Monday, October 17, 2011

Interesting article on Bible Translation

He lists 5 legitimate reasons English bible translations are often wrong.

What he illustrates but does not include on his list is the biggest one: incorrect doctrinal understanding coloring your interpretation of the words.

He says it's a problem to translate the phrase "God's hand" because God doesn't have hands! Well, there's your problem. If you lack understanding of the true nature of God (he, in fact, does have hands), or any other doctrine for that matter, you can really mess up the translation big time in trying to force it to make sense according to your understanding, instead of just telling us what the words say and letting us parse it out.

He also fails to address the fact that most modern English "translations" of the bible are actually translations of other, older English translations, which makes them multiples removed from the original text. So no wonder they're terrible translations!

There is also the issue of who is translating: a linguist or a religious expert? Are they translating the words or the doctrines according to their understanding? There's a lot more to it than just cognates, metaphors, historical traditions, etc.

He also doesn't give people enough credit for having brains. Nobody is going to misunderstand Shakespeare's "Juliet is the sun." It is not a lost metaphor in our culture. In fact, it's a very effective metaphor--we all know the sun is the source of light, of understanding, of heat, and of nourishment. We also know that saying something is the sun puts it in the highest esteem as the most important thing in your life. Any confusion there is imposed by a desperate writer struggling to find an example of a metaphor that no longer makes sense. (I might suggest the references to the angels troubling the waters at the pool of Bethsaida as a better illustration of what he ought to be talking about--not metaphor specifically, but all the loaded cultural references that make it so we don't get a joke from another language, even when it's translated, or so we start searching for metaphor when, in fact, all the locals at the time the text was written recognized common geographical locations, slang, objects, etc.)

You have to realize that translation is an effort of someone to express in their own language (including all its cultural references, etc.) something in another language. To "get" the King James Bible, then, we have to truly "get" both the original language and Shakespearean English. In other words, it helps to know what a cucumber frame is if you want to read Isaiah. And you have to remember that "turtle" was a dove in England at that time.

And you have to know that God has hands.

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