Tag Archives: McKnight

Translation is not a pure science

Another interesting post in Scot McKnight’s “Translation Tribalism” series:

I’d like to contend today that most words are translated in all Bible translations with formal equivalence and that some words are translated more or less in a dynamic, or functional way. In other words, there isn’t really a radical commitment to dynamic equivalence — as if one can find some better way in English to the original languages “and” or “but” or “the” or “God.” Or a radical commitment to “formal equivalence,” as if the Greek word order can be maintained in English and make sense, though at times the NASB gave that a try (much to the consternation of English readers). No one translates “God’s nostrils got bigger” (formal equivalence) but we translate “God became angry.” There are some expressions that can’t be translated woodenly unless one prefers not to be understood.  (Link)

So translation is not a pure science.  While each translation aims for one philosophy of translation (e.g. formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence), inevitably various philosophies will need to be used.  I have read, incidentally, that the same goes for the notion of inclusive language, which is used in all translations to some degree or other (this is not always realized by the layperson or non-translator).  The issue under scrutiny these days then is not whether or not inclusive language in translation is appropriate, but when it should be used and how much.  This is not a new concept for many of us, of course, but I like the way that Scot expresses it.

McKnight on translation tribalism

Scot McKnight has started a series of posts on “Translation Tribalism”: 1 and 2 (so far).

From the second post:

the authority is the original text, not the translation. The original texts are in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). The authoritative text is not in English, regardless of how accurate the translation. No matter which translation you prefer, it is not the authoritative text for determining which translation is best.

unless you can read the original languages, you should avoid making public pronouncements about which translation is best. Instead, here’s my suggestion: if you don’t know the languages and can’t read them well enough to translate accurately on your own but you want to tell your congregation or your listeners which translate is best, you need to admit it by saying something like this: “On the basis of people I trust to make this decision, the ESV or the TNIV or the NRSV or the NLT is a reliable translation.” [Emphasis McKnight’s]

As an example, he mentions the translation of the Greek word adelphos in James 3:1, which is variously translated “brothers” and “brothers and sisters”.  Says McKnight:

which one best represents the intent of the original Greek, which has the Greek word adelphos? Unless you know what adelphos means in Greek, in the broad swath of the New Testament’s use of adelphos and how it is used in the Greek-speaking (not to mention Hebrew-reading world) and about how James uses the word adelphos, any judgment is rooted in theology or theory but not in evidence. If you don’t know the Greek, avoid standing in judgment. I’m not trying to be a hard-guy or an elitist, but let’s be honest: only those who know Latin should be talking about which is the “best” translation of Virgil or only those who know Middle High German should be weighing in on the “best” translation of The Nibelungenlied. This isn’t elitist; it’s common sense.

Well said and a good reminder, particularly his argument that any opinion of a translation not based on an understanding of the original languages is based on an alreadygiven theology which requires a particular translation.

in which I ramble…

Well, this is pathetic, isn’t it?  This blog is going to pot.  Completely.

I realized today that one of the reasons I’ve been blogging less lately is because I’ve been preaching more (approximately twice each month for the last couple of months).  Most of my writing energy and time has been directed at preparing and writing the sermons, which in the end doesn’t leave much for blogging.  Seems kind of obvious now, but it didn’t click until today.

I can’t say that the rest of my spare time has been spent studying for my seminary course–far from it, unfortunately!  It seems my study habits are no different now than they were in university nearly a decade ago.  But I’ve been fretting about the course and trying to work on it and think about it, which is draining.  And I find that required reading isn’t nearly as stimulating and thought-provoking as chosen (i.e. recreational) reading is.  I know I chose to take this course, but I think you can understand.

As my own personal confession I will tell you that I’m finding St. Augustine’s Confessions less than engaging.  Confessions is almost required reading for every Christian at some point and I had hoped it would be more enjoyable than it has been.  Maybe it gets better once he gets past the distractions and lusts of his youth (which aren’t at all tittilating stories, if that’s where you head is at).  I’m hoping that his conversion will be a turning point in Augustine’s book as well as his life.

I’m oscillating between panic (DEAR GOD!  HOW ON EARTH WILL I COMPLETE ALL THIS BY THE BEGINNING OF JUNE?!) and perhaps an overly optimistic rational calm (you have lots of time!  Read something you enjoy!)  Right now I feel calm.

I suspect the timing of all this could have used a bit more thought by yours truly.  It may not have been the best thing to start this seminary course just at the time that I was also starting to work at the church part time.  But then, knowing who I am and how I work, things would probably not have been much different if I had taken the course in other circumstances.

