perfect translation of the orginal languages, into any other language, yet some translations are closer than others, depending on your purpose. It is also why a study Bible or a commentary can be useful, in that it might help explain what is happening in the text to you.

 

Perhaps think of a translator's challenge this way: if you are an English speaker, how well does what you say (when you use a metaphor) translate into another contemporary language, such as Spanish or Inuit? For example, you might be used to saying: "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." OK. Now, what does that mean to a culture that does not have sheep - how might you translate what you are trying to say, to people in the Arctic, for example, so that what you end up saying, is what you are trying to convey? And how close is what you end up saying to the wording of the original text?

Some things may be fine when translated word for word, to a degree, but not everything, especially idioms or changes in meaning, and you might be hard pressed if the Greek text built an argument on a play of words, a literary device that might not be readily adapted to English because the English words don't have the same associations with each other. Nuances may be lost.

In general, considering that whether in South America or Italy, a language spoken can change a bit from village to village because of a variety of factors, you can imagine the even greater challenge of trying to figure out the differences between what we say now and what people said over 2,000 years ago. Some things are better expressed thought for thought because of that chasm.

 

Most written translations of the Bible are a balance along the continuum between word and thought. You get the idea. And sometimes visual media might be a better way to grasp than the message of the Bible (videos, graphic novel formats, etc), especially for visual learners, and audio books for aural learners. If the Bible is prophetic, and speaks to us via the Holy Spirit, then it should not be a surprise that the Holy Spirit uses a variety of means to convey the message. Ezekiel used 3-D to reach people (think kinesthetic or visual), and Jesus conveyed many messages verbally (think audio).

 

Each denomination has its own preferences and views, as well. And, general, there is a range of acceptable and unacceptable bounds as decided upon by the Church, from the perspective of the New Testament interpreting the Old Testament.

 

No one transalation is perfect, no one bible study series is perfect, no one approach is perfect, not everything in a particular series or a study Bible may be to your liking, and wise people may disagree on method, conclusions, purposes, and who is considered a respected authority; so prayerfully keep the wheat and get rid of the chaff.

 

"Open to God's love, serving our neighbor"