I have taken some time for myself and my family.  There has been some oscillation there, too (DEAR GOD!  CAN I AFFORD THE TIME TO WATCH THIS MOVIE WITH DIXIE?! and Take it easy for once!).  

I watched The Hours with Dixie the other night.  Philip Glass wrote the score.  His minimalist music is always stunning.  I first heard of Glass after inquiring into the beautiful score for The Fog of War (which you should watch), then I heard one of his “Dance #something or others” on CBC’s (now cancelled) Disc Drive.  I’ve never purchased an album or soundtrack by him–it feels like his music calls for immersion and yet I can’t bring myself to spoil the beauty of the music by having it around all the time.  It’s kind of like eggnog: if we had it all year, it wouldn’t be nearly as special.

Oh–how was The Hours?  It was pretty good, although there’s a good chance the mood of the music made the film for me.  But it was an interesting story.  It’s a study of bisexual relationships.  No–I’m kidding.  I kept joking about this throughout the film (breaking one of my own film-watching rules): lesbian kiss here, lesbian kiss there.  Oh, wait!–she also had a male lover earlier on in life, and this male lover is now gay as well.

But don’t let that stop you from watching the movie.  

For the morally sensitive ones among us, I recall a Bible college professor’s suggestion that the value of a film should not be judged by the moral actions of its characters.  There was more to it than that, of course (because clearly a pornographic film cannot be justified this way).  He made a connection to the Bible, which would be rated R or worse if made into a film (including all the gory sex and incest and murder details).

Moving on…

At Dixie’s urging, I plowed through Rob Bell’s new book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, earlier this week.  She she thought it was pertinent to what I was thinking about for today’s sermon.  It was, to an extent.  I heartily recommend this book.  Rob Bell has an amazing ability to explain big theological concepts in non-high-falootin’ terms.  It can be read in a matter of a couple of hours (thanks in part to his one-sentence paragraph style: I noted to Dixie that his publishing style is remarkably unfriendly in terms of conservation).  And there’s an “Aha!” moment every couple of pages.

I’m also almost finished Scot McKnight’s new book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, which I received as a Christmas gift.  Even though I’m not finished it yet, I already heartily recommend it.

So I’ve managed to fit in some chosen reading as well.  My justification: it’s personally edifying and beneficial to me and my position at the church and hence the church.

What I really need to do is learn to focus.  Much time is wasted aimlessly wandering around the house, flipping through books, checking email, being on the internet for no particular reason.  I hate to say it, but a little efficiency would go a long way for me.  I need to refine my use of time.

That is all.

Pause

A recent post by Scot McKnight gave me pause:

Helmut Thielicke, in what has to be one of the finest little (absolutely must-have) books ever written for those in school and considering pastoring or a teaching ministry, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, said something like this some where in that book: “During the period when the voice is changing we do not sing.”

Bloggers pastors or students or theologians, especially young ones, need to listen to the wisdom of this little word by Thielicke. Why? Let me begin with this: what you say on your blog is international, permanent, and universally accessible. It’s not that I think you need to hide your ideas; it is that some of your ideas are not wise to be aired in public. Keep them to your closer friends and give them time to dig roots. Some of them you may toss into the bucket before too long.

. . . You are working out your ideas and your theology — at least I hope you are. It is indeed disappointing to me when someone thinks they’ve mastered theology as a result of a class in seminary or after having read an author or two. Especially when they haven’t earned the ideas themselves but are simply borrowing someone else’s ideas; we call this 3d person theology. Theology takes a lifetime to engage responsibly and wisely. So, hold your ideas a bit more tentatively when you are young. You’ll grow into moderated, confident wisdom. That’s the best time to chat about theology. (Link)

Given what has been on my mind lately, you can see why this would raise my eyebrows.

It’s humbling: much of my theology is 3rd person.  Possibly all of it is. I don’t think that’s entirely bad: few of us, if any, would work out the doctrine of, say, the Trinity on our own, without outside influence.  The idea, I think, is to take a 3rd person theological point, check it against scripture (and—yes!—the traditions and historical writings), and by confirming it this way make it a 1st person theological point.

But I could be wrong.

But that’s the beauty of this blog: it’s a working out and examining of theology.  I think I’ve been clear from the outset that I am for the most part examining ideas (“thinking out loud”), rather than staking any theological claims.

At least, I hope that has been clear.  I hope these 4.5 years of writing don’t come ’round and bite me in the ass.

Maybe writing “ass” just now will come ’round and bite me there.